Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

In light of the WhirledView "Blog Tank" on the strategic possibilities of an exceptionally small nuclear arsenal. A snippet from Cheryl:

Andy at Nuclear Mangoes reminded me over the weekend of my irritation that nobody has addressed the strategy of one to a few nuclear weapons. That’s a different problem than something in the range of 5-10, which is a different problem from a higher number. None of these have been addressed systematically for today’s world.

So let’s have a blog tank. Anyone who wants to participate should post a scenario (or scenarios) on their blog or, if you don’t have a blog, in the comments to this post. Here is the problem I want to address:

What strategies are available to a country with fissionable material sufficient for 1-5 nuclear weapons, some of which may be assembled? Take into account probable responses, and assume some sort of rationality on the holders of these weapons and material. You may specifically refer to Iran and North Korea, or any other nation, or make the scenario(s) more general. Flesh out the scenario with some support.

My humble two cents:

1. Deterrence Scenario: An obvious and natural strategy behind developing nuclear weapons is, of course, deterrence. Looking at the concept in it's base form, only one nuclear weapon can produce a hefty intangible shield against would be aggressor's. Of course the ultimate deterrence would be an amassed stockpile that would equal that of the United States or any other Big Nuke Players or at least rival it enough for the inception of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction.)

2. Extortion Scenario: As of 2004, Japan had delivered 1.18 million tons of food aid to North Korea. By 2005 the United States had provided over $1 billion dollars in food aid and energy assistance to North Korea. One wouldn't be stretching to suggest that North Korea's nuclear program served a catalyst for Japanese and American largess. The mere threat to develop nukes combined with some strong evidence supporting the threat served to extort an inordinate amount of resources from America and Japan.

3. Hostage Scenario: "Lemme go free or the girl get's it!"
As mentioned above, only a state with the infrastructure and cash flow to pump out a hefty number of nukes would benefit from the chilly comfort of MAD. Additionally, a regime that is limited to a few nukes very likely has an outmoded delivery system with a limited range. And so they might engage in deterrence through a nation state hostage. A hypothetical would be North Korea. Let's allow ourselves to imagine that the NK geopolitical hoodwinking that occurred under President Clinton repeated itself and that, in say, six years NK developed an operational nuclear weapon. With a limited delivery system (we'll assume the Taepodong II is still a mess) NK's deterrence against the West (specifically the US) might be a simple matter of pointing it's few weapons (one would certainly do it) at either South Korea or Japan.

4. The Nightmare Scenario: Nuclear attack by proxy. I.E. state developed nuclear technology passed onto a non-state entity. It's old hat and, from my perspective, requires more imagination than reality but the possibility is there. I'd posit, however, that such an attack is much less likely to occur in a Gap state vs Core state scenario.

As both nuclear proliferation grows (and I fear it will) and sub state or non state organizations become more numerous and more sophisticated (as I fear they will) the likely hood of such a proxy attack appears more likely to occur within the Gap. Gap states generally have pathetic domestic security infrastructure and what little they have is rife with corruption.

A very hypothetical example (for the sake of discussion) might be Eritrea supplying the Ogaden rebels with the design, parts, ammo and brain power for a low yield cannon fired device to be used against Ethiopia. Yes, I know, as I said it requires some imagination. Certainly this prospect would require nuclear proliferation to reach a degree of almost mainstream occurrence for both the technology and resources to be made so readily available. But it's possible.

Cheryl's crossblog session in brainstorming is strikingly adept and little discussed in depth by neither the mainstream media nor today's politicians.

The prospect of nuclear proliferation is, in the long term, likely to define future foreign policy. While I rail against kinetic measures to assure Iran doesn't acquire a nuke the fact remains that increased low level development (1-5 weapons) combined with limited delivery, lack of the ever essential MAD and a surge of regional instability in either Africa or the Middle East points to an ever growing likely hood that nuclear weapons will be used again.

The Nuclear Big Boys find themselves in something of a catch 22. While US global economic dominance is quickly becoming an anachronism and economic multi-polarity or non-polarity is growing from theory to reality the concept of military hegemony is still healthy and prominent. This leads to the demise of the hope that the Nuclear Big Boys will even entertain a treaty that scales nuclear weapons to anything even remotely resembling obscurity. Furthermore the type of speculation I present in Scenario 4 serves a near guarantee that even if the NBB's could get over the obligatory concept of military hegemony they'd still cling to the speculation of rogue state/non-state nuclear warfare. Perhaps rightfully so.

And so the concept behind Cheryl's blog tank should and hopefully will become a globally dynamic issue in short order.


Arherring said...

I just suggested over at D5GW that you wiegh in on the blogtank. Guess I should have checked first.

Nice post!

Flagg707 said...

Interesting post, Soob.

I wonder, though, at how truly effective such a small arsenal would be outside of the deterrence realm.

The care and feeding of the "physics package" and associated "energetic devices" needed to field a credible nuclear weapon are substantial.

Just having the fissile material is nice and all, but if this is a homegrown program, then there have to be enormous expenditures on the electronics, making sure your Pu is pure enough to prevent a fizzle, like our NORK friends experienced, you have to make sure your design is robust enough to deliver via artillery, airplane or missile. And all of those associated technologies aren't cheap either. And we won't even go into the expense of either the enrichment program or reprocessing program needed to build up the stockpile in the first place.

But, if we are just gaming the scenario and assuming a country wants to take on the cost and has the expertise to pull it off (or some Weapons State decides to go into business and sell and arsenal along with a "service contract" to maintain the weapons - a whole different type of proliferation worry and one the Saudis might try to set up with the Pakistanis once Iran acquires her bomb), then yes, we would see the potential for enormous proliferation.

Until someone sets one off. After the initial shock and horror, most analysts will then realize that, while very messy and locally devastating, the nukes probably weren't worth all the expense.

Nukes worked as a game changer in WWII because the Nipponese needed a reason to capitulate and could blame the superweapon for something they wanted to do anyway. In today's world, lighting off a nuke, especially if you only have one or two (and assuming, by the way, your tiny little stockpile doesn't fizzle) then your enemy will be highly motivated to engage you in a violent manner.

Interesting post.

subadei said...

Thank Arherring!


Excellent comment and I agree whole heartedly. The sheer investment in terms of brains and cash seems to be a very effective moderator in nuke proliferation. Which is why my hypothetical scenario entailed a qualifier of imagined mainstream nuke proliferation.

I'd add to your WWII reference that the Japanese also served (in the death of hundreds of thousands) a very real example of what nuke war would look like. And, in this respect, provided a visceral template for nuclear war that might have otherwise not existed and so were the a huge part of the catalyst that spawned MAD.