GUEST COMMENTARY: Nuclear deterrence does not provide adequate security

Thursday, September 1, 2011 | 8:10 p.m. CDT

In his recent op-ed piece in support of nuclear deterrence, Col. J. Karl Miller soundly rejects the call for international nuclear disarmament by the late Adm. Noel Gayler, former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and sixth director of the National Security Agency.

In doing so, Col. Miller uses what is known by some nuclear war analysts as the "conventional weapons fallacy."

In discussing the merits of nuclear weapons he said: "Historically, I suspect the developments of the spear, crossbow, gunpowder, machine gun, tank and high-explosive bombs and missiles were condemned as barbaric amid calls for their banishment from the field of combat." 

This comparison of nuclear weapons to weapons of the past is patently absurd. Years ago, Carl Sagan described a single, typical,  2-megaton strategic nuclear warhead as having "the explosive power of the entire Second World War but compressed into a few seconds of time."

Col. Miller also suggests that because there have been no nuclear explosions since the Nagasaki attack 66 years ago that we can depend on nuclear deterrence policies to protect us in the future. 

It is important to remember that 66 years is a nanosecond in the stream of history, and we must seriously question whether or not the madness of threats of mutually assured destruction can possibly operate into the intermediate and distant futures without a catastrophic conclusion.

Today, U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles are on hair-trigger alert and have launch-to-landing times of under 30 minutes. These weapons threaten to murder  many millions of innocent people and promise to have unimaginable economic, climatic, environmental, agricultural and health consequences worldwide. 

According to nuclear disarmament expert Steven Starr of Columbia, U.S. scientists predict that a nuclear war fought with 1 percent of the explosive power contained in the Russian and U.S. arsenals would cause global nuclear famine. 

A large war between those countries would leave the world uninhabitable, with more people being killed in a brief period than in all the wars of recorded history.

Despite its catastrophic potential, nuclear deterrence is believed by some, though wrongly, to protect nuclear weapon states, their allies and their citizens. 

On the contrary, nuclear deterrence does not provide genuine, stable security and is plagued with a host of problems including the following, which are taken from the Santa Barbara Declaration developed by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:

1. Its power to protect is a dangerous fabrication. The threat or use of nuclear weapons provides no protection against attack.

2. It assumes rational leaders, but there can be irrational or paranoid leaders on any side of a conflict.

3. Threatening or committing mass murder with nuclear weapons is illegal and criminal. It violates the fundamental legal precepts of domestic and international law, threatening the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people.

4. It is deeply immoral for the same reason it is illegal — it threatens indiscriminate and grossly disproportionate death and destruction.

5. It diverts human and economic resources desperately needed to meet basic human needs around the world. Globally, approximately $100 billion is spent yearly on nuclear forces.

6. It has no effect against non-state extremists who govern no territory or population.

7. It is vulnerable to cyber attack, sabotage and human error, which could result in a nuclear strike.

8. It sets an example for additional countries to pursue nuclear weapons for their own deterrent force.

Before another weapon is used, nuclear deterrence must be replaced by humane, legal and moral security strategies. 

People in the U.S. and throughout the world need to demand that the nuclear weapon states and their allies reject false notions of deterrence security and negotiate without delay a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, reciprocal, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.

As Gen. George Lee Butler, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command has said: "We are not condemned to repeat the lessons of 40 years at the nuclear brink. We can do better than condone a world in which nuclear weapons are accepted as commonplace."

"The price already paid is too dear, the risks run too great. The task is daunting, but we cannot shrink from it. The opportunity may not come again."

Bill Wickersham is an MU adjunct professor of peace studies and a member of the Missouri University Nuclear Disarmament Education Team. His free online book about nuclear disarmament education can be retrieved at www.confrontingnuclear

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Michael Williams September 1, 2011 | 8:25 p.m.

Nuclear weapons are absolutely required for world protection from space aliens.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller September 1, 2011 | 9:10 p.m.

As I pointed out in my column last week, there has not been a nuclear attack since August of 1945. The deterrent provided by the United States continued nuclear weapons superiority is real--no nuclear attacks for 66 years is a marked success.

The real absurdity is the utterly naive notion that each nation will surrender its nuclear arsenal when requested to do so and we will live in harmony forever. As for inspections, I seem to remember Saddam Hussein booting the inspectors out of Iraq and I don't recall North Korea or Iran offering up their facilities for scrutiny.

It would be nice if there were no nuclear weapons; however, inasmuch as at least 8 nations are in possession of nuclear arsenals and the science of manufacturing nukes is readily available, there is no way turn back the clock to non nuclear times.

As I am not into fairy tails nor do I forecast a day the lion and the lamb will lie down together, it is imperative that the U S retain nuclear superiority as the steward of deterence.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller September 1, 2011 | 9:26 p.m.

Please correct fairy tails to read fairy tales. I could blame my keyboard for dyslexia but, to be truthful, my proofreading left something to be desired.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 2, 2011 | 4:12 a.m.

I think it bears repeating that the only time nukes were used in warfare, the enemy was not able to respond in kind. If they had been, I doubt we would have used them first.

Disarmament is simply unverifiable.


(Report Comment)
Greg Allen September 2, 2011 | 3:50 p.m.

Granted: it's hard to unknow what we know. We know how to make and use nuclear weapons. We have them. We HAVE to closely watch and regulate them.

But isn't it fatalistic to say that we can never find a way to work out of the constant knife-edged tension that nukes have brought to the world? Those who say 'can't' rarely make progress.

Suggested first step: it's insane to have the capability to blow up the world more than one time. Reduce to that level for starters.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor September 2, 2011 | 4:39 p.m.

Sorry Bill, but you expose yourself as a naive simpleton when you put forth ideas like, "casualties of war are victims of murder". But lets back up from the third point of the hippie doctrine and look at the first two for a sec. The first says that it is not a deterrent at all, yet the second one seems to blow this up as it indicates that the deterrent effect it does have only works when the other leader(s) involved are rational.

Whooaaaa dude... You just blew my mind man....

Let's pose a question to examine this further...

Lets just imagine that Iran possesed a nuclear weapon and Isreal and its allies did not. Iran's President has stated on more than one occasion that it would immediately, "wipe Isreal off the map" if it could. Iran would get pummeled if they tried to make good on this threat to wipe Isreal off the map using conventional warfare. However, they could easily accomplish this goal if they were the only ones with a nuclear weapon.
Do you really think that they would just hold on to their precious bomb and shine it up and look at it, etc?
Do you really think that they would allow themselves to be decimated by conventional warfare without using their bomb if indeed war did break out and they were the only ones that had a bomb?
The most graphic example for todays world why we need the deterrent is exemplified by the conflict in the middle east. There is a real likelihood that a "rogue" nation with an irrational leader will soon posses a nuclear weapon. The fact that they would bring death and destruction to themselves and all of their peoples if they used the nuclear weapon is the only thing I can think of that would keep them from doing so.

Now, having said that. If you want to go form a drum circle and smokem peace pipe with Ahmadinejad and Jong Il and they see things your way, I may revisit the topic. More power to ya...

(Report Comment)
Deterrence Wonk September 3, 2011 | 6:07 p.m.

The term 'Hair Trigger Alert' is not defined anywhere. It is not part of the military lexicon, and it certainly does not describe the disciplined state of the nation's nuclear warriors. It is a dishonest term, and a dishonest way to make an argument.

(Report Comment)
Steven Starr September 4, 2011 | 2:40 p.m.

Advocates of nuclear deterrence generally do not like to discuss the consequences of the failure of deterrence. They are also generally unaware of the scientific studies that predict the detonation of less than 1% of the explosive power contained in the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, would cause catastrophic changes in global climate and massive destruction of Earth’s protective ozone layer. The detonation of any significant fraction of these nuclear weapons during war would leave the Earth essentially uninhabitable for decades, causing a global famine that would cause most humans to starve to death.

According to the U.S. Air Force, “Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction”. As Bill Wickersham said, to maintain “a state of mind” that results in deterrence requires rational opponents, who do fear death, to remain rational under all circumstances. Unless you are willing to believe that we will forever face rational opponents, then you must admit that deterrence will eventually fail.

Likewise, deterrence also depends upon large complex weapons systems, linked to computers, space and land-based detection systems, and many thousands of people all working without error, which prevent unauthorized launch and false warning of attack. We also depend upon this system to work not only in the U.S., but in Russia. A false warning of attack generated by either human or mechanical error, can result in an accidental nuclear war. A military coup which results in loss of control of nuclear forces can result in a launch of nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

The U.S. and Russia have 21,000 out of the 22,000 nuclear weapons that exist today. We keep thousands of nuclear weapons ready to launch at literally a moments notice, and a single failure of nuclear deterrence can result in their launch. I take no comfort in the fact that we have, by some miracle, managed to avoid a nuclear war to date, when it is clear to me that the detonation of existing nuclear arsenals can result in the extermination of the entire human race.

We created enormous stockpiles of these weapons, somehow believing that if we had more of them, we would be “ahead” and this would make us more “secure”. This is thinking from World War II which equates nuclear weapons with conventional (high-explosive) weaponry. It ignores the consequences of nuclear war.

We have made deadly enemies, such as Japan and Germany, into friends before. We don’t have to have almost 10,000 nuclear weapons to prevent nations from acquiring one weapon or a handful of weapons. We don’t have to stand ready to destroy the planet in order to save it.

(Report Comment)
Matt Wilson September 7, 2011 | 2:58 a.m.

Would you follow the advice of this article if you knew that a nuclear attack upon America would happen within a year?

Perhaps you should read this article: 25+ Signs That Point to Nuclear War

Some old advice from the Turkish empire. If you wish to remain an empire, then prepare for war as if it could happen at any time, but try hard to avoid it. This author wants us to prepare for peace. That will surely mean the American empire will not be around much longer.

The author and people like him want to advance a theory with no historical proof. Just believe him because he's a nice guy. Well, what if he is wrong, and we are attacked during the reduction phase? Everything we know from history says that disarming is a horrible idea and will lead to defeat and destruction.

While radical Islamists may kill thousands, and Russia and China may kill millions, it is the modern liberal that will wipe out western culture from the planet. They will disarm the West and see to it that the enemies of the West wipe it out.

(Report Comment)

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