The U.S. and Russia — jogging in tandem on a nuclear treadmill

Jeffrey Lewis writes: A few years back, I gave [John] Harvey [former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs] — who is, to be fair, really a pretty decent guy and one of the few people genuinely willing to work on a nonpartisan basis for any administration — a hard time about one of the slides in a PowerPoint presentation he had developed to justify a replacement nuclear warhead. I removed all the words from it, leaving just the two images he had used as illustration — one representing “legacy” warheads in a burnt orange that faintly evoked rust, another representing a replacement warhead as nice and shiny. One might even say it looked tippy-top [as Donald Trump believes nuclear weapons should indeed look]. The words on the slide weren’t the real message.

Too often the question left unasked in our finely tuned analyses of nuclear quality and nuclear superiority is: So what? Why would deterrence require that weapons be tippy-top [as most so-called nuclear weapons experts seem to think they need to be]? Would it matter if you were incinerated with a new shiny warhead rather than an old rusty one? These comparisons are ultimately appeals to emotion, not logic. And those appeals work only if we accept the metaphor that the nuclear dilemma is a race and our only escape is to cross the finish line first. But what if [Paul] Warnke had it right [in “Apes on a Treadmill“]? What if there is no finish line other than nuclear catastrophe and that the United States and Russia are jogging in tandem on a treadmill? What do we do then?

Warnke had an answer to that. “We can be first off the treadmill,” he wrote. “That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.” [But instead of actually pursuing that victory and in spite of his dreams for a nuclear weapons-free world, President Obama has authorized a trillion dollar upgrade.] [Continue reading…]

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