The Long View 2002-12-06: Security versus Deterrence

In the run-up to the second Iraq War, John noted the irony of American liberals defending the concept of strategic deterrence, when much of the internal American wrangling during the Cold War involved the Right defending this idea and the Left attacking it. Much, but not all. As John noted, both sides had something going for them. The Left was right that deterrence, especially as it turned into mutually assured destruction, was a dumb, risky way to run the world. On the other hand, the right was correct that the Soviets and the many Communist states they supported often destroyed the economy and oppressed the people where they gained power.

Science fiction author Jerry Pournelle was a Cold Warrior who co-authored the book the Strategy of Technology, in which he and his co-authors sought a way to break the stalemate of MAD, and bring the Cold War to an end. Arguably, they succeeded, since the Citizen's Advisory Council on National Space Policy that Pournelle chaired was influential in promoting Ronald Reagan's SDI, which helped break the Soviet economy and bring an end to the Cold War.

As for stability, I'm pretty sure we could all do with a little more stability in the Maghreb and the Middle East. At the time John wrote this, I thought he was on to something. Now I think the Romans and the British had the right idea.

Security versus Deterrence
The Weekly Standard
The Obsolescence of Deterrence
One of the most interesting features of the piece is that the author implies that the Left of the Cold War era was partially right. Mutual deterrence, or at least mutual deterrence through weapons of mass destruction, really is not a good way to run the world. Whenever you have a choice, he says, you should prevent such a relationship from arising. He suggests this:
"Had we had the choice of disarming the Soviets by more palatable means, say, a limited military operation like Israel's destruction of Saddam's Osirak reactor, it might have been a reasonable option."
Let me take that a bit further. Suppose Nazi Germany had been known to have had a serious nuclear weapons program. Would the United States and Great Britain then have been best advised to forego the invasion of Europe, or to have stopped at the Franco-German border, because we knew that a situation of mutual deterrence would soon kick in? It is possible to imagine living with a Nazi Europe for the long term, but this would not have been a good thing.
Mr. Krauthammer also notes the argument that "if everyone has nukes, everyone is deterred, and no one will use them." He rightly points out that this is madness, but mentions only the near certainty that mutual deterrence among dozens of nuclear powers would eventually breakdown. Actually, the argument against universal deterrence is simpler than that. We have to remember that nuclear weapons can be used when the combatants possess only a few. 20th-century governments showed themselves quite willing to lose a few of their own cities in the pursuit of strategic goals. We should exert ourselves to ensure that 21st-century governments do not get the same opportunity.
Weekly StandardThe False Allure of Stability
It is certainly true that stability is not the alpha and omega of statecraft. Where does that idea come from, anyway? Maybe from the Congress of Vienna: that was when the leaders of the West first began to fear chaos above all else. Be that as it may though, I am not sure that the point applies to Iraq today.
The current strategic situation in the world is not stable, because technological progress is making weapons of mass destruction available to less and less responsible actors. Keeping Iraq "in a box" is not good enough. Fissionable material and missile technology will leak into the box. At no distant date, the Iraqi regime will be able to inflict unacceptable damage on the US or its allies should there be any attempt to remove it. Iraq is only one of a class of middle-sized states with a history of doing very bad things and which seek invulnerability through deterrence. Time is not on our side.
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Washington Times
The JFK Who Would be JFK
A little later I found out that Orwell's and Heinlein's premises were ill founded. The famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that people who speak different languages live in different conceptual universes, has not stood up well in experiments, though it might have some validity in narrow contexts. The philosophy of Logical Positivism, which equates thought with language, is apparently just wrong. So, if it's any consolation, Newspeak would not work.
The Three Amigos
"In our lives, we all face our own El Guapo. El Guapo could be a childhood spent in under-privileged circumstances, or a broken home, or inadequate education. Of course, right now we face the actual El Guapo."

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