Nuclear sentences to ponder

by on August 6, 2016 at 12:14 am in Current Affairs, Games, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

…there were at least two instances in which top officials tried to slow, or undermine, the president’s nuclear authority.

The first came in October 1969, when the president ordered Melvin R. Laird, his secretary of defense, to put American nuclear forces on high alert to scare Moscow into thinking the United States might use nuclear arms against the North Vietnamese.

Scott D. Sagan, a nuclear expert at Stanford University and the author of “The Limits of Safety,” a study of nuclear accidents, said Mr. Laird tried to ignore the order by giving excuses about exercises and readiness, hoping that the president who sometimes embraced the “madman theory” — let the world think that you are willing to use a weapon — would forget about his order.

But Nixon persisted. Dr. Sagan reports that during the operation, code-named Giant Lance, one of the B-52 bombers carrying thermonuclear arms came dangerously close to having an accident.

Then, in 1974, in the last days of the Watergate scandal, Mr. Nixon was drinking heavily and his aides saw what they feared was a growing emotional instability. His new secretary of defense, James R. Schlesinger, himself a hawkish Cold Warrior, instructed the military to divert any emergency orders — especially one involving nuclear weapons — to him or the secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger.

It was a completely extralegal order, perhaps mutinous. But no one questioned it.

That is from William Broad and David Sanger at the NYT.

Addendum: Here is a 2008 Alex post on the same.

1 skeptic August 6, 2016 at 1:27 am

+1

2 Devin V August 6, 2016 at 2:41 am

So I guess it’s OK to elect a lunatic into office because we can trust the people around the lunatic. The power of the presidency is an illusion in many levels.

3 Horhe August 6, 2016 at 10:13 pm

I know, I too am hoping Hillary doesn’t win, but I think the “imperial Presidency” is still a long way off, though Obama has added some new swords to the Iron throne for the next occupant.

4 JM LI August 6, 2016 at 3:41 am

I don’t think you-know-who is going to have any Kissingers in his cabinet (or Brzizenskis, for that matter)

5 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 4:37 am

Or who will take to the bottle.

6 The Anti-Gnostic August 6, 2016 at 9:03 am

Trump is a lifelong teetotaler. Hillary is a heavy drinker. She is supported by people who think we should be at war with Russia.

7 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm

“Trump is a lifelong teetotaler.” So am I, yet who knows? The presidency may be enough to make one drink.

8 The Anti-Gnostic August 6, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Who knows, of course. But one of the two is an obese alcoholic who blew up a sovereign country for no good reason and is supported by neo-mensheviks.

9 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 2:44 pm

“But one of the two is an obese alcoholic who blew up a sovereign country.”

Which reminds me that, Liberal hystri to the contrary, the world survived George W. Bush, so again, who knows? Bush was in great shape, though, if his shoes-dodging skills were anything to go by.

10 Anon August 6, 2016 at 3:46 am

Also from Trump’s biographer, worth the read:
https://www.facebook.com/robert.wiblin/posts/733377300895

11 jb August 6, 2016 at 3:54 am

“Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov

12 Ray Lopez August 6, 2016 at 4:26 am

I favor the USA renouncing the First Strike doctrine, for all Big Five UN Security Council members. That way, if a crazy Trump wants to destroy a nation, it will only be North Korea which is not the end of the world.

13 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 4:44 am

And I say, “no exceptions”.

“I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

‘As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal’;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel”

14 Cliff August 6, 2016 at 9:06 am

They did fire on Fort Sumter

15 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 10:46 am

And they were made to pay for it. The key to victory has always been terrorizing the enemy. The Greeks knew it. The Carthaginians knew it. Now you know it. “For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.” John Kennedy

16 The Lunatic August 6, 2016 at 4:52 am

Why would you think a renunciation of first strike by the current administration would limit Trump in any way? A declaration of “no first use” like China or India’s doesn’t actually make it any harder for the declaring nation to launch a first strike. It’s just words, not binding in either domestic or international law, and reversible at the whim of the declaring state.

17 Ray Lopez August 6, 2016 at 9:48 am

Because a subordinate officer to the Commanding Officer, Trump, could plausibly not carry out the order for a first strike under the grounds that it’s illegal, and avoid court marshal. That’s the reason.

18 Andao August 6, 2016 at 4:26 pm

When anything these days can be called “an act of war,” that’s a pretty low bar to pass.

19 The Lunatic August 6, 2016 at 8:07 pm

No, he couldn’t, not plausibly. Unless you’re imagining some fantasy scenario where an actual law is passed by Congress prohibiting it in the next five months, a renunciation of first strike would be (at its closest approximation to legally binding on anyone in the military) a lawful order by the commander-in-chief that Trump, as commander-in-chief, would be completely legally entitled to reverse at will.

20 Rich Berger August 6, 2016 at 6:17 am

She did launch a few lamps and ashtrays at Bill in the WH, but those were conventional weapons.

21 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 6:21 am

Even lacking the context, I am sure he deserved it. She probably will get along better with Putin and the young Kim.

22 dearieme August 6, 2016 at 6:24 am

Have people really persuaded themselves that the absurd mountebank is more likely to launch a nuclear weapon than the termagant, grievance-nurturing, drink-inclined Clinton?

23 Millian August 6, 2016 at 6:57 am

For those who do not think that using words from the era of GK Chesterton makes you clever,

“termagant” = “she’s a WERMAN!”

24 Cliff August 6, 2016 at 9:08 am

No more than “brute” = “he’s a MERN!”

25 dearieme August 6, 2016 at 9:46 am

Do you deny she’s a woman? That had not occurred to me. In that case how did they fake Chelsea?

26 The Other Jim August 6, 2016 at 10:34 am

>”the termagant, grievance-nurturing, drink-inclined Clinton”

…with a head injury.

And the same press currently working 24/7 to get her elected will spend four years defending (or covering up) her every move.

If this does not concern you, you’re insane.

27 The Anti-Gnostic August 6, 2016 at 11:33 am

Part of the team of women advising President Peace Prize who blew up the Middle East.

(Yes, I know it’s GWB’s mess too.)

28 mulp August 6, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Yep, no US President should ever argue for a democratic republican government replacing a dictatorship or military rule because US interests are best served by being able to negotiate and buy off a limited number of people in a nation.

And once the US has invaded and occupied a nation, it can never relinquish control until a stable puppet government is assured for at least a century.

Clinton made America weak by ending the occupation of Europe to ensure all NATO members remained puppets in the game Bush-Cheney ran in the Persian Gulf. Where were the French and Germans dying in Iraqi?

29 The Anti-Gnostic August 7, 2016 at 10:38 am

“Argue for” you misspelled “bomb” you stoned hippie.

30 Meh. August 6, 2016 at 1:55 pm

See, this is why I believe in strong time discounting. The future is overrated.

31 MyName August 7, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Well one of these candidates is actually talking about using nuclear weapons like it’s a serious policy option and the other one isn’t. Hint: it’s the one that has never actually held public office anywhere. Should we just ignore what the candidates are actually saying now in favor of our “gut” feelings and blind faith in our party of choice? I’d feel better about that in my guts if the GOP hasn’t been so dysfunctional for the past 10 years.

32 Jacob A Geller August 6, 2016 at 8:02 am

Something Tyler wrote a couple months ago: “No man or woman should have so much political power over others.”

33 dearieme August 6, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Checks and balances: but constitutions aren’t much use if people won’t abide by them.

34 albatross August 8, 2016 at 3:07 am

I think we ought to make presidents get a declaration of war in congress before we go to war. But hell, we’d probably have to get that into the constitution to get anyone to pay attention to it….

35 chuck martel August 6, 2016 at 9:07 am

“one of the B-52 bombers carrying thermonuclear arms came dangerously close to having an accident.”

What’s that supposed to mean? Without some more detail that’s just BS.

36 Too Late August 6, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The whole story seems BS to me.

B52s were big fat targets moving slowly toward the USSR. They were not a threat, a thermo-nuclear war wouldn’t have started with them, they were a signal.

People in the Kremlin watched the planes get closer for 18 hours, then they gave a call to the White House “WTF are you doing?!”. Kissinger picked up “Well, we are not happy with what you’re doing in North Vietnam”. The Russians replied “Deal with it! And, oh, by the way, tell those planes to go home now.” Kissinger: “Oh, all right then…”

End of story.

The only reason this episode is being dug up now is because TRUMP!

Pretty transparent supposedly Straussian agitprop.

37 MyName August 7, 2016 at 8:22 pm

I’m sure it makes you feel better at night to believe that Nuclear weapons aren’t likely to have an accident, but a number of scandals and other issues with both SAC and the missile launchers themselves would seem to disagree with this. These weapons are dangerous for everyone involved, and the need to place them on a hair trigger during the cold war made this worse.

38 The Original D August 6, 2016 at 2:39 pm

This particular story may be BS, but there are many documented instances of careless handling of nukes that could’ve had devastating consequences.

https://www.amazon.com/Command-Control-Damascus-Accident-Illusion/dp/0143125788

39 JonFraz August 8, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Actually, there were accidents involving nukes: somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast off Savannah and in the Mediterranean near Spain American H-bombs are sleeping with the fishes– for now.

40 cfh August 6, 2016 at 11:50 am

Surely they don’t give these people the real codes?

41 Anonymous August 6, 2016 at 2:43 pm

“It was a completely extralegal order, perhaps mutinous. But no one questioned it.”

This is a wonderful story illustrating how “power resides only where people believe it resides.”

42 TheAJ August 6, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Wasn’t Nixon considered one of those rare “Smart Republicans?”

43 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 5:47 pm

He was a RINO. As every Republican knows, there was never a real Republican president but Lincoln (except when you have to pander Southern hicks) and Reagan (when his handlers allowed Reagan to be Reagan), there will never be a Republican president.

44 GoneWithTheWind August 6, 2016 at 8:28 pm

Don’t forget JFK during the Cuba crisis. This was real not some fake attempt to make Russia think we might use nukes. This was seconds from happening.

45 Sean Kelleher August 6, 2016 at 8:34 pm

On the nuclear question, as with any other question, Trump v. Clinton is a no-brainer. But the more important issue is the institutional failure that has concentrated so much destructive power in the hands of a single person. And it is notable that Clinton, a principal advocate of the Pivot, and a likely supporter of the Pentagon’s 3rd offset strategy, will probably pursue policies that may increase tensions with a nuclear armed China. Instead of focusing on whether America should give Trump the nuclear briefcase, Americans may want to consider whether Washington in general can competently manage the key national security challenges of the 21st century.

46 Thiago Ribeiro August 6, 2016 at 8:41 pm

If not Washinton, who? If not in the 21th century, when?

47 Sean Kelleher August 6, 2016 at 10:22 pm

True enough; but if people are concerned about presidential leadership during nuclear crises, then Washington’s current security approach towards China, which is disturbingly similar to its approach to the Soviet Union, deserves close scrutiny. My Mom and Dad lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Able Archer war scare, I’d like to avoid having comparable experiences. My extended strategic discussion of this subject is here – http://ivan-anya.blogspot.com/2016/02/context-matters-evaluating-proposed-us.html?m=1

48 Anon7 August 7, 2016 at 4:11 am

People, please stop plugging your stupid blogs.

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