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Letter of Last Resort

  1. Jan 11, 2009 #1

    BobG

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    Interesting article in Slate: Letter of Last Resort

    An insightful, but humorous response: The letter is a stroke of genius

    Actually, I think the reason MAD worked is that a first strike is unthinkable regardless of whether the other side retaliates. You can't separate military strategy from a nation's economic and social strategies.

    Launching a first strike on the US during the cold war would have destroyed world's economy, not to mention global weather patterns that would eventually bring at least some of the radiation back to the USSR. As isolated as the USSR might have been, destroying the world economy would have made things in the USSR worse; not better.

    The US might have been better able to withstand a first strike on the USSR since the USSR wasn't as significant to the world economy as the US was. The after effects would have still been worse for the US than the stand off that existed. And there's still those darned weather patterns.

    I think the response to the article effectively captures the fact that the retaliation question is irrelevant. It's the fallout from the first strike that deters either side except in the most extreme conditions where their own country is on the verge of non-existence (having been successfully invaded by conventional forces, etc).

    The more appropriate letter would give directions on how the submarine commander should respond if his own government has fallen to foreign forces that now control a nation still filled with living residents. Launching a first stike under those conditions would present a lot tougher dilemma than how to respond if the other side had already completely annihilated the entire population of your country.
     
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  3. Jan 12, 2009 #2

    mgb_phys

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    This was always the problem with the UK's nuclear deterent - convincing an enemy that Britain would use it. Especially since the Royal Navy always insisted on direct control of the weapons by the boats captain - you had to believe the captain was sane enough to have this control but mad enough to pointlessly blow up Moscow (and wouldn't just dump the weapons and head to New Zealand/Easter Island as any sane person would do.)
    The US's big advantage in the cold war was having Curtis LeMay - who left no doubt that he would use the weapons, probably on the USSR - but certainly on someone, if given the chance.

    A friend used to work in this business in the UK - there was a semi-serious discussion that if the UK really believed in nuclear deterence then instead of trident it should have just built a huge bomb in the home counties and detonated it there. Since you don't have to launch them the engineering is much easier and cheaper, all you have to do is build an Ivy Mike type bomb with more and more liquid hydrogen. With a big enough bang you do the same damage to the USSR as you would if a few 100Kt devices had got through.

    I always liked the idea of listening to Radio4 to detect the end of civilisation. this probably only resonates with Brits, but the idea that if there is no more Gardeners Question Time or Mornington Crescent - you might as well end it all, is perfect.
     
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