While most sane people are worried about the effects of a conventional and/or nuclear strike against Iran, that's small beer compared to this.
Foreign Policy magazine has published an even scarier scenario, titled "The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy."
According to Keir Lieber and Daryl Press (two college professors, Notre Dame and Dartmouth, respectively), the United States has achieved disarming first-strike capability that would destroy the nuclear forces of Russia and China.
In short, Mutual Assured Destruction, which has worked so far, is no more.
And, at the worst time possible, when the world is in thrall to the Worst President Ever.
Really scary stuff, below.
The authors argue, persuasively, that our strategic forces have been substantially upgraded with the latest and best technology, while the Russian strategic forces have degraded and the Chinese forces were never much to begin with.
As a result, we can win a surprise first-strike World War III:
To determine how much the nuclear balance has changed since the Cold War, we ran a computer model of a hypothetical U.S. attack on Russia's nuclear arsenal using the standard unclassified formulas that defense analysts have used for decades.
We assigned U.S. nuclear warheads to Russian targets on the basis of two criteria: the most accurate weapons were aimed at the hardest targets, and the fastest-arriving weapons at the Russian forces that can react most quickly. Because Russia is essentially blind to a submarine attack from the Pacific and would have great difficulty detecting the approach of low-flying stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles, we targeted each Russian weapon system with at least one submarine-based warhead or cruise missile. An attack organized in this manner would give Russian leaders virtually no warning.
This simple plan is presumably less effective than Washington's actual strategy, which the U.S. government has spent decades perfecting. The real U.S. war plan may call for first targeting Russia's command and control, sabotaging Russia's radar stations, or taking other preemptive measures -- all of which would make the actual U.S. force far more lethal than our model assumes.
According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM.
This finding is not based on best-case assumptions or an unrealistic scenario in which U.S. missiles perform perfectly and the warheads hit their targets without fail.
Rather, we used standard assumptions to estimate the likely inaccuracy and unreliability of U.S. weapons systems. Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent "harder" (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)
The authors also argue, also persuasively, that pursuit of nuclear weapon primacy has been a U.S. priority for decades:
Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy.
For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal. And the nature of the changes to the current arsenal and official rhetoric and policies support this conclusion.
The improvements to the U.S. nuclear arsenal offer evidence that the United States is actively seeking primacy. The Navy, for example, is upgrading the fuse on the W-76 nuclear warhead, which sits atop most U.S. submarine-launched missiles. Currently, the warheads can be detonated only as air bursts well above ground, but the new fuse will also permit ground bursts (detonations at or very near ground level), which are ideal for attacking very hard targets such as ICBM silos.
Another Navy research program seeks to improve dramatically the accuracy of its submarine-launched missiles (already among the most accurate in the world). Even if these efforts fall short of their goals, any refinement in accuracy combined with the ground-burst fuses will multiply the missiles' lethality.
Such improvements only make sense if the missiles are meant to destroy a large number of hard targets.
So, where are we now?
During the Cold War, Washington relied on its nuclear arsenal not only to deter nuclear strikes by its enemies but also to deter the Warsaw Pact from exploiting its conventional military superiority to attack Western Europe.
It was primarily this latter mission that made Washington rule out promises of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. Now that such a mission is obsolete and the United States is beginning to regain nuclear primacy, however, Washington's continued refusal to eschew a first strike and the country's development of a limited missile-defense capability take on a new, and possibly more menacing, look.
The most logical conclusions to make are that a nuclear-war-fighting capability remains a key component of the United States' military doctrine and that nuclear primacy remains a goal of the United States.
The Russians and the Chinese read Foreign Policy, but probably learned nothing they did not know, since their intelligence services have kept them well-abreast of American strategic capabilities and intentions.
I only hope that Bush is not a messianic madman who would use notional American nuclear weapons primacy to do his worst.
P.S. I read the NYT online every day, and check in here and at other major papers and blogs too much, but I found this major story on Rigorous Intuition, a conspiracy blog that too often has plausible stuff about the murderous stuff the ruling elites are up to.