back to article Congress chops economy-class nuke programme

The US Congress has decided not to fund development of new nuclear warheads until a firm US nuclear-weapons roadmap is in place. The Washington Post reports that the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to cut funding for the continuance of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) programme. The RRW is the only ongoing US …

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Dangerous materials.

"avoiding the use of dangerous materials such as beryllium"

And while we're at it, lets replace the Plutonium with cotton balls....

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Nukes are old hat

There's no need for nukes any more. The cold war has been over for nearly my whole life time. Lets just get rid of the awful things once and for all.

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No vision at all, Neil?

Just because you can't see past the end of your own nose doesn't mean that other people are so afflicted, Neil. Right now, large scale nuclear deterrence is a policy of the past... that doesn't mean it won't be necessary in the future. Times change, the world changes, but it all stays the same in the end.

Even now, nuclear deterrence isn't a thing of the past - it's alive and well. India and Pakistan, anyone? Also, when the nuclear program of North Korea advances (I don't for a second believe they're going to stop, no matter what platitudes they sprout), the only effective deterrent is going to be America's very credible threat that, "If you use a single nuclear weapon on either South Korea or Japan, we'll turn your whole country into fucking glazed craters."

I'm hardly a fan of nuclear war. I learned a little too much about it when I was quite young, and yeah, I did have rather bad nightmares about it for years. But it's so horrible that even the THREAT of it is enough to steer people away from the big red button and towards negotiation. Ignorant fools on both sides who just don't KNOW, or don't want to know, keep forgetting the important point that policy makers KNOW if they decide to destroy a city and the other guy has nukes too, your own city could be next.

I firmly believe that it takes only one strong person to make a war, but two strong people to make peace. In terms of international strength, nuclear weapons are quite possibly the strongest threat anyone can have, but that's all it really is: a threat, a bluff, because if World War III is fought with nukes, World War IV will be fought with stones, and who'd want that (but Islamic extremists)?

But it's a necessary bluff, until that day comes when "We ain't'a gunna study war no more" which just don't seem likely, considering the nature of humanity.

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safety of nuclear weapons

So, if nuclear weapons make the world safer, thanks to the fear of mutual assured destruction they engender, shouldn't they be made available to all countries that want them? That would surely mean the end of all wars.

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Dangerous materials and deterrence

Beryllium's only a dangerous material if you're making bomb parts- which isn't really an issue any more, since nobody's building new bombs. Also, it's pretty much a necessary part of a compact nuclear weapon.

Deterrence doesn't work. Fact. Never in history has it led to lasting peace. It's just like balancing a cone on its apex; you might do it and it might look okay, but it will eventually topple. The bigger the cone, the more mess it makes when it hits the deck.

I do have a reason to keep nuclear weapons around, though: they might offer our best hope of deflecting a potention killer asteroid. Not by blowing it up, of course, but rather by irradiating it from a distance, providing a tiny force to just nudge it out of harm's way.

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PH

re: No vision at all, Neil?

Iamfanboy - all those tired arguments for "nuclear deterrence " are sooooo similar to the arguments in favour of every citizen carrying a gun. Hey - and we all love going to those places, don't we?

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Title

"So, if nuclear weapons make the world safer, thanks to the fear of mutual assured destruction they engender, shouldn't they be made available to all countries that want them? That would surely mean the end of all wars."

Are you out of your mind!!!! Give every crackpot religious fanatic and tin-pot dictator access to nukes.

You are right though, it would mean the end of all wars because they'd be fuck all left to fight for and no-one left to fight for it anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Hypocrisy

The biggest problem with carrying a nuclear arsenal is that you simply cannot tell other countries that they are evil for trying to do the same. You just don't have a leg to stand on. The hypocrisy is staggeringly barefaced and I just do not understand how western countries keep doing it with a straight face.

When a country/alliance with a reputation for aggression continues to enhance its nuclear capabilities it can only encourage its known enemies to do the same for their own safety. That's just common sense on their part.

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negative proof -

You'd have to prove it doesn't work. When hasn't nuclear deterrence worked, again? *shrug* scientific method states that we look at the real world and draw observations from that, not project our beliefs onto the real world.

I can observe that Pakistan and India, who exist in an uneasy but still war-free peace and have done so for the past forty years because they know they could destroy each other. I cannot forsee a future where they have a bloody war, which means that both sides of the border will gradually grow used to having the other as a neighbor - and once that goes on long enough, it will become the status quo, rather than something uneasy.

I can look and see that the human race has not had a war on a worldwide scale with a significant percentage of the human population dead or dying for the past sixty years, because such a war would be too destructive - it would end up with the globe being smashed like a kid with a toy screaming, "if I can't have it, no one can!"

If you'd want to pretty it up, you'd call it "Peace through mutual respect for another's power", not "nuclear deterrence." Is using the phrase 'mutual respect' PC enough for you?

(I'm toying with the idea of an alternate history novel without nukes where the SSSR invades Europe in the mid-60's because they WOULD have, but that's neither here nor there.)

Peace through mutual respect for another's power may be not be easy, but I prefer it to one strong man stepping on the necks of everyone else and making sure that peace sticks around because no one else will ever get strong enough to challenge him - because eventually someone else DOES try to challenge him, and everyone else suffers because of their fight.

The saddest thing about this world, I think, is that might DOES make right. If you're rich enough, you can buy your way out of almost anything. If you're strong enough, you can beat up on anyone who isn't as strong as you. If you're smart and charismatic enough, you can trick everyone into following you.

The world is intrinsically unfair, and it sucks, but there are only two answers to that: Make everyone equally weak, or make everyone equally strong. Laws handed down by governments tend to work in the first way, which is just fine for most cases (though it grates on me personally), but there eventually reaches a point where law simply doesn't work - it might be the Old West with guns, it might be on the internet with trojans and botnets, or it might be in international dealings between nations. If the law doesn't apply, if not everyone can be equally weak, then I'd much rather be equally strong.

Think about it this way: Would you rather Microsoft be the only game in town, with the power to utterly destroy Macintosh and Linux? Or would you rather see Macs and Linux pushing Microsoft harder? If you're in favor of one scenario, logically it's hard to see how you couldn't be in favor of the other. What, just because one could involve the brutal and agonizing death of millions and the other only involves money? It's just a different application, not a different function.

Hmm,

f(respect for another's strength) = (personal power + personal insanity) / opponent potential power if no laws exist

f(respect for another's strength)= (personal power + personal insanity) / (Strength of laws+opponent potential power) if laws exist

Sorry, just went through a refresher on basic functions, and it seemed to apply here. Though you could probably never apply actual numeric values to any of those variables, it can be applied to almost any situation where respect for another's strength is important.

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Anonymous Coward

re: No vision at all, Neil?

It's quite a bit different to the arguments for everyone carrying a gun. A despot dictator knows he has no power if he has no people to control - The odd person taking their life in their own hands with a gun is somewhat different to the big red button pusher nuking all their citizens and having no one to control at the end of it.

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Anonymous Coward

The title economy nukes...

sounds like if someone would want to make cheap nukes so they are cheap to use...

On the other side nuclear deterrence is bad, but considering that some countries actually working to get more nukes (china) and some are building their own (iran) owning nukes is a viable precaution. The problem is that while deterrence is good against china, it's very bad when used in context with religious fanatics like funamentalist islamists and christians, because they don't want to stay alive at the end of a (possibly nuclear) war.

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Gah, I messed up.

I had the equation upside down, it should be

f(r) = opponent's perceived strength / (personal power + personal insanity) if no laws apply

f(r) = (opponent's perceived strength + strength of laws) / (personal power + personal insanity) if laws exist

the higher the number, the more you respect your opponents. The smaller the number...

The reason that military deterrence failed in the past is because of either insanity, or because military leaders always overestimate their own strength and underestimate their opponent's. "Oh, our tanks are superior, our guns are superior, we train more, so what does it matter if they have 3 men to our 1?" That's just hubris, simple arrogance, thinking that "I'll beat 'em just because I'm ME" but we're all guilty of it constantly.

But it's hard to argue that your opponent isn't powerful if he can vaporize a city, especially if it might be the hometown you grew up in. If we say that 1=nuclear weapons, then if you're not batshit crazy and know how powerful the things are the equation would look like f(r) = 1/(1+0) = 1/1 = 1. 1 is a perfectly respectful number, there: represents that you may not like them, but you know they're just as strong as you are and getting involved would only mean your mutual destruction.

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Sorry, but unpleasant as it is - MAD does work.

When considering the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons, I've noticed that virtually everyone gets the underlying mechanics of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) incorrect. The key point missing is that MAD is conducted in an environment of limited information/intelligence against a stable-but-hostile state.

Consider these scenarios;

Blue Team: 1,000 MIRV warheads. Submarine capabilty

Red Team: 100 non-MIRV warheads. No submarine capability.

Capabilities: Red can carry out a first strike and inflict damage on Blue. Red cannot perform a retaliation (second) strike in the event of a launch by Blue. Blue can perform both second and first strike, and crutially the second strike is of overwhelming force.

Posture outcome: Red must behave, or appear to behave, irrationally such that Red gives the impression that he will perform first strike, as this is his only defence. Blue can behave rationally as Blue is assured of prevailing in a second strike war. Blue has no need to rattle the first strike sabre.

Blue Team: 1,000 MIRV warheads. Submarine capabilty

Red Team: 1,000 MIRV warheads. Submarine capability.

Capabilities: Both Red and Blue can carry out both first strike and second strike warfare. Both parties are assured that the penalty for striking first is to assuredly be struck back.

Posture outcome: Neither Red nor Blue teams need to rattle the first strike sabre. They may do so, but it is no longer necessary. Both teams focus on their second strike capability. This is the core of MAD - the "you may f*ck me, but I can still f*ck you back - even if you lauch everything you have in one strike" It's not "we both launch at once and no-one wins". Stability grows from the fact that both teams can now behave and appear to behave rationally, something not possible in an imbalanced scenario.

If you're interested in the vast geopolitical opera that got us to this point, an excellent book on the subject is "The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy" by Lawrence Freedman.

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