Monday, October 29, 2018

"Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?" Controversial Foreign Affairs issue to end 2018

The November/December 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs has an eye-catching issue title, “Do Nuclear Weapons Matter?

There are six articles. “Nuclear weapons don’t matter, but nuclear hysteria does”, by John Mueller; “The vanishing nuclear taboo? How disarmament fell apart?”, by Nina Tannenwald; :”If you want peace, prepare for nuclear war; a strategy for the new great-power rivalry”, by Elbridge Colby; :”Armed and dangerous: when dictators get the bomb:, by Scott D. Sagan; :”Beijing’s nuclear option; Why a U.S.-Chinese war could spiral out of control”; “Moscow’s nuclear enigma; what is Russia’s arsenal really for?”

The most critical piece might be the Sagan one, where the writer characterizes North Korea as the first “personalist” dictatorship to acquire nuclear weapons, especially possibly thermonuclear with ICBM’s. The writer fears that this will set examples for other small state dictators (most of all Iran). But in much of 2017 there was increasing talk of the reach of DPRK missiles and, along with Trump’s reckless rhetoric at the time, the growing idea that an area of the continental US could face a nuclear strike someday, or at least an EMP incident, as a result of Trump’s intransigence to wipe out the country. We all know that during the February winter Olympics things started to change and the result was the controversial Singapore embrace of Kim and Kim’s unconvincing claimed start of disarmament. That logically can lead to doomsday prepper ideology (and influence the domestic gun control debate).  But it could also lead to a broader idea about the contingent responsibilities of citizenship.

The last article posits Russia’s (post Communist) “escalate to de-escalate” idea. Russia could have an incentive to develop novel tactical nuclear weapons (or flux devices) for action in the Baltics, or even conceivably Finland (where there was a bizarre assassination at the border in May 2016).  Russia created controversy last spring with claims of a new missile that could evade any NORAD defense.  

When I was in the Army (1968-1970), at both the Pentagon and later Fort Eustis, there was a common belief among many enlisted men that nuclear war with the Soviet Union was a real peril. The willingness to draft men to fight on the group in Vietnam was seen as a buffer. 

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