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Its personnel may be depressed, but at least they’re not launching nuclear weapons.

By Russ Wellen

Following up on his story of the 17 launch crew members of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., who were removed from active duty, Robert Burns of the Associated Press reports:

Officers with a finger on the trigger of the Air Force’s most powerful nuclear missiles are complaining of a wide array of morale-sapping pressures, according to internal emails obtained by The Associated Press.

… Key themes among the complaints include working under “poor leadership” and being stuck in “dead-end careers” in nuclear weapons, one email said. … The complaints also said there was a need for more experienced missile officers, a less arduous work schedule and “leaders who will listen.”

Taken together, the complaints suggest sagging morale in arguably the most sensitive segment of the American military. Read the rest of this entry »


Theoretically Pakistan is poised to respond to Indian military retaliation for a terrorist strike with tactical nukes.

By Russ Wellen

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.
1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?
2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.) Read the rest of this entry »

In part, the Vietnam War was perceived as a message that the U.S. would not be intimidated by a Chinese nuclear-weapons program.

By Russ Wellen

You’ve probably heard that, as Jeremi Suri reported in Wired five years ago, after the Paris Vietnam peace talks broke down in 1969…

Frustrated, Nixon decided to try something new: threaten the Soviet Union with a massive nuclear strike and make its leaders think he was crazy enough to go through with it. His hope was that the Soviets would be so frightened of events spinning out of control that they would strong-arm Hanoi, telling the North Vietnamese to start making concessions at the negotiating table or risk losing Soviet military support. Read the rest of this entry »

During the good old war, nuclear deterrence failed to thwart crises, which were subsequently solved with good, old politics.

By Russ Wellen

We may owe thanks for the absence of war (other than proxy) during the Long Peace — aka the Cold War — between the United States and the Soviet Union less to nuclear deterrence, as is commonly assumed, than to the “underlying politics.” That’s a thesis beginning to gain credibility which Francis J. Gavin presents as well as anyone (though I’ve just begun the book) in Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012). Read the rest of this entry »

Historian Ward Wilson pokes holes in the mythology of nuclear weapons.

By Russ Wellen

Five MythsLong awaited by many of us in the arms control and disarmament communities, historian Ward Wilson’s book, Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January. He doesn’t fail to deliver. What at first seems like a short book soon becomes a distillate of years of the author’s thinking, to which the expansive footnotes and lengthy bibliography also attest.

Wilson is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. For years unaffiliated, though, with either academy or a foundation, his writing style can be characterized as plain speaking and congenial, accessible to the general public as well as policymakers, strategists, and historians. Read the rest of this entry »

Extremist Islamist militants also sow confusion about the intentions of the Pakistani state and military.

By Russ Wellen

Earlier this month the Stimson Center issued a report by George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled The Non-Unitary Model and Deterrence Stability in South Asia. The daunting title notwithstanding, the paper is not only readable for the general reader, but spellbinding for nuclear-weapons specialists. Hint: “non-unitary” in this context means a nation which fails to demonstrate a “tight, coherent line of authority” over hostilities emanating from that state — in this instance, Pakistan. Though I haven’t quite finished reading the 22-page report, the excitement it generates has spurred me to get a jump start on posting about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Does it mean protecting nuclear plants or using nuclear weapons for national security?

By Russ Wellen

From the long-prevailing Japanese perspective, it’s foolhardy for the state to consider developing nuclear weapons. Twice victimized by their use, Japan is uniquely positioned to know how engaging in nuclear war inevitably results in attacks like the ones it experienced in World War II. It’s also able to empathize with the prospect of another state struck by nuclear weapons and envision the negative karma (or gou in Japanese) their use generates. Read the rest of this entry »

The West insists on nuclear nonproliferation, but refuses to reciprocate with meaningful disarmament. 

By Russ Wellen

When dueling narratives clash and the subject is nuclear weapons, the sparks that fly could make flashing sabers seem dim in comparison. According to conventional thinking in the West, Iran is not abiding by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restraining itself from all nuclear weapons activities. Thus it should be denied its right to enrich uranium. But, in the view of much of the rest of the world, the West is making little more than cosmetic efforts to roll back its nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it has no business denying Iran nuclear energy — not to mention nuclear weapons (but that’s another story).

In other words, the side that committed to disarming thinks that the side that promised not to proliferate is. And the side that promised not to proliferate thinks that the side that committed to disarming is not. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

Hot on the heels of the development of nuclear weapons, strategies for dealing with them — bad pun alert! — mushroomed. Much of it emanated from the RAND Corporation, home to, as Fred Kaplan explained in The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone, 1983) “a small and exceptionally inbred collection of men — mostly economists and mathematicians, a few political scientists — who devoted nearly every moment of their workaday thoughts to thinking about the bomb: how to prevent nuclear war, how to fight nuclear war if it cannot be deterred.”

Specific subjects included fun stuff like first and second strikes, the always popular mutual assured destruction (MAD), launch on warning, and, finally, targeting cities versus targeting “counterforce” (the enemy’s nuclear weapons). Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

James Risen’s April 14 article for the New York Times on Iran’s Supreme Leader’s nuclear-weapons intentions — or lack thereof — has attracted much attention. Ayatollah Ali Khameinei, he writes, “often uses religious language when he talks about the nuclear issue, which can jar Western analysts trying to gauge the meaning of such strong statements.” It’s well known that he once issued a fatwa against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. As recently as February, Risen writes, Ayatollah Khameini said: “Iran is not seeking to have the atomic bomb, possession of which is pointless, dangerous and is a great sin from an intellectual and a religious point of view.”

Here are further excerpts from his pronouncements, about which I recently posted (Iran Tries to Take the Moral High Ground on Nukes). More from the February speech (the translation on his official website):

Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them. Read the rest of this entry »