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Declassified documents show why the US and the USSR came close to war in 1973 (nytimes.com)
214 points by nabla9 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 198 comments

> For many years we thought the aggressive Soviet behavior during the war was a ploy to undercut American influence, or gain access to oil or warm-water ports. The new evidence suggests it was simply a case of bad crisis management.

Never attribute to malice what you attribute to incompetence....

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.

When two parties cannot effectively communicate, that’s true. Most of the time when a real conversation can be had these issues quickly dissolve, but having a conversation like that in a political environment or large corporate environment can be super tough to make happen. It’s sad we struggle to find common ground with others and resort to war and second guessing our “competition”.

I love everything about this sentence.

It also feels very relevant to current events.

> It also feels very relevant to current events.

What events are you referring to? Having a heart-to-heart honest communication isn't going to solve shit if the parties are greedy as fuck, or out-and-out Nazis.

> What events are you referring to?

A lot of events, all over, but mostly politically and with offenders on both sides. Neither is interested in even trying to understand the underlying emotions and reasons for the actions of the other. They're both so bad at understanding each other that at this point all they see is malice.

> the parties are greedy as fuck, or out-and-out Nazis.

Case in point.

Don't forget; Henry Kissinger was involved.

Oh shit.

I should light a candle for St. Stanislav PEtrov.

Remember to light one for Vasili Arkhipov and another for John Bordne, on 27th and 28th of this month, respectively.


>When Mr. Brezhnev’s message arrived, Mr. Nixon was reported to be indisposed; Mr. Kissinger and the White House chief of staff, Alexander Haig, decided not to wake him up. Instead, Mr. Kissinger called together a meeting of principals to consider America’s response. They moved the nuclear alert level to Defcon 3, the highest since the Cuban missile crisis.

Maybe time to wake the president if you're chaining the defense condition...

Nixon was suffering from mental illness and taking daily mediation without a prescription. He was under heavy stress from the Watergate scandal.

Schlesinger (Secretary of Defence) ordered military not to react to orders from the White House unless he cleared them first. Nixon ordered bombing raids that were silently canceled by Kissinger.

This demonstrates a break down of democratic order IMO.

If the president is incapable, as Nixon was in your description (and in https://www.alternet.org/drugs/huge-role-alcohol-has-played-... linked down-thread), then there's a procedure wherein the VP takes over, isn't there? Not performing this procedure is deciding to contradict the democratic will of the people.

Now, I can see how you might not want to publicly remove the president in a military crisis situation; but the way it was done seems completely wrong, just assuming power without due process, countermanding the president whilst they remain the president .. (as Nixon was CinC surely that's reason for a Court Marshall?)

Did the people ever react to that, have anyone punished? Or are the USAmerican people happy to have a VP secretly assuming power, a Secretary of Defence that chooses when to obey orders, etc?

In theory that's how it works, but removing the president needs VP and majority of the cabinet must agree. After that 2/3rd of the Senate must agree. If Consensus can't be achieved, things become worse than before.

Democratic order, democracy and the law pale in significance compared to the need for the nation to survive or human race to to survive in the worst case.

When the global nuclear war is on the table, I hope that everyone involved understands that all vows and laws should go out of the window if need be. Only thing that matters is preventing the war, whatever means necessary. Even murder is morally acceptable.

The president always has the option to dismiss any of his cabinet secretaries, so it's not really a breakdown of the democratic order.

On the scale of the presidency not carrying out some particular bombing raid is like some minion in an office setting not complying with an order from his boss because he knows it's the right thing. You're somewhat risking your job, and if the boss really cared he could get it done with or without your malicious non-compliance.

Remember that cabinet officers and military personnel take an oath to uphold the constitution of the US and to "bear true faith and allegiance to the same" Fealty to country supercedes following orders, always.

Sure, we on the sidelines remember, but do the current crop of cabinet officers and military personnel?

NO, this is NOT a simple instance of "breakdown of democratic order".

Also, all military personnel are not only allowed to disobey any unlawful order, they have a DUTY to do so. Trumps order to kill Assad is an example. [1]

Moreover even with potentially legal orders, there are orders that present military professionals with moral dilemmas, "...decisions wherein the needs of the institution appear to weigh on both sides of the equation. Whether the issuer of the order is a superior officer or a civilian leader, the same principles apply. In the face of such a dilemma, the military professional must make a decision, which cannot simply owe its justification to the principle of obedience, and must take responsibility for that decision. " [2]

It was rather firmly established at Nuremberg that "following orders" is no excuse for immoral or illegal behavior. Up and down the chain of command, every person is expected to take responsibility for their actions. Those actions may include modifying or refusing to implement orders. The consequences may be anything from commendation or promotion to court martial or death.

Yes, they are taking a risk in countermanding the POTUS/CIC. They are also exercising responsibility.

[1] http://www.ucmjdefense.com/resources/military-offenses/the-l...


I was trying to avoid being too verbose and hitting too many side issues, which is hard.

The crux of it as I see it is that if you decide your orders aren't legal, then your SO surely should be relieved of command, isn't that the proper process? Not relieving them of command, but "simply" choosing to not follow some orders is breaking the visibility of who is in charge. In the case of the president the people aren't being informed that their elected nominee (or the electoral college that they voted in's nominee) is no longer in charge -- this is why I consider it a breakdown in democratic order. Not that the orders were countermanded, but that it was covered up.

Now, as I said you may not want it to be public immediately; but executive/cabinet members should be aware, and their should be official record and once the immediate crisis has passed then there would need to be a process to follow to keep the incapable/immoral officer (eg POTUS) out of command and quickly establish a new figurehead/leader.

Yes, I agree that the ideal standard is holding responsible the person making the bad orders, and relieving them of duty.

That said, it is often impractical, or would create too much of a problem. E.g., the person currently occupying the President's chair and CIC title, is apparently issuing illegal orders (e.g., 'kill Assad'). The ideal solution is the 25th Amendment to relieve him of duty. The problem is that this requires the VP, majority of the Cabinet, then 2/3 of the Senate to execute. Even bigger hurdle for impeachment

This will simply not happen in today's environment, so what is someone in Mattis' position to do? Simply follow orders and become complicit in the crime, or find a way to undo them?

One of the key lessons I learned from several people I worked with who had held US Mil command positions, was that leadership is NOT about giving orders -- many civilians think that mil leadership is easy because of the Chain of Command and orders.

If you think that, then the best case is that you order "Do X" and your second in command says "Do what the chief says" -- i.e., he adds zero value. Leadership is about making those under your command want to execute your orders to the best of their ability.

The person currently occupying the President's chair fails miserably at that basic standard, the party supports his every move for a variety of reasons. Therefore, those under his command are stuck with workarounds.

> This will simply not happen in today's environment, so what is someone in Mattis' position to do?

The man has a press secretary. He could resign today, talk about this, and actively campaign for impeachment. The man has a pension, it’s not his god given right to be a cabinet member. Nobodys asking him to shoot his mother.

Not only would this be a Big Fucking Deal, it also forces stuff like congress passing more laws to prevent attempted beheadings of foreign governments.

Principles only exist if you’re willing to pay a personal cost to enforce them. Otherwise it’s just lip service.

By taking the steps you propose, Mattis would promptly eliminate his ability to do any good, and likely fail at preventing the harm he is trying to prevent.

And yes, if the person occupying the President's chair had actually given a specific direct order, as in "As President, I'm hereby ordering you specifically to implement a plan to attack and kill another head of state, specifically Bashir Al Assad; do it by next week or I'll relieve you of duty and court martial you for insubordination", Mattis would have little choice to either comply, resign, or wait for the MPs to arrest him.

However, it is extremely unlikely that the order was that specific, and so both creates the moral dilemma referenced above, and the opportunity to use discretion in how the request is implemented.

And even if such a "Big Fucking Deal" happened, in this environment, it's a fart in a hurricane, and if you actually expect this congress to act as you expected, perhaps we should talk about this bridge I have for sale...

We have the same thing going on right now, but without the excuse of novelty.

> suffering from mental illness and taking daily mediation without a prescription

The reality, given what we know about Nixon, is likely simpler: he was drunk.


Well, this is difficult. See, people handle drunkenness differently. Churchill reportedly could down a decent amount without losing his wits.

Churchill was an alcoholic, not a drunk. It’s a fine distinction, but that distinction is exactly this. Churchill continually drank just enough alcohol to prevent withdrawal symptoms but rarely got truly drunk.

As shocking as Churchill's apparent regimen of barbiturates and amphetamines might seem, aside from the transition for barbiturates to benzos (which the article mentions), that's not too different from some of the more common psychiatric medications prescribed today. Sure, there's more of a formalized mental health process, where you have to be diagnosed with "anxiety" or "ADD", but that's largely because we now have, perhaps, a more systemic understanding of what conditions can be effectively treated this way. To name another well-known user of prescription stimulants, Paul Erdos seems like a perfect example of someone with adult ADD decades before adult ADD was recognized as a real condition.

Well that is terrifying / rumor has it not unlike our current POTUS with the military rumored to be ignoring orders.

Comforting at least that there are people responsible enough to ignore those orders.

Do you have any sources for that? I haven't personally run across any rumors to that effect...

I think it was in the book that came out or one of the many sources from inside the white house where supposedly Trump ordered Asad killed and the order was simply ignored. That was the most dramatic, but not the only report of his own people working around his orders. There have been quite a few such news reports.

This is a more accurate summary. It was reported in Fear by Bob Woodward.

“Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis reportedly assured Trump that he would look into it, but then told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.”

At Mattis’s direction, national security officials allegedly drew up options for a more conventional response, including the cruise missile strike on a Syrian military installation that Trump eventually approved.


I read that book the other day. At one point they seemed to land on a policy where only signed memoranda were accepted as actual Presidential orders by the rest of the executive branch, meaning that Trump’s tweets and stray utterances could be ignored if he was distracted long enough not to formally turn them into orders. Once an order was delivered, they could also selectively slow down implementation of it.

This scares me so much. A buffoon with his finger on the button.

If it comforts you, “the button” (the nuclear launch protocol doesn’t involve a literal button) requires confirmation from the Secretary of Defense, and the current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, is one of the most reliable and trustworthy people you could even imagine to be in that position. And everything written about him in Woodward’s book only supports that impression.

The DoD was even one of the more prominent examples of an executive agency choosing to buffer Trump’s impulses—when Trump announced a ban on transgendered people serving in the military (which was, according to Woodward, in response to a more nuanced discussion about whether the military should pay for or perform reassignment surgeries—Trump was in the discussion and hours later abruptly decided to tweet), DoD responded with a statement that they had received no Presidential order and that no policy change would be made until an order was received and a plan for implementation was devised.

Another repeated theme in the book was the apparent fact that Trump just basically says things and makes decisions and then doesn’t consistently remember to follow up on them, meaning that offhand Trumpian pronouncements that nobody ever put into writing would go forgotten—at least until Trump was provoked into pressing the issue, perhaps by one of his more sycophantic aides.

I actually feel just a tiny bit sorry for Trump. I have the increasing impression that he’s a deeply simple man being manipulated in competing directions by everyone around him. It’s an impression I’m very dubious of, because Republican presidents are routinely perceived as charismatic, naive simpletons being manipulated by conspiracies of sinister right-wing advisors. Both Reagan and W. Bush were suspected of this, but there’s considerable behind-the-scenes evidence to the contrary. I’d be interested in any other reports or memoirs from behind the scenes of the Trump administration, but so far it looks like Trump really is the real deal. The only difference is that the rise of Trump was enabled and precipitated by a complete fracturing of the Republican Party, and many different factions are all trying to pull Trump their way.

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent Priest?"


Very interesting!

>I have the increasing impression that he’s a deeply simple man being manipulated in competing directions by everyone around him.

He literally watches Fox News and tweets about it immediately afterward sometimes.

He really seems to be that uninformed / scared / elderly person who doesn't know any better ..... with a lot of ego.

>He really seems to be that uninformed / scared / elderly person who doesn't know any better ..... with a lot of ego.

No one would hire a surgeon who had never been to medical school, or a mechanic whose only knowledge about cars came from watching Top Gear, but for some reason we're willing to elect a President based primarily on his lack of expertise in (and disdain for) politics and the law.

Traditionally, it is said that the problem with politics is that it is full of politicians.

Sure, but cynicism is a double edged sword. Having Donald Trump is a solution to the problem of having a "politician" in charge, but now, as they say, America has n+ problems.

Such as the likelihood that he trusts Fox News more than his own cabinet, or his calling out hits on people likely because he just assumes that's how government works.

> If it comforts you, “the button” (the nuclear launch protocol doesn’t involve a literal button) requires confirmation from the Secretary of Defense, and the current Secretary of Defense, James Mattis.

This is not how it works, the president has the sole authority to decide to launch a nuclear attack. Quoting from Wikipedia[1].

> This verification process [involving the Secretary of Defense] deals solely with verifying that the order came from the actual President. The Secretary of Defense has no veto power and must comply with the president's order.

And from another article[2]:

> If the Secretary of Defense does not concur, then the President may in his sole discretion fire the Secretary. The Secretary of Defense has legal authority to approve the order, but cannot veto it.

That quote is paraphrasing e.g. this source in the New York Times[3]:

> “There’s no veto once the president has ordered a strike,” said Franklin C. Miller, a nuclear specialist who held White House and Defense Department posts for 31 years before leaving government service in 2005. “The president and only the president has the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.”

Furthermore, the reference to the "button" (nuclear football) and the Secretary of Defense being involved is only a reference to the protocol around that specific launch system, but there's other methods of launching nuclear weapons available to the president, and which operate at his sole discretion.

Here's what ex-Secretary of Defense Bill Perry said about it[4]:

> “What is clear, is that the secretary of Defense does not have veto power on it. This is a decision of the president’s,” Perry told Politico’s “Off Message” podcast.

> [...]

> “The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command. The Defense secretary is not necessarily in that loop,” Perry said in the interview.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_football#Operation

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Command_Authority

3. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/05/science/donald-trump-nucl...

4. https://thehill.com/homenews/news/360277-former-pentagon-chi...

While there isn’t a formal SecDef veto, in a situation as extreme as “rogue president ordering nuclear launch for no good reason”, the “verification” step is still a non-trivial safeguard.

There’s also no obligation for the military to obey an illegal order.

It really is just a few people in a room that decide how to do this. This Bloomberg article has more details: https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2016-nuclear-wea...

The verification step is just that they have to acknowledge that the person ordering the launch is indeed the president. They get no say in whether it happens.

    > There’s also no obligation for the
    > military to obey an illegal order.
The entire system is designed as to minimize the discretion of commanders on the ground.

Once the launch order goes submarine crews or crews in various missile silos aren't going to be given the chance to check what Trump has been saying on Twitter, and they have no independent way to verify that North Korean / Russian / Chinese ICBMs aren't already in-flight heading towards every major city in the US.

Sure; the place to sabotage the launch process would be within the Situation Room, and the procedures make it pretty clear that the President’s word is final. And that does make the nuclear deterrent more credible.

OTOH, an illegal attempt by the President to order a nuclear first strike could conceivably be stopped before the order left the National Command Authority, and the apparent violations of policy would be legally defensible after the fact.

If the President orders a blatantly illegal, unjustified nuclear first strike, the outcome will be millions of innocent deaths and the probable complete devastation of the United States. Refusing to verify the order, physically isolating the President from the ability to communicate down the chain of command, or even more drastic actions could be papered over and excused after the fact a lot more easily than “just following orders” that would lead to the largest and most pointless loss of life in human history.

There was a really good radiolab episode about this exact topic.


> I actually feel just a tiny bit sorry for Trump. I have the increasing impression that he’s a deeply simple man being manipulated in competing directions by everyone around him.

I agree with your assessment, but I feel sorry for the rest of the world more than the useful idiot.

To be born with incredible privilege combined with such a lack of insight and a feeling of entitlement would not be the heaviest cross ever borne.

They would also steal orders off his desk before he could sign them. This worked because he wouldn't remember enough to realize it had gone missing until weeks afterwards, if ever.

I believe that was before Kelly came in as chief of staff. He seems to have things more under control, although that means he's in control of a lot more than he really should be. The latest report is that Trump wants to fire him but can't figure out how because he relies on Kelly to fire people.

Most people say: "IF anyone wanted to invade the US, now is the time." They aren't wrong, but it just illustrates how little anyone is interested in an all-out conflict with America.

I'd struggle to not derisively laugh at anyone who said that in front of me. "They aren't wrong..?"

To really believe that, you'd have to discount or be ignorant the massive military spending advantage.

Maybe you believe that our government is in such shambles that they wouldn't _respond_ to an attack. If any error would be made, it would be an overwhelmingly.. excessively disproportionate response to any aggression.

MAD is still in play... If anyone wanted to immenitize the eschaton, now's the time to invade.

I mean, maybe if you think that an ineffective White House will somehow stop cruise missiles from flying. And the entire nuclear system is designed to function perfectly well even if the entire government is wiped out, so...

"Indisposed" in this case means "blackout drunk."

Late 1973 - when I was fourteen - was a seriously scary time. I have a very clear memory of hearing on the news one Saturday afternoon that Arab forces were moving against Israel, and of hastening outside to tell my father, who was mowing the lawn. I still consider it a defining moment in my life: Like September 2001, or the Kennedy assasination. Always surprised that noone else seems to recall it like this. To me, that was truly the start of the dreary seventies, very much the deat knell of the last remaining sixties optimism. Oil shortage real or imagined, rising unemployment, a crisis spirit that stayed with us for many years and still cast shadows. And the nuclear alert. It was known at the time that the US had gone on heightened alert. It scared me shitless, I remember.

I’m reminded of the lyric, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” That loss of optimism is exactly what Henley was singing about.

Good lord I’ve heard before about how there was a close superpower conflict in 1973. This is very alarming, and it could still happen between the US and Russia or China.

We’re really playing with Fire if you look at the number of close calls there have been with nuclear weapons. The only sane way we can carry on guaranteeing a decent existence for mankind is to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons.



It's impossible to build a world free of nuclear weapons. A lot more countries will have them in the future, not fewer.

North Korea, the poorest country on earth, has demonstrated how it can be done by anyone. Before that Pakistan and India demonstrated how easily it can be done with minimal consequences.

Poor and small nations will always be at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to conventional military conflict. Taiwan would love nothing more than to have a 100 nuke stockpile right now, it's the only way they don't get invaded and annexed by China against their will. There is nothing that can stop China as things are today, the US isn't going to commit suicide to save them from annexation. Those nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence when facing off with an overwhelming opponent, another thing North Korea correctly figured out.

There's no scenario where countries like Pakistan or North Korea don't pursue nuclear weapons to compensate for their weakness or specific context. To say nothing of that pursuit on the basis of conquering rivals or ensuring dictatorships or kingdoms.

Iran is guaranteed to acquire nukes in the near future, both for their desire to be able to stand-off with Israel on an equal footing and to deter the US. Iran can't fight with the US in a conventional manner at all, the US can disable their entire economy and take down their air force and navy without ever invading. There's one tangible solution from their point of view.

If you're Vietnam, and China becomes a monster bent on conquering Asia, with a $40 trillion economy and an unlimited supply of soldiers, how do you stop them from taking your country? There's one answer.

Until there are no very powerful military nations, and all nations have similar numbers of soldiers, budgets and hardware, nuclear weapons will remain desirable for defensive purposes if nothing else.

South Africa had a successful nuclear weapons program that they chose to dismantle, so it's not an inevitability.


South Africa has some distinct geopolitical advantages not shared by Pakistan, North Korea, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, etc.

They're not technically at war with a nuclear-armed power (North Korea). They're not faced with a neighbor with incalculable manpower advantages (India, Pakistan) or nuclear weapons (same).

Anyway, I would characterize South Africa as a unique situation vs a reason for optimism, but I'm also deeply pessimistic about nearly everything.

Is South Africa's situation really that unique when most of the world isn't at war with a neighbour?

If anything, the situation in Pakistan, North Korea, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel etc. are the unique cases - that is essentially a whose-who of regional conflicts

South Africa dismantled their program because the ruling white minority- watching de Klerk negotiate with Mandela to end Apartheid- didn't trust the ANC (read: Nelson Mandela) to have nuclear weapons. Absent that political handover, I'm not sure that they would ever have dismantled the program. It is hard to destroy military-industrial bureaucracies, once created and given resources.

I know - but that wasn't the argument being made

It is relevant though, because the political calculus between South Africa and its neighbors changed with the handover to the ANC. There were a lot of skirmishes between South Africa's apartheid government and its neighbors that supported/harbored the ANC military wing. Asking why South Africa developed nukes in the first place and why it voluntarily gave them up can provide a useful template for denuclearization.

Aside: the fissile material is still stockpiled and there was a break-in attempt at the storage facility a few years ago

I'll grant that most of the world is at relative peace, but as long as a few feel that their existence is at risk, it will be nearly impossible to get rid of nuclear weapons, which was the original point.

South Africa shows that a country can get rid of its weapons, but it's not a particularly relevant example to those that still have them, or are likely to add them.

There's also the point that a lot of countries aren't at war precisely because they and/or their opponents have nukes. If the nukes disappeared then so would the reasons for the cease fire.

>North Korea, the poorest country on earth, has demonstrated how it can be done by anyone.

North Korea is not even close to being as poor as the reputation bestowed upon it by the US establishment.

If it were, space rockets and nukes would simply have been out of the question (as they were in the 90s). You don't tend to find the best rocket scientists living in mud huts.

It's still hardly a rich country but industrially they're surprisingly profligate and while their famous famine weighs heavily upon them (esp. in the form of stunted heights) it was 25 years ago. About the only thing there is still a massive, visceral shortage of is oil (because embargoes).

No, they are fairly poor. Just look at the GDP list from the United Nations in 2016: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi... I'm sure it's worse now at the embargoes have really started to bite. It looks like they may be dropping their nuclear weapons, which if done, most of the sanctions would probably be dropped.

Those numbers are a joke. They're the most secretive country in the world and they don't really share economic data. It really can't be overstated just how much wild guesswork is involved in coming up with those figures.

An economist weighs in here: https://www.38north.org/2012/07/rfrank071612/

Moreover, most institutions will systematically under rather than overestimate their economic activity from what scraps of data they do have. You wouldn't, after all, win political capital in the UN or the CIA by declaring the north korean economic model to be more successful than it really is... nobody wants to hear that.

But there's a difference between being middle of the pack (113/211) and being one of the poorest countries. I'd also argue that GDP isn't a great measure of NK's wealth.

North Korea is not dropping it's nuclear weapons. No country that has ever tested 1 weapon- leave alone 6, and gotten to quite sophisticated designs- has ever given them up, and North Korea will not be the first.

Also, the embargoes are weaker now than they were a year ago, so I'm not sure that I would say that they have really started to bite. China and Russia both backed off the pressure after the Singapore summit, and their cooperation is essential for an effective embargo.

# No country that has ever tested 1 weapon- leave alone 6, and gotten to quite sophisticated designs- has ever given them up

South Africa did give up its nuclear weapons. Complete disarmament.

Number of tests South Africa conducted[1]: 0 Number of levitated pits that South Africa tested: 0

I don't know why you think this comment was disagreeing with what I said.

[1]: Like most observers today, I think that the Vela Incident was not a RSA test. I tend to think it was not a nuclear test at all, which does differ from the majority opinion.

Welp, we posted an almost identical comment at the same time.

haha so we did.

did you visit too?

Unfortunately not, but I'd love to in the near future. What was your experience on the ground?

To be fair, North Korea bought a lot of their nuclear technology from Pakistan, which stole some of it from a European civilian nuclear program. But you're right that it's relatively easy if a country has the will, money, and other resources to put into a nuclear program. South Africa did it even while facing heavy sanctions.


Nuclear weapons are equalizers among nations like handguns are equalizers among men. The people most vulnerable don't want to be picked on so they arm themselves if they can. Big nations pick on small nations when they know they won't get hurt doing so. Look at Iraq and Libya.

Libya is an especially good example, since it had a fairly advanced nuclear program at one point but gave it up.

Keep going. Then what happened...?

Ah, yes, Obama and Clinton went in, they saw, and they killed Qaddafi. The man surely deserved it, but! But he had made a deal with Bush 43 that needed to be respected so that others in the future too might pick a nuclear-free policy.

Obama single-handedly made the world a more dangerous place by killing Qaddafi. He made it that much more difficult for his successors (not just Trump) to negotiate nuclear disarmament with NK or Iran, for example, though in the future there will likely be others too. To think, Obama won a Nobel peace prize...

I wish sober people had argued this -and prevailed- at the time. I don't know, really, why the Libya adventure happened. It shouldn't have. I wonder if Bush 43 tried to get Obama to not do it, and if so, I wonder why Obama went ahead anyways.

It was an intervention in the Libyan civil war by 19 countries. And Gaddafi was killed by Libyan rebels. Blaming Obama as "single handedly" killing Gaddafi is anti-historical, you also left out that the outcome Obama considered to be his biggest regret.

And what nuclear disarmament with Iran? They're already disarmed. All of the highly enriched uranium has been given up. The JCPOA was specifically designed with the expectation of Iran cheating. That unilateral withdrawal is far worse for nuclear non-proliferation going forward. But this is completely consistent with John Bolton who was likewise involved when DPRK withdrew from the NPT. But it's OK, we have a "very stable genius" in office who can only make himself look better by saying everyone else over the past 50 years has done a terrible job, and will never admit he made a mistake.

It is possible but it would mean everyone should agree to dismantle them. It would have to mean citizentry stopping this military madness. The US as global military hegemon would have to be part of that.

It's not that easy. Verification is a big deal. And not just verification of disarmament, but verification and controls to prevent re-armament.

The world is awash in Plutonium, sadly.

There are a great many nuclear power stations producing Plutonium. Japan and SK can easily make nuclear weapons on short notice with barely anyone noticing, and they're not the only ones -- I'm sure Germany could too, and perhaps also Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and others.

A wholesale switch to Thorium reactors and/or dismantling of all Uranium-/Plutonium-burning reactors would be needed too.

And even then, we'd need controls on the unavoidably huge stockpiles of Uranium and Plutonium. And the Uranium mines would have to be demonstrably shut down and controlled.

It would be fantastically easier to... have just a few nuclear-armed superpowers enforcing a no-new-membership rule for the world's nuclear club. This should be a LOT easier to agree to... and yet here we are with Russia and China (and the EU!) cheering Iran and NK on!!

So you see, we can't globally agree even to the easy measures that would reduce the risk of nuclear war. How will we even get to disarmament then?

To actually get global nuclear disarmament would be oh so much harder than that still. That makes unilateral nuclear disarmament a non-starter.

The best case scenario right now is that we get no new nuclear-armed states after NK (and Iran, which I presume has nukes now), and even that is in doubt. If the U.S. were to intervene in any other aspiring new nuclear club members... the lesson to draw would be: develop nukes really fast, fast enough to get inside the American political OODA loop and make one's nuclear status a fait accompli. If the U.S. does not intervene... then the lesson will be: every country can and should develop nuclear weapons. That all means that the worst-case scenario right now is a stampede to join the nuclear club. Saudi Arabia? Egypt? Brazil? Chile? Vietnam? SK? Japan? Philippines? All of them will find reasons to develop nukes very soon.

So you see, it really is impossible -- at least for a fairly long forseeable future -- to get nuclear disarmament. It's all going to get much worse before it gets better. In that context simply making sure MAD does not stop working (due to plausible deniability from having so many nuclear-armed countries) becomes the highest priority and the best possible outcome for a long, long time.

Hate to be a pessimist. But really, nuclear weapons policy requires realism.

If you want nuclear disarmament, then perhaps the only thing you can do right now is hope that the Trump administration and, if need be, its successors, make progress on disarming NK and Iran. Then and only then will the slide towards more and more nuclear-armed nations stop (at least for a while). Then and only then can we discuss measures to begin disarming existing nuclear club members.

> North Korea, the poorest country on earth,...

North Korea is not even close to being the poorest country on Earth. That’s your bias showing.

We actually have slowly begun having less and less nuclear weapons, you just don't hear about it


This is true, but once you start looking into it is highly misleading. A huge (and maybe only) reason for this is advances in targeting systems.

In the 70s and 80s targeting systems were much worse, so you might expect to send tens of nukes to destroy a single reinforced bunker, since many would miss by hundreds of meters to kilometers. So often you needed tens of nukes for a single strategic target.

Nowadays targeting systems are so good and launch / reentry vehicles so reliable that a single nuke can hit exactly in the right x-y coordinate and in the exact z coordinate sweetspot to destroy that bunker. So you don't need as many.

So the number of nukes has gone down, but the destructive power is quite similar, although I suppose in the event of an all-out war we'll have less fallout.

"So the number of nukes has gone down, but the destructive power is quite similar" is very, very false.

The military efficiency is quite similar, however, the destructive power has dropped significantly - these targeting improvements resulted in much less powerful warheads being necessary to achieve the same goal, so not only there's much, much less warheads (10000 vs 60000 at the height of cold war, and "only" 3000 of those 10000 are available at short notice) but also each warhead is much less destructive, the "default" warheads have gone down from multiple megatons to 100-150 kilotons.

This means that an all-out war will not only have much less fallout than in 70s, but also much less civilian casualties, much less destruction of cities, etc, etc. In the 70s, if a military base near a city would be targeted, then the city would be eliminated along with the base; now it'd likely be targeted with just something like 100kt bomb with much smaller impact; if the target was in the middle of the city, then most of the city would survive.

It is still perverse that we allow some few countries to stockpile 100 of thousands of Nagasakis. All of the world is held hostage to the whim of a hand full old men in the US, China and Russia.

A big reason why this stockpile is considered necessary is to prevent questions in the form of "why should we allow ..." - if you have such a stockpile, then the obvious answer to any such questions is that you don't have to ask for permission for anything ever, as nobody can force you to do anything or prevent you from doing what you want, you have the ability to not care about what someone would "allow" you to do. This is the ultimate guarantee of "noone orders me around" sovereignty; if it was technically possible for the world to disallow USA, Russia or China "to stockpile 100 of thousands of Nagasakis", then it might become possible for the world to disallow USA, Russia or China some other actions against other countries or their own people, and that's not acceptable to their leaders.

It's good that you make the distinction between leaders and population, because when it comes to nuclear weapons we are all losers.


I'm not terribly comforted by this. The outcome would still be a disaster on a scale never seen before, and would wreck modern civilization.

It baffles me how the threat of nuclear war has essentially disappeared from the public consciousness. People seem to think that the danger evaporated with the USSR, but it's still there, as likely as it ever was, quite possibly more so now that there are so many more nuclear powers.

That is a really interesting point. We've been so conditioned that nuclear war == "end of humanity" that if it happened as you described, everyone would lose their minds for no real reason (inasmuch as the consequences would be no worse than for a conventional war).

But taking that further, what is the point then, of taking out your enemy's bases or bunkers? I realize how dense that question sounds. But in the context of a surgical nuclear strike, ok you wiped most of their airbases off the face of the earth...now what?

It seems rather pointless unless you intend to actually invade, in which case you're in for millions of very hostile civilians and not much to gain

The realistic scenarios of nuclear war occur as an escalation of some large scale conventional conflict.

If you take out enemy airbases and nuclear capability, then you can use tactical nukes (or, more likely, you already started using them) to win that conventional war and achieve whatever goals you had in it. There's no reason to invade - just as with Japan in 1945, you can subjugate a country without invading it

That would seem to indicate that reducing civilian loss wouldn't be a likely result of targeting improvements. After all, we ended the war in Japan by intentionally inflicting civilian casualties to force surrender. Seems likely future leaders would make the same calculation. So, the strategy would likely involve destroying the opponent's ability to retaliate add then start massacring civilians until you get an unconventional surrender.

Carpet bombing failed to undermine morale both in Britain and Germany. Here's an anecdote: the village priest when I was little lived through WW II and was a pacifist, a serious one, but he had a vicious hatred for Bomber-Harris, as he was called.

For the lazy like me, here's wikipedia's article on sir Arthur "bomber" Harris:


The hostility can be dealt with, if you are sufficiently bestial. Reinhard Heydrich did suppress the resistance in Czechoslovakia, and the reprisals after his assassination convinced Allied leadership never to mount another assassination attempt of Nazi top brass.

Thank you for mentioning this. It is an astonishing story that I did not know.


To be more precise, recent improvements in hard target kill probabilities are actually due to improvements in fuzing rather than improvements in targeting. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a rather good article describing the tech and its strategic implications: https://thebulletin.org/2017/03/how-us-nuclear-force-moderni...

This is mostly wrong.

For a period accuracy on ICBMs wasn't very great (on the order of a kilometer), which is why they made use of very high yield weapons in the several megaton range. Large warheads were necessary to take out targets (such as population centers) with those accuracy levels. Then several things changed: accuracy improved greatly, the ability to put multiple warheads on a single missile arrived (MIRVing), and anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM) started taking off. This lead to the use of more, higher accuracy, lower yield warheads to take out targets. You could blanket a city with sub-megaton MIRVed warheads instead of using one big 10 megaton bomb. And then the calculus of "but how many will be lost to the ABM systems?" came into play, which resulted in use of "penetration aids" like decoys as well as the deployment of vast numbers of warheads to ensure enough of them made it through. That led to a massive rapid escalation in warhead deployment during the '60s and '70s until the ABM treaty flattened it out.

But this is only half the story. The other half is the massive deployment of tactical (battlefield) nukes. With the invention of smaller nuclear warheads combined with the massive production capability of the weapons procurement pipelines in the US and USSR it became possible to deploy tens of thousands of tactical warheads. These would be used for everything from anti-ship missiles and torpedoes to anti-aircraft weapons to short range ground strike missiles.

The late Cold War and post Cold War arms limitations significantly reduced the deployed number of warheads of both the US and USSR. They massively curtailed the number of tactical nukes deployed, and they resulted in a lot of "de-MIRVing" of missiles. A modern Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine can carry 24 missiles each of which can carry up to 12 W-88 (475 Kt) warheads. Potentially that's up to 288 warheads and over 130 megatons of total destructive power, basically WWIII in a can. However, today they carry far fewer warheads than that due to treaty limitations. Similarly, most of our land based ICBMs have been de-MIRVed and we've retired new weapons systems (like the MX/Peacekeeper) which were heavily MIRVed.

All of this has translated into far fewer warheads in service or on alert and a much reduced overall destructive capability. It is still an overwhelmingly enormous nuclear destructive capability but it has been reduced significantly through treaty obligations over the years.

The ideal outcome of a nuclear war would be an exchange that destroys all military installations of all sides with the smallest nessesary nukes and no civilian casulties. In that sense, increased targeting capabilities are great.

Now we just need to work on not targeting civilians, not destroying the electrical grid, minimizing fallout etc.

That defeats the purpose of MAD and makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely. If the response to a nuclear attack is devastating then there is less chance that one will attack in the first place.

I firmly believe nukes are the reason we haven't had world war 3 yet. If no nukes existed the USA and the USSR would have gone at it in the 60s/70s.

MAD ( countervalue ) was discontinued as a policy under President Carter when Poseidon & Minuteman III made counterforce viable.

The Soviets made a similar transition, moving away from city-crushing 25MT unitary warheards to much smaller silo-busting MIRVs.

MAD did its job through the 60s but faded away as technology improved.

I agree. I have no background in military strategy so I try not to feel too comfortable in making conclusions about warfare tactics, but it seems like the reason we haven't had a classic major land war between two superpowers since WWII seems to be because of nuclear weapons.

Is not the purpose of weapon of mass descruction to destruct as much as possible? This includes not only cities, factories and civilians, but for example, polluting soil with radioactive materials so that it becomes unusable for living. Don't forget that civilians are potential soldiers, guerilla warriors or military factory workers so it doesn't make sense to leave them alive.

If you need to destroy a military base or a factory, you can just use non-nuclear weapon.

I think the main targets for ICBMs are densely populated cities or areas. So large countries have much higher chances to survive while overpopulated European countries, or East Asian countries can be severely destroyed.

The targeting systems from the 70s 80s were good enough to be in use still today because as far as the nuclear arsenal goes they are.

Don’t confuse the development of guided conventional munitions with nuclear ones it’s a completely different ball game.

Costs and size don’t mean much for nukes, nukes also can’t use GPS, CCD sensor or any other “modern” guidance system due to reentry and many other factors.

Are they? Without GPS? How I wonder?

Because the US will disable GPS for everyone but their own forces in a heartbeat in the event of war.

And China / Russia might be able to knock out US GPS pretty quickly - but all of that is very untested, moreover, the US may have a way to put up a bunch more satellites quickly.

Systems today have become really, really dependant on technologies that may not be available in a time of war.

It may very well could be that if the US has their act together they could shut down an advanced opponent pretty quickly without having to do much at all.

I'm actually pretty curious as to how advanced guidance systems would work in 2018 without GPS like technologies, not just in 'known tech' but behind the scenes, all the secret stuff.

It's hard because in some ways we could expect them to be way, way ahead with some things, but in others, they might be blindingly incompetent, for example, maybe the US really doesn't have a plan for rapidly popping up new GPS satellites in the event the Chinese knock some down.

> the US may have a way to put up a bunch more satellites quickly.

That would require a stockpile of both satellites and launchers.

I've never heard of a stockpile of GPS satellites, and they take years to build. But even assuming that there are a few at the ready, what will launch them? I'm hard-pressed to think of many orbital solid rockets, and those that do come to mind (such as Shavit) are way too harsh to launch an atomic clock, not to mention not having the payload capacity to MEO. The liquids are gentler, but are far from launch-ready and much more constrained for launch locations and orbital inclinations.

Inertial guidance can be quite accurate when you only have 30 minutes to build up errors. Land-based missiles know exactly where they're starting from. Submarine-based missiles not so much, but they are given targets which don't need as much accuracy.

>This is true, but once you start looking into it is highly misleading. A huge (and maybe only) reason for this is advances in targeting systems.

Yes, and Khrushev singlehandedly conducted a psy-op, ingraining the concept of "missile gap" into psyche of American political establishment.

At the time when ICBMs were still toy weapons, he successfully pushed NATO nations into spending enormous resources bringing up their strategic nuclear forces, while the bloc was popping T55s by thousands every week.

On a macro scale, all an every "lateral movements" were nothing but a ruse, disguising the fact that the only strategy he had was to send a patently enormous mechanised force over a wide front.

The more remarkable was, that, I think, that every military analyst pentagon had was coming to this very conclusion very easy, but none of them were ever heard in white house or by higher up generals.

Big name generals were themselves convinced that all of that itself was a ruse, and that Khrushev had a secret joker in his pocket, and that he will not resort to the most straightforward way to defeat them.

And American presidents, of course, only wanted to hear an opinion that was easier to believe in, coinciding with their own view of the world. What they believed in? They believed in a vision of a clean and fast war, where enemies are instantly vapourised at a click of a big red button.

Fallout is really bad. Radiation goes from a high lifetime cancer risk to LD 50/50 over a narrow (in exponential terms) band so twice the fallout can quickly kill a lot more people.

Nukes really don't destroy that much land directly, the difference with nuclear war over regular ones is mostly just the fallout.

The people intuitively scale up Hiroshima and say it's 1,000x as strong so it destroys 1,000x the area. But, it's non linear the giant hot ball of gas quickly gains altitude. Sure, the center get's more energy but it was destroyed anyway.

Also, the atmosphere cuts radiation exponentially with distance. So, if you block 1/2 the radiation at X, then you get 1/4 at 2x and 1/8th at 3x. Thus doubling only increases the lethal radius by X rather than say 5x which is the original lethal radius. (Note it's more complex as radius also reduces the received dose directly, and radiation turns into heat etc.)

PS: You can estimate direct damage as ~10000 * ~100 square miles (most nukes are sub 1MT) ~= 1 million square miles. But, the earth has 57 million square miles of land. So ~2% of total land though much of this would be over water as many cities are coastal. So, if you could ignore fallout and each nuke was targeting something else most land would still be untouched.

> having less and less nuclear weapons

Disarmament didn't work out so well for Ukraine...

Nuclear disarmament wasn't the only reason Russia was able to "annex" Crimea. A massive media blitz convinced many of the civilian population that they were being overrun by revolutionists, thugs, immigrants, etc and that only Russia could save them. I believe it's highly likely Russia would have succeeded even if Ukraine had all of their nuclear weapons in hand. Firing even one at Russia would have resulted in the rest of Ukraine being wiped off the map.

I'm skeptical it would have been a realistic deterrent in this case.

If Russia decides it's time to annex the entire country, on the other hand...

Seriously? Even a remote possibility of having Moscow flattened would have deterred an attack. Remember, it's the leaders who decide to nuke, there's no referendum of the people.

North Korea have tiny, impotent toy nukes and everyone around them are very careful.

The problem was it wasn't an "attack" in the classic "hey we're at war" sense. Russia is pretty good at fostering conflict on its borders without being blatant enough to make nuclear retaliation palatable.

The dynamics change when you have nukes to back your regular forces up.

The Ukraine could have thrown 100% of their conventional forces at the invasion, if they would have had a nuclear threat getting their backs.

As it stood, they could not mobilise because that would a) have left their flanks open because their conventional forces were in such a sad shape and b) going all in with conventional forces would have been an invitation to Russia to counter and crush them - think Russian tanks in Kiev. And it could be spun as a "legal war" and be over until the rest of the world knew how to react.

If on the other hand, you at all times have a bunch of ICBMs in your back pocket, Russian blitz krieg is not in the cards.

On the other hand, imagine what would happen if some of nuclear weapons were based near Donetsk and they would fall into hands of "separatists". Flattened Kyiv? Or imagine an accident (sabotage) with Ukrainian nuclear weapons.

Horrible things, of course.

I imagine exactly such concerns lead to the nuclear disarmament of Ukraine in the first place. After the end of the cold war, there was a frantic chase to secure nuclear warheads across the former Soviet Union. The US and Russia cooperated with this.

I am not saying it was a bad idea to relieve Ukraine of its nuclear arsenal. I am saying that a country that has them can keep a much higher profile in general.

But as for the "fall in to separatis hands" in a situation similar to this... very unlikely.

a) the central government would guard these systems more than anything

b) even if by some chance such weapons would fall into separatists hands, they would have to be very quick to launch - because the Russian allies would sweep in as fast as possible to stop them. And they would want to avoid having separatists control nuclear weapons as much as the central (Kiev) government would. Given the central government would have remaining nukes to respond with, the response would not go to Donetsk (maybe one to make a point), the response would go to Moscow.

And we are not even talking about what other European powers might do avoid a "broken arrow" situation. It's their backyard too.

>>North Korea have tiny, impotent toy nukes and everyone around them are very careful.

What North Korea has is irrelevant. The scary part they have is capability.

Given enough resources, its the equivalent of possessing seeds with highly fertile soil, and having the agricultural know-how.

To me the scary part is the regime's unpredictability combined with the proximity to Seoul. Even without nuclear weapons, someone waking up in a bad mood could result in hundreds of thousands of casualties.

Not with NATO all over the place.

Meanwhile, we're building tactical nukes again, and signaling that we're willing to use them (and that somehow we can avoid further escalation): https://www.defensenews.com/congress/2018/07/24/tactical-nuc...

Cause Russian meddling.

The nuclear option actually limited the war. The Syrians were scared of going past the Jordan river, because of Israeli nuclear threats to Damascus.

"On the night of 8 October 1973, Israeli PM Meir authorized the assembly of thirteen 20 kiloton tactical nuclear weapons for Jericho missiles at Sdot Micha Airbase and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II aircraft at Tel Nof Airbase." https://fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm

It’s still plenty enough to destroy the world. We’re still spending money to modernize nuclear weapons, and now Russia and China are too, a logical response.

We really need to cut the stockpile to 300 deployed nukes and institute a no first use policy. That level of deterrence is enough to enough to make a nuclear attack madness but drastically reduce the likelihood of a civilization or species ending nuclear winter should they be used. This is, I think, an achievable goal though obviously larger reductions would be better.

Oh I heard about the US backing off Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Treaties. And it's probably because of Russian hackers.

You can't guarantee a decent existence, nuclear weapons or not. We certainly didn't have one before nuclear weapons existed. It seems to me the peace we have obtained in the last seventy years or so throughout a lot of the world is due to nuclear weapons, not despite them. It's almost certain the US and USSR would have fought a war if it weren't for their presence. Same with a lot of other countries. Seems to me like there is no going back anyway so we should be thankful for the relative peace that exists now likely due to their presence.

I completely agree that nuclear weapons are the major reason there hasn't been a world war since 1945. The world has been remarkably peaceful since then, and that's very much a good thing.

But what is the cost? We've traded frequent massive wars for an ongoing chance of complete catastrophe. What is that chance? If it's one in a million then maybe it's worth it. If it's one in a hundred per year, then we'll have purchased a few decades of peace at the cost of civilization.

Based on the various near misses over the decades, I suspect the actual probability is closer to the latter.

It does seem likely that there's no going back, but we should try really hard to make sure that the chance of catastrophe is as low as possible.

Yup. Hard to say what that chance is. You're probably right with your estimate. I simply don't worry about it much in the same way that I stopped worrying about crashing when riding with my friend on the autobahn going 240km/hr or more. One mistake in either situation and I won't even know there was a mistake. The end. Likewise I couldn't control either my friend or the world's desire and manufacturing of nukes. So I simply stopped thinking about it and accepted it. Life is dangerous. But I am glad that some people in power are working on the situation just like there are people who do put speed limits on the portion of the autobahn that needs them and police officers who, I assume, try to enforce them. There's simply a million other more important issues in my life which I can affect and change.


I'm downvoting because your reply didn't seem to contribute to the discussion constructively. I'm replying because I really don't see how any mainstream religion in any way would advocate thermonuclear war or MAD, and in fact think religions would generally abhor it. Israel being close to using nuclear weapons seems to be entirely a secular matter driven by the nature of nation states, game-theory, and self-preservation. Religion in this case is just a prop and could be seamlessly exchanged with appeals to history, culture, race, or patriotism.

This is probably not the place for a lengthy argument, but I'll simply note that "mainstream" religion is kind of a straw-man, and most adherents fall into one-or-another sect.

I was in a church in the U.S. South many years ago, a church that is definitely mainstream there. The preacher that evening actively advocated killing Satan worshippers. Not figuratively, but literally killing them. Nobody in the congregation disagreed. "I don't want them around. Do you?" I started thinking hard about the whole God thing after that.

Religion is a very powerful tool that I believe is exploited for control.

I'm sorry if I offended you. But I totally stand by my claim.

Sorry for the inexact language. I'd say "mainstream" means not some kind of apocalypse cult, adhered to by a good number of people and not likely to demand intervention from law enforcement or militaries. I'd say that preacher was not only very fringe, but also should have been arrested.

I'm not offended and it's rhetorically specious to claim that I was. I disagree with your characterization of religion because I think it's dangerous. If you call the adherents of Islam irrational, violent, and brainwashed that's a powerful tool that can be exploited to justify a war or two.

Most religious beliefs are a fine addition to human culture. Some are not. Wars will be stopped by increasing our understanding and acceptance of each other, not by decreasing it.

rhetorically specious to claim that I was

Chill, dude. I was offering a sincere apology.

"mainstream" means not some kind of apocalypse cult

Yeah, no shit. And I believe this Pentacostal church with over 7 million members worldwide would take exception to your calling them that. Talk about a specious argument.

adherents of Islam irrational, violent, and brainwashed

Give me a break. This is ridiculous.

Wars will be stopped by increasing our understanding and acceptance of each other, not by decreasing it.

I completely agree. And I think religion is too powerful a tool to sow divisions by those who wish to for whatever advantage it affords them. Your line about Islam that I snipped above, which I've never heard be used to describe Muslims in general outside of the Christian Right rhetoric, comes to mind.

Take this thread as an example. I've made a simple claim that the idea of God is a powerful tool and should be, somehow, removed as a basis of political decision-making (don't ask me how, though!). Your reaction is completely over the top, including mis-representing my arguments in what I consider a hostile and divisive manner, forcing my response on a thread I would just as soon let die.

Ironically, your reaction in defense of God is exactly what scares me about God.

That's a very abnormal position for any member of any church in the US to take. I've been in many different ones and never heard anything like it.

It's abnormal in my experience too. But I heard it, and I watched the congregation during it. Don't dismiss it.

I think a lot of us are learning that peoples' positions can be easily swayed. That's frightening.

Oh, I'm not claiming it didn't happen. I'm sure extremists can be found in plenty of places -- I'm just pointing out that particular position is outside the norm for even most extreme or "fundamentalist" types.

The history of China, France, Soviet and others tells us that it is impossible to deal with people even after trying honestly to remove God from the equation.

The mixing of sleeping pills and alcohol causing poor decision making reminds me somewhat of Elon Musk's recent outbreaks. I believe I read somewhere he is currently taking lots of Ambien.

Maybe we need 3 Presidents for each shift. If you woke me up at 4am, I'd be so grouchy I'd press every button around me.

This is actually a brilliant idea

Just the fact that someone went through the hassle of a presidential campaign indicates that whoever wins will have way too much of an ego to share his job with others :-)

Stanislav Petrov single-handedly prevented an all-out nuclear war in 83: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Soviet_nuclear_false_alar...

Vasili Arkhipov also helped to prevent nuclear war in 1962: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasili_Arkhipov

Boris Yeltsin also had enough presence of mind not to launch a counter-attack to what was presumed to be a US first strike in the Norwegian Rocket Incident: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_rocket_incident

Unfortunately, there are too many close calls involving large scale nuclear conflict that are publicly known: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accid...

Who knows what the actual number is. Now throw in the ramifications of climate change like political instability, infrastructure strain, resource scarcity, and refugee migrations into the mix. Not blowing ourselves up will really be a challenge, something we as a species have to get right every single day...forever. Let's hope it's not our Great Filter.

The interesting thing to me in this article is that basically the equivalent of ‘the deep state’ — the intelligence services — acted to control the worst impulses of the leader, something that I sincerely hope is also happening in both countries right now.

Which "worst impulses" are you concerned about controlling "right now"? Because the only impulse providing a check against Chinese and Russian national interests globally, is the current administration's readiness to go to war - if necessary - to preserve a semblance of rule-of-law. US soft power hegemony was spent, utterly depleted during and after Gulf War II. Rebuilding it requires a hard power economic and military commitment no other candidate/administration was willing to undertake.

It's remarkable how different people can read the same actions in very different ways.

"Rule of law" is not something I would ascribe as a high priority to the current U.S. administration.

You're both right because you're talking about local laws and GP is talking about the post-war order, which is held together by American hegemony. It's not mentioned in the article, but people have argued that Nixon (who has a lot in common with Trump in general) held things together basically the same way https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madman_theory

Really? Because the South China Sea dispute is an excellent example. Nobody supports China's sovereignty claim over the disputed islands. International law and custom does not support China's claim. Who is standing up for rule of law? The current administration. The same can be said of chemical weapons use in Syria, and Russian assassinations in the UK, trade manipulation by China, etc. Rule of Law isn't what you think it is, and it doesn't work in the manner you assume.

Lol, most of the republicans in the administration don't believe that international law even exists.

> If there is a lesson today’s leaders should heed, it is that in the end, luck always runs out.

The good ‘ol hot-hand fallacy in action. It surprises me how easily otherwise intelligent people in positions of significant power (in regards to their situation, such as an unchallenged boss at a small company all the way up to national leaders), forget that what they believed to be true yesterday could easily not be tomorrow.

Challenge your assumptions constantly.

If you're interested in this sort of thing, check out the book Essence of Decision, by Graham T. Allison.

It analyzes the Cuban missile crisis under three different models for understanding how organizations make decisions, and talks about how one might make sense of the facts in light of those models.

It's a fascinating read. The situation comes out feeling like a particularly operatic Kurosawa movie. Only the whole thing actually happened.

If anyone is interested in reading a modern, hopefully fictional take of a similar situation, I recommend the 2020 Commission Report by Jeffery Lewis.


I wouldn't. Seems to me that the author is cashing in on his ability to fear-monger rather than providing something of substantial value.

I found value in understanding how disconnected chains of command/advising can impact decision making, as well as lessons in assuming how your adversaries will interpret your actions is not always correct.

It certainly is an approachable layman's novel, not an academic piece.

Definitely worth the few hours it took to read.

> Declassified documents show why the US and the USSR came close to war in 1973

I read that and immediately thought "probably because their leaders were goddamn idiots," then chastised myself for being so reductionist.

Then I read the article and the answer is, literally, "because Nixon and Brezhnev were blasted on booze and pills."

This author suggests the lesson is that a leader’s time always runs out. What I took out of this history (as a student of it) was that if something crazy comes across the wire, be patient. Sometimes ignoring the cable / letter that doesn’t fit is the right call.

>> Mr. Brezhnev had developed an addiction to sleeping pills that, combined with alcohol, was undermining his ability to think straight.

And this person was the leader of evil empire for 18 years!!! How lucky we are that he hasn't started the nuclear war.

What a fitting article on #worldmentalhealthday.

"A nuclear standoff. One leader is drunk. The other is delirious. The underlings scramble to avoid the worst. This is not an end-of-the-world Hollywood thriller, or an episode in President Trump’s erratic diplomacy."

No matter you're opinion of Trump, I find it extremely off putting when you are reading an article and the author feels the need to get in a jab like that, on either side of the political spectrum. I have seen that in other lectures before, and I feel it undermines the credibly of the author.

Upvoted because you're making an actual argument.

I couldn't disagree with you more, though. The comparison is precisely between major world leaders who are either insane or evil -- it wasn't clear back then, and it isn't now.

I would agree more if there was an actual juxtaposition in the article between Nixon and Trump, but after that, Trump was never mentioned. I interpreted it as the author wanted to take a free jab just because they could, and that is the part that is off putting to me.

Now you are not just making an argument, but a convincing one. As much as I enjoy jabbing at our fearless leader of the free world, cheap shots are boring.

Diplomacy: erratic.

Economy: growing.

These are facts about the current administration, not "jabs" for some side or the other. We should not be ignoring reality just to be polite to "both sides".

It is a fact that the US President is erratic.

Whether you think that is intentional or not, or to our benefit or not, is a matter of opinion.

Mattis has in fact ignored orders from Trump like one to "take out Assad." The comparison is apt.

And had to be convinced not to unilaterally pull out of South Korea, and not to back the Saudis' blockade of Qatar that was assisted by his son-in-law, and that the North Korean missiles he saw on Fox News were from an earlier video, and ...

Trump and his administration goes beyond all norms and deserves no defense.


One can pathologize almost any President and be right. Kennedy, Roosevelt, Clinton, Reagan... from drug addiction to senility something has afflicted all of these men. Its not led to nuclear war precisely because there exists a command authority and leadership depth in the US (and Russia) that has worked well enough. Try not to confuse political rhetoric with a lack of self-awareness when judging the current President. One who pays close attention to his extemporaneous comments and speeches will notice a familiar struggle between impulsivity and self-awareness driven self-control that is actually pretty reassuring.

> One who pays close attention to his extemporaneous comments and speeches will notice a familiar struggle between impulsivity and self-awareness driven self-control that is actually pretty reassuring.

One who pays close attention—who am I kidding, even passing attention—to Trump's entire life story shows a consistent pattern of utter selfishness and narcissism, unwillingness to take any responsibility for the consequences of his actions, and a complete willingness to sacrifice anything and cause any manner of harm in order to further his person desires.

> One can pathologize almost any President and be right.

Trying to compare Trump to other presidents isn't useful

> Its not led to nuclear war precisely because there exists a command authority and leadership depth in the US (and Russia) that has worked well enough.

So far. Not leading to the end of the world does not mean a system is good or has sufficient safety just that it hasn't failed in the time period

> Try not to confuse political rhetoric with a lack of self-awareness when judging the current President.

There is no need for pathologizing or political rhetoric

We know from Woodwards book and plenty of other sources, not from political opponents but people inside the administration exactly how crazy things are

The law is clear. The president has complete control over nuclear weapons, and can order their deployment at anytime. That is by design. This is the lynchpin of mutual assured destruction, and what enables launch on warning to occur. A president at any time can spin the globe, close his eyes and pick a city at random and say “nuke it”, legally it is a valid order.

I too have paid closer attention to the current president’s remarks, and I see so evidence of self-awareness and self-control. I see bullying pretending to be strength. I see habitual self-aggrandizing lies. I see the worst kind of bullshitter: one that believes his own bullshit.

Actually the law is clear: there are Constitutional checks in place to prevent a rogue presidential nuclear strike.



The president can’t “spin a globe” and order a strike and it be legally a valid order; there is a lot more to it than that.

Neither of the articles you linked to argue that. The NRO article puts faith in the military to ignore an order, which is a pretty big assumption.

The second link explicitly says:

"""The president holds the constitutional position of commander in chief and is obligated to protect the United States from foreign threats. The Constitution does grant to Congress the power to declare war, but it is unclear whether a law that significantly constrained the president’s nuclear command authority — particularly when the United States or it allies are under attack or in imminent danger of attack — would be constitutional. """

Instead, I'll point you to this: https://www.npr.org/2017/10/03/555266383/why-president-trump...

If there's any lesson to be learned from the current administration, it's that "the law" doesn't mean anything without institutions to enforce it.

In this case, if the President spins the globe and orders a strike and his Cabinet members tell him "uh, no," then the law doesn't matter. The strike does not happen.

This problem is normally averted by displaying leadership and earning loyalty so that your subordinates will obey you when the time comes. Failing that, you can fire people until you get to someone who will obey (e.g. the Saturday Night Massacre), but of course that only works if there is such a person to be had.

Nuking a country without provocation is most certainly NOT a legal order, and the US military has been educated that is their duty and responsibility to refuse to carry out illegal orders.

Sure it's legal. It's called a preemptive attack.

> legally it is a valid order

Not really. Even the President cannot issue unlawful orders; if they do, they should not be followed. If someone follows an unlawful order, they are still guilty of the crime, they cannot use the defense “just following orders”. That was the Nazi defense, and it did not stand at Nurenberg.

Back to the US military, here’s the oath taken by those who serve

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice

Yeah, if an adversary's missile launch has been detected. Absent that the President is required to consult with his command authority. He can then be stopped by the 25th Amendment and/or a refusal to obey and unlawful order by his military aide and war room duty officers. Stop being an alarmist.

The president doesn't have to consult anyone

The sec of defense has to confirm the presidents identity but not the wisdom of the order

Radiolab did a story on this and a former secretary of state confirmed it


The principle for the army to not obey unlawful orders is the only legal way to stop a president from launching nukes. And that is very much a grey area (as to what is an unlawful order).

Nixon's aides made sure he wouldn't launch nukes when he was unstable but did so in an illegal manner

Two things strike me after reading this.

1: How much conflict has been spawned due to the UN Partition plan which created Israel? I haven't dug deep into the factors that led to this decision (I'm sure the aftermath of the Holocaust was understandably huge) but the idea that a new sovereign nation would be created catering to individuals who don't currently live in the land which consists of that new nations borders just seems absurd to me.

2: Maybe this is ageist on my part but after watching hours of Senate committee hearings this year (Zuckerburgs testimony and the Kavanaugh hearings) I would not be against a mandatory mental health check up for our highest officials which includes some sort of mechanism to remove them from office if they are determined mentally unfit to serve. I can't imagine the pressure that government officials deal with everyday but I don't think its safe to assume that the levels of bureaucracy are enough to contain an individual who is mentally unfit from making rash decisions that can affect the nation.

A good book on why the middle east is the way it is, is A Peace to end all Peace by David Fromkin. There certainly isn’t just one mistake that caused all the trouble.

There's another way to look at answering point (1). Israel could disappear tomorrow and it wouldn't change the lousy state of the Middle East significantly, in the sense that all those dysfunctional states run by corrupt dictators would carry on as before, they'd just have one less external issue with which to distract their subjects from their misery.

> How much conflict has been spawned due to the UN Partition plan which created Israel?

Why would you brame a UN agreement from 20 years earlier instead of blaming the countries which violated the peace treaties they signed only 8 years earlier?

> I would not be against a mandatory mental health check up for our highest officials which includes some sort of mechanism to remove them from office if they are determined mentally unfit to serve

Think about how much more awareness there is now in terms of mental illness, anxiety, stress, mental degradation, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, dementia.

Every country in the world should have these sorts of checks and balances. It isn't a matter of ageism either, it is a matter of sane policy and checks & balances.

There are already two mechanisms available to remove a mentally incompetent President. The problem is that the people with the power to use those mechanisms don't actually want to remove him. That is a much harder problem to solve.

"a mandatory mental health check up"

Historically those precede a propaganda depersoning campaign, followed by genocide. See gays, trans, right wing, etc. There's just too much bad history.

Re 2: Do you really want to give Trump a club by which he can try to remove Pelosi from office? Or Ruth Bader Ginsberg?

Be careful what you wish for...

>1: How much conflict has been spawned due to the UN Partition plan which created Israel? I haven't dug deep into the factors that led to this decision (I'm sure the aftermath of the Holocaust was understandably huge) but the idea that a new sovereign nation would be created catering to individuals who don't currently live in the land which consists of that new nations borders just seems absurd to me.

Okay, so why not do some reading on it before deciding its absurd? Tens of thousands of Jews were displaced during and after WWII and no country would take most of them, period. Go back, get educated, and then post the less "absurd" alternative.

>2: Maybe this is ageist on my part but after watching hours of Senate committee hearings this year (Zuckerburgs testimony and the Kavanaugh hearings) I would not be against a mandatory mental health check up for our highest officials which includes some sort of mechanism to remove them from office if they are determined mentally unfit to serve.

The 25th Amendment and Congressional Impeachment power provide such mechanisms for removal. As for diagnosis, and similar to your prior comment, you really need to understand how politics works before you propose candidates submit to psychological evaluation prior to assuming elected office. In other words... who then is going to evaluate the (unelected) evaluators?

I agree that the argument of Israel created all the conflicts on middle east is a little bit lunatic but I disagree with you with the rest, forcing the choice of where to put the displaced Jews after WWII on Palestine's shoulders was a little bit unfair at least.

And it's not that they chose Palestine as a destination, nobody of the allied forces had a plan to offer asylum to the ~6mi jewish population in Europe and they didn't want to stay in Europe. UN forced his hand on making the immigration official (which was til that moment mostly illegal because it was surpassing quotas established by Britain/Palestine government). Imagine today if the ~1mi Syrians in Germany went to UN and ask for part of Germany territory just because they cannot mix nicely with the local population and the UN agreed, how fucked up it would be.

It's like stealing your neighbor money and donating to a good cause, is it wrong: yes, but are you going to make the world a little bit better: also yes. It also puts your neighbor in a very bad position, if he let it goes he loses his money, if he fight for it he's the guy who doesn't share his money for good causes.

A better analogy would be if the UN carved out a new state for 1 million of New England refugees.

A new state carved from the old Anglo-Saxon homelands in present day Germany.

(You have arabs and jews, two semitic peoples, once closely related but in recent times highly antagonistic. In a similar way you'd have the English, largely a germanic people, but with a strong hailing from the same Germanic ur-tribes.)

Tens of thousands of Jews were displaced during and after WWII and no country would take most of them, period.

Before you dial that snark knob up much higher, consider that WWII was not the starting point of what would eventually become the U. N. Partition. Soooo, about that "get educated" part of your post...

Here are a few alternatives:

1. Force European states to guarantee their Jewish citizen's right to return.

2. Force Germany to cede territory towards the creation of a Jewish state as reparations for the Holocaust.

3. Literally any plan that doesn't involve shipping European Jews out to West Asia.

Both have been fighting proxy war since then in Afghanistan and other countries. Pakistan fought proxy war against USSR for US and has since been bearing the loss. And now Trump says Pakistan doesn't do much efforts. US used Pakistan as their scapegoating.

I was listening to a podcast about a Scandinavian sounding rocket causing Boris Yeltsin to insert the key/codes in the nuclear briefcase and nearly pushed the button to launch a counter attack if that rocket were a surprise American attack. Apparently, it was proactive readiness and the Russians only disclosed week/s on to not alarm people unnecessarily.

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