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Subject: Definitions of the types of deterrence: minimum, limited, maximum?
warishumannature    7/18/2004 5:52:11 AM
There are said to be different types of deterrence: minimum, limited, and for lack of a better word, "maximum". What constitute these levels of strategic deterrence?
 
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elcid    RE:Definitions of the types of deterrence: minimum, limited, maximum?   7/18/2004 11:17:47 AM
There is a vast amount of literature on this. The ideas differ over time and from country to country. Consider the following a quick and dirty oversimplification. First, deterrence is not a new idea. Anytime anyone is afraid of the consequences that might happen if he attacks any country in any circumstances, to the degree he is afraid to attack he has been deterred. Thus "conventional deterrence" is deterrence which occurs because of the non-nuclear forces a country has. "Nuclear deterrence" is deterrence which occurs because of the nuclear forces a country has. But theory says there is another difference: nuclear deterrence, it is claimed, particulary by American and Western European theorists, is perfect, or nearly perfect. This is because "the consequences of even one failure are unacceptably catistrophic." Indeed, the theory is that BECAUSE the consequences are catistrophic, "no rational player" will risk them. I always said "bunk" - but only now is my view becoming common. An Iranian leader said "If we have even one atomic weapon, we should use it immediately on the USA, to insure we hurt them." And no one doubts terrorists like AQ will use them if they can. Some nations and organizations are "undeterrables" in current parlance. But, to the extent you have a "rational player" the forms of deterrence follow. Minimum Deterrence. This is the keep it simple kind. It is the doctrine of PRC. It seeks ONLY to deter nuclear threats and attacks on its own country. China was threatened by Ike in 1952 and 1954. China did not know Ike was bluffing - that he had zero intent to use them no matter if he got his way or not. It was an outgrowth of earlier theories of "atomic diplomacy" post WWII - when we had a monopoly. We felt just having atomic bombs meant we got our way - IF we were willing to use them. In its final form, this became the doctrine of "massive retaliation." We would bomb your cities even in peacetime, if we didn't get what we wanted. The doctine failed: we rarely if ever got our way and threatened countries rushed to develop nuclar weapons of their own. The Russian case is complex, and probably they would have went nuclear anyway eventually. But China made the decision early, in 1955, before they could afford it. The idea was "never again" to be threatened like at the end of the Korean War or in the Taiwan Straits Crisis. Because China was poor, minimum deterrence was all it could reasonably afford. It is not so much because communist China is moral it adopted this strategy - it was making a virtue of necessity. Limited Deterrence. This is the doctine of UK and France, at least, and maybe other nuclear powers like India, Pakistan and Israel. It seeks to deter attacks both nuclear and non nuclear at all levels of warfare - that is from local disputes through general nuclear war. It requires you spend more money and have more options than just attack some easy to hit target like a city. It is this flexibilty that makes an attacker worry that you might, say, hit his invasion fleet at sea, or whatever. It is not very expensive compared to what you call maximum deterrence, but it is a lot more expensive than limited, which is why China never went for it. China is thinking about it now, but so far has rejected it, because of cost, and because of the risk of escalation. Most soldiers who command nuclear forces think there is a big risk that any nuclear weapons use will "escalate" to a general nuclear war pretty fast. Here again I am a radical. I think a limited nuclear war at sea, and a limited nuclear war against a non-nuclear power, is reasonably feasible without much risk. I don't like nuclear warfare, but that is no reason to say it cannot happen. It it really is "impossible" why are we once again designing tactical weapons (bunker busters and EMP weapons)? Maximum deterrence - not a term I ever heard - might be defined as participating in a nuclear arms race - attempting to obtain a strategic advantage in a general nuclear war. The USA - under the Kennedy Administration - considered attacking the USSR in peacetime - to prevent mutual deterrence coming into effect. Later, under Johnson, it considered attacking China, to prevent it becoming a nuclear power. Russia, in the Nixon era, considered the same thing - and aked Nixon if we would let them? [He said no - an attack on China - even a limited attack - would be treated as a general attack on the USA]. Maximum deterrence seeks to win by attacking first - a so called "first strike" - because theoretically you can get almost all the other guy's nuclear weapons and defang him. It also seeks to prevent that from being possible. So we "launch on warning" - before the weapons arrive - leading to a very unstable situation. US nuclear doctrine is based on the view we lose communications and control in a few minutes - so control "devolves" in a very brief period - 2 or 3 minutes. It is not well under
 
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Alexis    Definitions of the types of deterrence - to El Cid   7/18/2004 6:38:54 PM
Thank you for that very elaborate post. "the theory is that BECAUSE the consequences are catistrophic, "no rational player" will risk them. I always said "bunk" - but only now is my view becoming common. An Iranian leader said "If we have even one atomic weapon, we should use it immediately on the USA, to insure we hurt them." And no one doubts terrorists like AQ will use them if they can. Some nations and organizations are "undeterrables" in current parlance." I'm not at all convinced a single "undeterrable" nation exists. That Iranian leader you spoke of, I think it's Rafsandjani, he was actually saying that a nuclear-armed Iran would have the advantage over Israel, because (so he said) a very small numbers of nukes would be enough to destroy Israel, while Iran could withstand a limited nuclear strike with a handful of nukes, because of its size. That is very different from advocating a nuclear attack on the USA. And even what he actually said is no more than bragging, which he certainly knew it was except if he's braindead : the fact is that Israel has enough nuclear weapons to destroy quite throughly the Iranian nation, even in a second strike thanks to their nuclear-armed submarines. Telling to your partisans "Hey, we'll be stronger !" and actually acting as if it was true are obviously two very different things. As for the existence of undeterrable terrorist organizations ... well ALL terrorist organizations which are not closely state-controlled are undeterrable ! This for the very simple reason that they have no civilian part which they are in charge of protecting ... how could one target their cities in a retaliatory strike ??? If a single not closely state-controlled terrorist organization was to get its hands over a handful nuclear weapons, the world would never be the same again. "I think a limited nuclear war at sea, and a limited nuclear war against a non-nuclear power, is reasonably feasible without much risk." I think you're absolutely right. Still, such a limited nuclear war against a non-nuclear power would not be started lightly, because it's against international treaties and would very probably "awaken" all those countries in the world who have a dormant nuclear capability : all the Sweden, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, etc... These "side effects" should give pause to such plans, except in the most pressing circumstances. By which pressing circumstances I would mean such scenarios as massive radiological attack on the capital of a nuclear-armed nation, or successful biological attack. "MIRV greatly increases the possibility of a first strike being successful. That puts pressure on everyone to shoot first. These sorts of concerns show no one really believes nuclear deterrence is as close to perfect as it needs to be if we are to avoid losing a lot in nuclear wars." You're right about MIRV increasing the possibility of a successful first strike ... on fixed ICBMs. But there also are mobile ICBMs, the likes of SS-24 or SS-27 Topol, and even better SLBMs placed aboard very quiet SSBNs. It's true that if mobile strategic nuclear weapons, like mobile ICBMs or SLBMs, had not been invented, mutual nuclear deterrence would be far less stable than it is. <<>> There is not a large difference between 10,000 strategic nukes and 1,000, provided their survivability is good. But there IS a large one between 1,000 and 0 ! The logic that makes the US and Russia lower their strategic arsenals will not make them bring the total to 0. If that ever happens, an entirely different reasoning would have to be used. I don't know what that reasoning could be. I can't see any of the "global 5" nuclear powers de-arming. UK and France each have put themselves at the level they think is their absolute minimum : the capability to support one SSBN in its patrol zone, with a boatload numerous enough, and survivable enough, to deter an arbitrarily large hypothetic enemy superpower. There is no reason for any of them to go below that. The US and Russia ultimately will arrive to a similar "minimum level", which will probably be higher than UK's or France's, mainly for prestige reasons. As for UK puting non-nuclear warheads on Trident missiles, do you have a source for that ? I strongly doubt it because of the utter waste of resources that a classical bombing through SLBM would be.
 
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elcid    That is very different from advocating a nuclear attack on the USA.    7/19/2004 1:20:44 AM
Different quote. Different date. Different subject under discussion. Actually, though, the search for a nation willing to use nuclear weapons, one does not have to leave home. The USA used nuclear weapons on a nation it believed did not have them (as the story is usually told - some British historians as challenging the "did not have them" part). The US program nominally was intended to insure GERMANY did not have a monopoly on them, but US planning always contemplated use against Japan. The US later threatened to use nuclear weapons many times. And today, many years after we stopped all nuclear weapon design activity, all nuclear weapons fuel production, and all physical testing, we have reconstituted the first two and are thinking about resuming testing - specifically to obtain weapons we really can and will use in tactical ways. Moves of this sort generate imitators - some Chinese generals say they should do what the USA does. Then there is North Korea. It sells every weapon it can. Why do you dout one day it will sell nuclear devices, if it has more than it requires?
 
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elcid    well ALL terrorist organizations which are not closely state-controlled are undeterrable !    7/19/2004 1:22:40 AM
True. But in classical nuclear deterrence theory this was not supposed to be possible. Nuclear states were supposed to be too strict controlling nuclear weapons fuels and technology. Had they not made so many weapons and related materials, the risk of private ones would not exist. The theory was wrong, and now we have a problem, Houston.
 
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elcid    such a limited nuclear war against a non-nuclear power would not be started lightly, because it's ag   7/19/2004 1:26:47 AM
No it is not illegal. See Are US Nuclear Weapons Legal? (there are copies in the Library of Congress, but none on the web - a paper not a book). The answer is "technically yes - because no law forbid's them per se." [I am not confused about this: I wrote the paper and a conference of international lawyers concluded it is correct a year later[. The reasons not to do this lightly are: 1) It is bad PR, at home and abroad, 2) It is a bad precedent. If WE can do this, some other nation will imitate us, and we won't like it most of the time. Easier it is to not do it. 3) There is no military mission for which a nuclear weapon is required. The closest exception to this is the bunker buster. And it does not apply at sea!
 
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elcid    radiological attack    7/19/2004 1:31:07 AM
RW was once fashionable. The US National Academy of Science thought RW was more likely to work than atomic bombs - in its first report - before research had been done. German and Japanese weapons programs focused on several variations. This led to extensive US and USSR research programs. The tests show they are not very useful at all. [I have all the tests if anyone is interested, plus a list of tests so I can show I got them all - all declassified by Bechtel - the DOE contractor for archives.] RW are very inefficient use of reactor time. They have all the disadvantages of CW and BW, but less effect. They also do not store well - losing power over time and turning things around them radioactive. Several attempted cw and bw attacks have failed -including on on the World Trade Center. Don't worry about this.
 
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elcid    The logic that makes the US and Russia lower their strategic arsenals will not make them bring the t   7/19/2004 1:36:58 AM
Suppose this is true. What is the proper level to stop at? This is where the debate will occur. Once we actually reach that level, the cost will seem too high. And it is high. Turns our our software testing idea didn't work out. And all weapons degrade over time. So you have to make fuels, do tests, lots of expensive things. For a weapon you never use? At some point this may be an issue. But not until about 2020-2030 - IF we have not seen any nuclear wars. I am pessimistic. I expect minor nations to use them. I expect the USA to use them too. I think the age of non use is nearing an end. IF we were serious about non-proliferation, and about non-use ourselves, our policy would be quite different than it is. We are not serious, and the odds will catch up with us, probably in the medium term, not the long term. Maybe in the short term. Once we have nuclear weapons use, the situation will change radically. Which way is less clear? We may outlaw them all. Or we may lose cities every so often and get really nasty about it.
 
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elcid    UK and France each have put themselves at the level they think is their absolute minimum    7/19/2004 1:38:56 AM
Yes and no. While historically true, both have reduced as the US and Russians did. This cannot continue - at some point it becomes hard to justify sending a submarine to sea. But they have actually reduced "below" what was their "absolute minimum." Which is why there was lift on UK subs for non-nuclear Tridents.
 
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elcid    The US and Russia ultimately will arrive to a similar minimum level,    7/19/2004 1:41:03 AM
Probably. Most theorists think it will be in the low hundreds - as in 200 or 300 deployed warheads. That is the level at which the consensus breaks down, and for that reason, we may not go below that level. But except for some hotheads who have no impact on policy in either country, no one thinks we need more than that - if we get there gradually and verifiably.
 
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