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Obsolete existential threats #1: The Bomb

The near-future is comprised of three parts: 90% of it is just like the present, 9% is new but foreseeable developments and innovations, and 1% is utterly bizarre and unexpected.

(Oh, and we're living in 2001's near future, just like 2001 was the near future of 1991. It's a recursive function, in other words.)

However, sometimes bits of the present go away. Ask yourself when you last used a slide rule — or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop, let alone trig tables. That's a technological example. Cultural aspects die off over time, as well. And I'm currently pondering what it is that people aren't afraid of any more. Like witchcraft, or imminent thermonuclear annihilation.

Yes, I know witchcraft accusations are a major problem in some parts of the world even today: and there's a 1950s cold war replay between India and Pakistan, with hundreds of H-bombs on each side and a hot line between New Delhi and Islamabad. But witch hunting is passé in New England and Scotland and the Germanies, and nobody really expects Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama to start playing nuclear chicken like it's 1974.

So what happened?

Peel back the obvious explanation ("the cold war ended!") and there's an interesting technological rupture underneath.

Nuclear weapons have mesmerized military planners (and politicians and the public) for seventy years now, but they've only been used as offensive weapons during a single military campaign.

They have been used as weapons of intimidation frequently, but, uniquely, by being detonated on the territory of the aggressor (for example, in 1998). The perceived risks of retaliation are too serious to make them a useful battlefield tool: even if a nuclear power is facing a non-nuclear one, the perceived diplomatic and economic consequences of being first-to-use give an aggressor cause for restraint.

So why do so many governments seem to want them?

Rewind to the birth of modern military aviation in 1914-18: among the innovations of the first world war were tanks, poison gas — and, of course, the bomber. General Giulio Douhet's pernicious theory of aerial strategy, published in 1921, opined that [per wikipedia] "air power was revolutionary because it operated in the third dimension. Aircraft could fly over surface forces, relegating them to secondary importance. The vastness of the sky made defense almost impossible, so the essence of air power was the offensive. The only defense was a good offense. The air force that could achieve command of the air by bombing the enemy air arm into extinction would doom its enemy to perpetual bombardment."

There were several weaknesses with this theory, as originally proposed, and they became glaringly obvious when aviation strategists tried to put it into use during the second world war. While early deployments (by Italy in Ethiopia, by the Luftwaffe in Spain) worked quite well, Douhet had been writing prior to the development of radar: the RAF's integrated air defense network broke the Luftwaffe's offensive teeth during the Battle of Britain because fighter aircraft could find the offensive bomber forces in the vastness of the sky, and ripped the shit out of them. Then the British discovered in turn (and to their dismay) that night bombing was hopelessly inaccurate: the circular error probability for Bomber Command aircraft during the early days of the RAF bombing campaign over Europe was on the order of five miles. (The CEP is the radius around a target within which 50% of munitions fall. When your target is a factory and you're using 250Kg bombs, a CEP of anything much over a hundred metres means that you're going to miss it.)

A secondary idea was that civilian populations would be terrorized and their morale crushed by the damage inflicted by bombs; that tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians would die in the first few hours of a bombing campaign, and the pressure to surrender exerted on their leadership would be irresistible. This is the principle that was named "shock and awe" by one Donald Rumsfeld in 2002.

Well, it turns out that mass unaimed bombing is rubbish and doesn't hit the target, and you can inflict hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths from above without wrecking civilian morale sufficiently to bring down a government (much less a ruthless and bloody-handed dictatorship). The post-1943 allied bombing of the Third Reich did achieve some goals — but it typically took a 500-1000 bomber raid to knock out a single factory, with losses running between 0.5% and 3% of the attacking force during time over target. In any other military speciality, a tactic that involves losing your own forces at a rate of 1% per hour would not be considered a viable one ...

So, if massed area bombing didn't work, what was to be done?

The A-bomb was the obvious second world war answer to the problem: drop really big bombs, mind-bogglingly big bombs. One bomber could do as much damage as a thousand bomber raid! It could flatten a factory on its own! (Not to mention the nearby town the factory workers lived in.) The H-bomb took the logic a step further: flatten the entire city the enemy lived in, wrecking multiple factories and military bases in one go.

Fortunately for us, this didn't happen (after August 1945). By the time the cold war had grown icy enough for proponents of nuclear war like General MacArthur and Curtis LeMay to gain a following, Stalin had acquired a bomb of his own. At this point, a nuclear stand-off began, and we all survived because nobody wanted to die. Or see their families, friends, and homes incinerated even if they were safe in a Strangelovian bunker. Dropping the bomb became unthinkable, although its possession paradoxically marked the nation that had it out as one that could reasonably claim a place at the top table in military negotiations.

So, if nuclear bombing wasn't politically practical, what was to be done?

The first inkling came during the Vietnam war, with the use of laser guided bombs by the USAF to strike at North Vietnamese bridges and other difficult targets.

Putting a single unguided bomb onto a target is very difficult, but illuminating a target with a laser beam is somewhat easier. Laser guided bombs simply home in on the dot of light reflected from a target that's being illuminated by a laser. Early LGBs were expensive, balky, and took two aircraft per mission — one to aim the laser and one to drop the bomb. Nevertheless, a single LGB could often hit a target that had survived fifty or a hundred previous unguided bombing missions. "It was determined that 48 percent of Paveways [LGBs] dropped during 1972-73 around Hanoi and Haiphong achieved direct hits, compared with only 5.5 percent of unguided bombs dropped on the same area a few years earlier. The average Paveway landed within 23 feet of its target, as opposed to 447 feet for gravity bombs."

But LGBs are still somewhat expensive. A cheaper solution came to hand from the mid-1990s onwards, with GPS guided bombs for attacking stationary targets. JDAM kits, fitted to second world war era "iron" bombs, enable them to be dialled in on a target with CEP of under 10 metres: "B-2s launched 651 JDAMs with 96% reliability and hit 87% of intended targets" during the 2002 bombing of Serbia.

JDAM kits are ridiculously cheap compared to the cost of even the fuel and maintenance of a single bomber flying a single mission; so much so that it's cost-effective to replace unguided bombs with JDAMs in almost all missions. And with an accuracy multiplier like JDAM instead of a force multiplier like an A-bomb, it again becomes possible for a single bomber to inflict massive structural damage on an enemy nation — but this time with minimal collateral damage.

So here's my point:

Nukes were politically unacceptable, weapons that had no practical utility in the arsenal, because they threatened mass civilian casualties on an unthinkable scale. Smart bombs offer the possibility of achieving the same level of strategic damage as nuclear weapons without causing huge collateral damage. And indeed, the history of western air power in the 21st century has been of an increasing willingness on the part of politicians to bomb the crap out of developing world targets, because they know they're not going to lose aircrews of kill tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.

There's one group of people who might still want to acquire nukes for a practical purpose: "terrorists". (Scare quotes intentional.) But I think this is a paper tiger. Terrorism isn't an existential state, it's a tactic. People employ it in order to achieve political ends. Nuclear weapons are difficult to make because they require extremely exotic materials that the existing manufacturers keep under armed guard. As the Hamburg Cell of Al Qaida demonstrated on 11/9/2001, you can achieve equivalent damage using much simpler tactics. The collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings released about as much gravitational potential energy as a one kiloton nuke, and killed roughly as many people. But the 9/11 atrocities also demonstrated the limits of the terrorist spectacle: like Douhet's mass bombardment of cities from the air, terrorism doesn't make the target population quake in their boots and plead for surrender, it mostly pisses them off and stiffens their spines.

I'm not saying that some terrorist group won't, at some point during the 21st century, get their hands on or build — and then detonate — a nuclear weapon. I am saying that if they do so their surviving friends will end up cursing their names, and the scheme will backfire spectacularly. This is the 21st century, and the way we commit atrocities in the 21st century is with home-made GPS-guided stealthed cruise missiles. Nuclear weapons belong on the scrap heap of history because they're crude, blunt instruments, stupid and impossible to use with any subtlety.

286 Comments

1:

This is the 21st century, and the way we commit atrocities in the 21st century is with home-made GPS-guided stealthed cruise missiles.
Or, as the last two months have given us a short preview of, with computers. We've only seen feints and games so far, but a break-in at a major financial institution or government record-keeping bureau could be catastrophic. Not much physical harm, but tens or hundreds of thousands of ruined lives.

2:

Well,

after destroying all relevant orbiting satellites of "the enemy", you may want to destroy his ancient aircraft carrier flotillas as their most potent way of projecting power (i.e. precision strikes). And you may want to employ some rather crude means to do that, if those crude means can ensure destruction. An H-bomb in the middle of the ocean won't do much collateral damage.

But basically, yes. It's probably not an existential threat.

3:

two obvious current fears that will go away that i can think of are impending environmental catastrophe (i.e. global warming/cooling, icecaps melting, sea level rises etc.) and the more prosaic issue of fossil fuels running out.
i don't think that ten years will necessarily see the death of either of those, but i do think that in the near term we'll have to solve either of those to survive in our current societal niche, and when they're solved (and i firmly believe they will be - if only through necessity and because they're ultimately linked) the problem goes away.

4:

a break-in at a major financial institution or government record-keeping bureau could be catastrophic

Unlike mass bombardment and terrorism it even leaves populations suffering and bewildered, rather than fighting mad. Or at least more likely to be fighting mad at the Institution/Government for letting it happen. Not a consideration to be overlooked when you're doing your planning.

5:

While otherwise agreeing with what OGH has said, I'd point readers (who can reach it) at a recent article in Nature:

Nuclear winter is a real and present danger, by Alan Robock, 18 May 2011.

Models show that even a 'small' nuclear war would cause catastrophic climate change. Such findings must inform policy, says Alan Robock.

Basically Nuclear war is for idiots. While the end of the cold war diminished the risk of nuclear winter, even a "small" regional nuclear war is capable of triggering one. As an existential threat, could it wipe out the whole of humanity? probably not. Civilisation, not so sure.

6:

Hi Charlie

the home-made GPS-guided stealthed cruise missile, launched by Afgan religious terrorist/ insurgents against the millitary headquarters of an occupying foreign power is 1986's near future from "the Moon Goddess and the Son" by donald kingsbury. Of course the consequences - almost setting off world war three after hitting the high command in the kremlin (not the intention of the person who launched it - and the reason why it didnt is the main story of the book) is excatly the obsolete threat you mention.

7:

Wandering off on a side track:

or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop

Umm, it's not every day, but yesterday or the day before. It sits between my keyboard and my monitor.

let alone trig tables

Ah, definitely not. I have the calculator!

Why is this 25 year old Casio FX-451 in front of me? Because it's easier and quicker to use than finding the calculator app and firing that up, and it has all sorts of useful conversion functions on it.

Would I bother going out and buying a calculator these days? Probably not. But as long as I have the physical one to hand, it's quicker to use than a software emulator that is missing chunks would be. But if it wasn't solar powered and I had to replace batteries, it would have gone years ago.

8:

I can see how for example discovering all data and backups held by the high street banks has been shuffled into a nice neat 1010101010 pattern could cause a certain amount of Chaos.

9:

If you're asserting that climate change/peak oil/co2 emissions aren't a problem, you're dead wrong.

Whether we will learn to deal with them before they deal with us ... well, I'd be more optimistic if (per an earlier blog essay) we had a life expectancy on the order of 600 years! Because our decision-making apparatus tends to be operated by elderly high-status males who (a) don't receive unwelcome news calmly (primate troupe dynamics) and (b) have a short remaining life expectancy and therefore no interest in events with consequences more than 10-30 years away.

10:

I disagree greatly. For last 3 administrations USA has been pouring funds into ABM; partially in their long held hope of "winnable nuclear war", and to nullify other nations nuclear arsenals viability as deterrent.

Last 20 years have shown that only nuclear weapons can guarantee sovereignty of a nation. And while USA and Russia have disarmed quite a lot, they still posses capability to make a nation, any nation, disappear on a "push of a button".

11:

I used to have a lovely Casio fx181p that a burglar managed to trash when he broke into my car a few years back. It no longer works.

I cannot find a replacement that isn't some multi-line algebraic notation device. This is a shame because my Casio was really good for quick calculations in a way that calc.exe (or zny of its cousins) just isn't.

No doubt there is an iPhone or Android app that "does the same job" but doesn't provide the same robust interface that the fx181p had.

12:

"Terrorism isn't an existential state, it's a tactic. People employ it in order to achieve political ends"

It is amazing how many people dont grasp this at all. In one of the latest discussions I've been involved, the operating theory of a group of people could be summarize as:

There is a genetic disorder called HateUSism, which affects a % of the population of other places. Sufferers spontaneously hate the US no matter what, and no action from the US can either create more HateUs carriers, neither any political action can cure one.

Given that the strategy to follow is to do all that is possible to kill them, no matter how it looks. Once the last HateUS carrier is dead by any means, then things will be safe, forever.

13:

You forgot that nukes can be used as a economical weapon too, here are two ways:

Indirect: Nuclear arms race - India and Pakistan are wasting their 3rd world resources in to that madness.

Direct: High altitude detonation. EMP will cause no civilian casualties but electronic machinery which is not protected will be unusable. Life without money transactions is hard here.

When IRA started making one billion £ of damage with their truck bombs negotiations followed in record time. If terrorists or rogue states employ the same technique with high altitude nukes I guess the diplomacy is the only way out.. for our democracy.

Let me ask how exactly you are going to smart bomb their nations which are already broken? They wouldn't notice the difference before and after the bombing.

Or how about "getting even" with high altitude nuclear detonations? I am sure that their sheep and yaks will function after that too.

The problem here is that we have hillbillies* with nukes and/or nuclear ambitions, and that is going to cost us a lot.

*Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Myanmar - the old guard of hillbillies have become tame city folk (USA and Russia)

14:

I remember a few years ago this fellow getting into all sorts of trouble because of his interest in building pulse jet engines.

He even had an offer from the Iranian government at one point.

A friend's brother got a visit in the early nineties from the Defense Signals Directorate, a shadowy Aussie government agency, because he had been building commercial cryptographic systems.

It makes me wonder what future or current technologies will be deemed verboten by the powers that be because of their potential military applications. Will you be receiving a visit from Special Branch because you've bought one Lego's mind storm kit too many?

15:

If there was a smartphone app which turned it into a Casio FX411, I might consider getting a smartphone.

16:

Ask yourself when you last used a slide rule — or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop

Yesterday, for the calculator. I'll probably use it today too, once I get to work. Partly I'm used to it, and partly it is cheaper and tougher than my phone (which is a decade-old non-smart phone).

17:

When IRA started making one billion £ of damage with their truck bombs negotiations followed in record time.
This really wasn't what happened, as anyone who lived in the UK or Ireland in the 90s could readily testify.

18:

Ahem: EMP bombs aren't "indirect" -- our civilization is so dependent on electronics that would be fried by an EMP attack that any such attack would directly lead to mass civilian casualties.

(As for India and Pakistan, please remember that both those countries have vast areas of poverty ... and enormous wealth: if you can build your own nuclear reactors and launch your own spacecraft the label "third world" is probably inappropriate, and right now India's economy has been growing at around 10% per annum for a decade -- India today is vastly richer than it was in 1990.)

19:

I think they're thinking of the NatWest Tower bombing, or the attempt to drop the bridges at the M1/North Circular interchange. Spectacular, but not terribly effective: the nuisance incendiary bombs between the seat cushions on tube trains caused far more disruption and havoc, with knock-on effects (by shutting down the critical transport infrastructure of London for a couple of hours at random every few days).

But no, what ended the republican insurgency in NI was a whole lot more complex than "IRA bombs expensive structures in London: London starts negotiating", and can't really be understood without looking at demographics and economics as well as politics.

20:

I can see how for example discovering all data and backups held by the high street banks has been shuffled into a nice neat 1010101010 pattern could cause a certain amount of Chaos.

Much harder than it sounds to do that - lots of redundancy and not much hardware/software monoculture even within one bank. But a big theft and release of data would be much easier and nearly as disruptive.

21:

Continuing on the side track:-

or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop
Most days. It sits between my keyboard and my monitor. Frankly, it's not only easier to find and use, and fuller functioned, but also just plain better at "being a calculator" than either calc.exe or the calculator app on my mobile are.

let alone trig tables
Not since 1979, when I was doing school exams that required me to demonstrate that I could use trig and/or log tables (if only to show working).

Oh and incidentally, I also do "mental arithmetic" most days, if only to get an approximation to check whether or not I've had "finger trouble" using the calculator.

22:

Minor nitpick: The bombing of Serbia was in 1999, not 2002. Trust me, I was there. And I'd contest the precision involved. It certainly wasn't carpet bombing, I'll grant you, but there sure seemed to be a lot of what appeared to be misses. The Chinese embassy got hit at one point, there were quite a few family houses heavily damaged and a lot of incidental damage when civilian targets in tightly packed urban areas were targeted. Anyway, sorry for the tangent. I hold a bit of a grudge, as you may imagine.

As for the Bomb, the question is, can the nascent cold war between India and Pakistan detonate enough ordinance to pose an existential threat? Perhaps the spread and tonnage of the nuclear weapons won't be enough on their own, but hundreds of millions of refugees whose homes are now perpetually uninhabitable?

23:

"crude, blunt instruments, stupid and impossible to use with any subtlety"

There's a place for that when you're threatening people.

Nukes are no longer an existential threat to humanity or civilisation, for which I am profoundly grateful like anyone else who lived through the cold war.

Nukes remain an effective defence against existential threats at the national level, although in some cases this is the Glorious Leader identifiying himself as the nation.

No Arab-Israeli wars since the acquisition of nukes by Israel. The sight of the US Army tearing through Iraqi forces in 1991 probably caused the acquisition of nukes by Pakistan, and an expansion of the Indian nuke arsenal. The Iranians, with US armies now on both sides of their country, understandably want some nukes of their own; as do the North Koreans and (most likely) Syrians. Compare the muted Indian response to the Mumbai terror attacks with the campaigns in Afghanistan and now Libya.

As offensive weapons, yes they're useless. As a deterrent, still useful.

24:

Well, thats the whole of Mr Stross point, right? The Bomb is no longer an Existential Threat - nobody expect civilization to go down on a radioactive BBQ soon, we are no longer in the 80's, 70's, 60's...

(I find that kids nowadays have an incredible hard time believing we were scared about that back in the 80s)

25:

Even if nuclear weapons were used in some future engagement (by some shitty rogue dictatorship of a country that feels like dropping a few kilotonnes on the neighbouring shitty rogue dictatorship of a country) it's not going to be the nuclear holocaust of the 1960s.

Most likely after the first dropped bomb the rest of the world will be so appalled that we'll have another intervention force imposing no fly zones and precision bombing the shit out of military instillations.

26:

What if massively reducing the world population was your aim?

As Charlie has pointed out, when/if uploading the human mind to the digital realm becomes possible, there are going to be a lot of pissed of religions.

Then killing as much of the world's population as possible is a way to save their immortal souls.

Rapture is an H-bomb!

27:

This is the principle that was named "shock and awe" by one Donald Rumsfeld in 2002.

Er, no. *What you're describing* is the principle that was named "Shock and Awe" - Harlan Ullman's 1996 book of that name is about the impact of precision-guided munitions on strategy. He argued that they had (essentially) made the airpower theorists' vision deliverable. If you dumped enough JDAMs simultaneously, the other side's state would just collapse and they'd crack and give in, precisely because they would hit their targets.

Rumsfeld was *quoting* him.

28:

Ah, thanks. s/named/popularized/, okay?

I think we've seen just how accurate the airpower theorists' vision of the effect of bombing on morale turned out to be. As a way of destroying an enemy's war-fighting equipment, it rocks: as a way of convincing an occupied population that they're actually defeated and ought to stop assassinating your occupation forces, it sucks.

29:

1010101010 isn't the ideal result. If tomorrow morning Lloyd's has no data, then all the off site backups and recovery procedures come into play.

If you randomize the last 10,000 transactions, then things become much harder to track: you have to know that there is an error, and the nature of the error. You know the poor bloke whose paycheque has gone missing will call, but maybe not the bloke who can suddenly for no reason pay his rent.

The system depends on trust: don't destroy the system, destroy the trust.

30:

You've shown why nukes won't work to win a war - I worry that's not enough to stop them being used. The main problem being itchy trigger fingered damn fools elected by a power base ideologically and/or religiously opposed to being reasonable (hello, Michele Bachmann).

Sure, they'd get utterly hammered by international condemnation, and probably end up in the international court and in jail for life, but that doesn't unfry somebody's city.

31:

I disagree on the point of the utility nukes have for terrorists. The problem is, that you seem to have an incorrect idea on how the mechanisms of terror work. The idea is not to make the target population quake in their boots and plead for surrender, the whole point is to piss them off and stiffen their spines. While this sounds counterproductive, there is logic in this approach. It was described in detail by formed members of the German RAF. The ultimate goal is to provoke your target into lashing out wildly against the population that has some sympathies for you. This in turn will stiffen THEIR spine, and will steer them into a direction of your liking. The goal of 9/11 was to provoke the USA into attacking as many islamic countries as possible, with the consequence of steering the local population into an anti-western course. Mission achieved I'd say.

32:

The goal of 9/11 was to provoke the USA into attacking as many islamic countries as possible, with the consequence of steering the local population into an anti-western course. Mission achieved I'd say.

Except ... not.

The goal wasn't merely to steer the local population into an anti-western course, but to build support for the particular kind of anti-western course Osama bin Laden wanted -- radical Salafism, basically.

However, the bloody-handed radicals ended up alienating a lot of their natural base by butchering people indiscriminately -- the majority of Al Qaida victims over the past decade have been muslims, albeit the wrong kind of muslims -- and we're now seeing an Arab Spring that, so far, is anything but pro-Salafi. So much so that it's Saudi tanks being used to put down pro-democracy protests in the Gulf emirates ...

33:

"...terrorism doesn't make the target population quake in their boots and plead for surrender, it mostly pisses them off and stiffens their spines."

SOMETIMES
Tell that to people in Afghanistan and Pakistan being terrorised by completely brain-dead religious zealots called the Taliban....
Or in North Korea, where the terrorism IS the state.

Two opposite effects of air power, currently both operating:
Libya - where NATO air-forces took out a Gaddafi ship, which had been deliberately parked next to an oil tanker - neat!
Afghanistan - where air power is useful, but the real problem is with the Dark-Ages camelherders' mindset - not just of the Taliban, but almost everyone else as well .....


34:

Have you tried Smiths or Rymans? Especially towards the end of the summer holidays when they have their 'Back to School' promotions.

I got my calculator there - mind you it is quite large and bright pink so as not to get lost - but it is fine for what I need and is solar powered - cost? something under a fiver a couple of years ago. And yes, I used it yesterday

35:

Were I a terrorist looking for an atrocity to commit, I could come up with one or two of disturbing ease and effect.

Step one - get my hands on some ordinary, everyday explosives. Doesn't really matter what sort.

Get some bolt-cutters.

Cut through the chain-link fences that are placed around high tension power lines (well, those where anyone even bothers with the fences - in Australia we don't).

Attach explosives, blow up pylon, bring down power lines.

Now, do this at a number of sites (you'll need a large group spread over a country), and do it either in the middle of winter or the middle of summer. Pick the right part of the power network, and bring down enough pylons, and you can wreck the power grid beyond anyone's ability to fix it quickly enough to prevent masses of people dying from cold or heat.

I wonder how much damage the same concept might do if done via power companies' own control network if hacked?

Nuclear weapons don't really register in my mind - smart-arse bastards (like me) with an evil streak (not like me :), now those would worry me. I'm just glad that the sort of prick that could think it up and do it probably couldn't find enough people to help, or indeed co-operate with others well enough :}

36:

"...terrorism doesn't make the target population quake in their boots and plead for surrender, it mostly pisses them off and stiffens their spines."

If their goal was to make the population plead for surrender (to whom?), they failed. If their goal was to hit the economy, make people scared of terrorists and widen the gap between the Middle East and the US (= breeding more terrorists), they succeeded very well. The security theatre costs time and money, according to numbers quoted by Schneier parents are more scared of terrorists than cars, and the US has launched a number of ill-advised and expensive wars in the Middle East. I'd call that a success, personally, if I was a terrorist.

No pleading for surrender, no, but stiffened spines?


37:

Problem with that is that is not a nice media event to sell to your prospective new recruits. Terrorism is not about how much damage you do - that is just necessary to achieve your goals, which are a combination of goading the "enemy" into attacking you and looking like the guys that are actually doing something against the "enemy" for your people.

Same reason why many of those "terrorist" paranoia on Devil Arsehole, US were bullshit. If I'm marketing myself as the cool group of guys that are kicking The Great Satan in the balls, I want to say I did something spectacular in NY, Washington, London... not in a forgotten corner of the US nobody knows about.

38:

Nations don't get nukes because they want to use them. they get nukes because of the immunity it gives them from invasion.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya would not have been invaded if they had had nukes.

39:

Italian extreme leftists used to do this in the 70s, with results summed up by "meh". (Assassination was much more like it.)

The Iraqi insurgents are the ones everyone quotes, but they had advantages. Big ones.

1) Numbers. If they could recruit 1% of the demobilised Iraqi army, or even just 1% of its officer corps, they had literally thousands of terrorists available. So they could do a lot.

2) Repetition. They didn't just blow stuff up, they kept it blown up. Numbers help in this, but what's utterly critical was point 3.

3) Public support. If you were to blow up a supergrid link, and then go back and try to do it again, you'd get touted to the police. Getting away with it twice is many times more than twice as hard as getting away with it once. You can't do the John Robb global guerrillas thing without the classic insurgent's grip on the hearts and minds of the people. Because someone will inform on you and then you're in a world of concrete floors and rusty pliers, as John Dolan put it way back when. The Sunni insurgents had the further advantage that the police sympathised with them, not just the people.

4) Public support strong enough that the public put up with the power cuts without informing or starting an Electricity Defence Loyalist Militia to kill all your relatives. They really were incredibly angry and the Americans never fully grasped this.

5) Access to 300 tonnes of RDX left lying about in the desert by General Ricardo Sanchez. (I still can't believe they fucking did this.)

6) A power grid in tatters to begin with due to being bombed.

7) An occupation government stupid enough to immediately end all import tariffs, so everyone went out and bought that giant TV they'd been wanting, thus beating seven bells of shit out of the grid before the sabotage even got going.

40:

You forgot (7)(a) an occupation government so motherfucking MORONIC that they issued an order to fire all interior ministry personnel. Not realizing that THE POLICE were interior ministry employees. ALL OF THEM.

And (7)(b) putting a wet-behind-the-ears political science graduate aged 22-24, with zero job experience but political connections (he'd interned for a Republican political candidate) in charge of building a stock market, because of course after being bombed and occupied by brutal foreigners everyone would just shrug and turn into a capitalist entrepreneur, because it says so in this play book.

41:

Not quite on topic, but on the subject of air war, we seem to make the same mistake over and over, and it's something that's been obvious to game makers as far back as Civ II: Air power can't hold territory.

We should have been able to figure that out in Bosnia: Carpet bombing doesn't change borders.
We should have been able to figure that out in Desert Storm: Unless you're willing to roll tanks in, you haven't won the war.
Pah-ki-ston (as BA pronounces it): maybe we're learning, it was feet-on-the-ground that found Bin Laden, not pinpoint bombs.

42:

The thing about nuclear terrorism is that terrorists, especially suicidal ones, have a less than steller record with regards to operational efficiency and own goals. If I was a major sponsor of terrorism I would be VERY worried about my loyal dupes supporters getting hold of any weapon that could go off accidentally and kill me. With normal terrorism there's a chain of minions that avoids most of the risk of getting hurt; with nuclear terrorism being in the wrong city when someone fucks up might get you killed.

43:

re: JDAMS: if your target is small enough and you want to limit collateral damage, you can remove the high explosives entirely and just attach the JDAMs to concrete as was (is?) done in Libya.
http://defensetech.org/2011/04/29/france-using-concrete-bombs-in-libya/

44:

For some light-hearted reading on this topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_bomba

45:

#35 - You reckon?

I've just finished reading "The Dam Builders" (history of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board). In places, they were building the grid and distribution network at a rate of over a mile of line a day, in the 1950s, so no modern plant, helicopter access, tracked vehicles...

Most of the NOSHEB linemen still consider a 2 day power outage as some sort of personal insult, in a Scottish Winter with 2 feet of snow on the ground, -20degrees C air temperature and 10C degrees of wind chill on top.

46:

I very much like "Terrorism isn't an existential state, it's a tactic."

" mass bombardment of cities from the air, terrorism doesn't make the target population quake in their boots and plead for surrender, it mostly pisses them off and stiffens their spines."

I was going to ask if a shock and awe campaign has ever worked, but then I remembered Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those attacks didn't make Japan more determined to defeat the US, they made Japan surrender unconditionally. So what is the difference between the 9-11 attack and the end of the Pacific War? Was it the use of a terrifying weapon coupled with a conventional war? Or the fact that the Pacific War players (governments) had channels of communication that didn't exsist between the players (one government, one terrorist organization) in the War on Terror?

47:

A little off topic, but I did not know until I read this review of Rumsfeld's memoir that the administration had unanimously decided not to fully de-baathify before Bremer, probably at daddy warbucks or Rumsefeld's insistence, did.

Paragraph that begins "Finally, the NSC did...."

http://www.slate.com/id/2284351/pagenum/all/

48:

Hmm, I've never used an FX-411, but comparing the picture to RealCalc, the calculator app I use on my Android phone, it looks like most of the same functionality is available. RealCalc doesn't have the rectangular to polar conversion functions or statistical functions though.

I'd definitely recommend anyone with Android check out https://market.android.com/details?id=uk.co.nickfines.RealCalc though.

49:

I was going to ask if a shock and awe campaign has ever worked, but then I remembered Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those attacks didn't make Japan more determined to defeat the US, they made Japan surrender unconditionally.

No they didn't.

That's the received wisdom in the USA, where little aspects of history tend to be forgotten -- like the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that kicked off on August 9th 1945, with 1.5 million troops (outnumbering the Japanese defenders by roughly 3:1, and with much better equipment).

The Japanese government had a choice: (a) surrender to the USSR under Stalin, (b) surrender to the USA, or (c) be nuked repeatedly and then invaded by everyone. Being only 90% batshit insane, they eventually did the sensible thing.

50:

I'm not so sure about nations (or other actors) not using nuclear weapons.

There were recent suggestions of using nukes as "bunker busters" (against Iran), and "battlefield nukes" still seem to be raised as a possibility every so often. Theater nuke use might escalate.

However my main reason for being concerned is that we have not yet gone through the "2 generations" cycle to fully forget the consequences of use, in this case the dropping of A-bombs on Japan to end WWII, or the Cold War terror. Our financial meltdown was exactly this problem, we "forgot" what happened in the Great Depression. As Krugman repeatedly argues, economists have completely "forgotten" the relevant economic theory. I worry that it is possible that we forget the lessons of total war and that nukes will be used. An H-bomb would overcome any fleet defenses of a carrier and potentially block any subsequent projection of air power over a territory. Smart missiles might do the same, but a nuclear weapon might guarantee it.

Because we avoided nuclear war in the past because a relatively few crises were averted does not mean that nuclear crises will not occur again, or that such favorable results will be the outcome.

Because nuclear weapons are so "unthinkable" maybe their use is the unanticipated black swan event.

[And nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition].

51:

On a 'less nuclear' note...

One of the books that has become the most "quaintly obsolete" is Heinlein's Starman Jones, where the protaganist's phenomenal memorization skills save the day when they can't open the safe aboard the starship containing the log tables.

52:

Nuclear bombs being unusable comes back to something you said on the thread just before this one. That even those leaders we consider enemies are not amoral monsters enough to unleash such weaponry.
I read up about Able Archer (thanks for that, it was new to me). It is said that Ronald Reagan, who I think is seen as joyfully weapon brandishing even by his idolizers, was struck by two things: 1) That the Soviets really did think the US capable of launching a first strike and 2) A movie about a (relatively limited) nuclear strike on Lawrence, Kansas.
A useful counterpoint on a day when the glories of Euro civilization are being visited on the bodies of Greek protestors.

53:

So what is the difference between the 9-11 attack and the end of the Pacific War?
One was an unrepeatable event that killed a total of around 3000 people, while the other wiped out a city of around 100,000 every 3 days, and (so far as Japan knew) could continue indefinitely?

54:

I'd be watching for a renewed interest in the development of neutron bombs, after all, it's not like they weren't made in the past...and also a revamping of either the Russian or US nuclear arsenal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliable_Replacement_Warhead

Interesting argument at the end of the article. Opponents of the RRW program believe it has nothing to do with making US weapons safer or more reliable, but is merely an excuse for designing new weapons and maintaining jobs at the weapons laboratories. They note that the Secretaries of Defense and Energy have certified that the existing nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable in each of the last nine years. The existing stockpile was extensively tested before the US entered the moratorium on nuclear weapons tests.

Perhaps in light of Fukushima, they might want to revisit this, as in 2009 President Obama's Department of Energy budget calls for development work on the Reliable Replacement Warhead project to cease.

Again, stupidity rules the day. Things wear out. And what's worse is that as technology ages, the number of people qualified to service and repair that ancient technology decreases as well.

55:

The Billion pounds number came from the Bishopsgate bombing (initial estimates; probably more like 800 million). The Baltic exchange was the next big one, at maybe 200 million or so.

From the perspective of someone paying attention in Ireland - the "expensive bombs lead to negotiations" is a practical description of what happened - once the IRA found a winning tactic they mostly stepped back: the governments being rational political actors, realised what needed to be done and pushed the negotiations.

Negotiations by back channels had been ongoing for many years, demographics and economics had changed, but basically the governments weren't motivated to act on Northern Ireland until the bombings became a serious economic threat. (Note: became a threat; it was understood that another Baltic Exchange would leas to a flight from London of financial business). Basically there weren't votes in Northern Ireland for british politicans.

I'd argue that when they became engaged, and the "peace process" dragged on, the governments salvaged their position almost completely: gradually making the negotiations drag out, never letting there be a sufficient excuse to restart (modulo one unsuccessful IRA attempt), and with buying off the old guard in the paramilitaries. It would be simplistic to say "the IRA won", but the peace process wouldn't have happened without the economic threat.

56:

Replying to Charlie at 49.

One other thing that gets forgotten is that the Japanese had been trying to negotiate a surrender since May 45. (through embassies in Moscow) The firebombing of Tokyo (conventional) killed significantly more people then either nuke did and did far more economic damage. The Americans had almost total air superiority and arguably could have eventually forced the Japanese to surrender without using the nukes or invading. The spoiler was as Charlie mentioned was the Soviets declaring war and invading Manchuria. The popular version of history regarding this covers up some of the really ugly politics that happened.

57:

Calculator: Casio fx-260 Solar. Scads of functions and available in office stores in the US for under USD 10.

I also really liked Radio Shack's (probably a rebranded Casio) EC-4016 because it had a bunch of built-in physical constants. Also solar powered and impressively thin. But they don't sell it any more.

Weapon: Not exactly existential but extremely annoying: GPS/INS mortar shells.

58:

Wow -- you're just an incorrigible optimist.

The point is that by the 70s it was already clear that nukes were politically/morally/socially/ethically unacceptable and unusable, and other options were developing.

Yet even in the early 80s we had a massive "Able Archer" close-to-nuking nonsense. Why?

The Reaganites had no desire or intention to nuke the Soviets or first strike them -- they thought it was insane and couldn't believe that the Soviet leadership would even consider it possible. So they want ahead with all kinds of provocative gamesmanship which convinced the Soviets that in fact the Reaganites were insane and planning a first strike.

The Soviets had no desire or intention to nuke the US -- they thought it was insane that the Reaganites could even imagine them capable of such monstrosity. So instead of sitting down with the Reaganites and discussing the issue, they began planning a counter-first-strike on the allocation of Pershing missiles to Western Europe.

What does this tell us? That overall the leadership of countries are composed of ethnocentric, ignorant and intellectually sub-par (but extremely aggressive) SOBs. They're not insane -- but they're completely unable to actually understand their opponents points-of-view, because if they lacked that sort of sociopathy they wouldn't have climbed up to the top.

That leads to the inherent likelihood of the greatest possible irrationalities -- not mere MAD-like insane rationalities, but complete irrationalities -- due to the fact that they're in over their heads and their SOBs who play geo-politics as if they were fighting over local mayoral kickbacks.

That makes me not optimistic. It may not be rational anymore to fear thermonuclear annhiliation -- but I don't fear the world leaders rationality. I fear human irrationality.

59:

Oh -- and as a matter of fact, the Russians did almost start a thermonuclear exchange in I believe 96 under Yeltsin. The Norwegians flew launched a satellite over Russia's arctic flank, and the notices to the Russian military were apparently lost somewhere in the bureaucracy.

So ol' Yeltsin came within a minute of setting of "thermonuclear annihilation" for completely irrational reasons -- given that there was no basis to believe that Clinton was trying to first-strike Yeltsin!

So if Clinton and Yeltsin could have come that close -- completely irrationally and by accident -- why would Obama and Putin be any better, other than the sobriety factor?

60:

The planned Soviet counterstrike was a short-term solution to a long-term problem (fear of a US decapitation strike). The Soviets also developed a longer-term solution -- Dead Hand (sometimes erroneously described as a "doomsday machine").

"Dead Hand" could be activated during times of tension to give the politburo the reassurance of knowing that if they failed to pre-empt a decapitation strike, their nuclear forces could be ordered to carry out a retaliation -- a nuclear dead man's handle, in effect, thereby removing the pressure on them to order a first strike in event of a crisis. And that was the real solution to the Operation RYAN problem.

It's also worth knowing that immediately after Able Archer the Soviet and US high-ups realized they had a problem and began to more systematically explore ways of de-escalating, culminating in the signing of the START-I treaty some years later. Which is why we now have less than 30% of the number of nukes -- and of those, only about a third are actually deployed -- that existed at the height of the cold war.

(I will confess that I would be mildly apprehensive of the prospect of a Michelle Bachmann with access to the nuclear football ... except that, since Richard Nixon's scary drunken-paranoid binges, the Pentagon chain of command has implemented procedures that make it very difficult indeed for anyone to initiate a nuclear strike except in retaliation for an earlier one.)

61:

Spot on Charlie, but you should not overlook the self-perpetuating nature of the military-industrial complex.

Modernizing nukes to make the smaller and more precise:

http://www.fas.org/blog/ssp/2011/06/b61-12.php


62:
it mostly pisses them off and stiffens their spines

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You haven't been paying attention to the security theater at our airports, have you? Many of our citizens are perfectly willing to give up their freedoms in exchange for illusory security.

I have to laugh again; imagine this is in a minor key now: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

63:

I would have thought that the costs and inconvenience of airport security theater confirms, rather than denies, the spine stiffening argument.

Now if NY, Chicago and LA were nuked, with threats of more to come w/o surrender, then things might be different. More likely, IMO, the US might well retaliate with a "turn someone's, anyone's, country into a glass parking lot".

64:

Jason @35:

Funny you should mention that, only a couple of days after the 50th anniversary of an event very closely resembling your idea:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuernacht

Unforunately the article is a little vague, but I couldn't find any better on short notice.

65:

No. If our spines had been stiffened, we'd have sent the military in to kick ass on the Taliban and Quaeda then come home once the smoke cleared, and not let our leaders fulfill their authoritarian fantasies with things like illegal wiretapping and a massive increase in the size of the state security apparatus, and gratuitous nation-building.

No, we are collectively pussies.

66:

Terror tactics reinforce the power of the state *on the receiving end*. What that state does with the power is the debatable part.

Terror doesn't win by reducing the populace to quivering jelly. Terror can win by making a state apparatus knee-twitch the wrong way, however, as the US has laboured long and hard to show the world over the past decade.

(Terror is also very prone to the "unintended consequences" failure mode; as shown by al-Quaida's lack of political success even with the massive (albeit unwitting, IMO) assistance of the US Government.)

-- Steve

67:

I'd definitely recommend anyone with Android check out https://market.android.com/details?id=uk.co.nickfines.RealCalc though.

I'll second that. I use mine in reverse polish mode and it's remarkably like the HP calculators I used to use in the late 70s/early 80s.

68:

At last week's INCOSE symposium, a rep from the DfT described how Watson-Watt's research into a radio "death ray" turned into RADAR - and turned the air defence system on it's head. Instead of standing patrols, they could now detect enemies and then launch interception. The whole system was changed by a technological advance, but the whole system was required to win the Battle of Britain - not just RADAR, or Spitfires, or an integrated control room. Very interesting from a systems perspective.

69:

I suppose that a relatively low-tech country like North Korea might see an advantage in using nukes for the EMP effects against their perceived enemies particularly where those enemies are very hi-tech (which is probably more or less everyone except suppliers of quality brandy). But then they'd have to have at least a LEO launch capability and bombs that don't fizzle. And currently they don't[1].

Mind you, there's also the possibility of "the smugglers war": if x thousand tonnes of cocaine[2] &c can get into the the west, presumably so can a relatively small number car/van transportable nukes. And who knows what was pre-positioned back at the height of the cold-war?[3]


--
[1]/. Well, that's my reading of the situation. But this may not always be the case.
--

[2]/. I really like the way "heroin" is not infrequently spelled as "heroine" on usenet and blogs. And I must confess I've been addicted to a few in my time.
--

[3]/. "MWWWHAHahahahahaha".

70:

I recall one autobiography by a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, very junior at the start of the war, in which he described how the Luftwaffe apparently ignored air-ground radio, They even struggled to shift squadrons to new bases, as the pilots flew into unfamiliar places.

What the RAF had set up was something that nobody else in the world had imagined. Except maybe Doc Smith.

71:

Regarding Japan's surrender - the population's will to fight wasn't broken. They were quite surprised to hear that the Emperor was surrendering. Also, there was an attempted military coup launched to prevent the surrender, which obviously failed.

By no means was everybody in Japan willing to quit.

72:

No doubt there is an iPhone or Android app that "does the same job" but doesn't provide the same robust interface that the fx181p had.

Ahem. The best calculator EVER was the HP41. RPN and all.

73:

I don't know enough about the military-industrial complexes of other countries to comment, but I strongly suspect that a primary reason for the replacement of nuclear strategy with targeted bombing by the US has to do with the fact that nuclear weapons are largely a mature technology. This means that the organizations designing and building them aren't going to get the massive R&D payments that always accrue to new technology (and is a major reason why so much US defense spending goes into arms races like the one that's created more generations of supersonic interceptor planes than we know what to do with).

The anticipation of huge defense contracts results in large amounts of money going to lobbying for the development of new systems, rather than into maintenance of existing ones (though when the systems are expensive enough, even that results in huge contracts, e.g., the extension of the operational lifetime of the B-52 fleet to 90 years after its initial development).


And also, while guided munitions are much cheaper individually than nuclear weapons, they're going to be used in much greater numbers, and in many more combat situations, so the ultimate cost (and thus the ultimate income for the developers and manufacturers) can be much greater.

74:

It took both the Russian offensive and the bombing of Nagasaki to force Japan into surrender. The Russians could kick the Japanese out of China, no problem, but they did not have the means to cross the "little" seas and invade Japan. The Nagasaki bomb gave the message that Hiroshima was not a desesperate fluke. More would keep on coming. All the Japanese harbors would go up in smoke in a short while, making the last remnants of the Navy completely irrelevant.

75:

nobody expect civilization to go down on a radioactive BBQ soon, we are no longer in the 80's, 70's, 60's...
(I find that kids nowadays have an incredible hard time believing we were scared about that back in the 80s)

Welcome to the internet and such. Back in the 80s the "hot line" was mostly a telex type of setup with messengers and typists and such. Now days I'm betting we can get a message to Putin faster than someone in 1980 could order a pizza. Well maybe order and get it delivered.

And much more is in the open so some of the crazy wrong assumptions both sides made due to lack of knowledge just don't happen any more. Well mostly. Which is why N. Korea is such an issue. It's mostly an information black hole to everyone. Including China.

76:

The critical component of the Hot Line was the translators.

I doubt that has changed.

77:

Old joke: Two soviet tank generals meet in Paris after they've overrun most of Europe: "So, who won the air war?"

New joke: Two green zone bomb disposal experts: "So, what was the point of the air war?"

Air power lets you turn first world countries into third world countries but it doesn't turn them into happy, humble and harmless ones.

The pocket calculator would be this morning, it's much easier to explain away a £2.99 line item than to have to explain to the accountants why we autoclaved another laptop :)

Spending the early eighties growing up inside the 12psi blast zone for an airburst weapon made me the man I am today!

78:

One of my very weirdest moments in the last couple years was trying to talk to an otherwise smart woman in her early twenties who didn't get Dr. Strangelove. She didn't understand it and she didn't think it was funny, though to her credit she did appreciate the performance by Peter Sellars.

As a child born in the early sixties, Strangelove appreciation is probably coded directly to my DNA. However illogical it may seem, I honestly think I would have understood it completely and found it very funny at any point in my life from birth onward.

Meanwhile, I will continue protecting my precious bodily fluids.

79:

One other thing that gets forgotten is that the Japanese had been trying to negotiate a surrender since May 45. (through embassies in Moscow) ... The spoiler was as Charlie mentioned was the Soviets declaring war and invading Manchuria. The popular version of history regarding this covers up some of the really ugly politics that happened.

What the A bombs did was take the argument away from the military who wanted to not surrender but do a cease fire armistice type of thing where they could at some point in the future have a future. They knew that boots on the ground in Japan would be terribly expensive to the US and allies and so they were holding out for absorbing air strikes until we got tired and went home. And they might have prevailed if they had known that the US has used up all three of their bullets and it would be months (a year?) before any more bullets would be ready to use.

80:

Nuclear weapons are not really obsolete as an existential threat, in that nowadays more than ever, they permit the security of a ruler to employ Other Methods, confident in the fear of the unknown that the enemy then has of them.

Consider how nuclear weapons become an interesting threat if both sides have them, and one side then does something that is counter intuitive and reverses the moral emphasis onto the defenders: They don't use them. Only use conventional forces for a strike.

If the other side has them, keep pushing and pushing anyway, and all of the moral authority is with you when they snap and deploy them, the logic runs. Your home population are then victims and will back you. Also, the bolder you are with conventional invasion, the more ineffective battlefield nukes then become when you invade, because they are being used upon the civilian population who are now amongst the invaders.

Every time that the Soviet Union stuck to conventional forces only, and never brought the subject of nuclear weapons up, they won. They won in China, they drew/won in Korea (The DPRK is still standing, after all.) and they also unequivocally won in Vietnam by calling the west's bluff. They also won in Cuba, which is still is a self proclaimed Communist country. They won in Iran, by getting a proxy elected who would have turned in time, the only occasions where they did not win is where the USA fought with conventional forces only as well, and stuck to it for long enough for western economic mechanisms to make people more prosperous and less interested in Communism: Afghanistan, Egypt (Full of Communists for years) Japan, and ultimately, Britain. The British Labour party has never apologised for it's idiocy nor ever felt any need to. Sheffield city council famously used to print promotional literature in Russian.

More than ever before, you need nuclear weapons, get them and never mention them, and the west leaves you alone, regardless of what you then do anywhere to anyone: China and Tibet, North Korea, Israel and the Palestinians, and even South Africa, which was not reformed by western military threats, but by public action - Conventional forces only.

This is why no one ever publicly discussed of invading Pakistan to solve the massive terrorism problem that was hidden there, even when they knew he was hidden there, and why Barry Goldwater was felt unfit for the oval office after advocating nuclear bombs be used in Vietnam.

81:


What the A bombs did was take the argument away from the military who wanted to not surrender but do a cease fire armistice type of thing where they could at some point in the future have a future.

At the time of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the only point the Japanese were holding out for was "full unconditional surrender" vs. the Japanese demand for the Emperor Hirohito to remain. All else had been conceded. The US had air and sea superiority, the Japanese army was trapped in Manchuria and the Japanese could be starved into submission - without external supplies there was no question of a comeback for the Japanese military.

What was happening was planning the post-war world: demonstrating nuclear weapons prior to the Yalta meeting with Stalin. Its worth realising that the US had secret treaties with the Belgian government to protect Belgian Congo Uranium from the Soviets as early as 1944, when the Germans still held Brussels. They didn't know of Soviet Uranium resources, and thought that they could monopolise atomic weapons.

82:

HG Wells' 'The War In The Air' made that point very well. Flimsy airships can threaten New York, but can't occupy, so they just destroy.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/780/780-h/780-h.htm#2HCH0006

83:

One of the things that scared the US into using the bomb was the resistance they had encountered while island hopping, culminating at Okinawa. (For a first hand account I thoroughly recommend With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge). The Japanese dug in and sold themselves dearly with no thought of surrender, every drop of fuel and machine saved for suicide attacks. Add to that the mass suicides (assisted or not) by Japanese civilians and you have a deeply scary picture.

When they extrapolated the casualty rates into an invasion on the home islands they got a figure in the millions - for allied troops. US forces are still using Purple Hearts made during the run-up for that invasion. Casualty rates for civilians were running at near-genocide levels (and genocide in it's literal form, not the way it's used today for any body count that runs into double figures). The US desperately, desperately wanted to avoid that and the inevitable decades of occupation and subjugation of the survivors that would follow.

Against the planning for that dropping a bomb or two (with casualty numbers similar to those for an evening of firebombing) was hardly excessive.

84:

She didn't understand it and she didn't think it was funny, though to her credit she did appreciate the performance by Peter Sellars.
As a child born in the early sixties,

I keep wondering how much of the national GDP the Chrome flight system ate up. And you just don't see flights of B-52s overhead like we did back in the 60s. And what about the B-47s. And entire bomber system built and scraped in what 15 years? Just as a stop gap till the B-52s came along. Ditto the B-36s.

85:

Maybe a parallel observation would be the astonishing existence of an air-to-air missile with a nuclear payload, the Genie. It seems incredible now that such a thing would be considered useful. The idea back then was to be able to wipe out an incoming bomber formation in one big blast, since ordinary fighters would be no help. The Genie was unguided - no need when it's carrying a nuclear warhead. Modern guided missiles make this totally obsolete, of course.

I was wondering whether there are any circumstances where nuclear weapons would come back into favour, compared with precision munitions - say, if GPS became unavailable. But it seems from your JDAM link that they "can still achieve a 30 meter CEP or less for free flight times up to 100 seconds", versus 13m when GPS is present. So even then, we don't get back to preferring the nuclear option.

86:

Neutrons bombs. While superficially attractive as war fighting weapons, involve horrendously complex logistics. The key component, up to 30g of tritium per weapons, decays with a half life of 12 years. So the yield is constantly dropping, the tritium capsules need constantly replacing and you need dedicated nuclear reactors to keep making it.

87:

At the time of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the only point the Japanese were holding out for was "full unconditional surrender" vs. the Japanese demand for the Emperor Hirohito to remain. All else had been conceded. The US had air and sea superiority, the Japanese army was trapped in Manchuria and the Japanese could be starved into submission - without external supplies there was no question of a comeback for the Japanese military.

The military had not conceded anything. It was the civilians who were ready go give it up. The upper ranks of the military were more than willing to abandon the overseas troops and start over from the homeland. And if a few million had to starve for the good of the country, so be it.

88:

Well, the 1% of the future that is utterly bizarre and unexpected includes things like “extremist, apocalyptic regime comes to power in a nuclear-armed state (USA?) and decides to get the Armageddon party started.” This may sound very unlikely and almost unimaginable, but so was the Holocaust, Rwanda, the Killing Fields, etc. Humanity will always capable of the most horrific and apocalyptic acts, so nuclear annihilation will never be obsolete so long as large nuclear arsenals exist. In fact, I’d say the threat of nuclear Armageddon looms larger than ever as Middle Eastern countries harboring very ancient hatreds move to acquire nukes.

89:

In the Japanese case in 1945, they were losing the war badly in multiple ways and the nukes were just the last straw. Also, on the day of the Nagasaki bombing, the Soviets came across the border into Japanese occupied Manchuria (as he had promised Roosevelt to do 90 days after the Germans surrendered).
Oh, and most of their land forces were in China and couldn't retreat to Japan because whenever they tried, the Allies sunk their ships. So they were also facing imminent land invasion. By a quite pissed, fully mobilized enemy.
Even in this case, it was the government that surrendered. The Japanese people never demanded anything of their government. Never could.

90:

One of the ugly elements is the claim that the Nagasaki bomb (as distinct from the Hiroshima) one wasn't aimed at the Japanese but at Stalin.

91:
t's also worth knowing that immediately after Able Archer the Soviet and US high-ups realized they had a problem and began to more systematically explore ways of de-escalating, culminating in the signing of the START-I treaty some years later. Which is why we now have less than 30% of the number of nukes -- and of those, only about a third are actually deployed -- that existed at the height of the cold war.

And that's what makes you an incredible optimists. They "should" have known that had a problem with the Cuban Missile crisis. There "should" have been no risk of exchange by the mid 90s.

For FSM's sake -- there "shouldn't" still be 30% of the nukes we had at the height of the cold war! What are they usable for, except for massive thermonuclear exchange with Russia and China? To dissuade the rest of the world, we need a handful of missiles -- the only reason for having them is that in fact there is still a fear of first-strike from the Russians or the Chinese, and they have the same fear from us and each other.

That means that in fact, we run the risk of nuclear chicken even without Bachmann -- "They" believe we do, and therefore in fact we do.

These are the same dudes (and dudettes) playing "Climate Chicken" with each other. If they didn't learn about the risks with nukes and keep on following the same strategy, just switching tools -- well, I'll leave it at that you're an incorrigible optimist.

It's in the nature of the international system with high-technology -- ignorant (and very rarely genius) sociopaths with a hell of a lot of options for damage.

92:

I think people are being too blase about nuclear weapons. I'll grant that it's not a weapon for the sane to contemplate using, but I'm not that sanguine that we can depend on the leaders of powerful governments to be sane. And "after me the deluge" is not an unheard of belief among the powerful.

So I still consider it an existential threat, and the moreso the wider it spreads. OTOH, I can see an argument that it's only a civilization ender, not a species ender. But I am dubious that we could ever recover a technological civilization afterwards. Even presuming that protected enclaves could be established, and that minimal population levels aren't required to maintain civilization, it seems to me that too much technical knowledge is hidden behind corporate secrets, DRM, etc. And if we once lost the ability to access those, it could probably never be recovered. The easily available oil and ores have been exhausted. (I don't consider the garbage pits of civilization to be easily available ores, but I could be wrong.) We're even running out of high quality coal sources. So any descendant civilization would need to power itself on wool. (Hydro can be used for mechanical power, but not for a start on electrical power.)

Unfortunately, most of the failure modes that I see are catastrophic. Saying "iron age" is generous. I don't think we'd stop short of stone age. Then we'd need to work up via ceramics and glasses. I have no idea how far we could get in that way. Possibly enough to refine stainless steels into their components, and then we could eventually recreate a technical civilization. But it would need to be based around solar power, wind power, mechanical hydro power, wood, and very low quality coal. And metals would be VERY expensive. And we'd essentially be starting from scratch, because the knowledge of current civilization would be inaccessible. Even if one had an intact DVD, it wouldn't be readable. Wood pulp books would crack into dust if one tried to turn a page. (Not like the old rag paper or parchment. More like papyrus, only worse. Try to read a magazine from the 1930's even now.)

93:

Truman was given some amazingly different estimates of casualties for an invasion. The best known is the scenario you outlined. Another estimate given to Truman was (American) casualities in the thousands with little resistance.
Japan just didn't have much of its military in what is now Japan. It was all trapped on islands or mainland China and could not get back to the Inner Lands (Naichi) because of overwhelming Allied air and sea superiority.

94:

I remember playing Metal Gear Solid 3 a few years ago, beginning to get annoyed at the in game data dumps about the cold war (Game is set in the 60s) until I realized that, no, not everyone knows this already, especially the teenagers that would be the natural demographic for the game.

On a related note, I never realized just how many nukes were tested through the 20th century, as this video shows, it was well over 2000. I also find it hilarious that the one country that got to nuke the US was Britain. Testing, sure, but I bet someone found it cathartic.

95:

The B-47, and most of the B-52 fleet was scrapped as arms control treaty concessions. On the plus side, older aircraft don't get cheaper to operate as they age. Can't say I miss those days and the dread of possibly surviving a nuclear strike for a little while.

96:

Jessica @93: Still. would YOU have (if it were a game) sent thousands of your own soldiers to their deaths, knowing that could be prevented with just a couple of hundred thousands opponent's deaths?

97:

At the early part of the war on terror when there was talk of so-called dirty bombs being a possibility. I always wondered why no one developed a shaped charge with a polonium trigger so that when it went through an airport x-ray device the x-ray spike would detonate the device. The result being the security bureaucracy having to come up with much more expensive means to provide the illusion of security.After all the most effective outcome of a terrorist attack is economic damage.

98:

Not so fast.

I was just listening to an interview with Noah Shachtman on Fresh Air, about his piece in Wired's Danger Room blog about the role of US military jammers stopping IEDs in the Iraq War.

The relevance? According to Shachtman, the military is trying to develop NextGen Jammers, which, among other things, will jam GPS units and drones. Listen to the interview. It's good stuff.

So now we have a tech race on between remote control weapons like drones and IEDs, GPS positioning technology, and jamming. Great fun. Chaos will likely ensue in the next war, whatever it is.

Since jamming is an area of major concern to the US in an era of nascent cyberwar, I suspect that old-tech nukes aren't going to go away any time soon, any more than B-52s have.

It may be that the weapon of the future is a radio-dead nuke, that, once launched, can't be jammed or recalled. It may even run off an inertial guidance system descended from the ones my parents worked on in the 1960s.

99:

And to support my claim that nuclear Armageddon is a bigger danger than ever, this is from a story in today's Guardian:

"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said. "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit." --Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/29/saudi-build-nuclear-weapons-iran

100:

Light Squared corporation has unintentionally created an existential threat to GPS with it's billion dollar orbital wireless constellation possibly creating a jamming hazard! (oops!)

101:

No, I wouldn't kill hundreds of thousands (even enemy civilians) to save a few thousand of my own soldiers, but then that's why I'm not president. Well, one of the reasons anyway.

102:

"Japanese had been trying to negotiate a surrender since May 45."

Nope. Some foreign embassy personnel were trying to get some peace talks going, but they had no support from the people in charge.

Remember, Japan was a military dictatorship in 1945. The army and the navy were interested in a Treaty of Versailles-type end to the war-- something that would allow them 20 years to regroup, reorganize and try again. If you haven't read the book Downfall, I strongly recommend it.

Truman had ordered that Kyoto was going to be next to get bombed. ISTR that they would have gotten flattened on 17 August 1945. Fortunately, the Japanese surrendered before another few hundred thousand civilians were killed.

103:

It seems incredible now that such a thing would be considered useful.

Since one bomber getting through was such a dissater it was felt an air burst a few miles out at sea or at least not over targets was better than one "hit". Sort of like lepers comparing notes to see who has the most fingers.

104:

One of the big what if's of World War II is what would have happened if the Indianapolis had been sunk before it reached Tinian. As the United States had depleted it's stockpile of fissile material and wouldn't be able produce enough for another weapon for two years!

105:

The B-47, and most of the B-52 fleet was scrapped as arms control treaty concessions.

The last B-47 bomber group was ended in 65. Long before arms control treaties. It was just way too expensive and operationally limited once we had the B-52s. Not that the early B-52s were all that cheap to operate. Especially in the Chrome Dome flights.

Now they may have sit in the desert in a pretend we can bring them back online if needed state and had their wings chopped off later as the result of a treaty but for all practical purposes they were never going to carry bombs after 1970.

106:

Most modern nuclear weapons use a few grams of tritium. It's used in neutron initiators in both fission and fusion weapons, where it gets the initial fission reaction going faster, or in boosted weapons to increase the yield (and allow the use of less fissile material) or allow it to be adjusted to a desired level. Boosted weapons use about 4 grams of tritium AIUI. So the logistic problems aren't confined to high neutron-yield weapons.

107:

IIRC there was considerable R&D in the 1980's and '90s to develop cruise missiles that navigated by inertial guidance and terrain-following based on satellite photos of target areas. The missile would dead-reckon by inertial guidance to within a few kilometers of the target, then do terminal guidance based on terrain recognition with optical cameras and/or side-looking radar. That may have been sidelined by the development of GPS-guided munitions, but I expect they'll drag the designs out of the closet as soon as GPS jamming and/or anti-satellite capability look capable of taking out the GPS systems quickly enough to derail an offensive.

108:

I got curious so I used Google Maps to see if the B-52 I saw at Sandia Labs back in 83 was still there. It is. Sort of. When you first zoom close enough to see it it is there:
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=sandia+lab+museum+New+Mexico&aq=&sll=35.014814,-106.441727&sspn=0.31886,0.575409&ie=UTF8&hq=sandia+lab+museum&hnear=New+Mexico&ll=35.065569,-106.534424&spn=0.004979,0.008991&t=h&z=17

But if you keep zooming in suddenly you get a different (later?) picture showing it somewhat dissembled. Maybe for repairs so people can go inside?

109:

Yep. I think the 90s missiles were using laser-gyros, instead of the mechanical gyros my parents worked on. I agree that they're more expensive than GPS units, but they do have some advantages, such as being less sensitive to jamming or the effects of space war on GPS satellites.

Personally, I suspect that they still have inertial guidance systems in a number of weapons systems, both old ones and things designed to work around jammers. They're hard to work up in a hurry, and it's probably easier to simply keep making some of the beasts, just in case.

110:

IIRC, Kusosawa said that he, and most of the other Japanese civilians, expected the emperor to order them all to commit suicide when it was announced he was going to address them on the radio.

111:

The context is often forgotten.
It was the tail end of a war that had killed maybe 50 million people. The target was one of the enemies who started it, and an enemy that was notorious for its brutality and mistreatment of both prisoners and civilians (reg "massacre of Nanking"). The Japanese were ***hated***. Very few were going to shed any tears over any number of Japanese corpses, so nuking Nagasaki as a demo was not a big moral question back then.

112:

Andrew- Underlying much of what you say seems to be a view of the Cold War as a struggle between the US and a monolithic "Communist Block" lead by the USSR. That might not have been too inaccurate a picture of the beginning of the Cold War, when the USSR and PRC were allies of convenience, it became increasingly far from reality as time went on. By the seventies the USSR and People's Republic were discernibly distinct powers with radically differing agendas, which the Nixon Administration exploited with the policy of triangulation. Local and regional communist governments, such as Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam, also had their own agendas which sometimes fit in with Russia's and sometimes did not. To consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be a "proxy" of the USSR, gets into truly bizarre territory, "godless communism" was no better a fit for the Iranian revolutionaries than was western decadence. I am sure that the Soviet leaders were not displeased to see the US lose a strong regional ally that the Shah represented, but that is a long way from post-revolutionary Iran being a Soviet proxy.

As to the Korean war being "won" since the DPRK still exists, I remind you that the Korean war was fought to save South Korea, not to occupy North Korea. After his success at Inchon, MacArthur tried to expand the aims of the war, (incorrectly) predicting that China would remain on the sidelines. Once Truman cashiered MacArthur, our war aims returned to being focused on the survival of South Korea. As to Cuba, the thing that dissuaded JFK from invading was the potential of a tit-for-tat retaliation by the USSR in seizing West Berlin, although I will admit that the potential for nuclear conflict was never far from his mind in weighing the options.

There are also some good counter-examples to your thesis. Iraq may not have had WMD when George W. Bush invaded, but they certainly had an active nuclear program leading up to the first Gulf War, for details see http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iraq/nuke/program.htm . Arguably, this predisposed some people towards assuming the worst of them in the run up to the second Gulf War (I will admit to being among those people). That certainly didn't turn out well for Saddam Hussein. I would also point out that Zimbabwe and Burma (among others) are distinctly unpleasant regimes which have not needed a nuclear deterrent to dissuade the US (or other western powers) from intervening. I would also suggest that if Gaddafi had retained his nuclear program, the US would probably not have been as reluctant to intervene as it was.

As to Pakistan, part of the reason for the intense US interest in "AfPak" is precisely the presence of nuclear weapons in the vicinity. I would argue that, once Bin Laden had been killed, if Pakistan had never developed its nuclear arsenal it is quite likely that the DoD would have decided to pick up its toys and go home at a far quicker pace than is the case right now.

At best, I think that nuclear weapons are a mixed bag, sometimes they may convince potential foes to leave you alone, but other times they will intensify the unwanted attention you receive.

113:

"IIRC there was considerable R&D in the 1980's and '90s to develop cruise missiles that navigated by inertial guidance and terrain-following based on satellite photos of target areas."

Not only was there R&D, an operational system was developed which, among other systems, is used to guide Tomahawk cruise missiles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TERCOM

114:

A couple of people have claimed in this discussion that the US was short of nukes in late 1945. Two minutes on the internet will show that this claim is utter rubbish.

115:
No Arab-Israeli wars since the acquisition of nukes by Israel.
Except perhaps 1967, 1973, 1978, 1982, 2006, 2008. Not that many, in any case. Nope.
116:
I was going to ask if a shock and awe campaign has ever worked, but then I remembered Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those attacks didn't make Japan more determined to defeat the US, they made Japan surrender unconditionally.
thence Charlie:
No they didn't.
That's the received wisdom in the USA, where little aspects of history tend to be forgotten -- like the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that kicked off on August 9th 1945, with 1.5 million troops (outnumbering the Japanese defenders by roughly 3:1, and with much better equipment).
The Japanese government had a choice: (a) surrender to the USSR under Stalin, (b) surrender to the USA, or (c) be nuked repeatedly and then invaded by everyone. Being only 90% batshit insane, they eventually did the sensible thing.

Except that it's not true.

The personalities involved - in particular the intervention of the Emperor - and the conversation in the Japanese Cabinet in which the surrender was decided upon - largely hinged on the atomic bombings, though the Soviet declaration of war certainly played into it.

There's a marxist assertion that the Soviets were what counted; the transcript reads clearly otherwise. Previously to the A-bombs, the military position was "We don't want to surrender, and if we do, we will work out a negotiated peace through the Russians". After the bombings, the peace party and Emperor were able to insist "We now need to surrender", and the Soviet declaration meant that had to be unconditional.

117:
One of the big what if's of World War II is what would have happened if the Indianapolis had been sunk before it reached Tinian. As the United States had depleted it's stockpile of fissile material and wouldn't be able produce enough for another weapon for two years!

Um... No.

To quote from Wikipedia (but, backed up by Rhodes, Coster-Mullen, Groves primary sources):

Groves expected to have another atomic bomb ready for use on 19 August, with three more in September and a further three in October.

See also: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/72.pdf

118:

I almost hesitate to say this, since I'd hate to see anything slow down your novel output, but when do we get to see you on the nonfiction shelves? Seriously, your brand of insightful and no-nonsense political/historical/technological commentary deserves an audience beyond we self-selected pool of nerds who read your blog...

119:

Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.

Eventually, they too got automatic firearms, just as with rifled weapons and guns in general earlier on. It will happen again with drones and missiles.

The materials science, propulsion methods, and explosives of World War II are available to even modestly industrialized countries and make more than adequately destructive long range weapons. The problem is that the weapons usually miss.

Pair that clunky weapon with a re-purposed smart phone, though, and you have a weapon that usually finds its target. It's not just GPS; you could imagine navigational satellites turned off if they were more use to the enemy than their owners. It's also inertial, barometric, magnetic, and vision-based navigation, with sensor fusion to get accuracy greater than the sum of the parts. There is a fierce competition among component suppliers to produce cheaper, smaller, more accurate location systems all the time. The hardware is low cost, produced in huge volumes, and impossible to export control to keep it from the "bad guys." Thanks to competition and huge volume it's also orders of magnitude less expensive than the pioneering military-originated systems that did similar things.

A likely outcome is that most nations can eventually (if they wish) build unmanned weapons that do 80% of what the gold-plated versions from Boeing and EADS do, but at less than 10% of the cost. Most other nations can import from any one of dozens of suppliers. Drones and missiles will proliferate like rifles. The era of one-sided remote killing from the air will not be a long one. There may be, once, a nasty surprise when a nation thought incapable of retaliation puts NATO on the receiving end.

This is just a consequence of the forces at work, no great leaps of faith required. If you want to take the idea into the science fictional, consider scaling down from poorer nations to subnational groups. What would the recent Lebanon war have looked like if Hezbollah's WW II era rockets had been guided? Could CNC machine tools, additive manufacturing, CAD/CAM and the like make it practical for a lone nut of modest technical ability to build a basement cruise missile the way he can today build a car bomb? If terror groups have precision weapons, will they directly target political and military leaders for death (much like the CIA does to them)?

120:

Another guy here who uses his "pocket" calculator like 20x a day.

I think the risk of existential threat through a doomsday cult either setting off a handful of stolen nukes triggering a nuclear winter or hijacking a superpower's control hierarchy has been underexamined here. A less discriminating observer might note that a certain group is currently overrepresented in the control hierarchy of one of the superpowers. Fortunately, they are on "our" side for some values of "our." I'll leave it at that to keep it classy.

121:

"Obsolete existential threats"


  • No more worries this newfangled thing called farming was a bad choice over hunting

  • Pretty sure our hominid cousins won't be bothering us any more

  • Wow where did all the glaciers go?

  • Toba? wasn't that something the Shaman said killed off his old tribe?

  • Black-death: brought out all yer dead?

  • Smallpox: Lets keep some around just in case (perfect with 'don't immunize')

  • Campings 'rapture' delayed.. again

  • Asteroid 2011MD missed the earth!

122:

Seems you are right. So why is there so much out there saying that there were no more bombs going to be available for months? Many documentaries, articles, etc...

123:
Seems you are right. So why is there so much out there saying that there were no more bombs going to be available for months? Many documentaries, articles, etc...

Sounds like an excellent question for snopes.com; it's not there yet.

124:

I always wondered why no one developed a shaped charge with a polonium trigger so that when it went through an airport x-ray device the x-ray spike would detonate the device.

This has occurred to me, too. My guess is that the violent wingnut factions don't see blowing up security features as dramatic enough. While security theater measures partially overlap the terrorists' agenda, I don't think any of the latter would preserve the former for that reason. I'm dubious that all of them are too dumb to build an x-ray triggered bomb.

125:

"And I'm currently pondering what it is that people aren't afraid of any more. Like witchcraft, or imminent thermonuclear annihilation."

Well I can only speak for myself but I live in fear of nuclear armed witches... that and being at a televised cricket match and having a six being hit straight down my throat, only to grass the catch on international TV (closely followed by, due to a lingering shoulder injury, being unable to successfully throw the ball back.)

As you can tell, my days and nights are often terror filled... :P

126:

I stand corrected thanks for the link.

127:

and if the movies are to be believed, nukes are useless against aliens anyway

128:

And I'm currently pondering what it is that people aren't afraid of any more. Like witchcraft, or imminent thermonuclear annihilation.

For a while in the US mumps, measles, polio, etc... At least until movie stars and playmates started giving medical advice AND people started following it.

Polio was a big fear. I remember being taken to a public vaccination event where we had to drive some sweet liquid from a cup. I had to be under 6 at the time.

Smallpox. Kids these days don't get the scar on their shoulder.

129:

Charlie, I'm normally tickled by your geopolitical riffs, but this time, I have to quibble. I don't know what adjective I'd use to describe the utility of nuclear bombs, but I wouldn't call them obsolete- because to my reckoning, they exist in essentially the same utilitarian netherworld they have occupied since pits started rolling out of Pantex.

Your timeline for obsolescence is focused on very pragmatic military concerns- with nukes, the CEP

What nukes may have replaced is the wholesale, unguided, mass firebombing of medieval-era cities, and the fact that capable nations have sworn off that activity as well seems to suggest why more about why nukes have remained on the shelf than any technical development. Aside from the technically-sweet-if-questionable handful of applications of a one-kiloton bomb against a mechanized opponents (vaporizing carrier battle groups or bombers waves, say) nukes have had exactly one use- wiping out tribes, and that's why they have persisted, and will continue to persist, and never be used- the intractable conflict between those who view the behaviors of nations as the aggregate of tunable elements and their people as fundamentally kindred, and those who view the other tribe itself as the problem, and the fact that even those in group A need nukes to appeal to the self interest of group B.

What has changed is that the US no longer has a tribal opponent, tied to a concrete geography, against which it can aim counter-tribal weapons. The USSR was a mess, to be sure, but it was a culture with sufficient population and technical accumen to make a go at a geopolitical system that was explicitly not compatible with the US. No one can, or cares to do that anymore, and so the nukes sit rusting... but that's all they've ever done.

130:

This is the 21st century, and the way we commit atrocities in the 21st century is with home-made GPS-guided stealthed cruise missiles.

Donald Kingsbury wrote exactly this scenario in 1980 with 'The Moon Goddess and the Son"

131:

The question is whether National Socialist China is compatible with the USA. I would say it is not in the long run, partly because it may turn out that scitech innovation and economic power work better without democracy. If so, then I might expect the USA to follow suit. Perhaps Hitler and Mussolini will win in the end and the future will be a confrontation between different varieties of Fascism and the Corporate State.

132:

A nuke war big enough to end civilization is currently unlikely. It would require two heavily nuke armed actors with at least one of them under the leadership of a seriously crazy or even more seriously incompetent individual.

The problem is that history tells me that this can be the case with very little warning. Crazed leadership is only one serious national setback away in most countries, and serious nuclear arsenals are not out of reach for first world nations who decide they want them.

133:

"why do so many governments seem to want them?" So they can be like North Korea and not be messed with.
In a book called MARCHING ORDERS, by Bruce Lee. The last declassified Jap codes were printed along with the history of the time. The real codes showed the government had no intent of surrendering.
The real codes are simply not used in popular history or in any history I know off. The Truman Library had never heard of them till I told them. Possible because they would upset some intrenched apple carts.
The A-Bombs did make the Emperor give up. There was even a shoot out with people who were never going to give up.
Read the book and ,make up your own minds. Not what someone keeps telling you.
The book says the US may have given the English more than Uta-Secret found.
In a interview, OBL said the point of 9-11 was to get American troops on Moslem soil so they could be blooded and hated. He said he tried that with Clinton but our Bill would not jump in. The Neo-Cons gave Bill hell over that. They said we were the worlds only remaining super power and not to act like it was next to treason. So when Bush had the chance he did not jump. He took a running leap. In 35 years has anybody ever heard a Neo-Con say oops, we were wrong? They never change, they know they are right.

134:

Charlie, it's obvious you've never been in the military. This is patently, fundamentally, wrong:
In any other military speciality, a tactic that involves losing your own forces at a rate of 1% per hour would not be considered a viable one ...

It probably goes back thousands of years to small bands of roving humans, but what it drove is the evolution of raider tactics. These days it's *highly* evolved, particularly amongst the special ops troops. Not the 'training the locals' sorts, like much of US Army Special Forces, but the break-things-and-kill-people sorts. Fast-roping from choppers, and other rapid assault techniques, are fundamental skills within this community.

30 talented, trained, and motivated guys, who will be on a valuable target for twenty minutes, can accomplish very useful things. 10 man-hours at 1% loss per hour? A tenth of a person was lost.

This probably isn't just about specwar ops; I would imagine the same thing has held true for at least some historical aviation raids, etc. Though I'm just guessing about that.

"…you can inflict hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths from above without wrecking civilian morale sufficiently to bring down a government…"

OTOH, this can also succeed for the sufficiently brutal. Atilla did well well enough to conquer more of the world than anyone else ever managed, with essentially the same (widespread and irresistible death amongst the populace, combined with little hope of successful resistance) tactic.

135:

or a pocket calculator, as opposed to the calculator app on your phone or laptop

Well, I still have my pocket calculator available, but haven't felt the need for a calculator that much. And yes, I usually have my phone which has a calculator app.

The app still looks like a real calculator - I have this HP42C app, which looks like the real thing. I like RPN in my calculators but my real one hasn't got it, so I use the app more often.

136:

One of the things I thought was lacking in Independence Day was hitting the alien craft with 20~30 megatons, and see if it could still lift itself off the crater floor. Would have liked Footfall better than "ET's evil cousins @ area 51" anyway.

137:

Aside from the radar aspect, I'd gotten the impression that the RAF were basically doing giant table top gaming with the country itself as the table. As used by many military people in the 50 years previously to study tactics and strategy in historic battles.

138:

You could argue that there are several things that rendered nuclear weapons obsolete.

On a strategic level, once the SSBN fleets were working in the late 1960s / early 70s, it guaranteed that a counterstrike would happen; i.e. you can't "win". Before that, you "just" needed a good air defence network - hence NORAD, and nuclear-tipped anti-bomber missiles. Consider the explosive content and success rate of even modern guided AAMs, and you can see why 1950s/60s went for "guaranteed to knock down" option.

At an operational level, once the guided-weapon technologies were starting to show up in the 1970s/80s, there was a sense that the Group of Soviet Forces Germany couldn't just make it to the Rhine in two weeks. My father took part in Corps C3I exercises in the 1960s and the 1970s; Divisional Commanders would ask for permission to start flinging tactical nukes against enemy formations because that was all they had left - this was taking a couple of days in the 60s, a couple of weeks by the 80s. See "Team Yankee" by Harold Coyle, "the Third World War" by Gen Hackett.

The weapons are becoming obsolete because the targets are going away - these days, no-one has 10,000 Main Battle Tanks, and a million man army poised on their border.

Of course, at the truly tactical level, nuclear weapons went away (google "Davy Crockett") because of course no-one in the right mind lets Second Lieutenants play with nukes, not even little ones, not even with a very steady Sergeant next to them...

If you want scary and unsettling? Read this former USAF Missileer on the reality of the Permissive Action Link...
http://www.cdi.org/blair/permissive-action-links.cfm

139:

If I'm reading this right you're assuming that all people who hate the US will automatically fight to destroy it.

140:

Very amused by the French concrete bomb, do you suppose it had "ACME" stenciled on it?

141:

In any other military speciality, a tactic that involves losing your own forces at a rate of 1% per hour would not be considered a viable one ...

I am going to cop out here and say that I meant to say, long term viable for air power.

It got the British Army through the Somme and the French through Verdun and the Kaiser's army through the Kaiserschlacht, but that's with infantry, artillery and relatively crude equipment.

It came royally close to screwing RAF Bomber Command in 1941-42, and the USAAF bomber groups in 1943-44: losing more than 1% of your planes on a raid, when they'd be out raiding every night for a month, meant that by the end of the month you'd be down to less than 50% of your initial force. And bomber crews take a lot longer than one month to train (even if the planes are coming off the production lines at a rate of knots).

(Casualty rates at well about 1% per hour of action were envisaged as normal during WWIII: if I remember correctly the life expectancy of a British soldier in BAOR during the opening hours of a Soviet invasion of western Europe was estimated at 6 hours. But that wasn't business as usual, that was armageddon. As in, "first we fight with conventional forces until we're losing, then we fight with tactical nuclear weapons until we're losing, then we blow up the world.")

142:

The M-29 Davy Crockett is my favourite Cold War era weapons system. A tactical nuclear weapon with it's primary blast radius (est 1.7km) double that of it's typical operating range (800-1000m in Germany) so the 2 man opearting crew are gauranteed to die a quick, horrible, radiation death. You'd think that wise military heads would spot the flaw in the plan there but no, the US deployed 2100 of these suckers in the 60s.

143:

Actually, you're wrong. The tactical doctrine for using the M-29 was that the jeep-mounted weapon would pull up on one side of a hill, with a Soviet armoured division in the valley on the other side. The crew would fire the weapon indirectly, over the hill, then dive under the jeep. It was, in principle, entirely survivable (if a bit of a brown pants moment). It was also a low yield device -- dialable from 0.01Kt to 1.0Kt -- the primary blast radius you cite is the maximum, and radiation effects should be negligible from the other side of a hill (as long as the crew bug out before the fallout arrives).

144:

The radiation was only deadly some 150-300m around the explosion. Check your sources before assuming people are that dumb.

145:

"Maybe a parallel observation would be the astonishing existence of an air-to-air missile with a nuclear payload, the Genie. It seems incredible now that such a thing would be considered useful. "

See also the Nike Hercules and BOMARC nuclear tipped surface-to-air missiles of the late '50s and early '60s.

To be fair these things weren't quite the mad overkill that they would appear as, just as with strategic weapons, there's a trade-off with accuracy in that the nearer you can get to the target the smaller the explosion you need to ensure its destruction - these days even strategic warheads are (relatively!) low yield compared with the monsters of the '60s and '70s because (unless you're deliberately going for all-out genocide) modern guidance systems can consistently put them close enough to their targets for a paltry few hundreds of kilotons to get the job done. With the accuracy attainable at the time that the likes of Genii, Nike-Hercules, and BOMARC were conceived and developed you'd need the sort of destructive power that only a nuke could deliver within the payload constraints to be confident of a kill when dealing with small targets moving at high speed and altitude.

146:

"first we fight with conventional forces until we're losing, then we fight with tactical nuclear weapons until we're losing, then we blow up the world."

There was an old game called Nato:The Next War in Europe.

The standard game had no rules for nuclear warfare but there was an optional rule for players who really wanted to simulate the use of Nukes.
1. Douse the map in petrol
2. Get a match.....

Post war analysis of the Strategic Bombing campaign over Germany did reveal one very unintentional side effect. While the actual bombing never came close to destroying German industry or will to fight (which would, accord to Bomber Harris, shorten the war). The resources the Germans actually put into combating the bombing removed the Luftwaffe from it's primary job of supporting the Wermacht on the battlefield and making it easier for the Allies to achieve air supremacy over the battlefields. So it did arguably shorten the war, but most definitely not in the way the RAF and USAAF intended.

147:


Yes, I know witchcraft accusations are a major problem in some parts of the world even today: and there's a 1950s cold war replay between India and Pakistan, with hundreds of H-bombs on each side and a hot line between New Delhi and Islamabad.

India has H-bombs... but not hundreds. China has hundreds of H-bombs. As far as everyone knows. What India and Pakistan have is dozens to hundreds of middle ranged missiles with classical nukes on top.
Pakistan has never conducted a test of an H-bomb, though it's rumored they have a design. Considering that US kept selling it's own nuclear secrets to Turks who then sold them to Pakistanis (the Sibel Edmonds case), it's possible that they could've gotten their hands on something useful.

But hundreds of H-bombs is dangerous hyperbole.

@Alan Laird

The weapons is a sort of mortar. Could be fired from a trench, and certainly putting some hundreds of meters of soil between you and the radiation wave, which doesn't bend, would mean they wouldn't get exposed that much. OF course, there's fallout..


Personally, it was a stupid idea. What would make far more sense would be to develop and field a semiautomatic 8 -10 inch howitzer with a range of 100kms that would be able to fire tactical nuclear artillery shells. Or to develop a nuclear artillery shell for something like a large caliber rocket launcher, something like the German Wurfrahmen device. (short ranged 280 milimeters incendiary rocket)

A battery of self-propelled semiautomatic nuclear artillery howitzers could easily stall any land invasion, especially if the nuclear bombardement was conducted so there'd be dozens of vanilla shells falling at the same time as the nukes.

Could be kept in reserve, to make sure the enemy won't be able to exploit any breakthrough.

148:

Haven't read Marching Orders but a quick look at Google Scholar only turns up 13 cites and no real academic reviews.

149:

"The radiation was only deadly some 150-300m around the explosion. Check your sources before assuming people are that dumb."

Seems dumb to me, especially on the flat North German terrain. and I said died of radiation, not are killed on the spot.

150:

In addition to changing the role of the Luftwaffe, the bombing campaign removed other resources from the eastern front. Most notably, huge numbers of the (in)famous Krupp dual-purpose 88mm gun (FlaK 18/36/37) were sent west and pointed at the sky; since it was a highly effective T34-killer, this was clearly a good thing from the Russian point of view. Even better, the fire required to down bombers dwarfed that used against tanks - allegedly (I think I got the numbers from tables in Keegan, but don't have a copy to hand to confirm the source) something like 90% of German 88mm ammunition used was fired at British or American warplanes to the west of Berlin. If the guns, gunners, and ammunition (and indeed the reinforced concrete and construction labour) used against the bomber offensive had been available to fight the Russian army, they would have found the Wehrmacht an even tougher nut to crack than was actually the case.

152:

If you've got A-bombs and accurate guidance and aren't too fussy about safety you probably don't need H-bombs -- just look up Super Oralloy or Violet Club.

Both of these were pure atom bombs, with no fusion component -- but high yield A-bombs that maxed out around 720Kt, or three-quarters of a megaton (compared to the 14-20Kt of the early A-bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the 200-400Kt of a modern thermonuclear missile warhead). The trick is to use multiple critical masses of HEU or Pu in an implosion design with a hollow core such that it doesn't go supercritical prematurely by accident.

(These designs were horrendously unsafe and kludgy, and were withdrawn from service by the USAF and the RAF as soon as proper H-bombs became available to replace them. Nevertheless.)

153:

something like 90% of German 88mm ammunition used was fired at British or American warplanes to the west of Berlin.

With almost all of it misses I suspect. I saw a documentary on proximity AA shells developed during WWII by the US (and UK?). As best I recall they were considered a big success as they took the average number of 5" AA shells fired from ships to hit a target down from something like 5000 per hit to 500 per hit. There were a LOT of friendly fire casualties in WWII.

154:

Actually - a deeper question - is Norman Angell right? Because of the immense destructiveness of nuclear weapons (and also, because of the immense destructive potential of modern military forces in general, without the nuclear part), are large-square conflicts between substantial constituents of the global economy simply unthinkable?

I mean, is there a forseeable process by which national elites can withdraw their fidelity to international market capitalist pluralism? In our system, strong norms direct military power outward, from the core of the tightly interconnected developed world toward an insufficiently integrated and assimilated periphery. But even there, the fringe actors (Libya, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea) are deterred from directing or projecting military force back toward the developed center, because the survival of national elites would so clearly be brought into question by such a policy choice.

In other words, can there be conceivable cultural developments that lead elites to choose policies leading to physically destructive interstate military conflict, over social/political/economic interstate conflict?

155:

There was an old Microprose computer game called Command HQ, which was a modern WW3 strategy game. You could use nukes in it, too. Eventually, if both sides used too many nukes, the game would suddenly end and "Sic transit gloria mundi" would scroll across the screen.

That creeped the hell out of my buddy and I when we first discovered it.

156:

@72: The best calculator EVER was the HP41. RPN and all.

That's the model I was trying to remember. I'm pretty certain RealCalc on Android in RPN mode emulates the HP41.

157:

In metal gear solid 3 Colonel Volgin fires a Davy Crockett from a moving chopper. EMP would probably fry the chopper electronics in real life but I guess it looks good in a game.

158:

What would the recent Lebanon war have looked like if Hezbollah's WW II era rockets had been guided?

There's a simple guide to that - look what happened with the ones that were. They fired one surface-to-surface missile at a ship and got a mission kill, and the Israelis didn't put a ship in range again. Similarly, they gave the Israeli armour a really hard time with a range of guided anti-tank weapons.

At the time the Israelis were seriously worried about this, although more recently they've been trying to play it down on the grounds that - for example - Hezbollah fired 15 ATGMs to knock out five tanks.

Well, I somehow doubt the guys in that tank squadron felt it was quite OK when a fat dozen killer rockets screamed in and fucked up 33% of their force in one volley. ATGW gunners are typically trained to aim for anything with extra radio antennas, an indicator it's a commander's vehicle, so they may have had the CO and the sergeant major at least dismounted and off the radio network as well.

(Also, does a Russian ATGW round cost one-third of a tank? Even on the black market? I doubt it. Well then, if it takes three of them to be sure...)

The Israelis also like to claim that they only had a handful of tanks totally destroyed, but this depends on how you define "destroyed". They were within three miles of their own border at the deepest, so they were in a position to recover all their damaged vehicles when in a different tactical situation they might have left them or blown them up to deny them to the enemy.

So they were able to count as destroyed only those Merkava IVs that the IDF central armoured workshops or even the manufacturer, Rafael Industries, couldn't put back together with all the time and budget they needed. Destroying a main battle tank to that degree is hard, and the Merkava is heavier than most of them.

From Hezbollah's point of view, they could care less whether Rafael might eventually be able to incorporate enough of it into a new tank to claim it as a reconditioned vehicle without laughing too hard. What counted for them, as the defender, was that it stopped rolling forward before it crushed them.

Seems dumb to me, especially on the flat North German terrain

The US V Corps TAOR wasn't in North Germany nor was it particularly flat. There's a hint as to the terrain in the phrase "Fulda Gap".

In general: Publicly available GPS chipsets are subject to CoCom export restrictions, so they stop working above 60,000 feet and above a speed restriction I now forget. This is so that you can't use them to make a ballistic missile. Obviously, one wonders how hackable the firmware is.

But I keep meaning to try to work out the parameters of what you could achieve with a common or garden CoCom-restricted GPS extracted from, say, a not-quite-latest smartphone. I recently read a quote from Bill Clinton, for one, making the point that soon enough the Palestinians will have terminal guidance on their rockets and various bits of Israel's infrastructure will be...easy to hit, so how about peace?

159:

Back in the day the West had a wide variety of nuclear delivery systems in service. The first nuclear artillery shells in service - as opposed to tested - required an 8 inch gun (eg M110). When 155mm nuclear shells came along every NATO artillery piece of that calibre - and there were a lot - was a potential nuclear delivery system.

For slightly longer range engagements there were battlefield rockets - the UK operated Lance, for instance.

Then we have the theatre range nukes - eg Pershing, Tomahawk plus air delivered gravity bombs. Which just about every fighter-bomber of that era could carry.

Add to that NIKE SAM sites with a nuclear tipped secondary surface to surface role, atomic demolition munitions and there was no shortage of nuclear delivery systems to suit all possible needs. I'm sure I've forgotten a load as well.

What killed off the Davy Crockett was, I believe, a combination of things. It pushed nukes very far down the command structure, the small size of the round meant little space for safety features but for me the killer was using a recoilless rifle to deliver it on target. Using an artillery piece instead meant little extra equipment - replacing a jeep plus RCL by a truck plus howitzer (or a SPG) but gave far better range performance and hence flexibility. You could still punt it over a hill; but you could also punt it over 5 or 6 hills which, after all, was preferable.

As an aside, recoilless rifles produce the loudest sound in the world along with a flash and backblast visible from orbit which is not what you want when punting off a nuke. Or so those who have used them tell me. Mind you, I suppose once the nuke went off no-one would care.

160:

i loved Command HQ

161:

This is why you want reasonably pragmatic politicians as heads of state, preferably ones who play poker and lose occasionally.

The point is that mutually assured destruction doesn't make a lot of sense to most people. Unless they're irrational or hopelessly committed to an irrational ideology as their only means to stay in power. Or unless you think your enemy is like that.

This is actually the problem with things like plausible deniability and other deceptions. Muddy the water enough, and your opponents will think you're hiding something more vile than you actually are.

162:

This is actually the problem with things like plausible deniability and other deceptions. Muddy the water enough, and your opponents will think you're hiding something more vile than you actually are.

See also Saddam, weapons of mass destruction, non-existence thereof (his bluffing that he had them wasn't aimed at the USA, who he didn't consider a real threat: it was aimed at Iran).

163:
In general: Publicly available GPS chipsets are subject to CoCom export restrictions, so they stop working above 60,000 feet and above a speed restriction I now forget. This is so that you can't use them to make a ballistic missile. Obviously, one wonders how hackable the firmware is.

But I keep meaning to try to work out the parameters of what you could achieve with a common or garden CoCom-restricted GPS extracted from, say, a not-quite-latest smartphone. I recently read a quote from Bill Clinton, for one, making the point that soon enough the Palestinians will have terminal guidance on their rockets and various bits of Israel's infrastructure will be...easy to hit, so how about peace?

ITAR category XV (pdf) has the following (this is from 2010).

(c) Global Positioning System (GPS) receiving equipment specifically designed, modified or configured for military use; or GPS receiving equipment with any of the following characteristics:

(1) Designed for encryption or decryption (e.g., Y-Code) of GPS precise positioning service (PPS) signals;

(2) Designed for producing navigation results above 60,000 feet altitude and at 1,000 knots velocity or greater;

(3) Specifically designed or modified for use with a null steering antenna or including a null steering antenna designed to reduce or avoid jamming signals;

(4) Designed or modified for use with unmanned air vehicle systems capable of delivering at least a 500 kg payload to a range of at least 300 km.

1000 knots is about 515 metres per second, the speed of sound being about 340m/s. Actually these conditions seem fairly generous, if you want to build a small-to-medium cruise missile. Israel's Delilah, for example, is described as well within these specifications (250kg, Mach 0.85 = 290m/s dive, 250km range, 28000ft altitude). Of course that doesn't answer the question of what you could do with the chipset from your car or phone - which might also include compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, etc. Even those sensors could be enough that a jailbroken iPhone could, on its own, be able to guide a homebrew missile ("there's an app for that"). Maybe intelligence analysts should be on the lookout for unusual numbers of phones being brought into Palestine.

164:

Alex @163: "... what you could do with the chipset from your car or phone - which might also include compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, etc."

That can be done a lot more cheaply:
http://www.hobby-lobby.com/micro_twister_pro_receiver_and_gyro_unit_1034307_prd1.htm

For less than USD 100 you can get very, very precise instruments from several manufacturers.

165:

My point wasn't so much about ammunition being thrown at the western air forces; it was that the ammunition flung at bombers wasn't available to use against T34s. If it was really 90% of the total made - which is certainly plausible; as you say, it generally takes a lot of rounds to achieve one aircraft kill - then that's going to make a very big difference to the ability of the red army to push west.

The same applies to the guns themselves, and the concrete used to construct emplacements and air-raid shelters, and so on.

166:

Agreed. My point that I didn't make clear was it took a LOT of ammo to hit a plane. Which was why so much of it was on the western front.

These discussions and recently seeing 12 O'Clock High on TV again made me wonder just how much ammo had to be unloaded daily at the docks of Britain just to keep the guns and bomb bays loaded for the bombers and fighters of WWII.

167:

Back when I was playing soldiers in the 70s the use of the "Davy Crockett" would only have occurred after what was termed a "general release" ie individual division commanders could use the nukes as they saw fit. Estimated allied use at that point (in W Germany alone) would escalate to some 200 per day. The exact timing and rules of engagement for a GR were top secret because if the Soviets thought it was imminent they would preempt and use their own tactical nukes against suspected Special Ammunition Stores and Divisional HQs

168:

I read somewhere that by 1943 Britain alone was out producing the whole of Nazi occupied Europe in terms of weapons.

169:

You seem to be assuming that none of it was produced locally; by autumn 1944, the UK's military industrial output had come within about 90% of Germany's. This doesn't count stuff the Reich was able to loot from occupied countries, but for a nation with only 75% of the population of Germany that's quite impressive. The UK went onto a total war footing in autumn 1939 and didn't come down off it until September 1945, near-bankrupt and with infrastructure suffering from six years of bombing and near-total neglect -- just enough maintenance to keep the war effort rolling, basically.

170:

Re, Fisile Materials, yes, that was the (ONly) Little Boy (U-235) device; But Fat Man, the Plutonium device, (as tested at Trinity) was in "production", there was another bomb available (prepared) for another strikce, circa August 14 (?) if Japan had not surrendered, with one strike every ten days or so therafter., and accelerating.

See "The Nuclear Express"

171:

You seem to be assuming that none of it was produced locally; by autumn

No. I did assume that most of the local output was going to UK needs. And I'm sure there was a lot of stuff flowing back and forth but the UK did have a few fighters and bombers of their own to supply.

Either way I suspect various heavy bombers and fighters carried more 50 cal and similar ammo per mission than most ground troops fired out of their riffle from June 44 through April 45.

172:

Davy Crockett was not as unusable as some people think, even in open ground. I recently found a documentary of Ivy Flats, an exercise where the M-29 was live fired with infantry nearby. Not exactly safe, but it's clearly not suicidal.

The Davy Crockett show here is tripod mounted, but a vehicle mounted gun seems straightforward.

The after-action decontamination routine should be noted.

PS: my calculators of choice are the classic Casio fx-260 (already mentioned by others) and the Casio fx-115ES. Both are right here near the computer.

173:

Either way I suspect various heavy bombers and fighters carried more 50 cal and similar ammo per mission than most ground troops fired out of their riffle from June 44 through April 45.

Quite probably (although IIRC British bombers used smaller calibre machine guns much of the time).

I note that RAF Bomber Command lost 49,171 dead and roughly 13,500 captured/seriously injured. With aircrews averaging 6-7 per plane, that suggests close to 10,000 bombers were lost. (I don't have an exact figure, but it's a truly staggering number.)

174:

In the Cold War it was believed that Stalin would A-Bomb us as soon as he had the bombs and the way to use them. Nikita Khrushchev's son is in America and writes that his father told him that too. The rest of them did not want to be bombed and he thinks that could be why Stalin died. Latter they we fearful of us and kept us afraid of them. Aids of General LaMay said he tried to provoke the USSR into starting the war while we still had the advantage.
The only good thing you can say about Mutually Assured Destruction is that it worked. I read that the historian who wrote the FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (I think it was) said there was a new big war every time enough new solders could be raised. He said WW-3 would start about the time of the Berlin Crises. No WW-3 then. MAD working? By the time JFK put a stop to it, the Cuban Missile crises almost started WW-3. Cuba already had control of Nuke anti-ship missiles and we did not know it!
"Sufferers spontaneously hate the US no matter what" More R/W NEO-CON rewriting of real facts. It's like how mean the Poles were to Germans. People who were there, (I knew two of them) not in Israel, said Moslems had respected for us as fair dealers who could be trusted more than their Moslem neighbors could be. And they were dumb enough to think we were Christians, who were people of the Book like they were. Really we are Pagans. That's what they think now after the Neo-Cons went nuts. The book is really big on a eye for a eye. We have put out a lot of eyes.

From over here to someone who was not in it, it seems the IRA backed off when the Protestants started shooting random Catholics ever time a Protestant was killed. It stopped being fun to the IRA supporters.
Nobody who can count thinks ABMs will matter. It's a NEO-CON test strip over wether you love America or not. It has nothing to do with reality. So many of the ABM tests were faked (all of them?) and found out, that anything about the tests were classified.

175:

Another possible reason for the reduction in tactical nukes in Europe is the persistent rumor (I first heard it from a soldier who'd come back from Germany in 1968) that warheads for the Nike Hercules had gone missing. I've never had real corroboration of that (and didn't really expect it, no one in his right mind is going to admit in public that they'd lost track of nuclear weapons), but I do know that between them, the US Air Force and the US Navy have lost at least 10 nuclear weapons in the ocean due to plane crashes and submarine sinkings, and that auditing of the national laboratories came up shy on the tally of bomb-grade plutonium by a lot (Los Alamos alone was missing more than 750 kg), though that has been explained as an "accounting error"1.

1. If that was my accountant, I'd fire them instantly.

176:

Another couple of potentially disruptive combinations of 20th century technology and 21st century consumer electronics:

The smart gun. Pocket cameras and phones can now pick human faces out of scenes in real time. The regularly improving ability to track a single human in a cluttered scene is being driven by security/surveillance applications and by broader machine vision research. Instead of aiming a gun at the enemy and firing it manually, pick a human out of a scene and let the computer track him. Press another button to actually fire on the target, or just give "approval" and let the computer pick the best time to pull the trigger. The gun and its user can be separated in space and in time. It's anyone's guess whether this starts out as a device employed by governments to kill with lesser collateral damage and/or risk to soldiers or if non-governmental actors get there first.

The smart blinding laser weapon. Blinding laser weapons have never been deployed in war and are banned internationally, so this is probably one for non-governmental orgs to pioneer. Combine facial recognition, automatic targeting, and a DVD burner diode laser to aim for the eyes. Use an infrared laser from a CD burner instead if you want invisibility. Automatic targeting is important because the human hand isn't steady enough to aim a laser at a small target like an eye with any reliability. It's a weapon that potentially combines silence, range, and portability. The components are readily available even in nations with effective control over firearms. Perhaps you'd first see them as defensive measures around large drug labs or cannabis growing operations (for defending high value targets without the attention-getting noise of gunfire). Another use could be temporarily or permanently blinding surveillance cameras without doing anything so obvious as smashing or painting them.

Caveats: In the case of a gun firing projectiles, I don't know how difficult it is to produce an effective servo system for aiming. You could more easily produce a stationary weapon that just waits for the unwitting victim to stand in the line of fire. In the case of the laser weapon, you need a beam-aiming system under computer control, and I don't know how readily this is available or repurposed from common consumer electronics. Perhaps picoprojectors provide the needed bits.

177:

and that auditing of the national laboratories came up shy on the tally of bomb-grade plutonium by a lot (Los Alamos alone was missing more than 750 kg), though that has been explained as an "accounting error"1.
1. If that was my accountant, I'd fire them instantly.

Most of this is typically due to amounts trapped in the process. When working with Plutonium and such you basically commit to never being able to clean your tools and their enclosures. So over time you get a build up of "tailings" (mostly microscopic dust) coating most everything inside of the enclosed process. And the enclosures as big as they are the dust can really add up over time.

178:

I think the issues with the smart-gun technologies you mention are hackability and mistakes (misfires, mistaken identity, etc).

That said, I predict drug gangs in Mexico (or wherever the next hot spot is) will figure out how to mate a 9 mm with servo motors, an iPhone camera, and a RC airplane within the next five years. They've already figured out how to mate the iPhone and the plane to make DIY scouting drones, after all. A few years after that, the DIY drones will be mounting a stripped down AK-47 (and pusher props), with a hand grenade or stick of dynamite for the final kamikaze attack.

Personally, I'd like to see the equivalent of an iSkunk, where a trouble maker is recognized, tagged, and their location automatically updated wherever they go until they clean up their acts. Then I could get into the iTomato Juice business...

179:

The standard game had no rules for nuclear warfare but there was an optional rule for players who really wanted to simulate the use of Nukes.
1. Douse the map in petrol
2. Get a match.....

Almost. How I remember it, if you use a tac nuke, there is a 50/50 chance that it goes strategic, and it is time to reach for the ignition source. Otherwise there was a mechanism about postures selected and actions taken which limited the future options available to the players (and the hexes that changed terrain type).

180:

Determining identity is up to the human overseer. The facial recognition and tracking I'm speaking of is merely the "this is a human face; here are the mouth, nose, and eyes" sort. Not "this is the face of our target, Joe Deadman, and not his brother" facial recognition. Doing the latter is significantly more difficult.

181:

The other thing about the bombing of Germany is that it really began to make a difference when done strategically, rather than destroying cities, which was not a strategic aim or anything else.
When targeted specifically on the artificial fuel production processes, it helped damage German war worthiness a great deal.
You can't mount an offensive or such a good defense if all your vehicles are stuck due to lack of fuel.

182:

FL600 is rather irrelevant to a cruise missile - the ITAR reg seems to refer to a ballistic weapon.

From a Palestinian POV, the complexity of a cruise weapon (building a jet engine and an autopilot) isn't worth it when guided rocket artillery covers their target set.

183:

Operation Chastise (the dams raid).

Various Mosquito raids on prisons (Copenhagen and Amiens come to mind).

Operation Crossbow, hitting the V-weapon sites, and the planned bombing to smash communications routes into Normandy.

And the Douhetists were bitching about the diversion of resources all through the war, when the bombers they controlled were doing something obviously useful.

184:

American forces were in the southern part of Germany, much more rugged. The British were responsible for the North German Plain. The boundary was very roughly a line through Kassel and Bonn.

185:

[1] I beg to differ with the consensus wisdom here. Open your eyes and look around you. It's 2011 and nuclear weapons are arguably more dangerous than they have ever been.

The assumptions on display here are Western assumptions about nuclear deterrence which, aside from some handwringing about whether terrorists without return addresses could acquire nukes, remain formed by the Cold War: as if the strategy of mutual assured destruction, or MAD, wasn’t just an artifact of that era’s specific circumstances -- which may never reappear -- but an eternal, ordering principle inherent in nuclear weapons’ vastly destructive nature.

Not so. MAD has no such enduring status. Nor is nuclear deterrence necessarily something that superpowers do to other superpowers or that we (the West) do to nations outside the West. To the contrary: in the 21st century, the overwhelming conventional might of the U.S. makes nuclear weapons the only clear choice for challengers like Pyongyang and for similar small-state regimes merely wishing to go their own way.


[2] Start with some very simple game-theoretic considerations.

Cold War-era MAD couldn’t have been a simpler strategic situation: two players in a zero-sum game (if one player wins, the other loses), with both having the same optimal minimax payoff (no first strike/no first strike) in a one-time, non-iterated game (non-iterated because if either player launches a first strike, both sides are annihilated and it’s game over). Additionally, MAD was as simple an instance as exists of a Nash equilibrium, which occurs when no player in a game can benefit by unilaterally changing their own strategy while the other player(s) keep theirs unchanged.

Despite the terrifying record of nuclear accidents and blunders -- more than 100 between the two sides, according to Stanford's Scott Sagan -- you cannot get a simpler and, arguably, more stable situation based on nuclear deterrence than the Cold War two-superpower faceoff was. In the long run, of course, there are no stable situations based on nuclear deterrence.

The world of 2011, conversely, is a seriously n-player game where asymmetric nuclear deterrence is increasingly the norm. It's a much more complex situation. To simplify the maths, in a game in which n players each have to make a binary decision, n2n numbers are required for each of the 2n possible outcomes of the game. Putting it slightly differently, in an n-player game of nuclear deterrence, each new nuclear actor that enters the game multiplies the strategic complexity -- and the risk -- exponentially.

As we all know, the driving characteristic of complexity is that as it increases, it becomes more difficult to understand and model. Complex systems generate unanticipated risks – or black swans, if you will. A relevant model here is the world economic system: complexity and risk were exponentially multiplied, yet almost everybody thought that the system was perfectly stable. Till it wasn’t.

It’s the same with the international system and the increasing n-player game of nuclear weapons states. Everything will seem stable. Till it isn’t.


[3] Presumptions die hard. Most of you are going to dismiss the above considerations re. exponential complexity/risk as merely theoretical blathering, irrelevant to the real world.

So let’s look at the real world. Here’s one headline in today's GUARDIAN ---

'Riyadh will build nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, Saudi prince warns'
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/29/saudi-build-nuclear-weapons-iran

Quote: '"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said. "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."'


[4] In fact, with only the intelligence we actually have -- ignoring Israeli hype -- it's not clear what Iran's aims are. But evidence does exist that another problematic Middle Eastern regime has worked hard to achieve nuclear breakout: Assad’s Syria. If the regime in Damascus survives, it could well accelerate the nuclear program that was impeded in 2007 by Israel’s airstrike on the secret Syrian reactor at al-Kibar.

The historical record is clear. One country’s transition can trigger a chain reaction across a region: China’s becoming a nuclear weapons state impelled India to follow, which in turn led Pakistan to do likewise. Similarly, a nuclear Iran or Syria would serve as a catalyst for Saudi Arabia to end its commitments to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and to the notion that nuclear weapons contravene Islamic tenets. Egypt, also, might then contemplate going nuclear.

Should all the cards fall the wrong way, a large slice of the Earth’s land surface would be occupied by contiguous nuclear states, many with histories of mutual hostility: a zone that would extend from Israel and Egypt in the west, through Syria, Iran, Pakistan, India, all the way to China – which itself borders Russia and North Korea – in the east.

We’re almost there today.


[5] Some lessons from the Cold War model do apply.

There have been eight or nine major wars (depending on how you count) where one or both sides possessed nuclear weapons. So nuclear deterrence clearly doesn't work very well. Still, as problematic as such deterrence is, nuclear arms do provide a state with a substantial degree of destructive parity against an opponent with superior military resources and nuclear deterrence does work with some reliability in this one context.

Not incidentally, this line of reasoning dictated Eisenhower’s New Look national security policy in 1954, when nuclear weapons first became central to of U.S. strategic doctrine. As Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, explained: “We cannot build a 20,000 mile Maginot Line or match the Red armies.” So, since the U.S. confronted numerically superior Soviet and Chinese conventional forces, Dulles proposed that America embrace asymmetry and nuclear arms, with their “vast new possibilities to stop open aggression before it starts.”

What worked for the U.S. in the 1950s works for smaller states today. Increasingly, it’ll be the case that it's the U.S. and other major powers that find themselves deterred by smaller states' nuclear weapons.


[6] Another lesson from the Cold War is that the economic aspect of nuclear weapons is significant.

Back in the 1950s, Eisenhower -- who came into office and left it worrying about the size of the military-industrial complex -- approved of the financial tradeoff involved with nuclear ordnance: “the dependence we are placing on new weapons would justify completely some reduction in conventional forces.” As the slogan coined to sell the New Look to the American public put it, nukes would give "more bang for the buck."

Today, similarly, for all that nuclear arms come at a higher marginal cost for an impoverished country like Pakistan -- let alone North Korea -- ultimately such weapons are very cheap compared to conventional military forces.


[7] They're going to get cheaper. For instance, laser isotope separation or LIS is what the experts point to as the surest route for nations to covertly achieve nuclear breakout capability (which is the ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material, usually highly-enriched uranium (HEU) at least 85 percent composed of U235).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_laser_isotope_separation

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0528/Will-secret-technology-help-rogue-nations-get-nuclear-weapons

LIS is a technology that could even democratize weapons-level enrichment for non-nation-state actors. Potentially requiring only a mid-sized warehouse and drawing no more electricity than a dozen suburban homes, a LIS plant might in principle operate unnoticed almost anywhere.

Furthermore, LIS is just the front end of the trend. Industrial nuclear transmutation looks about two to three decades away, and this is both good and bad news. Good because it could eliminate nuclear waste and rationalize nuclear energy; bad because we stand potentially at the dawn of the golden age of nuclear arms proliferation.

Altogether, the price tag on nukes is quite compelling to newer nuclear states and nuclear aspirants that start from much poorer positions than did Cold War-era America, which could afford enormous investments in both conventional and nuclear forces.


[8] Also, IIRC, between 1940 and 1996 America spent over $5.8 trillion on building more than seventy thousand fission and fusion bombs, but only $700 billion of that -- one year’s budget for the Pentagon today -- went on the warheads themselves. The rest was delivery systems and maintenance thereof: all the vastly expensive apparatus of ICBMs, long-range bombers and submarine-launched second strike capability that undergirded MAD.

Today, new nuclear states’ deployments don’t need all that expensive infrastructure. Think of the capabilities we already have, the small warheads and relatively inexpensive delivery vehicles. Whether we like it or not, quite small societies will have those things fifteen years from now. Already, Hezbollah possesses more cruise missiles than many nations. For that matter, a truck driven across a border could constitute a nuclear delivery system.


[9] Overall, our new nuclear age looks set to be far more unstable than the Cold War era.

Besides the instability deriving from exponential strategic complexity/risk, there's the instability deriving from the fact that the deterrence relationships that exist between states today are increasingly asymmetric nuclear deterrence-based relationships.

What does ‘asymmetric nuclear deterrence’ mean?

For one instance, no parity exists at all between, for example, the U.S. and a small nuclear challenger state like the DPRK: even if Pyongyang should one day do the impossible and acquire a fusion bomb it won’t possess the power to deliver a deathblow against the continent-sized superpower on the Pacific’s far side. Meanwhile, the U.S. could extinguish North Korea today using only its conventional military capabilities, without bringing to bear nuclear forces at all.

For another instance, the nuclear arsenals of India and Pakistan make them theoretically capable mutual assured destruction. But Pakistan’s inferiority to India militarily, politically, demographically and geographically has driven it to an asymmetric escalation posture geared for the rapid (and asymmetric) first use of its nuclear weapons as against the Indian nuclear posture of no-first-use, “semi-recessed” deterrence.


[10] In the long run, there are no stable situations where nuclear deterrence is actively in play. But asymmetric nuclear deterrence is particularly unstable. Deterrence theory is very problematic in all sorts of ways. The wiki is an acceptable intro –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deterrence_theory

Essentially, nuclear deterrence does NOT reside in ICBMs, Polaris submarines and all the rest of the things in which “deterrence” is conventionally reified. The reality is that the acquisition of nuclear arms is not so much a military strategy as a symbolic performance meant to signal to potential adversaries the credibility of the nuclear actor’s resolve. Nuclear actors must credibly communicate to their challengers that at a certain point they will use their weapons.

Yet how can an actor signal believably that they will choose to wage nuclear war if any rational leader knows that means choosing the deaths of millions of their own citizens and, maybe, their own deaths?

There are various approaches: precommitment, rational irrationality or the madman theory, and so on. The bottom line, though, is that a nuclear actor creates credibility by injecting risk into the strategic calculus that their enemies must reckon with.

That’s exactly why nuclear deterrence is always unstable in the long run. In a context of asymmetric nuclear deterrence, however, the lesser power or smaller state is particularly driven to inject more risk into the strategic calculus –- that is, engage in more threatening behaviors -- to compensate for their conventional inadequacies.

Hence, in the real world, these are exactly the behaviors we now see from nuclear states like Pakistan and North Korea.

On present trends, the 21st century will see more of these states and more of such behavior. And if that is the case, the question is: how large will the eventual conflagration be?

186:

"Of course, at the truly tactical level, nuclear weapons went away (google "Davy Crockett") because of course no-one in the right mind lets Second Lieutenants play with nukes, not even little ones, not even with a very steady Sergeant next to them...”

I used to say the same thing. Then one day I said it to the wrong guy. He had been a Second Lieutenant in charge of a 2 missile Pershing section. Yep, two real grownup, serious nuclear weapons commanded by a 2d Lt in a *Most* important position. Also think of all the nuclear armed fighter/bomber jets armed with nuclear weapons.

His comments about the life expectancy of a Pershing section were interesting. The Russian’s probably had our war deployment and backup positions from various spy operations. The only question was, could they receive the rather complicated launch orders and act on them before the Russian air or Spaetznaz could destroy the weapons.

187:

What do you consider WWIII?

188:

I note that RAF Bomber Command lost 49,171 dead and roughly 13,500 captured/seriously injured. With aircrews averaging 6-7 per plane, that suggests close to 10,000 bombers were lost. (I don't have an exact figure, but it's a truly staggering number.)

Staggering is right. From wikipedia,

Total aircraft losses by the USAAF from December 1941 to August 1945 were 65,164, with 43,581 lost overseas and 21,583 within the Continental United States.[87] Combat losses of aircraft totaled 22,948 world wide, with 18,418 lost in theaters fighting Germany and 4,530 lost in combat in the Pacific.[88]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Air_Forces#USAAF_statistical_summary_of_World_War_II

Note that even in the largest air war in history, nearly two thirds of the total USAAF losses were accidents. Those accidents killed over 25,000 aircrew. The accidental loss rate was roughly 31 aircraft a day, every day of the war. Granted, lots of the CONUS losses were trainers, but still. I try to imagine 31 aircraft crashing every day for the duration and my mind boggles.


189:

"Haven't read Marching Orders(by Bruce Lee) but a quick look at Google Scholar only turns up 13 cites and no real academic reviews"
I think the real truth in the words of the real Japanese lifted from theit own codes would upset a lot of intellectual apple carts. History is not a hard science where you can be wrong and go on. Even if you repeated what had been said before that was wrong. . After the surrender, but before the occupation the Japanese propaganda agency ran a Poor Japan campaign that is still what most believe. And resent hearing otherwise.
We Americans believed in tac nukes because we could see no way of winning a all out war with the USSR with out them. It was hoped that using one would make them back off and deal. The Russians say now that a Nuke was a Nuke and they would have go all out if one was used. And that's for now to. We did not know or believe that, it seemed dumb.
It was believed at the time it was likely the only thing that would stop them short of the English Channel. Now we know what they had and what they knew about us, it's certain they would have rolled over us.
Me too, I was in Berlin and was then less than a hundred miles from the Czechoslovakia border when the USSR invaded them. I have a different viewpoint than most of you. But if we used tac nukes we would be killing more Germans than USSR troops and I think that's why they were dropped
Your Bomber Harris bombed at night and the only thing he could hit was the middle of cities. He would not even help kill the subs that were sinking ships and men and badly needed supplies.
The Americans never wanted to kill more civilians than they had too. That's why they trained for day time raids. The winds over Germany made the High Altitude bombing they wanted impossible. So they flew lower and took hevy hits to bomb targets not people.

190:

"The near-future is comprised of three parts"?

No, it is not "comprised of" three parts.

It's either (a) COMPOSED OF, or (b) it COMPRISES three parts.

Pick one, please. The English language will thank you.

191:

On the accuracy of night bombing.

It started out dreadful.

By 1944 Bomber Command was able to deliver quite concentrated attacks. Something such as an oil refinery is big, and can't be dispersed and some industrial production could.

Harris had what can be seen as a psychopathic obsession with smashing cities. Releasing a relatively small number of long-range aircraft for maritime patrol would have made a huge difference: he refused. Oil refineries were as big as city centres; he sneered as them as panacea targets. What hadn't worked in the days before he took control of Bomber Command was entirely possible by the end of the war, but he persisted in "de-housing" Germany.

That obsession has given an ugly political taint to the courage of Bomber Command aircrew. It challenges the whole idea of the campaign being a "just war". It was questioned during the war, even debated in Parliament.

The essential question is whether Harris had a choice: did Bomber Command have to attack the targets it did, in the way it did. The possible answers to that question changed. The answer Harris chose did not.

And perhaps that is something that can become an Existential Threat: the obsession of smart people in power, which persists through changes. In a world with nuclear weapons (just to take one example) the blunders could make a huge mess.

192:

With respect to use of tactical nukes in Europe, one of the most interesting sources is unfortunately in Danish, out of print, and has not been translated:

http://www.gyldendal.dk/boeger-til-voksne/politik-debat/9788702042399/trusselsbilledet

The author was top brass in the danish army, and spent part of his otium digging through east-block archives to find out what they would have done, had they done it.

For nukes his findings are: For Nato, use of tactical nukes were politically entangled and wouldn't happen easily as long as some semblance of functioning governments existed.

During war games they tried to stop an attacking east-block invasion with a tactical nuke, and killed significantly more civilians than attackers. This reduced the enthusiasm for tactical nukes in the top brass a LOT (See also Colin Powells autobiography)

What he found in the east-block archives, was that they would have landed an invasion force on the east coast of Denmark, bringing 100-150 tactical nukes and orders to use them whenever fighting would delay them more than an hour.

In other words: They would have paved a road across Denmark with tactical nukes.

Denmark was a high-priority target, because it controls the straits in/out of the Baltic, so we should not take this plan as indicative for general east-block strategy.

NATO apparently never expected more than approx 10 tactical nukes to be fired in Denmark, in total by both sides.

Obviously, the plans he had access to didn't say anything about strategic nukes, so we don't know what role they were assigned.

193:

Forgot to say: 3rd Army veterans also has a page with European strategic nuke history, but this is from the bottom of the heap, not from the top brass, so it offers an entirely different kind of information:

http://www.3ad.com/history/cold.war/nuclear.pages/nuke.vets.htm

Don't miss:

http://www.3ad.com/history/cold.war/nuclear.pages/nuke.vets.pages/edp.briefing.htm

"We don't expect C and B [batteries] to come back."

194:

166 169
Ammo supplies in Britain WWII ...
The largest explosives factory in Europe used to be at Ardeer (Nobel Explosives) on the Ayshire coast.
My father was drafted to be a "civil servant" (as an M.Sc. chemist) there during WWII to help MAKE said explosives ... whe he didn't know about making things go bang (or equally important NOT go bang) wan't worth knowing .....

176
Servo-systems are VERY good these days

185
Very much like Tirpitz's "Risk theory" you mean?
And look where that got us.
Oh dear.

195:

Spitfire on my Tail, Ulrich Steinhilper.

He was trying to set up a radio control system, and had many clashes with veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Molders in particular, who thought that the radio instructions were just distracting....

196:

The world of 2011, conversely, is a seriously n-player game where asymmetric nuclear deterrence is increasingly the norm. It's a much more complex situation. To simplify the maths, in a game in which n players each have to make a binary decision, n2n numbers are required for each of the 2n possible outcomes of the game. Putting it slightly differently, in an n-player game of nuclear deterrence, each new nuclear actor that enters the game multiplies the strategic complexity -- and the risk -- exponentially.

You're wrong, I think.

Do you seriously believe that the Israeli nuclear forces are likely to be aimed at the USA? Or the British or French nuclear forces?

What we generally see are a number of 2-way stand-offs, where two rival nations point nukes at each other, replicating the cold war in miniature. That's almost exactly what's currently happening with India/Pakistan, and my money says that even if the crazies stage a coup in Pakistan, they'll have to maintain their nuclear focus on India, because unlike the USA, India has the ability to nuke them and then militarily occupy what's left.

The real issue with Pyongyang is that they're a hermit kingdom surrounded by enemies (South Korea want to absorb them, China, Russia and Japan don't like them -- the only regional enemy who doesn't have a claim on their territory is the USA!) so playing hedgehog is as good as it gets. But they've already got a partial deterrent, with or without nukes: it's called having five thousand artillery tubes and a million rounds of ammo dug in within bombardment range of Seoul. Seoul is mostly neutralized as a source of aggression, from the NK point of view. Their nuclear ambitions are most likely the outcome of George W. Bush's rash adventurism in Iraq; it won't have gone unnoticed in Pyongyang or Tehran that Saddam didn't have nukes.

197:

[7] They're going to get cheaper. For instance, laser isotope separation or LIS is what the experts point to as the surest route for nations to covertly achieve nuclear breakout capability (which is the ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material, usually highly-enriched uranium (HEU) at least 85 percent composed of U235).

The turd in the punchbowl is going to be biotechnology, and specifically the use of multiplex automated genomic engineering to tweak the uranium-sequestration capability of Shewanella oneidensis or related species to selectively sequestrate U235 rather than U238. If it's possible in principle to do uranium isotope refinement in a bioreactor rather than a touchy cascade of ultracentrifuges then just about any damn' beer brewery suddenly starts to look like a nuclear refinement centre and everything gets about 3-6 orders of magnitude cheaper.

That's when the threat of non-state actors acquiring nukes becomes serious.

(You can build a microbrewery inside a lock-up garage for a cost of a few thousands to tens of thousands of pounds. Incubating bacteria rather than yeast? Not a huge problem -- in fact, the problem at most breweries is keeping the bacteria out.)

198:

Now that would really suck.

199:

Re: DPRK's Bond Villain style WMDs.

I seem to recall reading that in addition to conventional and nuclear weapons, Pyongyang could also destroy Seoul by blowing up key dams on the NK side of the border, and flooding the site of the South Korean capital.

200:

Of course, at the truly tactical level, nuclear weapons went away (google "Davy Crockett") because of course no-one in the right mind lets Second Lieutenants play with nukes, not even little ones, not even with a very steady Sergeant next to them...

Actual conversation following one of the Gulf Wars vs Iraq:-

Interviewer to British squaddie "What was the most dangerous piece of equipment your unit had?"

Squaddie "Someone gave the Rupert (Second Lieutenant) a map!"

201:

#194 Para 1 - Hugely off-topic, but your father may have known my maternal grandfather: Does the name "George Campbell" mean anything to you? Admittedly, he spent most of WW2 at Powfoot (sp) near Dumfries, rather than where he was normally based at Ardeer.

202:
From over here to someone who was not in it, it seems the IRA backed off when the Protestants started shooting random Catholics ever time a Protestant was killed. It stopped being fun to the IRA supporters.
The UDA was formed in 1971 and carried out attacks for nearly twenty-four years. The UVF started their campaign on the 21st May 1966[1], and called a ceasefire in 1994. You might want to rethink that.
203:

d brown is American; their appreciation of the minutiae of Northern Irish politics is probably about on a par with my comprehension of American Football. ("Big men in body armour. Ball. And they throw it by hand -- in what way is this football?")

204:

Actually, the OED and Webster's both approve of "comprised of". The usage has been current since the 18th century.

205:

Speaking as someone who understands the offsides trap, I find your remarks amusingly unsophisticated. Though I have to admit I have deliberately avoided learning anything about cricket, baseball is never-ending and wretchedly pointless enough for me, thank you very much.

206:

One of my many failings is that I hate, loathe, and detest all team sports (except, possibly, those that involve the use of MMOs).

This is a consequence of my unhappy school days (I was forced to attend a school of the kind that counted its honours by number of MPs, medals for gallantry, and rugby victories) and my upbringing in Leeds during the 1970s.

207:

How do you get an "offside trap"? An attacking player is off-side if they get ahead of the game line then interfere with play without retiring over the game line (which may be moving forwards or backwards). There's no obvious way that a defender can affect the position of the game line, since that's defined by the position of the ball carrier on the field.

I'll give you that baseball is pointless, but cricket is an infinitely complex game.

208:

You, the defender, hoof it upfield with all your compatriots and try to catch an attacker behind you, putting him offside. It's a recognised tactic, but one that can go significantly wrong.
You're thinking rugby; the offside trap is in soccer. (",)

209:

Wouldn't call it a failing myself, though some sports fans might. I wouldn't mind a ban on publicly financed facilities for professional sports teams, the owners tend to make libertarian and Randroid noises, let them do it without public money.

210:

The offside trap is simple. If the leading attacking team-member hasn't got the ball (yet), and the defenders move past them, that attacker is now neutralised - their team can't pass the now-offside attacker the ball without committing a foul. Risky, mind you - because the decision point is when the ball is kicked towards that attacker, not when it lands... in which case you need your defenders to be able to run faster than their attackers (something that England failed to realise against Germany in the last World Cup).

The best explanation for offside I've ever seen involves a shopping queue and a wallet (seriously). It goes like this:

There is a person waiting in front of an unused till (checkout for y'all), but they don't have their wallet/purse with them. The question is at what point can you walk past them to get to the till?
- If you already have your wallet, it's easy, you just walk past.
- If you don't have your wallet/purse, you shouldn't go past them. That would be rude.
- If you didn't have your wallet/purse, but your partner threw one to you, you could walk past them to catch it (so long as you didn't pass the head of the queue until your partner had actually thrown the wallet). That would be OK.

PS I'm not a team-sports enthusiast. It was just that my first platoon in the TA were a bunch of football fanatics, so I had to learn quickly or be a social outcast...

211:

[whoosh]

I described offside in Rugby Union, not Chavball.

212:

Charlie @ 196
India would wipe Pakistan right off the planet ...
India would be very badly damaged. There wold not be anything left to occupy - except annexing it, once it had stopped glowing ....

Paws4thot @ 201, 202
VERY old joke ... didn't Milligan refer to it in his war memoirs?
Well, my wife's granfather was working at Ardeer at the sam time as my father, but it employed something like 100 000 people, in total at the peak, just before June 1944.

Charlie @ 206 - as you know, I concur - I had to put up with the (still-ongoing Spurs/Arsenal rivalry + "team games") and HORROR the olympic stadium is only 4km directly South of my house. SHUDDER.
Query - can we get the Laundry to do something about this vileness?

213:

No idea; I was hugely put off Milligan by a secondary school English teacher.

Also, I don't know what your Dad did, but my granddad was a production chemist, responsible for commissioning new explosives lines during WW2. It was a fairly high-profile roll (and he's no longer around to ask, although Tingey's a fairly uncommon name in Ayrshire). Are you sure you've got the numbers right? There isn't housing for 100k people within an hour of Ardeer even today with the new bridge across the RIver Irvine, and peace-time numbers at Nobel Ardeer were more like 2_000.

I don't know why I don't hate other team games like I do Chavball; it's certainly nothing to do with my school PE teacher who thought I should somehow "just know" the rules of Cricket without being taught them!!

214:

"...species to selectively sequestrate U235 rather than U238..."

Nice idea, but extremely unlikely. The far higher differences between carbon and oxygen isotopes create very small differences in composition, and these elements are fundamental to life. One could imagine some sort of cascades of bioreactors, each feeding the next, but my guess is that the "brewery" would be immense in size to get to the necessary U235 purity.

215:

I'm not convinced. Although the mass difference is tiny, it's sufficient to make physical diffusion gradients work -- which is why gas ultracentrifugation is a practical tool for fractionating uranium isotopes. Where there's a mass gradient there's something biological systems can work on: note, for example, the widespread use of the sodium/potassium pump in cellular biology.

Picture some kind of membrane exchange pump enzyme that runs on ATP and a uranium ion bound to some kind of transport molecule. It's tweaked to take in two U-complex molecules at a time and stick the one with U235 on one side of a membrane and the one with U238 on the other. It's statistically likely to get it wrong most of the time -- if for no other reason than because U238-complex will be about 200 times as common as U235-complex -- but if it runs for long enough eventually you'll end up with enriched sequestrated U235 inside the cell and U238 outside it. Then let the bacteria settle or cake, extract from the growth medium, and harvest.

This isn't going to be a useful adaptive mutation to a given bacterium in the wild, but with sufficient prodding we can probably develop something along these lines ...

216:

Nice riposte. But the analogy is poor for NaK pumps. These work because the physical size of the ions are so different that you can create compounds to differentially bind (or potentially filter by size). This is not the case with isotopes. With isotopes all you have to work with is mass working with some basic physical processes - gravity, diffusion rates, etc. Isotopic concentration in organisms is not a result of anything the organism can influence via evolution. You can influence rates of U uptake by evolution (great for decontamination) but not the isotopic separation.

When you lose the biology/chemistry, you might as well go back to physics and hence ultra-centrifuges.

I would argue that the use of biology would be no different than allowing isotopes to separate under gravity or by some differential diffusion from liquid to gaseous phases. Which means a very large scale facility.

If the biological purification was a home brew kit that did very small enrichment of U235 between cells and growth medium, then I could imagine a vast, dispersed operation amongst the population, where the cascade of each slightly enriched U235 organisms were collected by mail, the Uranium re-extracted and returned as growth medium for further purification. It might take a very large number of kits and a long time, but it could be the possible low tech solution you were positing.

217:

With isotopes all you have to work with is mass working with some basic physical processes - gravity, diffusion rates, etc.

Yes. But stop and consider that diffusion gradients basically underly almost all biological processes. And we have this fun new toolbox called "genetic engineering" that's been around for three decades now. Take a biomolecule with a mass of around 500 Daltons and another one with a mass around 497 Daltons -- that's not much of a difference, but it's something to work with.

218:

I'll give you that baseball is pointless

Herretic.

Baseball is the only game (played in the US) where to be good you have to have a brain for the game and use it on every pitch. Every pitch and/or hit creates a role for everyone on the field. But the last 30 years of TV coverage based on pitcher batter closeups has obliterated that knowledge from all but the dedicated fan.

My daughter decided to stick with baseball till out of school although she also decided to stay in the rec leagues as the lack of testosterone make the work to keep up at the higher levels not worth it to her. But she outplayed most of the guys by being the smartest ball player on the field. And it really pissed off a lot of the guys. Stealing home from 90 feet on someone throwing 80+mph did a real mind number on some of them. She only did it once her last year but the word got out.

219:

"Take a biomolecule with a mass of around 500 Daltons and another one with a mass around 497 Daltons"

But that isn't the issue, is it? The issue is how those different molecules can differentiate between isotopes. There is no useful property they can use - size, charge, etc.

OTOH, deuterium does have slightly altered chemical properties to hydrogen. There is also some evidence that water enriched a little with deuterium is beneficial. So one might expect that biology might evolve some enrichment. AFAIK it hasn't, but in principle, you could engineer biology to enrich for deuterium bound into, for example, cellulose.

But we know biology has a lot of difficulty even recognizing differences between different elements with the same outer electron shell. The whole debacle around "Arsenic life" is based around the similarity of Phosphorus and Arsenic. With something as toxic as Arsenic, you might think that life would have found a way to trap and excrete it. Again, AFAIK, this has not evolved, even though it did with Sodium and Potassium.

For heavy isotope separation, you need to offer a plausible mechanism where known biology can be used/modified to work with differences in molecular weight alone. Waving hands with "genetic engineering" is no more useful than invoking "nanotechnology". And you were criticizing the biology of Darwin's Radio.

220:

There is also some evidence that water enriched a little with deuterium is beneficial

That's not my understanding; AFAIK D2O is actively toxic in sufficiently large quantities -- many of the enzymes our cells run on expect a water molecule to have a mass of 18 Daltons, not 20, and it wreaks havoc on their tertiary conformation even though they're chemically similar.

Again, the whole "arsenic life" thing appears to be a highly overblown mistake -- what's actually in that lake is prokaryotes with a high arsenic tolerance, not anything that actually runs on arsenic.

As to how you'd design a molecular pump to do isotopic separation based on weight ... embed it in a membrane. Have some sort of process whereby it grabs a candidate molecule with an active centre on one side of the membrane, changes shape, and ejects it from the other side (presumably powered by ATP reduction or something similar). Now the tricky bit is to make it a time-critical process, so that if the carrier molecule doesn't go through the temporary pore fast enough the pore closes, excluding it. Lighter molecules should then be selected for preferentially, yes?

For added yucks, use a highly reticulated organelle with multiple membranes (such as, oh, a modified mitochondrion) so you can pipeline the process. And come up with some other mechanism to package the extracted U235 complex in a form that can be extracted and crystalized -- a phage virus modified to incorporate it into the viral capsid, for example.

221:
There is also some evidence that water enriched a little with deuterium is beneficial

That's not my understanding; AFAIK D2O is actively toxic in sufficiently large quantities

These two points are not necessarily contradictory. Many things that are beneficial (or even vital) in small quantities are toxic in larger ones. Consider sodium, vitamin C, or even oxygen or carbon dioxide. (I don't know anything either way about the specific case of deuterium, however.)

222:

Now the tricky bit is to make it a time-critical process, so that if the carrier molecule doesn't go through the temporary pore fast enough the pore closes, excluding it

Exactly. Your model looks rather like a "Maxwell's Demon" in concept. You now have to posit some feature of the molecule/mechanism that enhances the discrimination of higher molecular weight isotopes compared to a physical process. I don't see how the molecule could be made to differentially change shape depending on isotope. Any diffusion differences would be reduced by the binding molecules as the relative entity mol. wts. would be more similar, not less. At the scale we are taking about, random thermal effects will overwhelm the mass differences that you are hoping to engineer for, so a timing mechanism is not likely to be usable.

----------------------------------------------------

For effects of deuterium on biology. Note that I said "little".
Deuterium and biology. The point however, is that deuterium is slightly chemically different than hydrogen.

223:

If we stick to trying to separate individual U235/U238 atoms,
yeah we are stuck with very small kinetic/diffusion etc effects.
Consider, however, our host's suggestion about binding _two_
atoms in a complex. Now spin it. If the isotopes are the same,
the complex is balanced and there is no coupling to a
vibrational mode. If they are different, the complex is not
balanced, and this couples the rotational mode to a vibration of
the "axle" of the complex. Pop off both atoms, and put them in
a reservoir for 50:50 U235/U238...

One other general technique: if we can do what amounts to single
molecule spectroscopy: The vibration frequency _does_ depend
on mass, so UO2 2+ will have bond stretch frequencies which are
different by about 0.5% depending on the isotope, which would
suffice to distinguish them.
(yeah, this is closer to Drexler/Merkle nanotechnology than
to normal biochemistry - but, generally, if there is a way
to do something with nanotechnology, there is probably a
way to build a biochemical system to do it, albeit usually
with a larger system.)

224:

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the unbalanced rotating moiety will have a wider effective diameter than a balanced one. The rotational rate will enhance the molecular weight difference.

If you ensure the pore is smaller that the larger diameter U235/U236 pair and vice versa, you could get selective filtering. The biology would simply be used to speed up the process of membrane traversal.

That might just work...

225:

I always wondered if a fat nuke detonated atop something ' super magic shielded' , wouldnt the Orion effect thrust hammer the hapless saucer into the ground?

226:

BR>After the war, German statistics showed that ever time a city was bombed out the people (men only) in it started working in war production. That made more to kill us with. They were always short of labor. Their war plants never worked 24 hour days. But not from the labor shortage, Hitler did not like it. Unless it was a slave one.

But NK had the bomb before I ever heard of George W. Bush. So Bush is not why they made their A-Bombs. It's not always Americas doing. Our R/W is right about that, if nothing else.
On the Northern Irish. "From over here to someone who was not in it," I never said I was sure. BUT...Simple answers are sometimes the best. Not most of the time, but sometimes. From what I read two things happened. the Protestants started killing random Catholics anytime one of them was shot. The IRA backed off. Connecting dots is not always a way to the truth. But some times the simple way is right. There was years of talk, talk. Maybe this was the last straw.
Sir Harry Flashman said Cricket was ruined when they started using shin protectors. Before then if the ball broke someone's too pushily leg, the devil with him. After protectors the game was never as good, he wrote in the Flashman Papers.
OH, American football was made because too many Ivy League Collage Boys were maimed or even killed with your way. Over here we used the Flying Wedge. The Ivy League wanted something safer or it would be banned. Well they tried.

227:

I was serious -- what do you consider WW III, or did you accidentally put an extra I in?

228:

I find this whole bio-enrichment side track absolutely fascinating, why is there no way to fork the discussion into a separate thread / post? [2]

At the scale we are taking about, random thermal effects will overwhelm the mass differences that you are hoping to engineer for, so a timing mechanism is not likely to be usable.

Yes, but... With that little bit of difference, repeated a thousand times, surely it would add up in the end? Scaling up, and adding more stages, would presumably be a lot cheaper than building more centrifuges.

It would be interesting to hear from the more biologically oriented people (paging Peter Watts) about how plausible the whole scenario is [1], when you add in selecting for separation over (tens of) thousands of generations. Thinking about things like the Lenski E.coli experiment for example, what surprises might come up? And at that scale of micro-optimization, I'd expect a lot of non-obvious weird stuff to have an effect. (insert quantum handwaving here)

Anyway, that's a really cool and unexpected scenario for biology and physics coming together.

[Note 1]: That Nature link is on the to-read list (and not just because of the name of the technique); can't read the thing except from a university computer though.

[Note 2]: I've actually been sketching on a system to do just that. Perhaps I should actually work on it. Or maybe that's just the ale talking.. :-P

229:

I use a pocket calculator which I bought for a dollar at Dollar Tree.

However, for more complex calculations I use LibreOffice spreadsheets. (LibreOffice is an OpenOffice schism.)

230:

If the isotopes are the same, the complex is balanced and there is no coupling to a vibrational mode. If they are different, the complex is not balanced, and this couples the rotational mode to a vibration of the "axle" of the complex. Pop off both atoms, and put them in a reservoir for 50:50 U235/U238...

50% enrichment in a single step process is, shall we say, rather more efficient than gas ultracentrifugation. And it only takes three iterations to get to 87.5% enrichment, and four to take it to 94% or so, which is weapons grade.

231:

Marilee: the Cold War. Ran for 30 years, involved dozens of "brush fire" wars that killed many millions. If you assess the superpower-sponsored proxy wars as active components of a hot war, then the Cold War killed more people than WW1.

232:

Maybe WW-3 started with WW-1. And is still running?

233:

Isotope separation by biological processes exists in nature. Usually we measure carbon ratios, sometimes other things. Tells you whether a given deposit was organic or inorganic because organic deposits always have isotope effects.

234:

On reflection, it won't work. There is no reason why the molecule will rotate in the way needed, i.e. like a propeller. Without that, the molecule will not behave differently depending on the 2 isotopes captured.

235:

Most everyone agrees that WWII was really World War Part II. And it's not much of a stretch to say that it was really a 3 pole war and only one of the poles was defeated. The other two just took a break and resumed with different tactics.

236:

There is no reason why the molecule will rotate in the way needed, i.e. like a propeller.

Ahem: are you familiar with the actin/myosin complex's ratchet motion? Or the Mot complex that powers bacterial flagella? Or nanoscale molecular gears?

We've got plenty of existence proofs for rotary mechanisms at molecular scale -- including transmembrane structures. The real issue is how to design some kind of intracellular uranium-chelating cycle and a rotary transmembrane pump with active centres that can latch onto two chelates but only rotate into a different position (where a receiver's active centre grabs the chelates and sequestrates them in some kind of membrane bound structure) if they're of equal different mass.

This is not a trivial exercise, but I think it'd be foolish to write it off as impossible on the basis of half an hour's consideration by one person. (We see a lot of really weird stuff in enzyme chemistry -- including, yes, selective isotope uptake. This one isn't obviously impossible ...)

237:

Mot complex that powers bacterial flagella...

Ingenius. I like it. Yes, indeed.

238:

heteromeles @178: "That said, I predict drug gangs in Mexico (or wherever the next hot spot is) will figure out how to mate a 9 mm with servo motors, an iPhone camera, and a RC airplane within the next five years."

Already done, although maybe the Mexican drug gang's decision makers are a little slow in adopting, if you can even call it that, "new" technologies. Go to youtube and search for "fpv rc", and you'll find any number of examples, or click here

239:

>The Japanese government had a choice: (a) surrender to the USSR under Stalin, (b) surrender to the USA, or (c) be nuked repeatedly and then invaded by everyone. Being only 90% batshit insane, they eventually did the sensible thing.

They didn't surrender after Hiroshima because the high command reasoned that since it took us 4 years to build (and deliver) an atomic bomb, that it would take 4 years to build and deliver the next one. One should remember that we were reading their coded traffic at the time. They were proven surprisingly wrong just days later.

Richard Rhodes wrote 2 interesting books on the history of the atomic bomb. The second one, Dark Sun, includes a lot of things that only became known after the collapse of the Soviet Union let a lot of secrets out.

As for the 90% number, I think it might be a little low. ;)

240:

Okay, I just changed my mind.

The bomb isn't an obsolete threat at all, and terrorist nukes shouldn't be discounted.

If it's possible to do bioenrichment by partitioning pairs of uranium atoms in some sort of organic complex on the basis of their mass being different rather than identical, then we can go from 0.2% to 50% enrichment in one step. Then from 50% to 75%, 75% to 87.5%, and 87.5% to 94%. That's four steps to weapons-grade HEU. It's an exponential progression of enrichment rather than a linear one. The reason U235 is expensive/scarce is that all current uranium enrichment plants enrich linearly; given an exponential pipeline, the cost/difficulty of creating lumps of HEU crashes from "give us a few billion dollars, ten years, and a national government's backing" to "if you can run a microbiology lab, you can have the Bomb."

This would be a major breakthrough, and not in a good way: uranium gun designs are the easiest A-bombs to make, and only the cost of enriching the HEU makes them a difficult proposition.

I really hope this sort of bioenrichment scheme turns out to be impossible -- because if it isn't, we're less than 20 years away from teams of high school kids being able to build atom bombs on the kitchen table at home.

(I say "teams" because you'd need a GM/biotech specialist and someone who can work out how to manufacture a rather special bullet and a toroidal mass to wrap around the end of a fat shotgun barrel ...)

241:

It doesn't exactly sound like the brightest possible future.

At least you'll have a head start on the new techno-bio-nuke-thriller genre, I guess?

242:

The US Navy wanted to kept blockading Japan till it was starved out. This would have starved Pows. The Pows were a part of the planing. And probity killed more than the bombs did. And not affined the War Lords.

243:

This would be a major breakthrough, and not in a good way: .....
I really hope this sort of bioenrichment scheme turns out to be impossible -- because if it isn't, we're less than 20 years away from teams of high school kids being able to build atom bombs on the kitchen table at home.

While this is a potentially scary development, it is really only indicative of the potential issues we face with advanced biotech. You may be able to restrict trade in weapons technology, but certainly not with biotech and engineered bugs. Imagine having to try to interdict micrograms of bugs? The next hope is to interdict trade in yellow cake, but if you can sequester uranium, then it should be possible in principle to extract it from seawater, much like attempts to do so with gold.

The technology will really take off when software to design organism functionality much like semiconductors are done today becomes available. With synthesis costs rapidly declining, we should also see DNA synthesizers following the history of computers, culminating in desktop devices, if there is a large market for such devices. Worst case, you take your sequences to a local shop for synthesis and possibly full assembly of your platform organism ready to go and warrantied..

244:

With synthesis costs rapidly declining, we should also see DNA synthesizers following the history of computers, culminating in desktop devices, if there is a large market for such devices.

We're already there. It's just that they're 1975-era Altair 8800 equivalents with hex toggles on the front panel, rather than friendly easy-to-use Macintoshes.

245:

I'm falling behind already. I thought oligo synthesizers were still in the high $10k's. Good new ones from ABI are still in that range, but I see used, older models in the sub-$10k range. Which means, yes, we are there already.
Roll on more user friendly, integrated devices that can do both full gene synthesis with promoters and insertion. We're talking about multiple gene insertions to do the interesting stuff. We could do with some tailored organisms and more specific restriction enzymes to allow more precise control, but in principle we are there, if you can get the reagents easily.

Good grief. Your nightmare is arriving on the next train...

246:

To day you can go on a Website and go hunting with a computer. Pay for what what you want to kill and target it on the computer and shoot. Both Bambi lovers and real hunters are not happy. Moving up to humans is no stretch.
A What If Story that asked "What if the Anti-War Middle of America won over the Wall St Bankers and stayed out of WW-1." Maybe both sides would have had to compromised and peace would have broken out.
If the truth had been known about how we were propagandized, it could have happened. No matter how many East Cost Families were married into your Aristocracy.
If the new Democratic Russian government had dropped the war, Germany would have had no reason to send Lenin to Russia. Today's world could not be the same!

247:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore. It was originally commissioned under the Clinton administration's stockpile stewardship program to get around the ban on underground nuclear testing fusion energy research being just a sideline. There is a real fear that as the old weaponeers retire, die off etc. There will be no one with the tacit knowledge of how to assemble a working design much less create a newer generation of weapons without actually detonating a device. Not to mention making sure the current deterrent remains credible. Apparently hydrodynamic simulation is mature enough to be based on a fuel pellet's implosion to model new weapon codes.

248:

Ah, okay. I don't think of that as being a formal war, and I worked on part of the US side.

249:

Charlie wrote: "Do you seriously believe that the Israeli nuclear forces are likely to be aimed at the USA?"

I personally wasn't suggesting something like that. That said, there are some ugly possibilities out there.

Before I get to them, let me first explain the kind of nuclear state conflict scenarios that do concern me and what was said to me by Martin Shubik. Shubik is one of those old RAND game theorists and probably did the most work back then on seriously multiplayer game scenarios. He was responsible, for instance, for the Dollar Auction game (probably, after the Prisoner's Dilemma, the best known inherently pathological scenario and as nifty a model of escalation as exists).

http://faculty.som.yale.edu/martinshubik/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar_auction

In 1993, Shubik and another researcher, Jerome Bracken, did an operations research project that needed, according to Shubik, “enormous calculations and a great deal of time to examine how much the post-Cold War U.S. and Russian deterrent arsenals could be cut and whether stability might be increased. We looked at a world with nine nuclear powers, as we now have, and our paper won the military operations research prize that year.”

Shubik claimed that certain results that and Bracken arrived at remain unpublishable. He then said: “I will tell you that my main conclusion is that the United States would be strongly advised to call for a global group to supervise all nuclear states and should be the first to open its own facilities so as to get the ball rolling for a worldwide inspection program. Without something like that, the odds of avoiding a nuclear war in the next twenty years are very low.”

If you want to take that with a grain of salt and say, well, of course, a guy like Shubik would say something like that, that's not unreasonable.

Anyway, I asked Shubik what nations might fight a 21st century nuclear war. His response: “There are several major candidates – one of the top possibilities is China and India. If there is a nuclear exchange, it’s questionable whether or not it can be contained.”

Specifically, bordering the coming century’s two rising superpowers is Pakistan, a society whose enmity for India has unfortunately been its most stable feature.

So, these are the kind of scenarios that disturb me. In the 1960s, Shubik developed a simple three-player game scenario called the "truel.” Applying this concept to nuclear states, whereas Cold War-style MAD would be analogous to those face-offs in Hong Kong gangster movies in which two players point guns at each other’s heads, a nuclear truel would resemble the complicated three-way duel that climaxes the spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

A hypothetical truel involving China, India and Pakistan would be far more strategically complex than Cold War MAD’s two-player scenario (where both sides shared not only the simple choice of either launching a nuclear strike or waiting and not launching, but also the same optimal payoff of no first strike/no first strike).

In a nuclear truel, the situation is inherently more pathological. Merely waiting and not launching – the simplest tactic and the two-player scenario’s optimal choice – could in a truel be one player’s ploy to let the other two decimate each other: the player abstaining from the initial exchange could finish off its weakened longtime enemy with impunity.

Significantly, too, in a tripartite nuclear exchange, there'd be no perfect command and control systems: attribution as to which side launched a missile at which other side would be practically impossible, given submarine and air-based launch platforms. Both accidents and false-flag operations would become non-trivial contingencies.

In which case, as Shubik pointed out to me, without the customary steps up an escalation ladder into a war: “One random nuclear weapon has a great chance of triggering off many others. One completely unknown delivery system blows up one major town. What’s the reaction?”

From a game-theoretic viewpoint, introducing more players, noise or uncertainty exponentially ramps up the strategic complexity: on Pakistan’s western flank lies Iran, for instance, and actors in the region include South and North Korea, Japan, as well as others. What attitude would belligerents in an expanding nuclear exchange take, Shubik asked, towards neutrals? “If the combatants wipe each other out, do they wish to leave world leadership to neutral countries or do they explain to the non-aligned that there is no such thing as the non-aligned when the chips are down?”

Interesting question: do they explain to the non-aligned that there is no such thing as the non-aligned when the chips are down?

Arguably, Charlie, such a posture is just one more notch -- one more turn of the screw -- to ramp up deterrence. Now let's return to the scenario that you, not I, brought up.

Are you familiar with the Israeli military historian/theorist Martin van Creveld?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_van_Creveld

Of course, Martin van Creveld is a private citizen and talk is cheap, and the guy doesn't speak officially for the Israeli state. Although, of course, the Israeli state's official practice is never to talk about its nuclear arsenal.

Here, however, is what van Creveld apparently said in an interview in a September 2003. The original interview appeared in the Dutch weekly magazine: Elsevier, 2002, no. 17, p. 52-53 (April 27th, 2002).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/sep/21/israelandthepalestinians.bookextracts

"We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force…. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under."

Sure, talk is cheap. But it's something to ponder, isn't it?

250:

@ 231 232
I don't know about WWI, but WWII is still running - as long as Hamas/Hezbollah are around.
These people are the direct heirs of the vile Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - who finally left Berlin in February (I think) 1945 ....

d brown @ 246
Bollocks - "proagandised"
Have you never heard of the Zimmerman Telegram?
Google for it, or, better still read Barbara Tuchman's book ....
Imperial Germany was promising Mexico the SOuthern third of the USA, if Mexico came in on the Central Powers' side .....

@ 249
Creveld appears, erm, interesting.
There is also the problem, referred to not enough, above, of batshit-insane leadership.
Like millenial religious blievers waiting for the 13th prophet (or whatever) who, publicly, at least, claim that "losing our entire nation would not matter, if the holy millenium/god/the prophet(s) return".
Ahmenidjad seems to be going down this road, apparently (note the qualifiers) - and of course, a certain A. Shickelgrüber had this complex.
If you've seen the film der Untergang (Downfall) you should be truly scared.

251:

Well according to Seymour Hersh in his book "The Samson Option", there were Israeli nuclear missiles pointed at the Soviet Union in the 1970's and 80's. Then again the USSR was not at all friendly to Israel during that time.

252:

I said, America not entering WW-1 could make a good SF story. "IT COULD BE USED AS A WHAT IF STORY"
In any case, a English book om on old time English intel work said the Zimmerman Telegram was made up of things they were sure Germany had talked about doing if America entered the war. The book said it was phony, but it was so good and true to fact, the Gurmans believed there could have been a leak. Is anybody saying there was not a lot of approved propaganda here to get us in the war? Like in WW-2?
People who were there on other Seymour Hersh news stories say he finds things that sounds good and runs with them. True or not.

253:

d.brown.
Erm, Zimmerman admitted it!
I REALLY SUGGEST you read Tuchman's book.

254:

Oops. Even worse if the builders of the bomb have access to commercial radioistope suppliers. It takes about 4 grams of tritium (injected into the center of the target torus just before detonation in the case of a gun detonator) to boost a small fission device to a yield of somewhere between 20 and 100 Kilotons 1. Boosting also allow you to use a smaller mass of fissile material for a minimal bomb, and makes the detonation less sensitive to timing and/or tolerance problems in the detonator and gun.

Tritium is available on the commercial market for about US $30K a gram, and the world consumption of tritium for lighting applications is about 400 grams a year, so it might be possible for anyone with the money and some fake corporate documentation to get enough for a bomb without raising red flags in security circles in time to stop the tritium being used.

I do hope that bio-enrichment process turns out to be impossible.

1. I haven't found any figures on this; I got that SWAG by reading between the lines on unclassified descriptions of boosting, and knowing the maximum yield of some variable yield weapons.

255:

Ive talked to Pakistani guys and they talk about threatening the US / UK other nations with their nukes,, they havent got the range.
this talk of north korea having a pop, its bullshite. their only warhead test was a fizzle, its early tech, the bomb probably weighs a couple of tons.
paper tiger.
as for the Israelis attacking 1st world NATO members with their airforce... so far they've battled arabs,
states where a pilot position is determined on who your dad is, I think any 'sampson option' would have ended badly for them

256:

Pakistani IRBMs are truck-portable and nuclear-capable and could be deployed as deck cargo on a freighter or even be fitted into a ship's hold and fired from there. They could, with some preparation launch a nuke at just about any country on the planet from outside their territorial waters and we know their nukes and missiles actually work.

NK have fired two tests; the first was technically a failure -- my guess is they tried to use plutonium derived from power reactor fuel rods and ran into the problem that Pu-240, an inevitable adjunct to Pu-239 from such a source causes the implosion system to go wrong and the device squibs. The second test produced a higher yield using better materials.

257:

Years ago I got into a yelling mach at a airport with members of a political cult that had the Queen of England as the Head of a Generational Conspiracy. They were very good with computers before most were. There are those who say the Zimmerman Telegram was a fake, but was true of what the Germans would do if we entered the war.
There are those who say that Tuchman's book was out before the Secrets Act opened that time. I have not found out for sure and may never. It could be plants by the cult. I know I don't believe the first story I read about it.
In any case I was talking about a What If Story.

258:

d. brown @ 257
Yes?
And?
There are "9/11 "truthers", and GW-deniers, and believers in YEC, as well.
So?
Deranged loonies, the lot of them.
PICK THE SIMPLEST EXPANATION THAT FITS THE KNOWN FACTS - huh?

259:

If it's possible to do bioenrichment by partitioning pairs of uranium atoms in some sort of organic complex on the basis of their mass being different rather than identical, then we can go from 0.2% to 50% enrichment in one step. Then from 50% to 75%, 75% to 87.5%, and 87.5% to 94%.

Does this process iterate like that? I can see how it works to get up to 50%, but if you did it to a tank of 50% enriched U, you'd surely just end up with another tank of 50% enriched U. All it can do is pick pairs of atoms one of which is U235 and the other U238. Am I being dense here?

It would still massively speed up enrichment, because you could feed the result into a more conventional separator, but I don't think it would enrich to 90% by itself.

260:

Hang on, let me think ...

Yes, you're right: it's not going to go past 50%. My bad.

One could speculate about using different mechanisms to go past 50% -- say, using a membrane pump that binds to four chelated Uranium atoms, and only sequestrates if they're in a 3:1 mass ratio -- but at that point you're looking for a pump that can discriminate down to 1 Dalton of mass in over 1000. At which point the presence of other random isotopes in the chelation molecule is probably going to bugger up its reliability.

Phew. (An isotopic quicksort mechanism would have been a potential solution to the Fermi paradox, and not in a good way.)

Still, 50% enrichment is plenty if you want to run a reactor on enriched uranium and breed plutonium. Or do other iffy stuff. It also knocks at least an order of magnitude off the length of the gas diffusion ultracentrifuge chain you need to reach weapons-grade U235 the traditional way.

At this point you're looking at using a bioreactor to hit 50% U235, then a cascade of only a few tens of ultracentrifuges rather than hundreds. Which puts The Bomb within the grasp of, if not the Continuity IRA, then almost any damn' third world junta or Bond Villain with a couple of hundred million to spend.

Narcoterrorists with nukes, anyone? ("You will call off your war on the cartels, Mr President, or Mexico City gets it.")

261:

When you get to 50%, low tech physical methods could be used. Perhaps something like electrophoresis on uranium trapped in a heme-like cage. That might get quite close to complete separation. Degrade the complex with an enzyme and precipitate out the uranium as a salt.

262:

"You will call off your war on the cartels, Mr President, or Mexico City gets it."

If you have that level of biotechnology at your disposal, you won't need anything so crude as a nuke.

263:

Yes, you're right: it's not going to go past 50%

True, but once "they" are past 50% it just might work again. At most this requires the use of a molecule where the part with the two U atoms is vibrationally symmetric, but nevertheless chemically asymmetric. Not trivial, but I wouldn't exclude the possibility off-hand. Perhaps they'd need to change the environment of the molecule to temporarily even out the distribution of mass or need to rigidly bind the asymmetric part to some stiff substrate. Whatever, it's an additional hurdle, but if they can do that, then if they have a known good source of nearly 100% U235, and can synthesise molecules with one atom from the U235 batch and another from the 50% mix, they're good to go. They would separate those molecules into those where the isotopes are the same and those where they are different, and this time keep those where they are the same, then recover from those molecules where the isotopes are different the part of the molecule that came from the original 100% stock. This way, they'd get to half again the size of their 100% U235 stock, in 1 step.

Getting to nearly 100% U235 from something just over 50% is still going to be slow at first, because they'll be mixing U238 pairs in with the U235 pairs they really want, but each generation would let them split the previous generation into one half that is a bit further from that dreaded 50% mark (from 50%+epsilon to 50%+2*(epsilon+epsilon^2), if perfectly selective) and another half that is back below the 50% mark.

So, if they get this process with the vibrationally symmetric but chemically asymmetric molecule sorted out, the good news for the rest of us is that there are additional steps involved, and that they still need some other mechanism to get over the 50% hurdle. The other good news is that it is rather more than 3 steps to go from just over 50% to weapons-grade. But the really bad news is that once they get to a sizable stash of nearly pure stuff, it's just 2 steps to make some more of the nearly pure stuff. Possibly even 1 step, if the process is sufficiently selective and they have a big enough stash that they could afford to add less than 0.7% instead of 50% to their stash.

264:
Yes, you're right: it's not going to go past 50%. My bad.
I'm torn between wanting to dive into this neat problem on the one hand, and "no, let's not go there" on the other. Either way, bio-enrichment could still be a useful (and pretty unexpected!) plot device.
265:

"Deranged loonies, the lot of them." NO KIDDING, most of them for sure. That's what I just said, but I will not say everyone is a nutball. People hook their minds wagons to strange things.
Look this all started when I said "America not entering WW-1 could make a good SF story." I still think that. What I said was in any case, that if it were not for English propaganda we may have sat out WW-1 and it would be a far different world. I said a English book on old time English Intel work said the Zimmerman Telegram was made up of things Germany had talked about doing if America entered the war. The book said it was phony, but it was so good and true to fact, the Germans believed there could have been a leak.
I always believed the facts are true and there was likely Telegram. But that it was for if we entered WW-1.
Arthur Zimmermann's Speech Regarding the Zimmermann Telegram, 29 March 1917
"I wrote no letter to General Carranza. I was not so naive. I merely addressed, by a route that appeared to me to be a safe one, instructions to our representative in Mexico.
It is being investigated how these instructions fell into the hands of the American authorities. I instructed the Minister to Mexico, in the event of war with the United States, to propose a German alliance to Mexico, and simultaneously to suggest that Japan join the alliance.
I declared expressly that, despite the submarine war, we hoped that America would maintain neutrality.
My instructions were to be carried out only after the United States declared war and a state of war supervened. I believe the instructions were absolutely loyal as regards the United States.
General Carranza would have heard nothing of it up to the present if the United States had not published the instructions which came into its hands in a way which was not unobjectionable."
So far as I'm concered it's past time to pull the pin on this. I said what I think, I stand by what I really said. And It's over for me.

266:

Oh, someone else went there already.

At most this requires the use of a molecule where the part with the two U atoms is vibrationally symmetric, but nevertheless chemically asymmetric. Not trivial, but I wouldn't exclude the possibility off-hand.
Right, you'd need to reliably build a molecule where the two different "wings" differs by three in weight, and are chemically distinct. It seems that shouldn't be too hard if you can play with adding and removing hydrogens...
then if they have a known good source of nearly 100% U235
Reasonably pure U238 shouldn't be that hard to get, right? Then you could just invert the process. (It seems that would take care of the remaining good news – the implications of this chemically asymmetrical molecule would be bad.)
267:

If you can get to 50% you're there. Really.

The vast majority of the SWU used producing weapons grade uranium happen enriching natural uranium to the 2.5-3.0% that reactor-grade uranium is.

If you could get a natural enrichment process to 50% - even 10% or 5% or 2.5% - there will be a literally orders of magnitude reduction in the conventional enrichment needed to go to weapons-grade HEU.

And, not to be rude, but 50% is in itself perfectly usable in weapons, it only has a 3.5x larger critical mass than 93.5% HEU. Orange Herald (small), the tested UK weapon, would have been perfectly functional (if an order of magnitude lower yield) with 50% HEU. That weapon was perfectly reasonably compact and technically easy for a first weapon design. 50% is conveniently unusable in gun weapons - U238 spontaneous neutrons make that rather impossible - but implosion weapons would do just fine.

268:

Reasonably pure U238 shouldn't be that hard to get, right? Then you could just invert the process.

Right, especially for values of reasonably pure that include the natural isotope mix. The tiny bit of U234 in the natural mix might contribute disproportionately to second-order effects, and in the real world selectivity won't be perfect, but a single step with the natural mix on one side is probably good enough already for the bad guys.

(It seems that would take care of the remaining good news – the implications of this chemically asymmetrical molecule would be bad.)

From a scientific point of view, and for legitimate uses of the technology (e.g., separating rare earths for use in magnetic materials), it makes the method useful in a way that merely getting to a mix of all the different pairs isn't, especially when you have several naturally abundant isotopes. From a nuclear proliferation point of view, just getting to 50% is really bad already. And if terrorists or rogue states have ready access to the level of biotechnology required for this sort of thing, they have simpler ways of making a nuisance of themselves than using it to step up to the nuclear club.

269:

Agreed - it makes the enrichment process disturbingly easily, and you don't even need centrifuges. There are other Manhattan-vintage methods - gaseous diffusion, gaseous thermal diffusion - that don't require big whirly things made of very high quality maraging steel and drinking huge amounts of power. You can do them with ceramics or very fine metal mesh hammered finer, if I remember Rhodes correctly.

And, not to be rude, but 50% is in itself perfectly usable in weapons, it only has a 3.5x larger critical mass than 93.5% HEU.

Interesting and a good point. Fortunately implosion weapons are rather trickier to build than gun weapons, but it's still disturbing.

270:

Nukes suit the needs of state actors looking for a deterrence weapon much better than bio-weapons; a "leave us ALONE" test firing that both sends that signal and doesn't degrade into a general release is a lot harder to organize, for one.
Bio-weapons don't suit the needs of any mostly-rational actors, in fact; the people who we'd need to worry about most would be suicide cults and the kind of people who carry out school shootings today.

271:

You know a long time ago. I read a story about a poor country, in times about like pre WW-2. They were always being attack by someone. When the latest Nazi like invasion came they put a home grown, slow acting germ in the water. It that was safe for them. After a time everybody in the invading country started dying.

272:

Calling baseball "pointless" is like calling a pub "pointless".

273:

I you are going the bio route to enrichment, it's a much smaller step to use bio to leach Uranium from the soil. The top metre of a 1km square of land has enough U235 to make several bombs

274:

"Interesting and a good point. Fortunately implosion weapons are rather trickier to build than gun weapons, but it's still disturbing."

Depends how efficient you want it.
A flying plate compression will work

275:

And what's your point?

276:


Depends how efficient you want it.
A flying plate compression will work

It's not that difficult.

The Fat Man / RD-1 design had a 108 kg natural uranium tamper around the 6 kg Pu pit, and a 130 kg aluminum wave shaper around that.

Replacing the Al with Be and replacing the natural U tamper and Pu pit with a solid 50% enriched U core would exceed a critical mass right there; you'd have to hollow it out some to lower criticality down to around 0.8 Mc. Without working out the numbers in depth on a computer, something like 60 kg of U in a 9 inch diameter sphere is about 1 inch thick, and criticality will be about 1/effective density ^2, or 28% of its solid criticality. That gives you about 0.5 Mc in the unfired form, 1.33 Mc with the hollow core collapsed but no additional compression, and a volumetric compression factor of 2 beyond that (which the Fat Man device exceeded in its pit compression) gives you about 5.33 Mc final criticality. That exceeds the effective critical masses of Fat Man's Pu weapon, so yield should be correspondingly and significantly higher. This is assuming that the hollow core implosion is smooth enough.

(Again, I haven't worked this out on a computer in depth, or run it through the Serber equation with these parameters, but it gives you the general idea).

A solid 30% enriched uranium core 9 inches in diameter, all 112 kg or so, with 10cm Be reflection, is about 0.86 Mc, slightly above the usual "safe" threshold but still not insanely dangerous to be around. The aforementioned 2.0 volumetric density compression gives you a factor of 4 higher criticality, or 3.4 Mc, which is about what Fat Man achieved.

(Just to be clear - the above utilized no information not in the now 20-year-old, publicly available Nuclear Weapons FAQ online. No Restricted Data was harmed in the creation of this blog posting.)

277:

There are other Manhattan-vintage methods - gaseous diffusion, gaseous thermal diffusion - that don't require big whirly things made of very high quality maraging steel and drinking huge amounts of power. You can do them with ceramics or very fine metal mesh hammered finer, if I remember Rhodes correctly.

I don't know about GTD but a GD processs is HUGE. Acres of plant to get any meaningful amount of product out. As to the fine mesh hammered out. Maybe for microscopic amounts but hand making enough filters of usable size for all but microscopic production seems a bit of a reach. And yes the steel and other metals are of high quality and with special characteristics or the UF6 will eat it up.

The reasons centrifuges are the big thing now is that the process is easier than GD. And way less power. Way less.

And GTD was abandoned as being harder than GD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enriched_uranium#Gaseous_diffusion

278:

You did realise that I'm a cricket fan? (Some real role-reversal stuff going on here, with a native Scot who's a cricket fan, and a Yorkshireman who wants nowt to do with it).

279:

Implosion weapons are a LOT harder to make go off than lower powered gun weapons. Till you know the trick. And thats in books now. But how big a nuke bang do you need anyway and how many? If you are that bat shit nuts, just add cobalt. It would not be hard.
You know, I read that in the cold war nukes were smuggled into the West as diplomatic bags. I wonder if it was true and if there are any still around. They would need upkeep. Right? So somebody would know, right.

280:

I just used my rinky dink TI scientific calculator earlier this week. RealCalc is a handy piece of software, but in a university environment a "dumb," single-purpose device would be allowable on a supervised exam, while an internet-connected multipurpose phone would be verboten. That logic may also apply to sensitive government installations where cameras are a no-no.

The pervasiveness of the smartphone is increasingly obvious, but I don't believe it's ready to take over every imaginable pocket computing function as well as the duties of my wallet. In my experience the software would need to be at least an order of magnitude better and more battle-hardened before I'd even consider it (Disclaimer: my only direct smartphone experiences thus far have been with Motorola's abominable Cliq XT, permanently stuck on Android 1.5).

281:

Just a comment on the "unthinkability" of nuclear war. In "The Silent War" by John Craven and "Red Star Rogue", by Kenneth Sewell a good case is put forward that the K-129 attempted a nuclear launch in 1968. Like any expose type book it is advisable to read these with a critical eye. Sewell lays the plot at Mikhail Suslov's feet. Suslov was the soul of Soviet Communism and the power behind the throne from Stalin to Andropov, I believe that Gorbachev was the first leader not to be completely indoctrinated by him. Some secondary evidence of this failed launch is that soon after the loss of the K129 Suslov lost a large amount of his influence within the Kremlin which would require a HUGE political error on his part.

If such a launch attempt did occur it would be only a difference in command and control from people in the US who wanted to launch in the Cuban Missile Crisis (meeting transcripts are available in the reading room at www.cia.gov). That generation of military thinkers still have influence in the US and likely still do in Russia.

I can not bring myself to believe that the combination of gung-ho idiots like Bachman, Palin and crowd advised by "senior military advisers" who have spent large parts of their careers advocating first strike and winnable nuclear war can lead to less of a chance of nuclear exchange. In the cold war most scenarios for war were at the end of a progression of events and force mobilization. Now a launch is likely to be a disproportionate response to some event and take everyone by surprise. None or much fewer of the cold war checks will come into play and that, I believe, make the chances of a launch because some fool says "just nuke them" more likely. A modern US president, with ideologically picked advisers, will likely not understand the theory of nuclear war fighting and because it is seen as less of a threat likely has not carefully read the SIOP (The US strategic war fighting plan) and considered it with care.

Basically, just because it is not in the news and people are not worried about it does not make a nuclear exchange an obsolete threat.

282:

I've read that back in the Cold War they had big war games with the computers of the time. And the military were horrified at how fast the young outside gung-ho would go nuke.
We were in love with the idea of a small nuke to make the USSR think and back off. We now know that they saw a Nuke as a Nuke and would have gone all out at the first one. THEY SAY.

283:

Gen Ledeb claimed the USSR had lost 50 or so suitcase nukes, some in the West in secret booby trapped caches for sleeper agents to use, that have just been forgotten. BTW, such arms caches do/did exist and at least one has been found.

284:

Sorry, Gen Lebed.
"On 7 September 1997, the CBS newsmagazine Sixty Minutes broadcast an alarming story in which former Russian National Security Adviser Aleksandr Lebed claimed that the Russian military had lost track of more than 100 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs, any one of which could kill up to 100,000 people.

"I'm saying that more than a hundred weapons out of the supposed number of 250 are not under the control of the armed forces of Russia," Lebed said in the interview. "I don't know their location. I don't know whether they have been destroyed or whether they are stored or whether they've been sold or stolen, I don't know."

Asked if it were possible that the authorities did know where all the weapons were and simply did not want to tell Lebed, he said, "No."

During May 1997 Lebed said at a private briefing to a delegation of U.S. congressmen that he believed 84 of the one-kiloton bombs were unaccounted for. In the interview with 60 Minutes, conducted in late August, Lebed said he now believed the figure to be more than 100.

Lebed stated that these devices were made to look like suitcases, and could be detonated by one person within half an hour. According to Lebed, he learned of the existence of these weapons developed for special operations only a few years before. While national security adviser to Yeltsin he commissioned a study to report on the whereabouts of these devices. Lebed was fired as national security adviser 17 October 1996 amid intense political jostling while President Boris Yeltsin was awaiting heart surgery. He admits that he had only preliminary results of his investigation at that time, and these results are the basis of his subsequent claims.

The bombs, measuring 60 x 40 x 20 centimeters (24 x 16 x 8 inches), had been distributed among special Soviet military intelligence units belonging to the GRU, Lebed said."

285:

I have not read "Red Star Rogue." But I did read about it in book by the US Navy scientist who ran the Sub Missile program start to finish. He was then head of Navy Research and did their underwater spying. He found the missing sub and found the open missile hatch. And that the sub was not found by the USSR because it was hundred of miles away from the course their Missile Subs ran on. It had sailed to within range of Hawaii. Then burned and sank with the open hatch.
The USSR did a Hunt for Red October search for it.
He wrote the CIA used Bush to bumb the Navy out of it or the Navy would have found what was needed. And nobody would have known.

286:

I can't find the book, but the US Navy scientist believed the Subs's Captain went bad. The fail safe worked and that put the Sub down without the missile starting WW-3, the last one? .

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 29, 2011 9:25 AM.

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