On Point: Will We a Have Deterrent for a Future Nuclear Attack?

by Austin Bay
August 13, 2003

Only the most craven zealots are prepared to sacrifice 2 millionlives for the sake of their political theology and the alleged moralsuperiority of their cause.

The 2 million estimate is, of course, as rough as it isappalling to contemplate. The lives lost in the savage event -- the brasstack moment where imagined scenario becomes hysteric scene -- could be50,000 or 5 million. Weather, population, the power of the nuclear weapon orthe virulence of the DNA-altered virus, medical facilities, the ability andwillingness of the international community to react with courage and withmercy, each of these affect for somewhat better or much worse the casualtyfigure.

I'm specifically thinking of the 2 million or so South Koreans aNorth Korean nuke could kill, or the 2 million in Tokyo, or perhapsHonolulu.

Tel Aviv is another target. With the demise of Saddam's regime,the most likely source of a missile attack on Israel would be Iran.

In the wake of U.S.counter-terror strikes in 1986, Libyannutcase Muhammar Gaddafi fired missiles at one of Italy's Mediterraneanislets. A future strike on Italy isn't farfetched, with Rome a Ground Zero.

Diplomacy does lower the risk of such attacks, as well as afrayed form of nuclear deterrence. The old deterrence regimen tore when theSoviet Union disintegrated. Diplomacy and residual deterrence, however,haven't halted the digging, in Libya, North Korea and Iran. Gaddafi is adeep digger. His prize dig lies inside Jebel Tarhunah, southeast of Tripoli.The mountain protects a factory. The factory used to be in a town of Rabtha,and in the late 1980s the Pentagon concluded Rabtha made nerve gas. TheRabtha plant burned, mysteriously. Gaddafi, in order to keep his privacy andprevent new fires, dug deep.

In 1996, Clinton administration Secretary of Defense WilliamPerry said the U.S. would not rule out military action against Gaddafi'sdeep hole, as a last resort.

Post 9-11 and post-Saddam, Gaddafi is behaving, sort of, thoughhe still has his Tarhunah hole.

North Korea's "deep digs" are harder targets than Tarhunah. Praythe upcoming multilateral talks disarm Kim Jong-il and his clique. But Kimhas starved 2 million of his own people. To save 2 million more lives mightrequire Perry's last resort. So the Pentagon has experimented with salvos ofsuper-penetrating conventional bombs, where one bomb tails another bymicro-seconds, a jackhammer to destroy nukes or bugs before they're used.

The problem is, conventional bombs don't yet cut it. That's onereason U.S. strategists must consider small-yield, deep-penetrating nuclearweapons to reach what the Pentagon calls "a hardened and deeply buriedtarget."

But try to explain that need to the zealots, like the"anti-nuke" true believers protesting outside Offutt Air Force Base inNebraska, where Strategic Command (STRATCOM) held a conference last week toexamine nuclear issues.

In the zealots' world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are war crimes.(They should take a look at author James Michener's recently released letteron that subject.)

The few coherent voices among these fundamentalists arguedeveloping small penetrator nukes will damage international arms-controlefforts. They place great, unshakeable faith in arms control treaties,documents with nice words.

Like former SecDef Perry, I prefer diplomacy, including tougharms control regimens. The planet has too many nuclear weapons -- our ownstockpile should continue to shrink. I suspect, however, that OperationIraqi Freedom was a far more effective lesson in controlling theproliferation of weapons of mass destruction than the Non-ProliferationTreaty.

I'm not convinced that North Korea and Iran are beyond forms ofarms control and flexible deterrence. That being said, a vital part ofvigorous, post-Cold War nuclear deterrence is a small deep-penetrating nukethat can "go deep."

The anti-nuke unilateralist zealots don't agree. They have apolitical theology, you know. To protect 2 million innocents in the lastresort, they'll issue a press release. When 2 million die from a NorthKorean nuke, they will surely lament it.

The rest of us will wish we'd had the weapon to prevent it.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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