Monday, April 23, 2012

We Need Some Disruptive Thinking Here

It’s hard to break out of a mindset. It’s harder whan you don’t have a simple substitute.

So Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, who spent the heights of their careers in the Cold War, need some disruptive thinking. Let’s see if I can provide it.

At least six of their eight key facts depend heavily on Cold-War assumptions, the major one being that the United States and the are enemies. Is that true?

The Soviet Union died in 1991. Fourteen republics, most of which were unhappy about their forcible integration into the Union, became independent, along with Russia. Two years earlier, Mikhail Gorbachev gave up Soviet puppetry in the satellite nations. Some of those nations have become members of the European Union and NATO.

But it’s Russia that inherited the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Its capitol continues at Moscow, and it inherited the Red Army. What it did not inherit, explicitly disavowed by Gorbachev was the Soviet policy of exporting class warfare. In fact, after 1991, that policy made no sense in a newly capitalistic Russia.

The nuclear arms race, slowed before then, was ended. America sent help to Russia in converting its nuclear security system to an inventory basis. Americans worked with Russians on other nuclear-related issues, and Russian scientists moved to America.

The two nations do not face each other militarily anywhere, directly or through proxies, and they have worked together in Central Asia.

So what is to be done about those nuclear arsenals? They seem to have a life of their own, with missiles still targeted across the northern hemisphere. Under what circumstances might they be launched? It’s possible to imagine a number of Cold-War-type scenarios, but they seem highly unlikely. The most likely scenario would seem to be accidental. So there is a motivation for eliminating those arsenals as quickly as possible.

Kissinger and Scowcroft’s first three points are straight out of Herman Kahn: strategic stability, and second strike. Strategic stability is a concern, in the credibility of reductions. Their fourth point almost addresses this, but it is in the Kahnian mode. Verification is the basis for this credibility, but, rather than the uncertainty associated with the measurements, the methods are the primary concern. Credibility now lies in the status of warheads taken out of service. That means counting warheads and access to storage and decommissioning facilities, unthinkable in Kahn’s time.

Their point five would apply Kahnian logic to the up-and-coming nuclear powers: China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. But until the United States and Russia come down to several hundred nuclear weapons, this is simply not an issue. The analysis may be worth doing, but it is hard to see how being in the same range of nuclear numbers would damage strategic stability. In any case, none of those countries poses a serious threat to the United States. And joining up together? Please.

Which brings us to point six, which, like point four, has been addressed both in the New START Treaty and the recent Nuclear Posture Review. Bringing in other countries as the US and Russian numbers approach theirs will indeed be necessary. Britain is already addressing its numbers, and, IIRC, the US is beginning informal talks with China.

Point seven is a rehash of point one, strategic stability. People who do that sort of thing do indeed consider missiles, both defensive and offensive. And, again, tactical nuclear weapons are on the New START to-do list. Point eight is being addressed in an ongoing way, as our allies and we work out what defenses are necessary in the post-Cold-War world.

It’s tempting to look for enemies, particularly when that is what one’s career was based on. But the sort of enmity that characterized the Cold War is gone, most likely never to return. What could make it return is refusing to believe that things have changed. The Republican presidential candidates seemed to want to see Russia in the Cold War Soviet mold. I was at a lecture last week where one of the questioners kept referring to the Soviets when he meant the current-day Russians. And now Kissinger and Scowcroft come back to Herman Kahn.

Having one big enemy simplifies a lot of strategy. The world today isn’t offering one up, just a lot of little headaches that could grow bigger.

More disruptive thinking, please!

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner and The Agonist.


Greg R. Lawson said...

The Cold War is dead and should be buried as you rightly allude to. However, the nuclear genie is out of the bottle and verification is still a huge issue.

Isn't this part of the challenge in current wrangling with Iran and North Korea? The point Kissinger and Scowcroft make is that as we tread towards President Obama's vaunted "Global Zero" goal, strategic stability could much more easily be upset as incentives for those not in the current nuclear club change.

You use "Kahnian" pejoratively rather than grappling with some very real concerns that his logic seeks to confront.

I often use this quote from Schelling because I think it highlights the problems with a "Zero" world (which again, is the area Scowcroft and Kissinger are addressing):

"In summary, a “world without nuclear weapons” would be a world in which the United States, Russia, Israel, China, and half a dozen or a dozen other countries would have hair-trigger mobilization plans to rebuild nuclear weapons and mobilize or commandeer delivery systems, and would have prepared targets to preempt other nations’ nuclear facilities, all in a high-alert status, with practice drills and secure emergency communications. Every crisis would be a nuclear crisis, any war could become a nuclear war. The urge to preempt would dominate; whoever gets the first few weapons will coerce or preempt. It would be a nervous world.”

The disruptive thinking you refer to may be to realize that not all old concepts are irrelevant to new circumstances. Indeed that notion is now the conventional wisdom and may well be the thinking that needs being disrupted.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Greg, you raise a number of issues that I'll address quickly. There's a lot more that can be said about all of them.

First, Kissinger and Scowcroft are addressing the numbers being considered for the next round of reductions, not zero. In their first paragraph, they say:

The Obama administration is said to be considering negotiations for a new round of nuclear reductions to bring about ceilings as low as 300 warheads.

And yes, I did use Kahnian pejoratively. The context of Kahn's work disappeared with the Soviet Union. Neither the US nor Russia is looking to eliminate the other from the globe. Nor are the other nuclear powers that might have half a chance of doing so.

The "world without nuclear weapons" described in the Schilling quote is today's world, minus nuclear weapons. The very process of eliminating nuclear weapons will change things in ways we can't imagine. It won't be what is described in the quote, because one of the prerequisites for and results of negotiations will be to lay a foundation that will eliminate some of those concerns. A couple of centuries ago, we might have said that Europe will always be at war.

So which old concepts would you apply? Enmity between the US and Russia? The expectation of a war of total annihilation? And why would you want to bring those about?

Greg R. Lawson said...

Thanks for the response. I just would add that the reductions Obama seeks is intended to be a step on the road to eventual "global zero" avisit believe it is within that context that they are talking. Additionally, a ceiling of 300 does raise stability questions not just vis a vis Russia but also China. Its doubtful that's where even Obama will end up but wherever it is, we must be careful not to enhance the power and influence of a low number of weapons.

A world without nuclear weapons is impossible absent a transcendent change in human nature or the techincal ability at some future point to completely neuter them and make them obsolete.