No such thing as a rational discussion of nuke policy

David B. Ogden /


While the Dec. 23 commentary titled “Where is the debate about Nukes?” by Walter Pincus attempts to introduce discussion on a rational, long range nuclear strategy, the narrative bogged down on procurement costs, projected over-runs, and the typical military-industrial objectives. Beyond the hints of “what enemy, which subs and yield?” where is the suggestion that any limited exchange from even the lesser geopolitical players is so morally egregious as to approach permanently altering the life experience for the entire human race — and this just skipping over the collateral human loss from the conflict partners.

Within Pincus’ article, he makes small mention of the technological “advances” enabling multiples of the destructive power seen at Hiroshima, and chronicles the study conducted of the kill. However, there the dialogue is directed back to the discussion of expected costs for “maintenance and modernization.” This accepts the military-industrial conclusion that nuclear preparedness is a must and the remainder of the article consumes print about stockpiles, reduction of warheads and boats.

The real problem is the lack of advancement of the collective intellect. While it seems great that we are in this super age of mass media and the access of multi-media technologies, the dialogue has been hijacked by the Kardashians, all this talk about the Thelma and Louise “fiscal cliff,” and whatever fear-mongering of the day sells more ads and newspapers. Life on earth as we know it is at one of those historic crossroads, and while this may smack of hyperbole, I can’t get my mind wrapped around the very idea of a “rational discussion of nuclear strategies.”

Thirty-five years ago the discussion of nuclear strategies went off the “rational” cliff when our military planners entertained modifying the accepted strategy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) for the strategy of NUTS (Nuclear Utilization of Targeting Selection). There, again, the discussion bogged down in the terms of the day from the military planners as they weighed the fratricidal effects from multiple nuclear explosions targeting hardened silos. The military planners at the time were looking at the computer models from “spiking, partial spiking, and deep penetration.” Could we win a first strike and were our MIRV ICBMs better than their mobile SS22s? Good question, if you could overlook Nuclear Winter!

Carl Sagan developed this model, and as an example he used the likely exchange of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, both nuclear bit players locked in dispute. Their arsenals comprised approximately 50 warheads and Sagan’s model projected the consequences of their exchange on global climate, ergo the name “nuclear winter.” This fortunately had an effect on the planners of the day and their logic concluded that MAD carried the day!

So while the “Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (aka, the military planners) consider a “rational public discussion” with a 50-year plan, financial costs included, let’s consider an informed public 100-year plan. Because in 100 years the remaining public is going to ask, “Why, when we knew what we knew when we knew it, didn’t we do anything about it?”

Unless nuclear winter is the answer for global warming, any rational discussion should include examining our belief systems and comparing what we know vs. what we think. I know I want to help mankind prepare to survive, live a good life, and leave behind something that is just a little bit better. This is so the future can have not just what I had, but maybe something more. And rationally discussing a nuclear strategy just doesn’t pass the moral litmus test, unless the public discussion is directed by the interests of a few. If we don’t know something, we don’t have to accept moral responsibility for it. Well I know it and I won’t accept this discussion on the merits that it is immoral!