Future wars (3)

mad46-apr19591MAD, not the juvenile magazine from the 1950s but, rather, the nihilistic notion of Mutual Assured Destruction, from the same era, which said that peace could be assured because the USA and the USSR could, with the flicks of a few switches, annihilate each other and, as collateral damage, make the planet a poisonous hell, is still with us, in a way.

The third article in a series of nine in a special report in The Economist on future wars suggests that MAD is under threat because, while “So far, the best argument for nuclear weapons has been that the fear of mutually assured destruction (MAD) has deterred states that possess them from going to war with each other. MAD rests on the principle of a secure second-strike capability, which means that even if one side is subjected to the most wide-ranging first strike conceivable, it will still have more than enough nuclear weapons left to destroy the aggressor. When warheads became accurate enough to obliterate most of an adversary’s missiles in their silos, America and Russia turned to submarines and mobile launchers to keep MAD viable … [but] … disruptive new technologies, worsening relations between Russia and America and a less cautious Russian leadership than in the cold war have raised fears that a new era of strategic instability may be approaching. James Miller, who was under-secretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon until 2014, thinks that the deployment of increasingly advanced cyber, space, missile-defence, long-range conventional strike and autonomous systems “has the potential to threaten both sides’ nuclear retaliatory strike capabilities, particularly their command-and-control apparatuses”, and that “the potential of a dispute leading to a crisis, of a crisis leading to a war, and of a war escalating rapidly” is growing.

“Nuclear weapons, like the poor,” the article opines, “seem likely always to be with us … [because] … Even though arms-control agreements between America and the Soviet Union, and then Russia, have drastically reduced overall numbers, both countries are committed to costly long-term modernisation programmes for their strategic nuclear forces that should ensure their viability for the rest of the century … [thus, for example] … Russia is about halfway through recapitalising its strategic 1498555892-bulava-launchforces, which include a soon-to-be-deployed road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM); a new heavy ICBM; eight new ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), most of which will be in service by 2020; upgraded heavy bombers; and a new stealth bomber able to carry hypersonic cruise missiles. America will replace every leg of its nuclear triad over the next 30 years, at an estimated cost of $1.2trn. There will be 12 new SSBNs; a new penetrating strike bomber, the B21; a replacement for the Minuteman III ICBMs; and a new long-range air-launched cruise missile. As Tom Plant, a nuclear expert at RUSI, a think-tank, puts it: “For both Russia and the US, nukes have retained their primacy. You only have to look at how they are spending their money.”

And it doesn’t end there, either. “Other states with nuclear weapons,The Economist explains, “such as China, Pakistan, India and, particularly, North Korea, are hard at work to improve both the quality and the size of their nuclear forces. Iran’s long-term intentions remain ambiguous, despite the deal in 2015 to constrain its nuclear programme. Nuclear weapons have lost none of their allure or their unique ability to inspire dread. Whether or not they are ever used in anger, they are very much part of the future of warfare.
The threat to MAD is explained “In a new report, Mr Miller and Richard Fontaine, the president of the Centre for a New American Security (CNAS), [who] identify cyber and counter-space (eg, satellite jammers, lasers and high-power microwave-gun systems) attacks as possible triggers for an unplanned conflict. Other new weapons may threaten either side’s capability for nuclear retaliation, particularly their strategic command-and-control centres. James Acton, a nuclear-policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, lists three trends that could undermine stability in a future crisis: advanced technology that can threaten the survivability of nuclear attacks; command-and-control systems that are used for both nuclear and conventional weapons, leaving room for confusion; and an increased risk of cyber attacks on such systems because of digitisation … [thus, c3isr-all-aboardsince] … Both America and Russia rely heavily on digital networks and space-based systems for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C3ISR) to run almost every aspect of their respective military enterprises. Cyber space and outer space therefore offer attackers tempting targets in the very early stages of a conflict. In the utmost secrecy, both sides have invested heavily in offensive cyber capabilities. In 2013 the Defence Science Board advised the Pentagon that: “The benefits to an attacker using cyber exploits are potentially AR-307029979spectacular. Should the United States find itself in a full-scale conflict with a peer adversary, attacks would be expected to include denial of service, data corruption, supply-chain corruption, traitorous insiders, kinetic and related non-kinetic attacks at all altitudes from under water to space. US guns, missiles and bombs may not fire, or may be directed against our own troops. Resupply, including food, water, ammunition and fuel, may not arrive when or where needed. Military commanders may rapidly lose trust in the information and ability to control US systems and forces.”
In other words the technology that promises to make war more efficient (cheaper) and more carefully focused on limited objectives could be the Achilles’ heel that dooms us all.

For now,” the article goes on to say, “the prospects of a successful disarming strike remain sufficiently remote to leave the strategic balance intact. Mr Miller argues that it would require a “fundamental transformation in the military-technological balance…enabled by the development and integration of novel military capabilities” to upset the balance … [but] … Ominously, he thinks that such a fundamental transformation may now be on the horizon, in the shape of conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) and new missile-defence systems. Both China and Russia fear that new American long-range non-nuclear strike capabilities could be used to deliver a disarming attack on a substantial part of their strategic forces or decapitate their nuclear command and control. Although they would still launch their surviving nuclear missiles, improved missile-defence systems would mop up most of the remainder before their warheads could do any damage … [but, again] … Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, reckons that for now those concerns are overblown. As much as anything, he says, they are talked up to restrain investment in the enabling technologies: “They [the Russians and the Chinese] are saying to the US, the trouble with you guys is that you never know when to stop.”” We must hope (never a really good course of action, especially if it’s the only one) that Michael Elleman is more prescient than James Miller.

Any war, even a small, local one started by miscalculation (see Future wars (2)) would be a human tragedy but a strategic nuclear exchange would be a global disaster.

5eyes-01_homepage_blog_horizontalThere is not much Canada can do, besides using diplomacy and, for example, free(er) trade, to try to lower tensions between the USA, Russia and China, by binding them closer in talks and trade, and providing good  intelligence to the “Five Eyes” pool so as to help minimize  the risks of miscalculation by the USA. But those things can help, in their indirect way, to save MAD.


2 thoughts on “Future wars (3)

  1. You know as an old airman and having spent the last years listening to all of this stuff going on I’m impressed by the recent willingness of politicians, blog members, security types, military to toss off these idea’s about using nukes to achieve supposedly limited war wins, of course the action would never escalate beyond what the speaker want’s to happen. As I say impressed, impressed at the criminal stupidity of these creatures when did the world father such stupidity I ask, do humans have a self limiting drive like Lemmings, we reach a certain population level and oops ? I assume that a bunch of people that read your thoughts, like I, had NBC training and if they did, they must have thought about the ramifications of “Glowing in the Dark”, I wonder if it scares them as much as it does me. As far as the new bunch, Christ on a crutch wake up.

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