23 November 2003

Low-Yield Nukes - Why spend money on useless weapons?

Does deterrence really depend on the refinement of a nation's nuclear weapons or on its pure and simple possession of nukes, crude or fine? (The fact that Bush hasn't attacked North Korea suggests an answer to that question.) Will deploying a refined nuclear weapon - say, a low-yield earth-penetrator - deter a foe from even bothering to dig underground bunkers? Or will it spur him to dig deeper or to disguise the bunker better? (The few conventional bunker-busters used in Iraq did their jobs well. The problem was that the bunkers were empty when the bomb struck, if in fact they were bunkers to begin with.) Will deploying such weapons dissuade a foe from building his own nuclear arsenal - or encourage him to develop one as quickly as possible, on the theory that otherwise the United States, newly armed with more usable nuclear weapons, might threaten to lob a few his way?

Finally, is any American president really going to order the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, for any reason, except possibly where not merely the vital interests but the very survival of the nation is at stake? (And if survival is at stake, the refinement of the weapon used is likely to be a peripheral issue.) If we're not going to use these mini-nukes, if having them doesn't enhance deterrence, and if developing them may encourage currently abstaining nations to build nukes of their own - for protection, if not emulation - then what is the point of speeding down this road any farther?

What indeed? But then would any American president ever attack a terrorist network without UN sanction by invading a nation not allied with that network?

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