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No Hans...You've been served

Hans rips on my dealert comment which wasn’t necessarily meant as an advocacy, given that it was part of a satirical post on my journal, which I think is a bit silly. Looks like someone got tired of looking for nudes of Barbara Boxer…

In any case, I think I can defend a dealerting advocacy.

First, I don’t think accidental launch is the only reason why we’d dealert, though it stands to reason that even if you have a handful of nuclear missiles on high alert it would be vastly preferable to a status quo where you have thousands on high alert. Even if we face a minimal risk of accidental launch you don’t have an argument; and additionally, I bet we’d save a ton of money by not having to staff these silos 24/7/365 and only having to do periodic maintenance. Though it’s debateable, and none of us have access to any real data that would indicate that the risk of US accidental launch is relatively high or low I think there are non-negligible risks that exist.

On the technical side there’s quite a few things that dealerting could mean that don’t just involve burying the silos.

There are other reasons why we might want to at least reduce if not eliminate the number of nuclear weapons we have on high alert, nonproliferation being at the top of the list. Standing down and rethinking our nuclear posture would go a long way towards taking pressure off the Russians, for example, and allow us to rekindle arms reductions while reducing the pressure on Iran or North Korea (or other potential rogue states) to acquire nuclear weapons. Even dealerting our ICBM force while maintaining a small number of tactical nuclear weapons would probably be sufficient to maintain our deterrent posture, satisfying defense hawks, and yet be a way to increase our ability to dissuade other nations from their own proliferation initiatives.

So Hans, we’re left with your final argument. Incremental solutions to the nuclear problem are bad (and I’m sure that the deterrence argument is one we can engage later, because I’ll go on record as being conditionally in favor of nuclear deterrence, though I think a lot of the deterrence debates would certainly be improved with the existence of hard data to test the theoretical assumptions or the generalized conclusions that we draw from history). Your internal link to the incrementalism argument is that dealert lets us numb ourselves to the existence of nuclear weapons, allowing us to render their use more thinkable. The logical continuance of your argument is that this even undermines a deterrence strategy based on MAD because MAD is all about rendering the use of nuclear weapons unthinkable. Unfortunately, you make absolutely no warrant for your claim; in fact, I think the argument goes the other way for the following reasons. First, dealert renders disarmament more thinkable, which re-energizes disarm/peace movements. Perhaps you have noticed that the disarm movement seems to be in a state of terminal apathy? The nuclear debate is one that is barely happening in our culture, and though I might argue that deterrence at this stage in our history key to peace I would rather live in a world where this debate continuously informs our government than not; I would much prefer that instead of debating how low the threshold is for the use of nuclear weapons, like Bush’s bunkerbusters, we be debating their necessity. Indeed, I think dealerting, by making us more conscious of how we are using these weapons, spurs us to question why we have them. Additionally, I think that if you want to engage the question of how we numb ourselves to the existence/use of nuclear weapons you should instead be questioning how the image of these weapons is marketed.