For decades the US Military has maniacally pursued the pipe dream that Nuclear Wars must somehow be “winnable”.
Why? Because secretly the US Military believes that, if there were an effective defense against retaliatory strikes, nuclear weapons could be used as effective tactical battlefield tools.
This being the case, we as a species would enter a new and dangerous phase in the life cycle of nukes — they could quite literally become weapons, rather than a horrible and looming deterrent.
To counter various nuclear threats, the US Military have evolved several technologies over the years. These have taken the form of the Dew line, Nike defense missile system, Strategic Defense Initiative, the Patriot, or a host of other anti-ballistic missile toys.
On the other side of the coin, the US Military’s Tomahawk missile, which saw extensive use delivering conventional explosives in Desert Storm, was originally designed to deliver a low-yield nuclear warhead over medium range, flying straight and level at high speed low-to-the ground in order to take out targets like airfields, fuel dumps, and command and control centres. This is just one example of how it is widely felt within the US Armed Forces that nuclear weapons are essential battlefield tools for the new war, and how that doctrine has resulted in the development of weapons for just such a use.
The fact that no one has ever come up with a solution for providing assured security and defense in the face of a nuclear attack has as much to do with why the US has never seriously considered using nuclear weapons on the battlefield as any other factor. This is the fly in the ointment for those that would see weapons like the Tomahawk, laden with low-yield Nuclear warheads, used in “conventional” warfare.
The rhetoric of the current campaign attempts to fuel the flames of paranoia among the American people that an unprovoked attack from some unforeseen evil enemy is a sincere threat to American security. This is patently ridiculous. The real threat in terms of a nuclear explosion takes the form of terrorism.
Compared to the complexity of designing, building, guiding, and launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, the task of taking some low-grade plutonium and building and implosion device, throwing it in the back of a rented panel van, and parking it outside the Super Bowl is a snap. The US and Russia are the only nations that truly have the ability to launch intercontinental nuclear weapons. Everybody else is limited to theatre weapons like the SCUD.
Moreover, with the extensive US satellite and airborne surveillance network, no one building a tower or other facility capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile would go unnoticed.
So what’s the real threat?? Or is it an opportunity?
The purpose of an effective missile defense system is twofold: 1) to provide potential adversaries with an assurance of the US Military’s willingness to use nuclear devices without fear, and 2) to realize the US dream of using truly cost-effective battlefield weapons in the form of low-yield nuclear missiles for conflicts like the Persian Gulf War.
The risks are well known: environmental, collateral damage, civilian casualties — but the real risk is that US Military strategists could develop a belief that they could use nuclear weapons with impunity.
And what if they’re wrong?
As a last point, given the US propensity to dispense international justice with such an uneven hand as they have for the last 10 years, the vision of George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton smiting their enemies with impunity from atop the mountain is not one that makes me sleep well at night.