Saturday, June 09, 2007

Nuclear Deterrence and Logic

This one belies the claim to brevity, but my excuse is that it is an essay on nuclear deterrence.

I see that Mikhail Gorbachev is dismayed at Bliar's decision to update Trident.

Nukes are such an emotive topic. This essay is an exercise in cool logic. Try it.

Nuclear Deterrence and Logic

In principle, if the consequences of the failure of a system would be infinitely destructive to a civilisation, it is reasonable for that civilisation to use that system if and only if the probability of its failure are zero.

Does the possession of nuclear weapons by a number of states in the international community constitute a system, that is, a group of interrelated parts forming a whole?

It is certain that they are interrelated; the possession of these weapons by one state is indeed the driver for a second state to obtain its own weapons, forming a chain reaction of nuclear weapons proliferation which the NPT seeks, with surprising success, to restrain. They also form a system in the sense of classical Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) deterrence, whereby opposed states are restrained from using their weapons in warfare because of the threat of retaliation by its opponent.

So nuclear weapons do form a group of interrelated parts. Do they form a whole? In classical deterrence, the answer given by supporters of deterrence theory was a categorical affirmative. For them, the balance of nuclear forces between West and East created a state of peace for fifty years. A more neutral point of view would agree that the existence of nuclear weapons does indeed raise the threshold for declaring war. So all parties can agree that the outcome of collective nuclear weapons possession is an inhibition of declaration of war, a relative state of world peace, which is the single product of the many parts, and therefore nuclear weapons possession on the part of many nations is a system.

Next, can the system fail? Nuclear deterrence is a complex arrangement of electronic sensors embedded in a command and control network composed of humans working to hard protocols that are interwoven with pattern judgements and valuations which are affected by the emotional state of the individuals and groups that make the judgements. The groups themselves, particularly the supreme decision making groups, are isolated from the common body of humanity, and are known to be susceptible to a condition known as group think – defined as A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.[i] Moreover, the interplay of decision makers is now far more complex than in the days of the cold war, with players coming on to the field who might not view the destruction of the prevailing world civilisation as a thing to be avoided at all costs, and other players already on the scene who believe that nuclear weapons could be used tactically without risking a strategic exchange.

In short, it is entirely reasonable to judge that the probability of failure of the nuclear deterrence system is greater than zero. [ii]

Would the breakdown of the nuclear deterrence be infinitely destructive? This is point that must be settled by a value judgement. First, would it be possible to get away with a limited exchange, or would one nuclear detonation inevitably escalate into an all out global nuclear war?

It is impossible to give a definitive answer to that question, but the safest assumption to make is that if one weapon is detonated, they will all be fired. The reason for this lies in the doctrine of first strike, which aims to destroy the opponent’s weapons before they can be fired. Once it is known that an opponent has detonated a nuclear weapon, the pressure will be on for supreme commanders to fire all their nuclear weapons before they lose them to a first strike. In view of this, although we cannot say that any exchange would inevitably lead to a first strike, it would be the height of folly for anyone to assume that they could use weapons in a limited tactical strike and believe that matters would then be allowed to rest by the opposition. Unfortunately this is the prevailing nuclear doctrine of the United States of America. They consider that nuclear weapons could be used tactically, as an extension of a conventional military campaign. In doing so, they may trigger an all-out nuclear war.

Would an all out strategic nuclear exchange be infinitely destructive? There are estimated to be at least 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world held by at least eight countries, 96 percent of them in the possession of the United States and Russia. [iii]

The effects of all-out nuclear war were well studied in the 1980s. Physically, the most interesting possible effect is the so-called Nuclear Winter, where atmospheric soot cuts off sunlight for a period of weeks or months.[iv] When the sunlight returns, the effects of city and forest fires will have been to increase the atmospheric CO2 load, thus exacerbating global warming. Species loss will increase, secondary to habitat loss. Of these, the loss of bees will be most important, since cessation of their pollination services will lead to failure of such crops as survivors may try to plant. Ironically, rats and cockroaches are resistant to radiation, and so will flourish, given the plentiful quantities of human and animal carrion available.

To say the least, economic growth after a nuclear war would be unlikely. In fact a global economic recession or even a depression is almost inevitable, and to be replaced by a survival economy based around obtaining water, food, warmth and shelter for the group. Life will be short, and cancers plentiful, but health services would be rudimentary, and analgesics in short supply. Gangsterism will flourish, and self interest is likely to become the norm.

In summary, it is entirely reasonable to expect that an all out nuclear exchange would lead to the end of western civilisation. It would therefore be infinitely destructive.

In terms of the model set out at the beginning, the consequences of the failure of a nuclear deterrence system would indeed be infinitely destructive to our civilisation, the probability of its failure is greater than zero, and therefore it is illogical for our civilisation to use that system.

Since the syllogism contains a value judgement, and there will inevitably be others who take a different view. However, they are compelled to argue either that the deterrence system is perfectly safe, which is manifestly not the case, or that a tactical weapon would not lead to an all-out nuclear war, which is clearly not provable, or that an all-out nuclear war would not destroy civilisation, which is clearly unreasonable.

In the circumstances, however, because of the uncertainties involved, it is safer to take a precautionary view. The great majority of humanity view the possibility of all out nuclear war with a great deal of distaste. They should be helped to understand that the nuclear deterrence system is not infallible, and that these weapons are quite capable of being used in anger. This should then motivate them to exercise their democratic right and duty to remove from political office anyone who believes that it is reasonable for any state to possess nuclear weapons.

Dr Richard Lawson



[i] Janis, Irving L. Victims of Groupthink. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 9.

[ii] Lachlan Forrow and others, "Accidental Nuclear War --A Post Cold War Assessment," NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Vol. 338, No. 18 (April 30, 1998), pgs. 1326-1331

[iv] Nuclear winter: Physics and physical mechanisms," R. P. Turco, O. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B. Pollack and C. Sagan, Ann. Rev. Earth and Planet. Sci., 19, 383-422 (1991).

11 comments:

Sue Pritchard said...

Well I have to admit that I got bored before the end, but this is not an exercise in logic as the whole argument breaks down before it gets started! It is only reasonable to avoid using a destructive system that can fail if you are concerned about destruction.

But as you point out there are many players who might not view the destruction of the prevailing world civilisation as a thing to be avoided at all costs.

There are indeed an increasing number of people, in all cultures, for whom the argument not the consequence is supreme.

The arrogance of the West, with its belief that ours is the right (only) way, is the greatest risk to the world. An arrogance which, I have to say, is exemplified by so many of your articles.

The fact is, yours is the minority view. In my opinion your ideas will never be accepted in the mainstream because it means giving up so much - ego, money and the 52" plasma.

DocRichard said...

Hi Sue, thanks for commenting.
First, I am concerned about the threat of destruction of both our natural environment and also of our civilisation. I am not sure from your comment whether you share this concern. If you do not, then there is not much that we can say to each other except hello.

Neither am I sure who these people are for whom argument is more important than life itself.

For you to say that my writing supports the view that the Western way is the only right way suggests that either you have not read, or have not understood, my blog.

Thanks for taking the trouble to comment anyway.
Best wishes
Richard

Sue Pritchard said...

Wow! Are we on the same planet?

Concerned yes, but also, being a realist, resigned to the inevitable. Global warming seems to me a far greater threat than nuclear weapons and I don't see any western govt doing anything serious about that.

My comparison between your posts and Western attitudes was about arrogance, not belief.

And people who place little value on life are; teenagers in Wales, Taliban, suicide bombers, ex pupils of various schools in USA and a couple in Europe recently and so on.

I think that you cannot see beyond your wealth, education, privilege and comfortable corner of little old England. If only the world was as simple as you paint it.

Sue Pritchard said...

Just realsied that you didn't comment on my last para: actually that is the most important thing I said - I think.

DocRichard said...

Dear Sue

Resigned to the inevitable? Nothing is inevitable except death and taxes. We humans have the power of choice in everything except death. Some people even manage to avoid taxes, to their shame.

Yes, some people place little value on life. Others do. Sometimes we are negative, sometimes positive. We can choose to bring on the positive.

Arrogance? Overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors?

Well. There's nothing I can say to that, apart from, Sorry.

Do I paint the world as simple? The world is unbelievably complex - far more complex than the most complicated theory anyone has ever conceived. Yet at the same time, it is very simple: We can choose to do right, and we can choose to do wrong. Sometimes we do one, sometimes the other. Thats human. Life is about learning to be happy in such a way that others also could be happy.

"[Green] ideas will never be accepted in the mainstream because it means giving up so much - ego, money and the 52" plasma".

Ego learns when it comes in contact with limits. Money is about to find its proper place in the scheme of things. Big TV screens, like 4x4s, are going to become too expensive to run.

The coming times are going to be hard, but we are not powerless to help ourselves.

Best wishes

Richard

Sue Pritchard said...

Oh Richard

"We humans have the power of choice in everything except death."

What choice for baby "P"? What choice for those sitting on barren African plains with no food? What choice for my friend who died last week having spent two thousand and seven and a half days, totally paralysed with MND?

You have choice in your wealthy, healthy, educated life. Choice follows awareness. Without knowledge and understanding there is no choice.

Having those privileges, by the way, does not make you superior, nor they inferior. Whether or not you came up with that definition tongue-in-cheek, it gives a fascinating insight into your thinking. (Collins says: having an exagerrated opinion of one's own importance, merit and ability. Conceited.)

You say right and wrong is simple. Who's right and wrong? The Government's? Western values? Human values? Or are we just talking about the Law according to Richard Lawson?

"Life is about learning to be happy". Where does this gem of wisdom come from? Do you realise that more than a billion people don't have access to clean drinking water? Life for them has absolutely nothing to do with happiness - they are concentrating on surviving the day.

"Ego learns when it comes into contact with limits". This is an interesting insight. Have you reflected upon the fact that your life is far less limited than others?

"Money is about to find its proper place in the scheme of things." I'm afraid all I see are governments trying to spend their way back to the same old paradigm. Michael Meacher: "The Government, for which read Gordon Brown, never had any intention of imposing any limitations on the banks beyond what was politically unavoidable."

"Big TV screens, like 4x4s, are going to become too expensive to run." Tell that to the Glaswegian woman interviewed in her council flat, sitting in front of her huge plasma screen, saying she had no money to feed her kids. Or the emaciated pensioner I stood behind yesterday as he counted out his 1 and 2 pence pieces to buy 10 cigarettes, as he gasped for breath.

The coming times are going to be hard and the vast majority of people will be looking after themselves, with absolutely no concern for the environment, world peace or the Lawson lawbook.

My guess is that you won't reply to this. If you have read it this far I doubt that a single word has caused you a moment's rethink. Am I right or is there still a hint of doubt, an ounce of humility or a tiny gap in the blindfold?

With no malice,

Sue

DocRichard said...

Dear Sue,

"What choice for baby "P"? "

Babies do not exercise choice, that responsibility falls to their carers, and in this case they (and the community services) made the wrong choices. Remember that most of the time, people make the right choices. These do not make it into the papers.

"What choice for those sitting on barren African plains with no food?"

I agree, they have little choice, but we have the responsibility of choosing to help them, both immediately with food aid, and long term by choosing to stop and reverse global warming, which is wrecking their rainfall patterns.

"What choice for my friend who died last week having spent two thousand and seven and a half days, totally paralysed with MND?"

I have looked after a patient with MND. There are many deep and difficult ethical choices connected with conditions like this, which society has hardly started to grapple with.

"You have choice in your wealthy, healthy, educated life. Choice follows awareness. Without knowledge and understanding there is no choice".

I plead guilty to my privileges. As I see it, they give me more responsibilities, but they do not automatically invalidate my thinking.

Everything is relative. You may have been given a hard deal in life compared to me (though you do not know the full circumstances of my life, nor I yours) but compared to a starving African, you also have a privileged life.

"Having those privileges, by the way, does not make you superior, nor they inferior. Whether or not you came up with that definition tongue-in-cheek, it gives a fascinating insight into your thinking. (Collins says: having an exaggerated opinion of one's own importance, merit and ability. Conceited.)"

Like you, I got that definition from a dictionary. There is nothing I can say in response to your judgment of my personal worth.

"You say right and wrong is simple. Who's right and wrong? The Government's? Western values? Human values? Or are we just talking about the Law according to Richard Lawson?"

I said: We can choose to do right, and we can choose to do wrong. Sometimes we do one, sometimes the other. Thats human.

""Life is about learning to be happy". Where does this gem of wisdom come from? Do you realise that more than a billion people don't have access to clean drinking water?
Life for them has absolutely nothing to do with happiness - they are concentrating on surviving the day".

Happiness is finding water when you are thirsty, finding food when you are hungry.

If life is not about learning how to be happy (in such a way that others could also be happy, then what is it about?

"Ego learns when it comes into contact with limits". This is an interesting insight. Have you reflected upon the fact that your life is far less limited than others?

I am fully aware that my life is less limited than others. See above.

"Money is about to find its proper place in the scheme of things." I'm afraid all I see are governments trying to spend their way back to the same old paradigm. Michael Meacher: "The Government, for which read Gordon Brown, never had any intention of imposing any limitations on the banks beyond what was politically unavoidable."

Here we are fully agreed. This financial crisis is our opportunity to change things for the better. We should be writing to our MPs, to try to bring this about, not to each other.

""Big TV screens, like 4x4s, are going to become too expensive to run." Tell that to the Glaswegian woman interviewed in her council flat, sitting in front of her huge plasma screen, saying she had no money to feed her kids. Or the emaciated pensioner I stood behind yesterday as he counted out his 1 and 2 pence pieces to buy 10 cigarettes, as he gasped for breath."

Yes, we often make the wrong choices.

"The coming times are going to be hard and the vast majority of people will be looking after themselves, with absolutely no concern for the environment, world peace or the Lawson lawbook.

My guess is that you won't reply to this. If you have read it this far I doubt that a single word has caused you a moment's rethink. Am I right or is there still a hint of doubt, an ounce of humility or a tiny gap in the blindfold?"

Sue, it is not clear what you are recommending as the right path.

What comes across from what you have written is anger, despair and nihilism. I have considered despair as an option, and have discarded it, because it leads to depression and inaction, and to choose despair is to choose to be part of the problem.

What is clear is that you do not like my opinions, and do not like me as a person, though I cannot recall meeting you.

I can tell that you are angry with the suffering in the world, as I am. I guess that you have been badly hurt by one or more people in the past, maybe a doctor, and my guess is that that anger is being projected onto me.

I suppose you will take that analysis as more evidence of my arrogance.

I considered deleting the paragraphs above, because they are almost certainly going to annoy you, but have chosen to let it stay, because there is an effective way of neutralising these traumas called Cutting the Ties. http://www.krystal.cnchost.com/

Sue Pritchard said...

I find the flow of your thinking very difficult to understand. When I challenge a point, you simply change the point to suit your argument.

You said, "We humans have the power of choice in everything except death." I pointed out that this is demonstrably untrue. So you respond that where we dont have choice then other people have choice for us, which I agree with, but it is hardly the original point.

"I have looked after a patient with MND. There are many deep and difficult ethical choices connected with conditions like this, which society has hardly started to grapple with."

Quite right. Why not? - because there are no votes in it; no money. This is my whole point - humans do not organise themselves to act altruistically.

"I plead guilty to my privileges. As I see it, they give me more responsibilities, but they do not automatically invalidate my thinking."

Of course not; my point is that you appear to have allowed them to. This appears to be your choice.

Everything is relative. You may have been given a hard deal in life compared to me (though you do not know the full circumstances of my life, nor I yours) but compared to a starving African, you also have a privileged life.

This sounds like the kind of response one might hear on a playground.

"I said: We can choose to do right, and we can choose to do wrong. Sometimes we do one, sometimes the other. Thats human."

Yes you did say that. The question I asked is, who defines right and wrong? Clearly you think it is wrong to avoid taxes. In my worldview, tax is theft. Am I wrong to protect my possessions? I may be or I may not be, but I do not accept that there is no debate about it.

"Happiness is finding water when you are thirsty, finding food when you are hungry."

I wouldn't know. My guess is that I might be too weak to be happy and too concentrated on finding the next drink to have time for such a luxury as happiness.

Can you get into that mindset? Think about it - your search for food and water is not over when you have found it. There is tomorrow and next month. It is never over. You have children, only to see them die in front of you. This is your whole life and then you die. Can you seriously talk of happiness? [Ouch! - I just felt a stab of anger].

"If life is not about learning how to be happy (in such a way that others could also be happy, then what is it about?"

You got me.

"I am fully aware that my life is less limited than others. See above."

I can only say that your essays suggest to me that you have a very inaccurate perspective of that.

"We should be writing to our MPs, to try to bring this about, not to each other."

Now what has that ever changed? A million people on the streets of London couldn't stop the Iraq war.

[On buying 4x4s and cigarettes] "Yes, we often make the wrong choices."

No, we just make choices and take the consequences. We are back where we started. Remember, "with players coming on to the field who might not view the destruction of the prevailing world civilisation as a thing to be avoided at all costs". If this is their legitimate, heartfelt view, who are you to cast it as wrong?

For some, life without the 4x4, cigarettes and plasma screen would be pointless. Millions of voters appear to have no spirituality at all. This is the reality.

"Sue, it is not clear what you are recommending as the right path."

Here you go again: there is no right path and even if there were, no one is listening, whatever I might recommend.

"What comes across from what you have written is anger, despair and nihilism. I have considered despair as an option, and have discarded it, because it leads to depression and inaction, and to choose despair is to choose to be part of the problem."

Anger? - No
Despair? - No
Nihilism? - In global terms, a tendency.
Depression? - A little from time to time.
Inaction? - No. I walk, listen to music, read a lot of blogs, work hard.
Despair? - No. Just acceptance, perhaps resignation.

"What is clear is that you do not like my opinions, and do not like me as a person, though I cannot recall meeting you."

Your opinions irritate in the absolute way you present them. I don't know you as a person, though I suspect you are probably a caring chap under all that self-importance. We haven't met.

"""I can tell that you are angry with the suffering in the world, as I am."

Not angry, frustrated.

"I guess that you have been badly hurt by one or more people in the past, maybe a doctor, and my guess is that that anger is being projected onto me."

No, people have been pretty good to me, although the GPs I've met have never been very useful - I still have IBS!

"I suppose you will take that analysis as more evidence of my arrogance."

No, just another example of the inaccuracy of your self-generated worldview. But then again, I guess not of us are free of a degree of self-delusion:)

Take care

Sue

jim said...

I have been reading stuff here to find out if I shuld vote Green.

seems to me that Sue has resgned from the human race. She makes a number of thoughtful observations about the state of socety and then relinquishes any responsibility for them. Very Strange.

However, as a WSM voter it concerns me that she is right in one respect. In all the debate, you only concede once: in respect of the new financial order. In every other case you use the avoidance tactics typical of politcians.

You DID say that humans have the power of choice and then brushed over the fact that Sue provided a number of examples where that is not true.Do you acknowledge that you were wrong?

She says that those responsible for weapons policy do not necessarly share your concern for the continuty of the human race. Do you accept that? (I think she could be right in the future. What if Bin laden builds a bomb and we have no means of responding?)

You do not answer her point about right and wrong. Certainly for me it is not as clear as you say.

I completely agree with her about happiness.It doesn't demonstrate much empathy for starving people to say, in effect, they're OK if we give them the odd bowl of rice. And if you didn't mean that it certainly is the way it came over.

When Sue said (paraphrasing) that people will always find a way of paying for the things they want and therefore do not find limits which make them learn, your response was that we often make the wrong choices.So is ego changed by coming up against limts or not?

I am sick of the 2 party merry-go-round and I think we do need a different approach. I agree with most of your articles on this blog, but the last thing we need is more spin, lies and bullshit. Is the Green Party any different?

Jim
Hewish

jim said...

I was hoping for a response

DocRichard said...

Hi Jim

Give us a chance! I've only just picked up your comments.


"However, as a WSM voter it concerns me that she is right in one respect. In all the debate, you only concede once: in respect of the new financial order. In every other case you use the avoidance tactics typical of politicians".

Please specify.

"You DID say that humans have the power of choice and then brushed over the fact that Sue provided a number of examples where that is not true.Do you acknowledge that you were wrong?">

OK. Choice.

What choice for baby "P"?
I addressed this, and the African question. As I said, the Africans have the choice of migrating (within or outside of their country) or dying. We have the choice of continuing with business as usual or decarbonising our economy, stopping and reversing the global warming that we have caused, while at the same time helping them to stabilise their ecology with the kind of thing that Practical Action http://www.practicalaction.org/?id=about_us
and the Green Belt Movementhttp://www.greenbeltmovement.org/
does.

"What choice for my friend who died last week having spent two thousand and seven and a half days, totally paralysed with MND?"

I said that I have looked after a patient with MND. There are many deep and difficult ethical choices connected with conditions like this, which society has hardly started to grapple with. The choice here is to be made to live as long as possible, or to be helped to die with dignity.

In the cases Sue makes, the choice for the individual is very limited. But we are not just individuals, we are also a society, and it is here that choices have to be made on the behalf of individuals who are in difficulties.

"She says that those responsible for weapons policy do not necessarily share your concern for the continuity of the human race. Do you accept that?"

I do accept that. That is why I wrote the piece.

"What if Bin laden builds a bomb and we have no means of responding?"

I take it that you mean we have not nuclear or other WMD device. What kind of response do you have in mind? Nuke him back? Where do we drop it? And what will be the knock on effect?

Our best defence against terrorism lies in the police and intelligence services. They have captured the dangerous enemies, most of whom are in UK, not in Afghanistan.

I addressed some of these issues here: http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2005/11/what-is-difference-between.html

The military response that we have made has increased the terrorist threat, not decreased it.


"I completely agree with her about happiness.It doesn't demonstrate much empathy for starving people to say, in effect, they're OK if we give them the odd bowl of rice. And if you didn't mean that it certainly is the way it came over".

You are misrepresenting me. Please read it again and see what I said. Try to be more specific, not general, in your questions, it is not clear to me what you are after.

Clearly there is a huge amount of misery in the world. It is going to get very much worse with business as usual. Green politics is about learning how humans can live sustainably (= happily, if you like) on this planet.
Here it is in more detail: //www.greenhealth.org.uk/GreenEconom.htm

"When Sue said (paraphrasing) that people will always find a way of paying for the things they want and therefore do not find limits which make them learn, your response was that we often make the wrong choices.So is ego changed by coming up against limts or not?"

As the Stones said: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need". Or, as Gandhi said, "The Earth has enough for our need, but not our greed". The big egos in the City have just run up against the buffers of reality. They are still talking big, but the wind has gone out of their sails.

And it is not true to say that people cannot always find a way of paying for things that they want. We have to adjust our wants to what the earth can sustainably give us. We have to learn that the earth's resources are finite, and we have to adjust accordingly.

"I am sick of the 2 party merry-go-round and I think we do need a different approach. I agree with most of your articles on this blog, but the last thing we need is more spin, lies and bullshit. Is the Green Party any different?"

The Green Party too is sick of the 2-party merry-go-round. Do not forget that we have been plugging on against all odds for 30+ years, because we believe that the central truth of our philosophy - that economics must be founded on ecology - represents a paradigm shift on a par with the Enlightenment. If we had not been excluded from the political process by the media and the electoral system, it is arguable that Britain would not be in such a deep hole as it now is. But the Green Party is human too, and makes mistakes just like any other party. In other countries, where greens share power because of modern electoral systems, they have some pretty unpleasant choices to make.

I hope this answers you more fully.

Have we met, buy any chance?

Have a nice day, or at least, have the kind of day of your choice.

Richard