Bad moves across the board

From The Times Literary Supplement:

In 1957, a little-known Harvard professor had his first taste of fame after the publication of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. Appearing three months before the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite, Henry Kissinger’s book earned public praise from no less than Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” of the atomic bomb, as well as the leading foreign policy realist, Hans Morgenthau. The New York Times reported, accurately, that “officials at the highest government levels” were reading it: Vice President Richard Nixon certainly did. Not only was the book selected by the Book of the Month Club; Kissinger also found himself on television for the first time. “We believed for too long that we were relatively invulnerable”, he told viewers of CBS’s Face the Nation. “I believe that it [countering Soviet aggression] will take a somewhat firmer attitude and a … somewhat greater willingness to run risks.”

The core argument of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy was that the United States lacked a “strategic doctrine” for the nuclear age. There had been a failure in Washington to grasp the full implications of an all-out thermonuclear war, namely that there could be no winner, “because even the weaker side may be able to inflict a degree of destruction which no society can support”. This awful reality made the Eisenhower administration’s periodic bouts of brinkmanship either wildly reckless or mere bluff. As mutual renunciation of nuclear arms seemed unattainable, Kissinger sought to develop a doctrine of limited nuclear war.

That doctrine was never put to the test. Indeed, even Kissinger later repudiated parts of his own argument. Yet, if one looks back on the way NATO strategy evolved in the three decades after 1957, limited nuclear war was at its heart. What else were all those short-range and intermediate-range nuclear missiles for? Had war broken out with the Soviet Union in Europe, at least on the Western side there would have been an attempt to fight it without the intercontinental ballistic missiles whose launch would have heralded Armageddon.

Sixty-four years have passed since the publication of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. Yet at ninety-eight, Henry Kissinger has not lost his knack for identifying doctrinal deficits in US national security strategy. “The age of AI”, he and his coauthors write, “has yet to define its organizing principles, its moral concepts, or its sense of aspirations and limitations … The AI age needs its own…

Link to the rest at The Times Literary Supplement (sorry if you hit a paywall)

3 thoughts on “Bad moves across the board”

  1. Limited nuclear war remains as a part of tbe US big war strategy.
    If anything, it is getting a lot of public visibility in tbe past few years in order to remind China that their horde of missiles and combat ships will not be facing just conventional forces.

    Most recently, they have been qualifying the multirole F35 to carry and deliver nuclear bombs. They have also developed a dial-a-yield bomb that can be set low enough to limit its effects to a mile of the target or high enough to take out a full city. Same bomb, no way to tell how it’s configured. For that matter, an enemy has no way to know which of those 283 (and counting up to 1700) aircraft is nuclear armed. The same applies to the 4 converted ultra-quiet ballistic subs that can carry up to 154 nuclear capable mid-range Tomahawks. Or the dozens of Cruisers and destroyers.

    And more recently, as in a few months ago, the USAF took a page from David Weber’s HONORVERSE books and started testing the use of existing cargo planes to deploy missile pods by dropping the pods and then launching from mid-air. There are several youtube videos detailing how well the RAPID DRAGON concept works. Which is: very well.

    Current US big war strategy is focused on swarms to saturate defenses and low yield nukes are a perfect fit to that strategy, slipping in a few of those in a horde of conventional weapons and decoys.

    Whatever Kissinger might have said in his latter years, the threat of limited nuclear strikes is very much a part of US contingencies. More so than ever. Chinese admirals may openly brag about wanting to sink a super carrier but not only is that very hard to do (and getting harder with the ongoing deployment of Laser cannon) but the consequences of success would be far worse than failing.

    Nuclear war remains a very viable, if not too likely, development.
    (At least for the US. India, Pakistan, and Israel look more likely to actually use nukes this decade. With Iran the most likely target.)
    Space war is still more likely and getting more so by the day.
    Peace in our time is not an option.

    For all that, Armageddon is actually less likely than ever before.
    MAD still works on the strategic level.
    Whoop dee doo.

  2. As a certified cold warrior with NORAD assignments under my belt, can I just say that the acronym for “mutually assured destruction” all too accurately describes almost all of the politicians and purported theorists of conflict involving weapons of mass destruction? (As a biochemist by training, I don’t limit that to nukes, and nobody else should, either.)

    That said, Weber was actually extrapolating from USAF efforts in the 1980s (and, for that matter, USN/RN thinktank work in the 1960s) that ran into political and LOAC problems during the Peace Dividend era… and were at least equally effective during testing. The problem was politics, modularity/logistics, and support systems more than any lack of technical capability; ah, the arguments over Block 3 versus Block 2 mods…

    • Good to know.
      And I’m not surprised.
      It does explain how fast Rapid Dragon has reached deployment level.
      Just as I’m not surprised at the rumors tbat the USAF’s sixth gen fighter that was developed and flight tested in a year might be an updated YF23. It would only make sense.
      Darpa also has lots of “amazing toys” that might resurface at need.

      Old tech doesn’t go away forever, it usually resurfaces when it suits a need. My favorite examples are DC-X, also cancelled because of political idiocy, and NASA’s inflatable space modules. Both techs will be integral to the cis-lunar space age that’s arriving.

      I *do* have some hopes for the future. 🙂

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