Insanity as Deterrence

Posted: May 4, 2010 in Culture, Idle Nonsense, Politics

Breaking news today that the U.S. disclosed the size of its nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon said it had a total of 5,113 warheads in its nuclear stockpile at the end of September, down 84 percent from a peak of 31,225 in 1967. The arsenal stood at 22,217 warheads when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

These numbers can’t really come as a surprise to anyone with a couple firing synapses. The idea of deterrence through mutually assured destruction was insane from the outset of the Cold War (and its accompanying paranoia). But seriously, a peak of 31,225 warheads? Overkill much? Do that many targets even exist?

From a strategic perspective, considering we say we hope to never use them, I judge that about a dozen warheads ought to do the trick. It might have been necessary in 1967 to have more to ensure delivery at remote targets, but a nuclear submarine can do that handily today if we can merely wait a few days to position the sub before ending the world. Either way, once that genie is let back out of the bottle, all bets are off and every member of the nuclear club will let fly with theirs thinking that it will be millennia before the radioactive dust settles, at which point no one will know whom to blame (or remember the combatants). Even in the unlikely event no one else fires one off in retaliation or sheer recklessness, the fallout — nuclear and otherwise — of such an event will pretty much render the remainder of the arsenal useless. How many detonations does the U.S. get to add to its tally before we incur the wrath of god? Oh, never mind. We’re not really a god-fearing nation in the end.

On the bright side, we’re down 84% from the peak some 43 insane years ago. If we reduced to 12 warheads in all as I believe adequate, we would be down another 99.98% or so from our current number and still be just about as safe, which is to say, not very safe at all since the entire planet is armed to the teeth. That fact reveals, ironically, that tax dollars being spent on war defense do almost nothing to protect us anymore. We can kill and terrorize others (and make no mistake, that’s what we’ve been doing with our foreign escapades for decades), but we can’t secure ourselves no matter what the rhetoric might be.

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