Why ‘launch under attack’ should not be a mainstay of U.S. nuclear policy

French nuclear test "Licorne",  French Polynesia, July, 1970

Jeffrey Lewis writes: Once a president gives the order to use nuclear weapons, there is no turning back. The system is designed to very quickly render the president’s will into death and destruction on the other side of the world. So maybe don’t elect the guy who melts down on Twitter every other day.

Trump’s temperament is pretty different from, say, that of Brzezinski, who tells the story about the 3 a.m. phone call as kind of a dark gag. I suppose Zbig got used to it. There was a series of false alarms in June 1980, usually described as having occurred because of the failure of a 46 cent computer chip. A few years later, the Center for Defense Information — the forerunner, in a roundabout way, to Global Zero — learned that between 1977 and 1984, there were 1,152 “moderately serious” false alarms. False alarms are so common that I actually suspect the system would fail to respond to a real Russian launch. I just can’t imagine Bushes, Clintons, or Barack Obama retaliating while there’s even a glimmer of doubt about an attack. My guess is that they would all decide to risk waiting to be sure an attack was underway, that it wasn’t a false alarm or cyberattack, instead of hastily opting for certain nuclear holocaust. Given what we know about human beings and confirmation bias, launch under attack is probably less dangerous than just pointless.

The problem, though, is what happens in a crisis. What happens when confirmation bias is pushing in the other direction? If we think Russia might launch such an attack, then it is easier to imagine a president making a hasty decision.

My advice to any future president would be to drop launch under attack as a mainstay of U.S. nuclear policy. Some systems might still be capable of launching quickly, but I would design the nuclear force around the assumption that the president plans to “ride out” a nuclear attack. This means having enough weapons at sea to do the job and relegating any land-based nuclear weapons to the role of warhead “sink,” drawing fire away from cities. The Obama administration has made some steps in this direction, instructing the military to plan for more realistic contingencies — but it has still elected to retain launch under attack as an option.

I am not much of a fan of launch under attack, and have said as much to policymakers in Washington, but I’ve long been resigned to no one listening to me. Defense experts have a fetish about giving the president options, and they are simply loath to abandon this one, no matter how unrealistic. It is U.S. policy now and for the foreseeable future. In fact, Washington has gone to great lengths to design its nuclear forces, as well as its command and control system, around the ability of the president to determine the fate of hundreds of millions of people in a matter of minutes. The upcoming deliberations about nuclear modernization, which will probably cost a trillion dollars over the next 30 years or so, will proceed on the same assumption. If we’re going to design the entire system in this way, to emphasize the speed and decisiveness of a single person, we should probably also pick that person carefully. [Continue reading…]

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Iran says it executed nuclear scientist for spying

The Washington Post reports: Iran has executed a nuclear scientist who mysteriously turned up in the United States six years ago and returned to Tehran a few months later, authorities said Sunday, in the first official confirmation of the researcher’s fate since he arrived back in his homeland.

Iranian officials offered no details about the charges against Shahram Amiri, whose case has left unanswered questions about whether he voluntarily defected to the United States or — as he claimed — was abducted by agents while on a religious pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in 2009.

Amiri surfaced in 2010 in videos posted online from an undisclosed location in the United States. Later that year, he arrived unannounced at the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and demanded to be sent home. [Continue reading…]

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Nuclear power is losing money at an astonishing rate

Joe Romm writes: Half of existing nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. The New York Times and others have tried to blame renewable energy for this, but the admittedly astounding price drops of renewables aren’t the primary cause of the industry’s woes — cheap fracked gas is.

The point of blaming renewables, which currently receive significant government subsidies, is apparently to argue that existing nukes deserve some sort of additional subsidy to keep running — beyond the staggering $100+ billion in subsidies the nuclear industry has received over the decades. But a major reason solar and wind energy receive federal subsidies — which are being phased out over the next few years — is because they are emerging technologies whose prices are still rapidly coming down the learning curve, whereas nuclear is an incumbent technology with a negative learning curve.

The renewable red herring aside, existing nukes can make a reasonable case for a modest subsidy on the basis of climate change — though only because they are often replaced by carbon-spewing gas plants. That said, the “$7.6 billion bailout” New York state just decided to give its nuclear plants appears to be way too large, as we’ll see. [Continue reading…]

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Trump on nuclear weapons: If we have them, why can’t we use them?

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CNBC News reports: Donald Trump asked a foreign policy expert advising him why the U.S. can’t use nuclear weapons, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said on the air Wednesday, citing an unnamed source who claimed he had spoken with the GOP presidential nominee.

“Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them,” Scarborough said on his “Morning Joe” program.

Scarborough made the Trump comments 52 seconds into an interview with former Director of Central Intelligence and ex-National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden. [Continue reading…]

NBC News reports: Key Republicans close to Donald Trump’s orbit are plotting an intervention with the candidate after a disastrous 48 hours led some influential voices in the party to question whether Trump can stay at the top of the Republican ticket without catastrophic consequences for his campaign and the GOP at large.

Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus, former Republican New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are among the Trump endorsers hoping to talk the real estate mogul into a dramatic reset of his campaign in the coming days, sources tell NBC News.

The group of GOP heavyweights hopes to enlist the help of Trump’s children – who comprise much of his innermost circle of influential advisers – to aid in the attempt to rescue his candidacy. Trump’s family is considered to have by far the most influence over the candidate’s thinking at what could be a make-or-break moment for his campaign. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Turkey aren’t safe anymore

Jeffrey Lewis writes: Among the candidates for most iconic image of this past weekend’s attempted coup in Turkey has to be the many videos of Turkish F-16s, hijacked by the mutineers, flying low over Istanbul and Ankara. Eventually, those planes seem to have bombed the parliament. There were rumors that they considered shooting down the plane of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What’s clear is that mutineers managed to keep the F-16s in the air only because they were able to refuel them mid-flight using at least one tanker aircraft operated out of Incirlik Air Base. Eventually Turkish authorities closed the airspace over Incirlik and cut power to it. The next day, the security forces loyal to the government arrested the Turkish commander at the base. (The images of him being escorted away in handcuffs are in the contest to qualify as the weekend’s most iconic.)

In retrospect, it is understandable why the Turkish government closed the airspace over Incirlik, even if it did temporarily disrupt air operations against the Islamic State in Syria. But that is in retrospect. In the moment, it raised a disquieting thought. There are a few dozen U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs stored at Incirlik. Does it seem like a good idea to station American nuclear weapons at an air base commanded by someone who may have just helped bomb his own country’s parliament? [Continue reading…]

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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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Nuclear plants, despite safety concerns, gaining support among environmentalists

The New York Times reports: Just a few years ago, the United States seemed poised to say farewell to nuclear energy. No company had completed a new plant in decades, and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 intensified public disenchantment with the technology, both here and abroad.

But as the Paris agreement on climate change has put pressure on the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some state and federal officials have deemed nuclear energy part of the solution. They are now scrambling to save existing plants that can no longer compete economically in a market flooded with cheap natural gas.

“We’re supposed to be adding zero-carbon sources, not subtracting,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said recently at a symposium that the department convened to explore ways to improve the industry’s prospects.

As a result, there are efforts across the country to bail out nuclear plants at risk of closing, with important test cases in Illinois, Ohio and New York, as well as proposed legislation in Congress.

Exelon, one of the country’s largest nuclear operators, for example, is deciding whether to close two of its struggling plants in Illinois after efforts to push a bailout through its Legislature fell apart.

Nuclear power remains mired in longstanding questions over waste disposal, its safety record after the catastrophes at places like Fukushima and Chernobyl, and the potential for its plants to be converted into weapon-making factories. In spite of the lingering issues, policy makers, analysts and executives, along with a growing number of environmentalists, say that at stake is the future of the country’s largest source of clean energy.

“Nothing else comes close,” Mr. Moniz, a nuclear physicist, said at the symposium. [Continue reading…]

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Hope and hype of Hiroshima can’t conceal Obama’s dismal record on nuclear disarmament

Hiroshima: the original Ground Zero

Setsuko Thurlow, who as a 13-year-old girl survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, writes: In [President Obama’s] famous speech in Prague, in 2009, he said, “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”

Why then has the U.S. government, under the Obama administration, pledged $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear arsenal? Exactly where is the moral responsibility and leadership in that?

Regarding disarmament, Obama stated, “Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered on a global nonproliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point where the center cannot hold.” Why then are the U.S. and other nuclear weapon states actively boycotting the latest international nuclear negotiations? [Continue reading…]

Tim Wright writes: Under the Obama presidency, contrary to perceptions, the pace of nuclear warhead dismantlement has slowed, not hastened. Indeed, the two presidents Bush and Bill Clinton each made greater gains in downsizing the colossal US nuclear stockpile amassed during the cold war.

But more alarming than this failure to destroy old nuclear weapons has been the Obama administration’s aggressive pursuit of new, “smaller” ones, for which the threshold of use would be lower, according to former military commanders.

At great expense, the president has bolstered all three components of the nation’s “nuclear triad”: the strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles. This was the price paid for securing Republican support in 2010 for the ratification of a modest bilateral arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Obama’s much-publicised “nuclear security summits” largely ignored the greatest source of nuclear insecurity in the world today: 15,000 nuclear weapons, including 1,800 on hair-trigger alert. Instead, they focused on measures to keep “vulnerable nuclear material” out of terrorists’ hands – a vital endeavour, certainly, but for all the fanfare the results were small.

Now the United States is stridently resisting diplomatic moves by two-thirds of the world’s nations to declare nuclear weapons illegal. It boycotted UN talks in Geneva this month aimed at setting the stage for negotiations on a prohibition treaty. But it cannot veto this initiative, just as it could not veto the processes that led to bans on landmines in 1997 and cluster munitions in 2008.

While a prohibition on nuclear weapons will not result in disarmament overnight, it will powerfully challenge the notion that these weapons are acceptable for some nations. It will place them on the same legal footing as both other types of weapons of mass destruction – namely, chemical and biological weapons. [Continue reading…]

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Debates about Hiroshima reduce the victims of 1945 to the role of extras in their own murders

Jeffrey Lewis writes: It’s not clear to me Truman had carefully thought through the implications of using the bomb or really understood that it might be a dramatic escalation from the enormous bombing campaign already underway. It is hard to assign simple motives to any large group of people, like “the United States.” Why “the United States” does anything is always a complicated story involving people working both with and against one other. In the case of Hiroshima, if anything, there was no decision to use the bomb, just an enormous amount of institutional momentum that rolled over haphazardly raised objections and qualms. I have a lot of objections to strategic bombing, and what John Hersey called the “material and spiritual evil” of total war, to say nothing of the racist propaganda required to facilitate killing on such a scale. But to postulate a geopolitical rationale for using the atomic bomb elides the awful human cruelty that was on display in 1945 and not just in Hiroshima.

And the revisionists have something else wrong, too. World War II was over — but it had not ended. If you study war and violence, you know that people continue killing each other even after the original justifications for the killing are obsolete. Japan’s leaders knew the war was lost, but that wasn’t quite enough to convince them to surrender. And Japan’s war cabinet was focused less on an imminent U.S. invasion than the more immediate problem of domestic subversion from the left if the conflict continued and from the right if it did not. The Japanese materials now available to scholars seem to show that Soviet entry into the war was the event that produced the biggest shock. And what turned the tide in Tokyo, which was divided over the issue of surrender, was the diplomatic note issued by U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes that slightly softened the terms of Japan’s “unconditional” surrender. Even then, the story is a Japanese one. The historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa argues that Japanese leaders interpreted the Byrnes note in a certain way because the translation into Japanese from the Foreign Ministry had been deliberately phrased to emphasize the possibility that Emperor Hirohito would remain in power.

But that’s a funny interpretation of Japan’s surrender, emphasizing people, places, and, above all, chance. Truman had his friend Jimmy Byrnes send a vague note, and a pair of obscure bureaucrats put a little English on the translation, so to speak. And that’s why your granddad didn’t die on some god-forsaken beach code-named after a car. That kind of account doesn’t really satisfy us, does it? Grand decisions require equally grand reasons. We want the story of the bomb to match the stakes in our own debates about who started the Cold War or the role that nuclear weapons played in our security. That’s because our debates about Hiroshima aren’t about understanding Truman, or the Japanese Foreign Ministry, or even the people who died. They are about ourselves.

Over time, the debate about the meaning of Hiroshima has shifted from responsibility for the Cold War to the question of whether we should plan, indefinitely, to base our security on the threat of nuclear destruction. Ward Wilson, in particular, has argued that the account of Hiroshima plays a central role in our modern myths about deterrence and the bomb as the winning weapon. [Continue reading…]

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On nuclear weapons, nations must cooperate to avoid catastrophe

Sam Nunn writes: President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima comes almost 71 years after the conclusion of a world war that was fought and ended with tremendous sacrifice, huge casualties and immense devastation. Today, global nuclear arsenals are capable of destroying not only cities but also civilization itself. Albert Einstein’s prophesy bears repeating: “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!”

Since the end of World War II, the United States and our allies have relied on the ultimate threat of mutual assured destruction for our security, as the Soviet Union did and Russia does now. Today, with nine nations possessing nuclear arms and terrorists seeking them, this strategy has become increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

Warren Buffett, a man who knows how to calculate risk, has reminded us that if the chance of an event occurring is 10 percent in a given year, and that same risk persists over 50 years, there is a 99.5 percent probability that it will happen during those 50 years. For more than 70 years, the United States and Russia have beaten the odds, avoiding a number of near-disasters. The recent deterioration in relations between the United States and Russia has greatly increased these risks.

The two nations still deploy thousands of nuclear weapons ready to fire on a moment’s notice, risking a catastrophic accident or miscalculation based on a false warning. Cold War dangers compelled dialogue between Washington and Moscow on nuclear security and strategic stability. This dialogue is dangerously absent now, even as our planes and ships have close encounters in Europe and the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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The U.S. and Russia are fighting about missile defense when they should be settling differences

Fred Kaplan writes: The Standard Missile 3, or SM-3 as it’s called, is purely defensive; it works not by blowing up a missile in midair but by slamming into it with great force; in other words, it couldn’t be turned into an offensive weapon, even if some future Western leader wanted it to be.

But from Russia’s point of view, that’s not the issue. As one military adage has it, the only purely defensive weapon is a foxhole, and a battery of antimissile missiles doesn’t change this fact. In the odd world of nuclear strategy, a nation deters an attack by posing a credible threat of “retaliation in kind.” Side A attacks Side B; Side B strikes back against Side A; therefore, Side A doesn’t attack in the first place. But imagine that Side A has an effective missile-defense system. Side A attacks Side B; Side B strikes back, but most of its missiles get shot down before reaching their targets; therefore, Side B is unable to “retaliate in kind.” Both sides do the calculation and understand the strategic imbalance, and therefore (so goes the theory), Side A dominates Side B — intimidates it into doing certain things in A’s favor — without having to go to war.

This is why Russian officials see missile defense systems as a threat. It’s a concept they learned from the Americans. In the 1950s and early ’60s, many American nuclear strategists, notably Herman Kahn, author of the best-seller On Thermonuclear War, advocated anti-ballistic-missile systems as an explicit adjunct to an offensive first-strike strategy: The U.S. launches a nuclear attack on the USSR; the USSR strikes back with the few nuclear missiles that survived the first strike; the U.S. shoots them down with its antimissile missiles. Or, more to the point, the U.S. has the capability to do these things — which puts the U.S. in a dominant position in international confrontations.

In the mid-1960s, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara proposed a treaty banning anti-ballistic missiles in the United States and Soviet Union, some Russian officials were puzzled: Why ban defensive weapons, they asked? McNamara schooled them on nuclear strategy; he essentially wanted to avoid the destabilizing situation that Herman Kahn wanted to foster and exploit. The Russians learned the lesson. [Continue reading…]

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The fallacy that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II

Hiroshima: the original Ground Zero

Hiroshima: the original Ground Zero


Whenever questions are raised about the moral justification for destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in 1945, it’s generally assumed that President Truman’s decision to use these weapons was instrumental in ending World War II.

Given the staggering loss of life the war had already brought by that time, it’s hard to avoid imagining that almost any means possible — including the use of nuclear weapons — might have been justifiable if this would result in hastening the end of the war.

Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945. Japan’s surrender was announced by Emperor Hirohito on August 15. For this reason, many Americans think that apologizing for the destruction of these two Japanese cities would make no more sense than wishing that the war had dragged on for longer with even more lives lost.

But in Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons published in 2013, Ward Wilson argues that it was Stalin’s decision to invade Japan — not the use of the bomb — that led to the Japanese surrender.

Wilson points out that while the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are typically viewed as extraordinary in the level of destruction they caused, during the U.S. air campaign at that time there was less reason than we imagine to draw a sharp distinction between conventional and nuclear bombing.

In the summer of 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force carried out one of the most intense campaigns of city destruction in the history of the world. Sixty-eight cities in Japan were attacked and all of them were either partially or completely destroyed. An estimated 1.7 million people were made homeless, 300,000 were killed, and 750,000 were wounded. Sixty-six of these raids were carried out with conventional bombs, two with atomic bombs. The destruction caused by conventional attacks was huge. Night after night, all summer long, cities would go up in smoke. In the midst of this cascade of destruction, it would not be surprising if this or that individual attack failed to make much of an impression — even if it was carried out with a remarkable new type of weapon.

Japan’s decision to surrender probably had less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade. Wilson writes:

The Japanese were in a relatively difficult strategic situation. They were nearing the end of a war they were losing. Conditions were bad. The Army, however, was still strong and well-supplied. Nearly 4 million men were under arms and 1.2 million of those were guarding Japan’s home islands.

Even the most hardline leaders in Japan’s government knew that the war could not go on. The question was not whether to continue, but how to bring the war to a close under the best terms possible. The Allies (the United States, Great Britain, and others — the Soviet Union, remember, was still neutral) were demanding “unconditional surrender.” Japan’s leaders hoped that they might be able to figure out a way to avoid war crimes trials, keep their form of government, and keep some of the territories they’d conquered: Korea, Vietnam, Burma, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, a large portion of eastern China, and numerous islands in the Pacific.

They had two plans for getting better surrender terms; they had, in other words, two strategic options. The first was diplomatic. Japan had signed a five-year neutrality pact with the Soviets in April of 1941, which would expire in 1946. A group consisting mostly of civilian leaders and led by Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori hoped that Stalin might be convinced to mediate a settlement between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Japan on the other. Even though this plan was a long shot, it reflected sound strategic thinking. After all, it would be in the Soviet Union’s interest to make sure that the terms of the settlement were not too favorable to the United States: any increase in U.S. influence and power in Asia would mean a decrease in Russian power and influence.

The second plan was military, and most of its proponents, led by the Army Minister Anami Korechika, were military men. They hoped to use Imperial Army ground troops to inflict high casualties on U.S. forces when they invaded. If they succeeded, they felt, they might be able to get the United States to offer better terms. This strategy was also a long shot. The United States seemed deeply committed to unconditional surrender. But since there was, in fact, concern in U.S. military circles that the casualties in an invasion would be prohibitive, the Japanese high command’s strategy was not entirely off the mark.

One way to gauge whether it was the bombing of Hiroshima or the invasion and declaration of war by the Soviet Union that caused Japan’s surrender is to compare the way in which these two events affected the strategic situation. After Hiroshima was bombed on August 8, both options were still alive. It would still have been possible to ask Stalin to mediate (and Takagi’s diary entries from August 8 show that at least some of Japan’s leaders were still thinking about the effort to get Stalin involved). It would also still have been possible to try to fight one last decisive battle and inflict heavy casualties. The destruction of Hiroshima had done nothing to reduce the preparedness of the troops dug in on the beaches of Japan’s home islands. There was now one fewer city behind them, but they were still dug in, they still had ammunition, and their military strength had not been diminished in any important way. Bombing Hiroshima did not foreclose either of Japan’s strategic options.

The impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different, however. Once the Soviet Union had declared war, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator — he was now a belligerent. So the diplomatic option was wiped out by the Soviet move. The effect on the military situation was equally dramatic. Most of Japan’s best troops had been shifted to the southern part of the home islands. Japan’s military had correctly guessed that the likely first target of an American invasion would be the southernmost island of Kyushu. The once proud Kwangtung army in Manchuria, for example, was a shell of its former self because its best units had been shifted away to defend Japan itself. When the Russians invaded Manchuria, they sliced through what had once been an elite army and many Russian units only stopped when they ran out of gas. The Soviet 16th Army — 100,000 strong — launched an invasion of the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Their orders were to mop up Japanese resistance there, and then — within 10 to 14 days — be prepared to invade Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s home islands. The Japanese force tasked with defending Hokkaido, the 5th Area Army, was under strength at two divisions and two brigades, and was in fortified positions on the east side of the island. The Soviet plan of attack called for an invasion of Hokkaido from the west.

It didn’t take a military genius to see that, while it might be possible to fight a decisive battle against one great power invading from one direction, it would not be possible to fight off two great powers attacking from two different directions. The Soviet invasion invalidated the military’s decisive battle strategy, just as it invalidated the diplomatic strategy. At a single stroke, all of Japan’s options evaporated. The Soviet invasion was strategically decisive — it foreclosed both of Japan’s options — while the bombing of Hiroshima (which foreclosed neither) was not.

In this case, even if the nuclear attacks hastened the end of the war, it may have only been by a matter of a few days or weeks. The assumption that some greater good had been served is much harder to sustain.

At the same time, having already chosen to use these weapons twice and chosen to use them to wipe out civilian populations, the United States was thereafter in a much harder position to assert moral authority in saying that nuclear weapons must never be used again.

When Barack Obama visits Hiroshima later this month, he will make no apology for the destruction of this city. He will again call for global nuclear disarmament, but his appeal won’t carry much weight, given his decision to spend $348 billion on upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next decade.

To many observers, Obama’s nuclear aspirations do more than highlight his nuclear hypocrisy:

That declaration rings hollow to critics who believe Obama’s plan to overhaul and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal is sparking a dangerous new arms race with China and Russia. The modernization program, including purchases of new bombers and ballistic missile submarines, could cost as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years, said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program.

“The plan to rebuild and refurbish every weapon that we have basically sort of throws the gauntlet down, and Russia and China feel like they have to match it,” Gronlund said in an interview. “He has said really great things but his actions have not really been consistent with his words.”

As the Daily Beast reports, the “post-Cold War nuclear holiday is over” — a new nuclear arms race has already begun.

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