Monday, September 08, 2003

Response to a Reader

A gentleman from California responded to The Unthinkable with questions of his own,

Q: But that leads me to ask, what is the value of our nuclear "deterrent"? Whom does it deter? I suggest the nuclear deterrent now has no value. It deters no one because everyone knows it will never be used except against a nation state that initiates a general nuclear attack against the U. S.

A. Traditional deterrence works pretty well against nations which might initiate "a general nuclear attack against the U. S.". North Korea, China and Russia fall under this heading. To that extent, existing nuclear strategies will remain useful. But it might not deter a terrorist attack. Deterrence was designed against the rational enemy nation state. Terrorists are neither.  The Unthinkable was an attempt to identify the characteristics of a doctrine that would work against a catastrophic terrorist threat.

Q: Are you suggesting that we build the "Doomsday Bomb" from Dr. Strangelove? I doubt that is what you mean to say, but it sure sounds like it. I don't buy that and I think there are other alternatives we should consider ... Consider an alternative ... to disarm, not unilaterally but multilaterally ... I do not know how much we spend on nuclear weapons and systems, but ... Let's suppose we dedicated that to increased conventional military forces and unconventional means of combating the ideas and beliefs that threaten us. That would make a substantial difference to the war on terror.

A. The entire War on Terror has been an attempt to find a conventional solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism so that America never has to decide what to do in the event of a terrorist nuclear strike. But if it took place, what then? The existing nuclear deterrent will have failed and conventional forces would be inadequate to prevent a second, third or nth attack. There must be a riposte and we should think it through in advance of the contingency.

A purely physical response, with all moral considerations excluded, would consist of destroying every possible mode of enemy power -- doomsday for Islam. But as The Unthinkable points out, even this extreme response may not be enough. Islamic terror could continue to operate from secret cells in Europe or America itself. Well, we could try discriminating biological agents, but even so, a new set of adherents could regenerate itself from the ashes of the old. Logically, then, while we are bound to prepare for this eventuality -- doomsday for Islam -- there is no real guarantee that it would ultimately work. The most that can be expected of comprehensive retaliatory extermination will be a very hollow victory, comparable to calling artillery fires on your own position thirty seconds before your own demise to bury the enemy with you. But at least the problem is bounded. America can guarantee that Islam will not triumph i.e. "cannot reach the stars", even though it cannot assure a positive victory for itself.

To win a positive victory, the United States must win the war of ideas and beliefs. Radical Islam is an evil meme which cannot be physically destroyed although it can be culturally and intellectually discredited. Therefore the preferred solution, is "to continue the fight it conventionally, with weapons wielded by men and by sowing subversive ideas into the dark recesses of its caves, with the hope, but never the assurance of ultimate victory". That is, to continue the War on Terror under the current lines. We hope to win, but those who seek assurance will not find it in statistical or technological inevitability.

I hope this helps, and thank you for writing.