Friday, March 02, 2018

Tactical, But Not Calculated

On Wednesday, one of the senior advisors to the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), Frank Miller, attempted to defend his argument for low yield nuclear weapons in a piece with War on the Rocks. The suggestion that the U.S. should deploy low yield nuclear weapons to strengthen deterrence has been debated and criticized since the release of the NPR. While Miller attempts to defend himself, he largely does the opposite by stating arguable, minimized theories on what the result of a "limited" nuclear strike would be. In the first NPR in eight years, the authors argue that the U.S. should expand its options in the nuclear arsenal and develop tactical, or low yield nuclear weapons to match Russia, who they believe is doing the same. 

A majority of the criticism has revolved around the dangers of the implementation of low yield nuclear weapons in general and Miller's logic in the matter is certainly flawed. Millers responds that that critics are overstating when they claim that a nuclear strike would likely result in a nuclear war. The problem with the NPR lies even deeper than that, however, as the NPR and Miller's defense largely overstates (and somehow understates, at the same time) the use of a nuclear weapon in the first place. Miller's concern is that without tactical nukes, the United States would not have the proper weapon to respond in a conventional ground war with Russia. First of all, nuclear weapons are not intended for warfare, there are no winners or losers when nuclear weapons are involved because it is impossible to win a nuclear war. Second, why wouldn't a high yield nuclear weapon or a conventional weapon serve an extremely similar, if not the same, purpose in this scenario? Miller then goes on to repeat the argument that the possible chain of events after a nuclear strike is overstated by critics while also acknowledging that no one really knows what happens after deterrence fails. What Miller fails to see in that argument is that it is exactly why the use of nuclear weapons should be avoided at all costs. Low yield or not, if a nuclear weapon is used, deterrence has failed and that is uncharted and dangerous territory. 

In the meantime, while the authors of the NPR wasted all of this time arguing for low yield nukes, Russia was created something much more dangerous with its nuclear weapons arsenal. On Thursday morning, President Vladimir Putin revealed several new advanced strategic weapons systems, quite the opposite of low yield nuclear weapons. These weapons, Putin claimed during his state of the union address, are "invulnerable" and would render US defense systems useless. It seems as though, if the US is truly worried about deterrence and the possibility of a nuclear strike, it might think seriously about acknowledging that there is no such thing as a single nuclear strike and consider whether an arms race with Russia is an arms race the US wants to be in.

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