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Dissecting the Seriousness of Nuclear Deterrence in Times of Conflict

Disuasión nuclear, El American

Available: Español

[Leer en español]

Nuclear deterrence during the Cold War against Soviet power prevented an atomic war during a prolonged global geostrategic confrontation between two superpowers that ended with the victory of the West and the collapse of Soviet power. To understand what deterrence was then and what it must be now that competition between powers emerges, with nuclear power in its midst, as an unavoidable challenge to the rising power of Beijing, aspiring to global hegemony.

Something new and dangerous in American politics is that fanatical anti-nuclear activists are now an important part of the powerful far-left wing of the new Democratic Party that is setting the course for the Biden administration. Had it not been for this dangerous development, I would not even have read an article published in the dubious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a journal of anti-nuclear activists which, along with anti-nuclear activist physicists, theorists and astrophysicists, includes as “atomic scientists” authors of anti-nuclear diatribes ranging from pediatricians to political science graduates. If there is one thing that is lacking in this magazine, it is articles by real experts in armaments and real nuclear strategy.

Today, White House policies are influenced by things like this article full of fallacies and misinformation in which the authors attempt to “refute” the book by Adam Lowther — director of Multi-Domain Operations at the Army Management Staff College at Fort Leavenworth — who was previously the founding director of the U.S. Air Force School of Advanced Nuclear Deterrence Studies at Kirtland Air Force Base, and recently edited A Guide to Nuclear Deterrence in the Age of Great-Power Competition, a text that includes chapters by 22 leading national security experts, some of whom held senior positions in the Department of Defense during the Cold War.

The purported “rebuttal” to Lowther’s book by Princeton University astrophysicist Stewart Prager and University of Washington physicist Alan Kaptanoglu in an article titled Rebuttal: Current nuclear weapons policy not safe or sane is the kind of academic “contribution” that Biden’s Washington takes seriously occasioned in an endless series of foreign policy and defense blunders and disasters.

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Prager and Kaptanoglu accuse Lowther of seeking to establish a “priesthood” of nuclear specialists that would exclude the views of anti-nuclear activists like themselves. That fanatics of something as close to a religious cult as anti-nuclear activists would accuse someone of establishing a “priesthood” of nuclear experts is a paradoxical novelty, that what they say is a combination of exaggerations and lies is business as usual. The problem, and the danger, is that the level of these kinds of “debates” is made clear by taking at random two of the many lies most frequently repeated in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

  • We are told, over and over again, that the U.S. arms race forces Russia and China to increase their nuclear arsenals. The truth is that Washington’s arms control initiatives have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal by 90% and left the country with 30+ year old delivery systems, while Russia, China and North Korea build new nuclear weapons and modern delivery systems in violation of arms control treaties.
  • We are told, over and over again, that the United States has 6,000 nuclear weapons “ready for war.” But, by New START, the country is limited to 1,550 operational strategic nuclear weapons, which when added to strategic bombers would hardly exceed 2,000. Mobilizing those bombers would take up to three days and carrier submarines on patrol would possibly require hours to respond, so while Beijing tests new hypersonic ISBMs for its new warheads, only the old operational American ISBMs with a total of 400 warheads would actually be “ready for war.”

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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