NUCLEAR TERRORISM, DETERRENCE, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE GAP
The question raised by Marc Shulman
on the prospect of nuclear terrorism by Islamist radicals brought out many fruitful comments
A common point of agreement seemed to be the need for national discussion of the issue which hopefully the blogosphere can spark.
In 2002 the Bush administration submitted a still partially classified Nuclear Posture Review
to the Congress that presaged if not radical, at least some very significant changes in nuclear war doctrine. In essence, the Bush administration widened and deepened the parameters of the Flexible Response Doctrine
of the Kennedy administration that was shelved by Robert McNamara in favor of MAD
during the Johnson Administration when the U.S. was pushing arms control proposals at Kosygin and Brezhnev.
The Bush administration NPR had the virtue of looking creatively at developing new technological improvements to nuclear weapons that might promise to make them less destructive in terms of collateral damage and more effective against hardened targets. Unfortunately,there are two flaws in the NPR from a strategic standpoint.
First, the NPR is dominated by state-based thinking, albeit a multipolarity system designed to target rogue states in particular - naming specifically Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Libya along with traditional targets Russia and China - and non-state actors like al Qaida are not addressed except as " ...surprising military developments". Secondly, the flexibility of moving away doctrinally from pre-set missile coordinate targeting tp an emphasis on " capabilities" to respond to events leaves far too much room for megalomaniacal actors to gamble on surviving a politically constrained second-strike. To my mind if their analytical prowess determined that detonating a nuke inside the U.S. was a good idea, subtlety is wasted on them.
The problematic situation with the nuclear terrorism situation is that the Gap is filled with states that are at best rickety, dysfunctional, entities that barely qualify as nation-states or they are tribes with flags. Our Westphalian rule-set
mentality has led us astray into granting rights of sovereignty to de facto non-sovereigns which is a diplomatic charade that the Core can maintain only by divorcing all the normal expectations of responsibity from them that sovereigns are supposed to exercise. Responsibilities that we hold other Core states accountable - a bizarre double-standard that works against our own interests and security.
Now failed and failing states are truly unable to control non-state actors but there are many states that simply choose not to expend resources doing so, at least to the degree where such an effort is truly effective. Their inaction as sovereigns have created situations of salutory neglect where you have " State Tolerated Terrorism". Or these authorities encourage radicals and fellow-travellers with a wink and a nod, benignly admiring the support their citizens give to terrorists- " Socially Sponsored Terrorism " while claiming plausible deniability for the regime. Finally, like Iran, they may be up to their elbows in the terrorism business as state sponsors but also eschew actions that would provoke massive retaliation.
Frankly, I'm not certain deterrence will work with the radicals already inside bin Laden's inner circle. I think it might but ultimately I'm hazarding a guess. Nor am I opposed to ruhlessly taking direct and sustained action to crush al Qaida. What deterrence policy based on counterforce and countervalue
will do to the Ummah is make the negligent authorities and the religious enablers of terror starkly aware that they share with the United States the dangers of nuclear terrorism and perhaps raise the costs for pursuing such a hostile policy of co-belligerency.
Dave Schuyler of the Glittering Eye
is also examining the state of American nuclear deterrence policy and neatly deconstructs the objections to a more robust form of deterrence
Marc Shulman of The American Future
has two related posts up this morning on this debate, where he evidently tangled elsewhere in the blogosphere with the advocates of strategic helplessness from the Denial of Reality Based Community. The first
is a commentary on my post above and his second addresses the same cockeyed logic of the oponents
that Dave tackled at Glittering eye. I have to highlight this psychological observation by Marc on the deterrence opponents he encountered:
"There are three things to notice about these criticisms. First, they don't seem to take the threat of nuclear terrorism seriously. Second, they express concern for the fate of those who would be killed by our second strike, but not about the Americans who would be killed by the first strike. Third, they offer no alternative."
A thanks to both gentlemen for pushing a vital debate hopefully further into the public eye.
Having read Wretchard's well-considered 2003 post on Nuclear weapons and Islamist terrorism
the advice of Dave Schuyler, I heartily recommend it for your perusal.