Destroying the Focal Point

The non-use of nuclear weapons has been a phenomenon of the past 70 years. Since the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been fired in anger despite massive stockpiles, hair-trigger alerts, and the nuclearization of every weapon from ICBMs to 155mm artillery.  This peculiar behavior has been analyzed and rationalized over years, giving rise to theories concerning escalation spirals, limited nuclear war, mutually assured destruction and disarmament.
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North Korea Builds a Missile That Can Hit My House

Following a two and a half month hiatus the North Koreans are back to testing missiles.

Fired on a lofted trajectory North Korea’s new Hwasong 15 ICBM flew 4,475 km high and 950 km downrange on its maiden flight. If the missile were fired on a normal trajectory it would have a range of 13,000 km; long enough to strike my house in the D.C suburbs and the entirety of the continental United States.Read More »

The Consequences of Abandoning the Iran Deal

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is in danger of being scrapped. Widely known as the “Iran Deal” the agreement was designed to block Iran’s path toward a nuclear bomb by limited their ability to produce the necessary fissile material.

By all accounts, including by the Trump administrations own admission, the deal been complied with. However, Iran hawks and the President have been seeking to scrap the deal citing Iran’s belligerence, growing regional power and sponsorship of terrorism. Recently, Trump announced that he plans to decertify the deal, sending it back to the U.S Congress to work out.

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Civil Defense is Dead! Long Live Civil Defense!

North Korea has developed and begun deploying nuclear armed ICBMs capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the western United States. Tensions are rising and Kim Jong Un and Trump are now sparing over a threat to the U.S territory of Guam issued by the regime to fire a salvo of IRBMs at the waters surrounding the American island.

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North Korea Tests an ICBM

As if attempting to troll the United States, the DPRK test fired it’s first ICBM on the Fourth of July. The test was a high altitude “lobbed” trajectory affair that hit 2800 km at its apogee and landed 930 km downrange of the test site. If fired for distance at a normal trajectory the missiles range is estimated at between 6700 km and 8000 km; enough to strike Anchorage and Seattle respectively.

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The INF Is On It’s Deathbed

Since Donald Trump took office nuclear hawks have been on a quest to redevelop America’s nuclear arsenal and dismantle non-proliferation efforts. Senators like Tom Cotton have called for scrapping roughly 30 years of nuclear treaties dating back to the Reagan administration in response the Russia’s violation, with possibly the most important treaty on the chopping block being the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

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What Mass production of North Korean Nuclear Weapons Means

With the successful nuclear test on September North Korea has very likely successfully tested a compact nuclear bomb. The test produced a 5.0 magnitude earthquake and equated to about 10-20 kilotons of explosive force; in the same range as the first American nuclear weapons. The warhead in question is very likely a functional version of the prototype they showed off in April of 2016.

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Don’t Involve Congress in Nuclear Decision Making

As concerns over a Trump presidency grow, more and more people have become concerned about the power of the executive. One of the most talked about concerns has been Trump’s control over America’s vast nuclear arsenal which many fear an unstable Trump could use disproportionately or in a fit of rage.

In response, Representative Ted Lieu has proposed legislation that would require the President and the Secretary of Defense to consult with congressional leaders before launching a nuclear strike. Currently, launching a nuclear attack requires only two people; the President and the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense. While two people are involved the Secretary is an appointee of the president and therefore somewhat beholden to him (or her).

As the General Hayden noted this system is designed for decisiveness, not debate. The reason for this is simple; in many scenarios there is simply no time for such debate. With only 30 minutes between the launch of an ICBM to detonation, this idea is unworkable under most circumstances.

“Launch under attack ” is one such case. In this scenario, enemy forces will have already fired off dozens of missiles armed with hundreds of warheads. Because of detection, confirmation and the process of going though the command, control and communications infrastructure,  the president will have a maximum of just two minutes to decide whether to launch the missiles before the enemy warheads hit American missile solos and destroy them.

Lieu’s proposal would involve having to having to consult with at least one more person during the decision making. Having to locate and consult the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader and receive their concent could easily eat up those two minutes, making a timely response impossible.

Even if launch under attack were to be taken out of the equation, there are other problems with this proposal. Having to consult congressional leaders on nuclear use would mean limited flexibility in other situations that could embolden American adversaries like Russia and China.

In a limited use scenario time may also be critical. The addition friction created in the decision making process could seriously damage the credibility of our deterrent. What would happen if the President and Secretary of Defense have a different strategy than the House Majority Leader and that disagreement stalls action? How long would it take to reconcile those opinions?

If Putin, for example, knew that it might take several hours, or even a day to respond to a limited nuclear strike, it would give him more reason to conduct one. This would be especially true in an escalate to deescalate situation where Putin could conduct a limited strike, then, while leaders debate a response, Russia could use the extra time to sue for peace, solidifying gains before a response could be implemented.

As the Daily Beast noted, there are other ways to derail a delusional president than get Congress involved. A nuclear attack certainly meets the definition of an imminent threat that is firmly within the realm of an executive’s power to react to without asking for the consent of congress.

This should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of Lieu’s idea. If American and Russian weapons were not on hair trigger alert and more time was available to plan a response from the moment of re-alert, then a congressional approval process would have more merit. In a “first use” case as well, where time is less restricted and an unstable president is most likely to abuse power, giving congressional leaders a veto might be beneficial to global security.

That said, in most cases centralized decision making is necessary in wartime and especially in a nuclear crisis. Military command is a process that cannot be democratized; and the more critical the situation, the less room there is for debate. In that sense, launch under attack may be considered a logical extreme that demands the utmost speed an decisiveness.