I’m reassured with the knowledge that a small legion of smart people are actively planning the demise of civilization and the majority of human life here on Earth.  I’m thinking that these people need to be called the Fermi Corps because they are actively trying to prove Fermi’s Paradox and associated theory theory to be correct.  Rajan Menon writes on Tom’s Dispatch on how our governments are attempting to normalize and rationalize nuclear solutions that spell the end of our world.

What is scary (on top of the base amount of scary) is how insular this report (NPR) seems to be.

“Instead, [the Nuclear Posture Review] it makes an elaborate case for a massive expansion and “modernization” of what’s already the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal (6,800 warheads versus 7,000 for Russia) so that an American commander-in-chief has a “diverse set of nuclear capabilities that provide… flexibility to tailor the approach to deterring one or more potential adversaries in different circumstances.”

The NPR insists that future presidents must have advanced “low-yield” or “useable” nuclear weapons to wield for limited, selective strikes.  The stated goal: to convince adversaries of the foolishness of threatening or, for that matter, launching their own limited strikes against the American nuclear arsenal in hopes of extracting “concessions” from us.  This is where Strangelovian logic and nuclear absurdity take over.  What state in its right mind would launch such an attack, leaving the bulk of the U.S. strategic nuclear force, some 1,550 deployed warheads, intact?  On that, the NPR offers no enlightenment.

You don’t have to be an acolyte of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz or have heard about his concept of “friction” to know that even the best-laid plans in wartime are regularly shredded.  Concepts like limited nuclear war and nuclear blackmail may be fun to kick around in war-college seminars.  Trying them out in the real world, though, could produce disaster.  This ought to be self-evident, but to the authors of the NPR it’s not.  They portray Russia and China as wild-eyed gamblers with an unbounded affinity for risk-taking.

The document gets even loopier.  It seeks to provide the commander-in-chief with nuclear options for repelling non-nuclear attacks against the United States, or even its allies.  Presidents, insists the document, require “a range of flexible nuclear capabilities,” so that adversaries will never doubt that “we will defeat non-nuclear attacks.”   Here’s the problem, though: were Washington to cross that nuclear Rubicon and launch a “limited” strike during a conventional war, it would enter a true terra incognita.  The United States did, of course, drop two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities in August 1945, but that country lacked the means to respond in kind.  

However, Russia and China, the principal adversaries the NPR has in mind (though North Korea gets mentioned as well), do have just those means at hand to strike back.  So when it comes to using nuclear weapons selectively, its authors quickly find themselves splashing about in a sea of bizarre speculation.  They blithely assume that other countries will behave precisely as American military strategists (or an American president) might ideally expect them to and so will interpret the nuclear “message” of a limited strike (and its thousands of casualties) exactly as intended.  Even with the aid of game theory, war games, and scenario building — tools beloved by war planners — there’s no way to know where the road marked “nuclear flexibility” actually leads.  We’ve never been on it before.  There isn’t a map.  All that exists are untested assumptions that already look shaky.”

Our demise as a species is being laid out, piecemeal, by people who should know better.  Realistically the only ‘nuclear button’ needed by the the ‘great powers’ is one that is labelled “The End of All Civilization” because there are no winners in a nuclear exchange.

It might even be better just to have a button that incinerates one’s own country and civilian population, as a quick (relatively quick-ish) nuclear conflagration seems to be a more humanitarian endpoint than the slow starvation and decent into chaos that is promised with nuclear winter.

Sounds a bit macabre, I realize, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t prefer the nuclear winter option, as my mad blogging skillz and boff0 teaching portfolio have no utility in any sort of post apocalyptic  scenario.