Sunday, September 21, 2003

Reader responses to The Three Conjectures

A reader, Shane, observes that any proliferation of WMDs among Islamic terrorists would involve European or American citizens. "There are lots of Muslims in the West willing to take up the cause," Shane observes. Including some from West Point If a nuclear attack on New York were planned and executed by an Islamic group based in Paris, could America even retaliate? Not without going to war with France, believes Shane, or issuing an ultimatum for French action. "Old Europe has shown that it is unwilling to see the threat for what it is. There is also little reason to think that their perceptions would change with a nuclear attack on an American city." Unilateral action by the United States could precipitate "a nuclear exchange between Western powers (France and the U.S.)"

That scenario would seem to invalidate the total retaliation model predicted by the Three Conjectures or the Four Tier schema proposed by Caerdroia. But does it? Not in its essentials. Shane's observation confirms rather than disproves the guts of the Second Conjecture: that the acquisition of WMDs by Islamic terrorists guarantees an uncontrollable escalation of WMD exchanges leading to the destruction of Islam, and much else besides. Clearly the United States would have to act in Shane's scenario: it could not simply await a second attack, the French Force de Frappe be damned. And France would also be compelled into action. It could not long tolerate nuclear weapons in private hands on French territory. In the end everyone would act, and act too late.

The Third Conjecture holds that all our degrees of freedom are contained in the current War on Terror. After this "Golden Hour" our actions will be severely constrained. In fact, once terrorists have acquired a steady source of WMDs, we will have no freedom of action at all. Or rather, the US will have as much room to maneuver as at that nightmare moment, envisioned during the Cold War, when NORAD might detect several thousand Soviet MIRVs inbound over the North Pole. In that instant, which thankfully never happened, the entire concept of choice would have become an illusion. The dreadful mechanism of retaliation would go into automatic effect with humans providing only the counterfeit of control. It follows that the War on Terror must not fail. Not if mankind is to live; not if the Muslim world is going to survive. Our current efforts carry the whole burden of future hopes and if we falter nothing will be left but to witness the consequences of our failure.

Shane deserves to know why old Europe "is unwilling to see the threat for what it is." The short answer is that America shields them from it. There is an obscure branch of mathematical economics called hedonic cooperation structures. It is the study of how coalitions are formed. In a world solely consisting of Europe and Islam, no coalition would form between them, because the threat posed by Islam to Europe would outweigh any benefit. But if America were added to the equation, a three-node graph would emerge and Europe would coalesce with Islam because they could reap the benefits of cooperation with Muslim nations while remaining shielded by the presence of America from any downside. During the ten years following the Desert Storm, the French did just that. They enriched themselves in Oil for Food deals while the United States spent blood and treasure to keep Saddam in his cage. Paradoxically, the more successfully America prosecutes the War on Terror the less willing old Europe will be to see a threat. America will have taken care of it. Hence we see Jacques Chirac demanding UN control over Iraq even as France is unwilling to bear the slightest cost in maintaining the peace. France has become very small and it aspires to become smaller still.

Yet that does not change the fact that this is the Golden Hour, the hour of hope, though for America it may seem nothing more than unremitting labor and pain. And all across the nation, young men and women are saying goodbye to their families for extended deployments in words that are really Frodo's at the last council in Rivendell: "I will bear the Ring, though I do not know the way".