Structure & Strangeness


: American Missile Defense: Background Briefing :

: The following historical briefing is intended to give a description of the context
: which shaped the current nuclear landscape and point out some significant
: points that will become important in the analysis of the current situation.

: Holding a loaded gun : Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.)

: With the development of the nuclear bomb during WWII, the international stage
: took its first step into a new paradigm of unparalleled potential for destruction.
: Douglas Hofstadter, writing in 1985 [2], provides an illustrative example by Jim Geier
: and Sharyl Green, comparing the total destructive force of WWII with the force
: in 1981:

: In a grid 11 x 11 squares, each square, save for the center one, has 50 dots in it;
: the center square has one dot. That center square represents the entire
: destructive power of World War II: 3 megatons (if translated into terms of nuclear
: warheads). The rest of the grid (120 squares, each with 50 dots) represents the
: destructive power of the world nuclear power in 1981: 18,000 megatons.

: In Hofstadter's example, we note that in 1981 the world destructive power was
: 6,000 times (almost 4 orders of magnitude) that of WWII. The arsenal today is
: even larger. A recent Newsweek article [3] reports that the US alone has more than
: 18,820 nuclear warheads (each capped with perhaps tens of megatons), while
: the rest of the world clocks in perhaps half of that, including Russia's deteriorating
: complement. All in all, today's total destructive power, and the M.A.D. strategy [4],
: ensures that were nuclear war to happen, humans have the capability to destroy
: the world population an estimated 94 times over.

: Putting the US destructive capability into perspective, although they have eighteen
: of them currently in service, a single American Ohio class submarine [5], with its
: complement of 192 warheads, could destroy most of Russia's population centers.

: Building a bigger gun :

: As is universally known, much of the world's nuclear armament was developed
: during the Cold War, when the Soviet and American militaries perceived that an
: opponent with a greater arsenal would be a threat to the national defensibility.
: Thus, the historic arms race.

: Yet even while the tit-for-tat arms race was continuing, the world's powers recognized
: the destructive potential being developed. Beginning in 1963, with the Limited
: Test Ban Treaty [6], 108 (about half) of the world's nations began negotiating
: several key treaties to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms, and established
: the M.A.D. paradigm as the chief deterrent for use of nuclear weapons. Although
: the treaties were essentially an honor code agreement that nations would not
: pursue the development of nuclear arsenals (if they did not already have them,
: which limited the nuclear powers to mostly western nations), the code has become
: the accepted paradigm for balancing nuclear power. In recent years, that code
: has been hedged (most notably by Pakistan and India), primarily by eastern
: nations wanting the status and respect accorded a nuclear power.

: The nuclear arms situation in the Cold War can be thought of as a Mexican
: Standoff, in which two men, both armed with loaded guns or un-pinned hand-
: grenades, are forced to share a confined space (Earth). Regardless of niceties,
: spats or any desire to break out the can of whoop-ass, both recognize their own
: mortality, and thus they do nothing with their lethal weapons. Self-preservation
: rules this day.

: Other people occupy the room as well (the rest of the world), and most of them
: tend to divide themselves into two groups: the East-side, and the West-side gangs.
: Conflict naturally arises between the two gangs, but self-preservation still keeps
: the lethal weapons out of play. Much posturing and many displays of strength, but
: generally, no one gets terribly hurt.

: The gentleman's agreements :

: The 1972 ABM Treaty [1], an agreement between the USA and the USSR, restricts
: both nations' development of defenses against nuclear missiles (ballistic missiles).
: The treaty insured that M.A.D. would continue to deter the use of nuclear weapons.
: Specifically, the USA and the USSR agreed that neither would build a missle defense
: system which would protect the entire nation against the other's attacks. It did allow
: for the construction of small-scale missile defense in two agreed-upon locations
: (restricted to one in 1976) in each nation where a *local* missile defense could be
: constructed.

: In our model of the nuclear balance, the ABM Treaty is an agreement between our
: two lethally-armed men to not develop Kevlar, bullet-proof vests or whatever which
: would fully protect against the other's weapons. The minor allowances for 'partial'
: defense amounted to allowing each man to wear a bullet-proof helmet; this
: maintains the standoff, while affording a small degree of protection for a vital
: organ.

: While the Soviets elected to build a missile defense system around Moscow, the
: Americans deactivated their system at Great Forks, North Dakota in 1976 [1].

: A second gentleman's agreement, in the form of the 1968 Non-Proliferation
: Treaty (NPT), divided the world into nuclear and non-nuclear countries, and
: required countries in different categories to not share nuclear arms-related
: information or resources with each other; thus, the NPT is the honor code that
: maintains the steady-state of the nuclear landscape. As of early 2000, it had
: been signed by all but four of the worlds nations (Cuba, Isreal, India and
: Pakistan). Additionally, the Middle East was agreed to be a nuclear-free zone
: under a recent Treaty resolution [7].

: The 'missile defense' trump

: The balance of nuclear power in the world today was almost entirely determined
: by the development of nuclear power in the United States and the Soviet Union, who
: hold perhaps 90% of world's nuclear power, with the remaining 10% largely held by
: Europe. The Cold War, with its West (Us) vs. East (Them) mentality, is responsible
: for the current distribution of nuclear power. Both the US and the USSR nuclear
: strategies were designed with this simple bi-polar nuclear threat in mind.

: As evidenced by national security documents in the Eisenhower administration,
: the United States has always been uneasy with the nuclear standoff [8]. There
: began the discussion about a national missile defense, although the primary goal
: was still to amass the larger arsenal. Still, there appeared never to be a commitment
: to the ABM Treaty for an indefinite period of time - rather, both the US and the USSR
: felt it a necessity of diplomacy until a time came when a full missile defense
: system could be put in place. That time never came for the Soviet Union as its
: economic and political turmoil was, in the end, the greater enemy.

: In 1982, Reagan, still deep within the Cold War mentality, announced the Strategic
: Defense Initiative (SDI), which included the much-lambasted Star Wars space-
: based interceptors [9]. This initiative was partially in response to the Soviet's
: cutting corners with the ABM Treaty, deploying a forbidden radar system. Reagan
: wanted to make nuclear missiles "obsolete" by creating a global missile defense
: system and breaking with the ABM Treaty.

: The end of the old paradigm :

: SDI never came to fruition, and in 1993, the unnecessary program was abandoned
: as a result of the demise of the Soviet Union and the apparent ending of the
: bi-polar paradigm. However, the Clinton administration continued funding
: anti-ballistic missile research, transmogrifying SDI into a less research-based
: program called the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) [10].

: There are three types of missile defense: global missile defense (Star Wars/SDI),
: theater missile defense (Patriot missiles) and national missile defense (protecting
: a nation's people alone). The latter two were to be the primary goals of the
: Clinton Administration's BMDO. SDI was designed to resist a full surprise attack
: from the Soviet Union, now a quite unlikely event. Theater and national missile
: defense are envisioned to protect against smaller nuclear/missile forces, such
: as those in nations unfriendly to the West (Pakistan, India, Iraq, etc.). Most
: notably, the Patriot missile defense system was used to protect UN troops
: during the Gulf War of 1990. The Bush administration has not raised the NMD
: program from the corpse of SDI, but has actually just 'fast-tracked' a Clinton-
: era program.

: With the deterioration of the Soviet Union as a world super-power, the United
: States (along with its allies) has been placed un-opposed at the top of the heap.
: It's scary at the top, too - everyone else (who is not at the top) is probably
: not being entirely honest with you, and possibly plotting to take your place. One
: might develop a healthy sense of paranoia, as a result. In the world stage, this is
: perhaps more true, as international politics can be even messier than the mud-
: fights in American politics.

: The new paradigm :

: In the Newsweek article, the Bush Administration claimed that "Missile defense is
: intended not to defang Russia but to deter rogue states (Ed. North Korea, Iran,
: Iraq, etc.) from trying to blackmail the United States with a nuclear-tipped rocket or
: two." But how much of a threat *are* such rogue states? And is upsetting the
: current balance of nuclear power an acceptable consequence for the development
: of such a system, trashing the ABM Treaty in the process?

: The Carnagie Non-Proliferation Project [11] projects that 34 world countries either
: have or are developing ballistic missile capability. While not all of them are
: nuclear-capable, they still complicate the Mexican stand-off situation.

: In our simple model, instead of simply a pair of men, we have close to two dozen,
: each carrying a weapon (gun, grenade, french-tickler). We still have our West-side
: and East-side gangs as well, although they're slightly less well-defined now. For the
: West-side gang-leader (that would be the US), the possibility of one of the other
: people in the room breaking the nuclear honor code and launching a snipe attack
: is maddening. The comfort of the bi-polar, black and white, world of the Cold War
: has been replaced with the complicated reality of a more democratic world stage.
: Additionally, with the East-side gang disassociating, it is possible that a single
: agent in the room might decide to be stupid, procurr or develop a lethal weapon
: and attempt to use it.

: How much threat? :

: Perhaps a NMD *is* warranted, if only to sooth the paranoia of the United States,
: and to protect itself in the uncertain post-Cold War nuclear landscape. However,
: before accepting the argument that rogue states warrant a NMD, some
: significant questions muct be answered:

: 1. How will a US NMD change the international nuclear playing-field?
: 2. What constitutes a rogue state?
: 3. Do any states of concern currently have both nuclear warheads and intercontinental
: ballistic missile (ICBM) technology (both required to nuke the US)?
: 4. Do any states of concern have the potential of developing/acquiring both
: technologies?
: 5. How do current NMD technologies perform against ICBMs with standard
: standard counter-measures.
: 6. Would deploying a NMD deter rogue states from nuking the US?
: 7. What alternatives to a NMD are there for preventing a rogue nation from
: nuking the US?

: These questions and more are examined in the article American Missile Defence :
: Flirting With Disaster.

: © 2001, Aaron Clauset

: References :

: [1] Anti-Ballistic Missle Treaty (1972)

: [2] Metamagical Themas, by Douglas Hofstadter. ©1981

: [3] "Dropping the Bomb", Newsweek © 2001

: [4] Mutually Assured Destruction

: In the 1983 movie entitled "War Games" [a] explained the danger of the M.A.D.
: strategy by showing that an artificial intelligence could understand the futility of the
: zero-sum game of nuclear war - i.e. that for me to win, you must lose. With nuclear
: war, however, the sum becomes negative as both sides actually lose, hence the mutual
: assurance of destruction.

: [5] Ohio class ballistic submarine, United States Navy

: [6] Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963)

: [7] Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968)

: [8] National Security Policy: Eisenhower Administration

: [9] Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), early version

: [10] The Rise and Fall of SDI, by Alex Tonello (1997)

: [11] Carnagie Non-Proliferation Project

: [a] "War Games", directed by John Badham (1983)

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updated 7.21.01