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We Need a Rational Debate about Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence

Aug. 13, 2016 (EIRNS)—Bruce Blair, an expert on nuclear weapons, a co-founder of the nuclear abolition group Global Zero, an ICBM launch officer in the early 1970s and many other things, wrote in an Aug. 11 commentary in Politico, entitled "Why Trump Is Right To Raise Questions about Nuclear Weapons," that while Donald Trump may not have the competence to answer them, he is raising the right questions about nuclear weapons. Trump’s critics rely on the mantra that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence and that no other use could possibly be contemplated for them. "You would not know it from the criticism of Trump, but there is no guarantee that deterrence will not fail someday," Blair writes. "Deterrence is a psychological construct that requires us to enter the unknowable minds of any number of leaders," among them, Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Valdimir Putin of Russia and even Narendra Modi of India—who has his own version of the nuclear football that follows him everywhere he goes—and the most difficult case of all, Nawaz Sharif, who though he is the Prime Minister of Pakistan may not control his country’s nuclear weapons.

"And deterrence could fail as a result of accidents, unauthorized actions, misreading of enemy intent, and launch on false warning," Blair notes.

"And as it turns out, just as Trump has suggested, our nuclear plans in fact do envision the actual use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations including scenarios in which deterrence has already failed or is expected to fail imminently."

Blair adds that the U.S. has nuclear attack plans in place for Iran, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and has had them, in the past, against Iraq, Syria, and Libya. None of those countries actually had nuclear weapons, either.

Blair raises even more questions about U.S. nuclear war planes.

"Why do we aim most of our weapons at the opposing nuclear forces if our goal is simply to deter? Might it possibly be to try to prevail if deterrence gets wobbly or crumbles? Why hasn’t our nuclear priesthood settled for the ability to destroy every major city in Russia and China as the bedrock of deterrence. Why do they demand far more?"

None of this, Blair maintains, is explained by deterrence theory.

"Donald Trump has done the nation a favor by raising a host of legitimate and important questions about the role and purpose of America’s very large arsenal of more than 4,000 nuclear weapons in operation or reserve,"

Blair concludes.

"He himself lacks the expertise to answer them but his ignorance is hardly greater than most of his critics. Would that the latter open their own minds, show some curiosity, do their homework, and then add a dollop of intelligent insight into the debate. A healthy national conversation and debate over the deterrence question are long overdue."

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