This blog is a record of the intellectual unfolding of the exploration process we go through at Rethinking Nuclear Weapons. It is a place to talk about research, ruminate, try out new approaches. Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
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Denial of “deterrence by denial”

posted December 31 2014 by Ward

Recently there was a little colloquy on Facebook about “deterrence by denial.” A physicist friend of mine posted a query asking people if they could help him define “deterrence by denial.” Or just explain clearly what it was. There was a good deal of back and forth—maybe thirty posts—with various opinions and the original author chiming in with follow-up questions. I came across the discussion a day later and posted this:

“Ward Wilson—Geoffrey: I think Jeffrey is right, although as a historian I have a slightly different explanation. Deterrence was not a big deal in antiquity. Was was about what your opponent could do to you and what you could do to him (her). Some clever leaders used mind games, most concentrated on practicalities. That’s why you end up with a lot of physical stuff like walls and moats. Great empires like the Assyrian Empire were not built on sudden advances in deterrence theory . . .”
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A Common Mistake

posted May 15 by Ward

Jeffrey Lewis is one of the smartest (and smart-alecky-est) writers about nuclear weapons. He edits and writes Arms Control Wonk, and cross posts on Foreign Policy. He's usually incisive, funny, and right. I was reading something he wrote last October about chemical weapons and I realized that I disagree with him. Not too surprising, people disagree all the time. But I think the mistake that Jeffrey makes illustrates a common mistake that people make when thinking about nuclear weapons.

Here's the relevant piece of the article about chemical weapons.
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The meaning of Nayarit

posted 29 January 14 by Ward

. . . The meaning of Nayarit, it seems to me, was contained in the long session on the second day in which the representatives of various countries (and a few civil society organizations, like the Red Cross/Red Crescent) stated their views. For the most part, what was said was careful, measured, and relatively unexceptional. And as the afternoon wore on into evening, and the list of requests for a chance to speak seemed never to shrink, I remember wondering if it would ever end. But this is the point. Many, many states found that they had something to say. . . .
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Debunking the "Dangerous World Without Nuclear Weapons" canard

posted 29 January 14 by Ward
The Geneva Centre for Security Policy--which pretty accurately describes itself as "impartial, inclusive, influential"--has published a new report, "Security in a World without Nuclear Weapons: Visions and Challenges." It is an interesting presentation of diverse views on what concrete steps are necessary for making a world free of nuclear weapons a reality. They asked me to contribute the first essay "Stable at Zero." Here's a short excerpt:

"The first impact that diminished desirability would have on a nuclear-weapons-free world is that it would make it much less likely that anyone, including a madman, would strive to build nuclear weapons.
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Technological clean sweep

posted 29 January 14 by Ward
I found this picture on the internet. I was searching for an image that I could use in a presentation to make people think about nuclear missiles. It’s an extraordinary picture. The caption reads, “AFP: This file picture taken on March 18, 2008 of Russian Topol ICBMs behind a barbed-wire fence during a repetition for the nation's annual May 9 Victory Day parade 50 km outside Moscow in Yushkovo.”

At first glance, what you notice is the impressiveness of the missiles. They’re big—really big—they dominate the picture. The men standing next to them are dwarfed. You can see the compression caused by their weight on the tires of the vehicles. It may also cross your mind—it crossed my mind—that they are the pinnacle of nuclear weapons delivery systems. They can not only launch warheads to the other side of the globe with incredible accuracy, they are mobile—a technology not even the United States has. The picture is a marvelous representation of the awesomeness and modernity of nuclear weapons. It’s been floating around the internet for, oh, I don’t know, at least five years. I’ve seen it dozens of times. But until last night I never noticed the really interesting thing about it.

There is something hidden in this picture. Something that provides a different, deeper meaning. A closer inspection will change your view and give added insight into the nature of technological evolution. See it? No? Well, I’ll blow up the part that struck me, in case the resolution of the version you see isn’t sharp enough to allow you to enlarge it several times.
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Nuclear Deterrence Blah Blah

posted 23 January 14 by Ward
Jeffrey Lewis got ticked off by something a colonel in the Air Force posted on the web. Jeffrey is one of the smartest guys I know and has more insider understanding of nuclear weapons than most. He blogs and edits the most widely read blog on nuclear weapons, Arms Control Wonk. Jeffrey posted and tweeted "'What critics fail to understand . . .' Fuck you, Colonel Meilinger." In the comments on Facebook he explained: "I note the existence of a certain type of officer or bureaucrat who learns the catechism uncritically and who assumes that critical questions represent the failure of the skeptic to have memorized said-same catechism. It's a particularly galling form of intellectual poverty. I regularly find myself having to explain this on Twitter: "No, I understand that's how we do it (or think about it). What I am saying is "That's the wrong way to do it (or think about it)'."

What Jeffrey is angry about is the conflict at the intersection between thought and belief. Jeffrey is a thinker. Col. Meilinger is, apparently, a believer. This got me thinking about the difference between belief and thought and how belief and thought interact in the nuclear weapons debate.
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Ike's Bluff

posted 22 January 14 by Ward
I've been reading Ike's Bluff and it is an interesting and remarkably candid exploration of Ike's personality and role in the development of nuclear weapons policy. The author, Evan Thomas, argues that Ike was a midwesterner (folks who seem nice but are famously hard to read) and that he was a great bluffer. The most impressive evidence he gives is that Ike eventually had to stop playing poker in the military. The problem wasn't that he was racking up debts. The problem was that he was winning so often and so much that he was making enemies. He was a really good bluffer. Thomas argues that Ike, who talked on a number of occasions as if he really meant it when he said the United States would use nuclear weapons, was actually bluffing the whole time.

He never really intended to use nuclear weapons from the beginning.