Holiday Nuclear War Talk

I did not want to write about nuclear weapons use policies the day before Christmas Eve, but here we are. The issue and the way it is discussed has bothered me for a long time, but I have mostly stayed out of it. I’m not going to link to the other arguments. They can easily be found, including in today’s edition of a major paper. I’m not going to link because that shatters the argument into a thousand tiny subtopics.

The resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis has occasioned a flurry of tweets and articles on nuclear command. Mattis was believed to bring a steady hand and dissuasion to the potential use of nuclear weapons. A claim has been made that he had explicitly inserted himself into the command chain.

Nuclear war is of concern to all of us, but there is, yes I will use the word, a priesthood that prefers that it not be debated widely. To this end, they broadcast fear by the way they explain things and, when cornered, defend their turf with “I can’t talk about that.” Additionally, each participant in the discussion has an area of expertise in which he can muster more obscure facts than anyone.

But the issues can be comprehended by anyone. Donald Trump has absolute power to launch nuclear weapons. The launch sequence is rapid, and the missiles cannot be called back. The setup was developed during the Cold War, for a different set of threats than we face today. It needs to be changed.

Thinking about nuclear war is frightening and nightmare-inducing. Most people don’t want to think about it, but we’re going to have to at some time. Fear is never a good basis for making decisions, nor is taking the word of someone who won’t talk about what he knows. And Trump and his people have set so many dumpster fires that we have to deal with them first.

So there’s no real discussion of the issues, just, as now, a flareup of words. It will die down or be smothered by the next Trumpian uproar. The priesthood will continue to argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

How do we move ahead? We need to rethink the command and control process. In order to do that, we must avoid exacerbating the fear factor. There is more than enough fear in the subject itself. We also must avoid the ego trap of claiming special knowledge, whether that comes from classification or a plethora of detail. And we need to address the specifics of what can happen, not an idealized thought-sequence.

There’s a lot more I could say. But I’m going to leave it here for now. There’s plenty in this post that may provoke responses from the priesthood.


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