Comments by J. Gruber

To prevent nuclear war, borrow from 1973

by Adam M. Scheinman, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 14, 2018 

(in cache)

Comment 1

Adam Scheinman's line of arguments -it seems to me - runs opposite to the one of Daniel Ellsberg's. According to Ellsberg, a distinction needs to be made between "some nuclear weapons by nuclear weapon states" and the "doomsday arsenals" of the superpowers. The reason for this is: already the doomsday arsenal of one superpower has the capability to trigger nuclear winter in both hemispheres of our planet lasting several decades.

Ellsberg states in his book "The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner", Chapter 21 - Dismantling the Doomsday Machine (excerpts)

"Arguments made for the necessity or desirability of continued possession of some nuclear weapons by nuclear weapons states (NWS) do not remotely apply to maintaining doomsday arsenals on the massive scale of the superpowers – thousands of first-strike weapons each. That's true even when these pro-nuclear arguments do seem plausible to many as reasons for maintaining a small deterrent force.

Thus, for example: „You can't uninvent nuclear weapons.“ That has been a widespread and effective argument against a total unilateral abolition over the past seventy years. True, you can't eradicate the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and delivery systems. But you can dismantle a Doomsday Machine. And that, at minimum, is what we must hasten to do. There is no need or justification for us to wait for the Russians to do it to theirs first or in step with us, though that global imperative applies just as well to them.

This implies moving in the opposite direction from the programs of Presidents Obama, Trump, and Putin to reconstruct their entire machines, with their first-strike characteristics, with „modernized“ replacement components. In reality, such a program seems nothing other, in either country, than a further subsidy to the military-industrial-legislative complexes that each of them have or are: a boon to profits, jobs, votes, campaign donations (kickbacks). Good, solid, tradtional political incentives, but very far from legitimate justifications for maintaining or rebuilding a Doomsday Machine.

No state ever set out intentionally to acquire a doomsday capability. Nor does the existence of one such machine compel or even create a tangible incentive for a rival or enemy to have one. 

In fact, having two on alert against each is far more dangerous for each and for the world than if only one existed. If the two existing machines were dismantled (in terms of their doomsday potential), there would never be any strategic rationale for anyone to reconstruct that capability, any more than there was a conscious intention in the first place.

The good news is that dismantling the Doomsday Machine in one country or both would be relatively simple in concept and in physical operation (though politically and bureaucratically incredibly difficult). It could be accomplished quickly, easily within a year. But it would mean – and here's where institutional resistance would be strong – giving up certain infeasible aims and illusory capabilities of our nuclear forces: in particular, the notion that it is possible to limit damage to the United States (or Russia) by means of a preemptive first strike, targeted on the adversary's land-based missiles, its command and control centers and communications, its leadership („decapitation“), all other military targets and war-supporting resources, including urban-industrial centers, transportation and energy.

In other words, it would mean totally discarding the present strategy and criteria for covering targets in our strategic nuclear war plans and discarding most of the forces deployed to carry out these aims and plans. This would mean dismantling 

Comment 2

I wish to contrast Adam Scheinman's article with Daniel Ellsberg's assessment as e.g. expressed in Chapter 1 of "Lied To Death: Conversations With Daniel Ellsberg On Why We Go To War" (by Arn Menconi, May 2015, transcript)

Daniel Ellsberg states:

"The purposes of our covert operations, the purposes of our foreign policy in general are different from what we say. They are not to improve our national security. To a large extent they endanger our national security by tolerating or provocing or promoting threats literally to our existence. "

"Without our foreign policy there would not be five thousand Soviet missiles aimed at us that could destroy the world including us any day. Those wouldn't exist if our foreign policy was different. If our foreign policy was aimed primarily at preventing the United States from facing an existential -by which I mean survival, physical survival to the last human- if it were aimed at preventing threats to our physical survival, it could easily have been oriented toward preventing the existence of what at one point was about 30 000 Soviet weapons."

Comment 3

In Chapter 21 - Dismantling The Doomsday Machine of his "The Doomsday Machine" Ellsberg discusses nuclear non-proliferation, the United Nations July 7, 2017 treaty banning nuclear weapons, and ethical dimensions in view of looming nuclear winter. Finally he proposes concrete steps to be taken.

"Thus, it is urgent for the nuclear weapon states to acknowledge the reality that they have been denying, and the non-nuclear weapon states have been proclaiming, for almost fifty years: that in the long run, and that time has arrived, effective nonproliferation is inescapably linked to nuclear disarmament. Eventually, indeed fairly soon, either all nations forgo the right to possess nuclear weapons indefinitely and to threaten others with them under any circumstances, or every nation will claim that right, and actual possession and use will be very widespread.

Abolition of nuclear weapons must come in stages, but if proliferation in the near future is to be averted, a real commitment to total abolition of nuclear weapons – banning and eliminating their use and possession – as the truly reigning international goal is no longer to be delayed or equivocated. We must begin now the effort to explore and to help bring about conditions that will make a world of zero nuclear weapons feasible. Thus, it is extremely deplorable that the nuclear weapons states and their allies, led by the United States, boycotted the recent negotiations at the United Nations toward a treaty banning nuclear weapons, even if none of them are yet ready to join the more than 120 nations that adopted the treaty on July 7, 2017.

What is missing – what is foregone – in the typical discussion and analysis of historical or current nuclear policies is the recognition that what is being discussed is dizzyingly insane and immoral: in its almost-incalculable and inconceivable destructiveness and deliberate murderousness, its disproportionality of risked and planned destructiveness to either declared or unacknowledged objectives, the infeasibility of its secretely pursued aims (damage limitation to the United States and allies, „victory“ in two-sided nuclear war); its criminality (to a degree that explodes ordinary visions of law, justice, crime), its lack of wisdom or compassion, its sinfulness and evil.

And yet part of what must be grasped – what makes it both understandable, once grasped, and at the same time mysterious and resistant to our ordinary understanding – is that the creation, maintenance, and political threat-use of these monstrous machines has been directed and accomplished by humans pretty much the way we think of them: more or less ordinary people, neither better nor worse than the rest of us, not monsters in either a clinical or mythic sense.

This particular process, and what it has led to and the dangers it poses to all complex life on earth, shows that human species – when organized hierarchially in large, dense populations, i.e., civilization – at its absolute worst. Is it really possible that ordinary people, ordinary leaders, have created and accepted dangers of the sort I am describing? Every „normal“ impulse is to say „No! It can't be that bad!“ („And if it ever was, it can't have persisted. It can't be true now, in our own country.“)

We humans almost universally have a false self-image of our species. We think that monstrous, wicked policies must be, can only be, conceived and directed and carried out by monsters, wicked or evil people, or highly aberrant, clinically „disturbed“ people. People not like „us“. That is mistaken. Those who have created a continuing nuclear threat to the existence of humanity have been normal, ordinary politicians, analysts, and military strategists. To them and to their subordinates. Hannah Ahrendt's controversial proposition regarding the „banality of evil“ I believe applies, though it might better have been stated as the „banality of evildoing“, and of most evildoers.

After all, we Americans have seen in recent years human-caused catastrophes reflecting governmental or corporate recklessness far greater and more conscious and deliberate than our public can easily imagine or is allowed to discover in time. ...

... I well know that it is entirely unrealistic to hope that the present Congress (not to speak of the present president), dominated by the current Republican Party, or for that matter a Congress returned to the control of Democratic members mainly of the sort we have seen in the last generation, would respond to demands for any one of the measures I have proposed above:

Both parties as currently constituted oppose every one of these measures. This mortal predicament did not begin with Donald J. Trump, and it will not end with his departure. The obstacles to achieving these necessary changes are posed not so much by the majority of the American public – though many in recent years have shown dismaying manipulability – but by officials and elites in both parties and by major institutions that consciously support militarism, American hegemony, and arms production and sales."

Reply by

the_texasbob Jochen Gruber10 hours ago

it is likened to the so-called Mexican standoff, who will drop their nuclear gun first? no one trust the other in that "if they did" drop their nuclear weapons the other side would comply. the fear is the other side would take advantage and hold them nuclear hostage. Could you imagine either Pakistan or India getting rid of all their nukes and hopes the other side would do so too?

My answer:

Thanks for asking this. I posted more of Ellsberg's "The Doomsday Machine", and that might help us understand his reasoning. 

Basically, Ellsberg says, we need to distinguish between the doomsday machines of both superpowers and nuclear weapons the likes you allude to.
(1) Because doomsday machines have the capability to end human life on earth, Ellsberg argues, dismantling already one of them, regardless which one, will increase safety.
(2) In the Intro to his "The Doomsday Machine" he says:
"Thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, aimed mainly at Russian military targets including command and control, many in or near cities. The declared official rationale for such a system has always been primarily the supposed need to deter -or if necessary respond to- an aggressive Russian nuclear first strike against the United States. That widely believed public rationale is a deliberate deception. Deterring a surprise Soviet nuclear attack -or responding to such an attack- has never been the only or even the primary purpose of our nuclear plans and preparations. The nature, scale, and posture of our strategic nuclear forces has always been shaped by the requirements of quite different purposes: to attempt to limit the damage to the United States from Soviet or Russian retaliation to a U.S. first strike against the USSR or Russia. This capability is, in particular, intended to strengthen the credibility of U.S. threats to initiate limited nuclear attacks, or escalate them - U.S. threats of "first use"- to prevail in regional, initially non-nuclear conflicts involving Soviet or Russian forces or their allies."

Addendum by J. Gruber:

Adam M. Scheinman

Version: 18 March 2018
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Joachim Gruber