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Dr. Rumsfield Strangelove

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  • Dr. Rumsfield Strangelove

    Rumsfeld's Dr. Strangelove
    Keith Payne says 7,000 warheads aren't enough.
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Monday, May 12, 2003, at 3:23 PM PT

    Last May 9, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to repeal a 10-year ban on the research and development of "low-yield" nuclear weapons—defined as nukes having an explosive power smaller than 5 kilotons. (The House committee will take up the measure this week.) The Bush administration has lobbied heavily for the repeal. Democrats oppose the idea on the grounds that "mini-nukes"—by blurring the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons—make nuclear war more thinkable and, therefore, in the minds of some, more doable.

    Some in the Bush administration are living proof of this objection. They want to demystify nuclear weapons, strip away the taboo against their use, and insinuate them into the arsenal of U.S. war-fighting tools. A key figure in this effort is Keith Payne.

    Payne is not a well-known figure, even in Washington policy circles. But he ought to be. He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for "forces policy"—essentially, the Pentagon's top civilian official assigned to the development, procurement, planning, and possible use of nuclear weapons.

    For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens—outspoken but, at the time, marginal—who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable. He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called "Victory is Possible." Among its pronouncements: "an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery." (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove, put it, "I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.")

    Payne was in his 20s, working for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, at the time he co-wrote the article, but anyone who would dismiss it as youthful extremism should look at a paper he wrote in January 2001, titled "Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control." Payne wrote it as president of the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative research organization in Fairfax, Va. The paper came out of a panel that included Payne's old colleague Colin Gray, as well as Stephen J. Hadley (who is now Bush's deputy national security adviser) and Stephen Cambone (now an assistant secretary of defense and a member of Rumsfeld's inner circle).

    Payne put together the panel out of a concern—as he put it in a 1999 paper called "Nuclear Weapons: Theirs and Ours"—that "the future of United States nuclear forces faces a very serious challenge" from "anti-nuclear activists" and that "unless a coolly reasoned response is presented, their agenda will appear to be the only game in town."

    The NIPP study was intended as that "coolly reasoned response," written for the incoming administration. In it, Payne laid out a post-Cold War rationale for the continued deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons and the development of new, specially tailored nukes. Parts of the rationale were fairly routine: to deter a potentially resurgent and hostile Russia, to dissuade rogue regimes from trying to threaten to us, and so forth. But there were some eyebrow-raising parts as well. For instance, Payne noted that, in Operation Desert Storm, allied forces had a hard time finding and hitting Iraqi Scud missiles. In a future war, he wrote, "If the locations of dispersed mobile launchers cannot be determined with enough precision to permit pinpoint strikes, suspected deployment areas might be subjected to multiple nuclear strikes."

    Note the phrasing. It's startling enough that Payne suggests attacking (even non-nuclear) mobile missiles with nukes. But he goes further, suggesting that we attack whole "areas" where mobile missiles are merely "suspected" to be deployed. And he suggests attacking these with "multiple" nuclear weapons. Payne also argues that nuclear weapons might be needed to destroy "deeply buried facilities … such as underground biological weapons facilities." He leaves unanswered why simply disabling such a facility—which he admits can be done with conventional weapons—wouldn't be good enough. He then says the need to destroy these sorts of targets means we cannot afford to make deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal but should instead continue to build new types of nuclear weapons.

    Let us assume for a moment that hitting such targets is a vital task and that only nukes can do the job. How many mobile-missile deployment areas are there? How many possible underground biochem facilities? Unless Payne is suggesting blowing up gigantic swaths of land (to get every square foot where missiles might roam) and every cave and basement that might hold a lab, I can't imagine that—even under his assumptions—more than a few dozen extra nuclear weapons might be needed, on top of the 7,000 or so we currently possess.

    Finally, Payne falls back on the rationale that nuclear-weapons planners have invoked for decades when they've run out of concrete reasons—perceptions. "The United States," he writes, "is likely to desire the capability to deter authoritarian adversaries who are impressed by an opposing nuclear force with greater rather than fewer weapons." The great thing about this argument is that no number of weapons, however enormous, is enough; there's always room for more. For this reason, Payne opposes any arms-reduction treaty unless it gives the United States "the de jure prerogative to adjust its nuclear force structure to coincide with changes in strategic requirements." To the extent nuclear arms are reduced, they should just be stored away, not destroyed.

    Lots of think tanks have disgorged lots of wild-eyed reports over the years. The significance of this one is that it has been translated into official policy. In January 2002, Rumsfeld issued a classified report called the "Nuclear Posture Review." Copies were leaked and soon appeared on several Web sites. Among the sections that drew attention: "Nuclear weapons … provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats. … Greater flexibility is needed with respect to nuclear forces and planning than was the case during the Cold War. … Nuclear-attack options that vary in scale, scope and purpose will complement other military capabilities."

    These statements are truly different from official statements of the previous two decades. Some documents have tried to develop scenarios in which nuclear weapons could be used without committing suicide in the process. But rarely did they view nuclear weapons as a "complement" to other types of weapons. Nor are the similarities between these two reports—Payne's of January 2001 and Rumsfeld's of January 2002—a coincidence. Payne served on a missile-defense panel that Rumsfeld headed in 1998. They reportedly got along well. Rumsfeld hired Payne on the basis of the NIPP report, which he definitely read.

    Payne is not in any position to advise the president on the use of nuclear weapons, nor does he hold a slot anywhere in the chain of command. He does, however, have a role in deciding what kinds of nukes should be built, deployed, and discarded. He is the Pentagon's civilian liaison with the nuclear-war planning staff at the Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb. And he was handpicked for the job because of his views. In a serious crisis, the numbers and types of weapons that he helps put in place could shape the president's sense of what options are available and feasible. The Senate vote brings Keith's Payne's terrifying dream that much closer.
    "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942

  • #2
    One of the few sane comments by Ronald Reagan was

    -paraphrasing as I cannot remember word for word-

    The only moral position for the US on nuclear weapons is reduction to zero in conjunction with all other nuclear powers

    No fan of Nuclear Weapons myself- if for instance the US had used the above strategy in Iraq- even it's allies would have abandoned it.

    I am Australian, our public opinion was relatively evenly split- a small percentage deeply for or against the war and a lot who swung either way depending on the news.

    Australian public opinion would have polarised extremely quickly and strongly against the US (I of course am predicting the reactions of my countrymen- I have no crystal ball) if Nukes were used for ANY reason- and we are a close ally

    One can only imagine the reaction in Europe and Asia (China for instance?)

    Very frightening




    • #3
      At the very least, I don't believe the US should begin man-ufacturing any new nuclear weapons of any yield. Doing so would only make reducing proliferation impossible. North Korea and Iran, among others would basically have a green light to continue their own development programs, and encourage others to either start or expand development and manufacturing.

      I do believe the US needs to retain some nuclear capability. I don't feel getting rid of our arsenal will result in China, or other threats, dismantling their own weaponry. I want any Chinese, Russian leader to understand that if he pushes the button, and give me thrity minutes to live, he and his family only have forty minutes left.

      Beyond the rapid response to imminent nuclear threats, I don't see much use for nuclear weapons. It was developed for a time when society tolerated massive loss of civilian life. Precision was based more on luck and mass. A single B-2 bomber can do more damage than 70 aircraft during DESERT STORM, and 500 bombers during WWII, without killing 10,000 non-combatants. We don't need to incur the wrath of public opinion that would be ignited by massive loss of life. That wrath would be seen not just internationally, but domestically.

      If Rumsfield wants to strengthen our firepower, I strongly suggest we invest in building new bombers, and more importantly, cargo planes. I would also like to see money spent developing technology to enhance the survival and capability of the soldier. More nuclear weapons will not enhance our security. In fact, I believe it would increase the threat to it.
      "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942


      • #4
        Like what China would respond to such policy? No idea... of course not favorable. But maybe the problem of nukes is much bigger than that.

        Indeed what China or Russia react does not really matter in this thing ---- IMO. Let assume an even more favorable situation to the US: only the US has nukes and to any grade as it wants (low or high power, small or big size), and no other country comes even close to this tech. Then the question is still there: shall the nukes be considered feasible legal weapon in conflicts? (There is no MAD threat here any more)

        My believe is still a NO. Nukes, themselves, are a much greater threat to humanity than the Russians or ChiComs. One can never be sure that such power be controled by justice --- or even rational powers. The unlimited quantity (yes, that is what we are talking about here, not merely the tech itself) of such weapons, no matter in whose hands right now, poses a grave threat to this planet, to the human race. Because you can never be too sure about their possession and usage into the future. Everyone here grew up with the movie Star Wars ---- what happened to the even ultimate power of the FORCE? ---- okok, it is only a movie, but art roots from reality. This can happen... to us. Good and bad, they are not lined up there so clearly and never move their feet. Things change. The crucial idea of managing the future is the direction ---- to peace or to destruction? One destory his outside physical enemies by super weapon, easy, look at Iraq... but can you destroy the evil inside yourself by the same thing? Never. That is the true danger....

        Anyway... too far away... but on the other hand, from an academia point of view, the exploration into the possibility of conducting warfares utilized "limited" nuclear powers seems all valid scientifically. Do you have a good argument to "ban" such activity? Surely you do not. You need to know what the thing looks like in order to reasonably "ban" it, but you do not know what they are like, unless you put some research into it...

        This is no new dilemma to human civilization, it happened many times before, and it is happening now just more often, (like cloning... etc..), but trust our wisdom, our collectral wisdom (or trust GOD), we will get through this
        Attn to ALL my opponents:

        If you sent me your turn and after 24 hours, you still did not get anything from me, please be sure to post in the forum to ask for what is going on.

        Remember, I ALWAYS reply within 24 hours, even if I do NOT have time to play my turn, in which case I will at least send you email to tell you that I will have to play it later, but I DO receive your turn.


        • #5
          What did I miss? Where does Rumsfield fit into a move to make more low yield nukes?
          Get the US out of NATO, now!


          • #6
            I admit, it does take you back. I remember reading about a deal in the 50's I think where the US military wanted to use nukes to create a deepwater port in Alaska somewhere. People back then were stupid - so lets not turn back the clock by trivializing nukes.
            Our forefathers died to give us freedom, not free stuff.

            I write books about zombies as E.E. Isherwood. Check me out at


            • #7
              Originally posted by SparceMatrix
              What did I miss? Where does Rumsfield fit into a move to make more low yield nukes?
              Read the paper entitled "Nuclear Posture Review."
              "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942


              • #8
                originally posted by Deltapooh
                If Rumsfield wants to strengthen our firepower, I strongly suggest we invest in building new bombers, and more importantly, cargo planes. I would also like to see money spent developing technology to enhance the survival and capability of the soldier. More nuclear weapons will not enhance our security. In fact, I believe it would increase the threat to it.
                I agree with this.

                I believe that we should develop better transportation systems in order to permit a rapid deployment of our forces including the heavier elements to avoid the political bickering that was evident in some of our allies that we needed permissions from.

                I would prefer to have most of our forces based in the continental USA. So if we have a transportation system that is capable of transporting our forces (say 10,000 or more men and equipments) rapidly to anywhere within 12 hours. Right now, it's humanely impossible to achieve that kind of speed.

                I really want to avoid using the bases outside of our country because the hosting countries will require some kind of concessions or compromises before permitting us to use the equipment.

                Moreover, with a better transportation system, we can develop heavier units instead of doing what Rumsfeld wanted us to do -- developing lighter units.

                Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

                "Aim small, miss small."


                • #9
                  Don't know if I want to laugh, or cry...but the latest headline of UK Doctors being accused of illegally taking 20,000 brains came to mind. Looks like they took a few from the Pentagon boys...
                  I have no problem at all with being proved wrong. Especially when being proved wrong leaves the world a better place, than being proved right...


                  • #10

                    What amazes me is the skill of these doctors

                    They left them living, breathing and unfortunately still able to communicate



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