Mood affiliation in everything should America give up the nuclear first strike option?

No, that is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  Yet there is now a Democratic, Elizabeth Warren-sponsored bill to do just that.


An alternate argument is that this law makes no difference whatsoever.

In extremis, presidents and generals would do what they must, and as has been the case since Hiroshima, realize the full judgment of history would be upon them.

+1 If you are the real anonamouse, this is your first good post. It doesn't matter anyway, because I am not going to troll anonamous anymore. I have been naughty, and I repent.

I have seen some comments to the anonymous collective, but perhaps not specifically to me.

I am going to be kind to every anonymous, because it's good to be kind.

I have sinned and I now repent.

'An alternate argument is that this law makes no difference whatsoever.'

Precisely. No one ever believed the Soviet Union's pledge to not use nuclear weapons first, being merely words intended to put the Soviets in the best light, without in any way, shape, or form restricting their actions.

Not one of America's potential adversaries will care in the least about any American law to not engage in a nuclear first strike, and in no sense would it make the world a more dangerous place.

Now, a treaty to prevent a destabilizing arms race in middle range nuclear missiles would probably make the world a safer place.

Yet oddly, in a column about using nuclear weapons, not a single word about how the U.S. has cancelled its participation in the INF Treaty.

Odd how quickly we forget Reagan's Cold War accomplishments, especially when busy dismantling them.

Credit where it's due, this is post is hella good.

Nonsense, It's a crap post. The Russians were and have been violating the INF treaty for years.

Here's an article from a German source in 2016:

"In 2010, the Russians began testing a new ground-launched cruise missile ...The Americans discovered the tests in 2011. A phase of intensive, quiet diplomacy began.

"We told the Russians, we know that you have this missile," said a source in the U.S. government. "We told them it’s a violation of the INF Treaty. We don’t want to publicly humiliate you, but we want you to return to compliance.

In July 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama wrote a letter to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Throughout all of 2015, the treaty issues were the topic of conversations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But there has been no resolution."

Yet oddly, even with Russia violating the INF Treaty, not a word from Prof. Cowen how the world is becoming a more dangerous place due to Russian actions involving nuclear weapons. Or how nobody in Russia would ever be stupid enough to believe that an American law would stop an American first strike, particularly in light of how the Russian leadership is fully aware of how hollow the Soviet pledge to never use nuclear weapons first truly was.

And certainly, no one I know who actually was in a potential position to use nuclear weapons (after authorization, of course) in the event of an actual war ever took that Soviet pledge at face value.

None of America's nuclear adversaries care what the U.S. says in terms of their own planning to American actions in a MAD world, and they never have.

It's so *frustrating* when people write the article they want to write, instead of the one you wanted them to write.

And to think that talking about meaningless drivel from Sen. Warren is more indicative of increasing danger from nuclear conflict than cancelling an actual treaty that was designed to decrease the danger of nuclear conflict and signed by a man who knew his way around a Russian adversary. Or are you one of those people who does not credit Reagan for winning the Cold War?

Or to put it differently, it is so entertaining to see such meaningless drivel given further attention while ignoring another Russian advance on the nuclear game board- Reagan faced down the Soviets - he did not give them the privilege of basing whatever weapons they wished, as reflected by the limitations established in the INF treaty.

No one cares what Warren says about nuclear weapon use policy - well, apparently apart from Prof. Cowen, and his Bloomberg editor.

Actually, you are right - Prof. Cowen should have written another article, one not based on meaningless drivel. Or has the time arrived for yet another acronym, this one called WDS?

No doubt, the INF treaty reduced risk, because both sides were in compliance. Is your argument that the US staying in the treaty, while Russia ignores it, and China isn't a party to it, continues to reduce risk? Surely we have more leverage to negotiate a an actual reduction of nuclear weapons once we are out of the treaty, than sitting impotently in it.

To get the INF in the first place Reagan had to strike a very aggressive posture, deploying Pershing missiles in Europe. That's negotiating from strength. Sitting alone in a treaty while everyone else is building the banned weapons doesn't give any leverage to try to get this under control again.

Yeah, withdrawal from the INF treaty, and Russia's announcement of various destabilizing weapons systems, are a bit more worrying.

Why mention it other than to point out the INF lived it's life and now has died -- governments will never honor their agreements for all time. Nor do treaties serve much purpose once the underlying trust and commitment to such terms has been lost by at least one of the signatories.

Finally, it make no sense to tie one hand behind you back when a new fighter enters the ring and has not committed to that agreement, an is honoring it as well.

The withdrawal is as much about China and it is about Russia.

John, we have lots of nukes, including lots of nukes in Europe. We just got rid of this narrow category because we and the Soviets agreed that they were more destabilizing than protection.

Has that changed?

That's the only serious question here. Will more missiles of a specify range increase risk and reduce safety ..

in the worst-case they only increase Putin's ability to be destabilizing.

The short answer appears to be "Yes, that has changed." However, that answer goes with the view that destabilizing actions are advantageous to Putin's interests. As they now are for Xi's.

Putting a higher level of risk back in Putin's face might be good and may well reduce his ability to destabilize. Additionally, the thread of such weapons may result in less risk than more risk.

Nuclear Strategist is not something I would want to play on the internet.

But here is the Army War College on this very topic:

'Putting a higher level of risk back in Putin's face might be good'

Well, if you yearn for the days when the Soviet Union was seemingly working hard at being able to decouple Western Europe from the U.S., this isn't risk from Putin's perspective, it is a reward.

'Additionally, the thread of such weapons may result in less risk than more risk.'

Reagan did not agree with that perspective, which is why he signed the INF Treaty in the first place.

'Why mention it other than to point out the INF lived it's life and now has died'

Well, it was not a natural death, and during the eartly 1980s, the idea of having middle range missiles was considered profoundly destabilizing, at least from a MAD perspective. Not only would reaction times be shortened, but the inability to tell tactical and strategic weapons apart was considered problematic - both by NATO and the Soviets.

And since the basic nuclear calculus has not actually changed between NATO and Russia, the cancellation of the treaty is an actual step to a more dangerous world. Assuming that one shares President Reagan's perspective, of course. Of course, these days, Mr. 'Tear Down This Wall' seems quite out of fashion.

The calculus might not have change but behaviors have. The INF was not being honored. Putin has changed the game. The withdrawal by Trump did not kill anything.

Similarly, China has also been changing the game here. In addition to it's build up of those INF missiles see how it's AF is acting

'The INF was not being honored.'

So instead of trying to force Putin to adhere to a treaty, we simply say go ahead, base whatever weapons where you like? Does not actually seem to be a winning strategy - for NATO, that is. For the Russians, on the other hand, well, mission accomplished in getting rid of another piece of those Reagan era policies that so effectively ringed in the Soviet Union.

'Similarly, China has also been changing the game here.'

Not in Europe, but sure, the Russians are deeply concerned about the Chinese. So instead of using American and Russian influence to try to have China not participate in an arms race, we have instead decided that the bigger the arms race, the merrier.

And to think that Europeans demonstrated where that tends to lead just over a century ago.

The "leave critical decisions to the experts" Dems need to shut down stupid ideas like this.

There is literally no stupid-ass idea introduced by utterly powerless Democrats that Tyler will not discuss as if it had a good chance of passing tomorrow.

Two more years of this, boys. Tyler's team is out of power; this is all he can do.

Two more years and then what? We still spend half of our federal budget on people aged 65 and over, have no answer to global warming, still are riddled with free rider problems and countries acting in bad faith, and still live in a hostile world. I am no fan of Trump, but Tyler is right, you can't keep holding out 4 years until "your people" are in power and expecting the US is going to become a better place.

"expecting the US is going to become a better place."
I suspect you mean become a socialist place. But never the less I would argue that there is no better place and in the last two years it became even better.

Say a president received intelligence reports that the North Koreans were planning either a nuclear attack themselves, or to sell some of their weapons to hostile terrorist groups.

Anybody that has nuclear weapons is planning an attack of some kind or what would be the point of having them? The US itself has all kinds of plans for the use of nuclear weapons and has proven it in the past by dropping A-bombs on teen-age girls walking to school, evidently to keep them from giving birth to kamikaze pilots.

I don’t know if the Japs would have thrown in the towel after Hiroshima if we’d given them a bit more time. I don’t think they were in any mad rush to surrender after Hiroshima, though. And if I had been President at the time, my calculation would have been that saving one American life was worth the lives of 10,000 Japanese. Maybe more.

And given what I know about the options available to Truman, anything that would get the Japs to surrender without using the A-bombs would have cost a lot more Japanese lives than were lost to the A-bombs, plus a whole lot of American lives, too.

Saying that the Americans should not have used the A-bombs on Japan is just crazy talk.

Japan had already offered to surrender continually prior to Hiroshima, of course, and, since it was no longer a threat to the US, the US should have accepted.

But no, Americans can do nothing in moderation and demanded unconditional surrender.

Until they recovered, rebuilt, and did it again, which they (war faction of the military) were planning to do.

Wasn't only Americans who demand unconditional.
Allies had darker intentions for Japan than USA did.
Japan (pro war faction) could have thrown in the towel anytime but they chose to hold out for better terms. That is the basic truth. They gambled big time, they lost.

"But no, Americans can do nothing in moderation and demanded unconditional surrender."

Pretty much sums it up.

It's probably worth comparing and contrasting the post WWII relationships between "excessive demands" USA and Japan and the relationship between both ROK and PCR.

If Japan were actually some vassal state of the USA that might be explained by your sentiment. Japan is not.

That was not clear. The comparison would be the relationship between USA-Japan and those between PCR-Japan and ROK-Japan.

"But no, Americans can do nothing in moderation and demanded unconditional surrender."

Compare and contrast with the other major powers of the war.

UK demanded the unconditional surrender of Italy and Germany.

USSR demanded the unconditional surrender of Italy, Germany and Japan.

Japan never accepted anything other than an unconditional surrender and then were brutal with the survivors.

Germany was much the same as Japan, though they were some what less brutal towards the peasants in the areas they conquered. Of course, they then proceeded to round up various minority groups and seen them off to execution camps.

So yes, the US was much like every other power during WW2.

Unconditional surrender by both Japan and Germany were both Allied, not merely American, policy.

"The US itself has all kinds of plans for the use of nuclear weapons and has proven it in the past by dropping A-bombs on teen-age girls walking to school, evidently to keep them from giving birth to kamikaze pilots."

Any teenage girls killed in Nanking or Manilla or any other place attached by Japan?

Don't want none, don't start none.

+1. chuck is on better ground reminding us of the immorality of the Native American genocide than on this. But not sure what the point is. These things happened and can't be undone, and most Americans are not exactly proud of what happened to the Natives. Nor are they culpable. Nor was that time morally equivalent to today, the past was a brutal place. Even (especially) in 1945.

"Native American genocide "

It was an multi generational war. People die in a war.

There was no genocide, Indians had weapons, killed Europeans and committed atrocities too.

>Yet there is now a Democratic, Elizabeth Warren-sponsored bill to do just that.

Sure, but in fairness, she's an idiot.

Ssshhhh!!!! Let her do it! 😂🤣

In a recent bloggingheads Will Wilkinson came out rather strongly in favor of Warren over Harris. FWIW.

Game theory. Cowen’s favorite game.

The actor's act at the Oscars. The rise of theater acting. The rise of cable news has had the effect of actoring. The models act in their photographs. The rise of the photograph economy. Is acting important? "Know thyself," the Greeks told us, not "be yourself." So how can you not be evil but still be immoral? Acting when you're not supposed to act mixed with heavy doses of narcissism rears the hound of Hades. It's not insanity so much as depravity. But don't athletes act, you ask? Sure they do, but they inject a heavy dose of musical translation. Non-violence, if you can believe it.

Uuuhhh ... how about we don't show our cards.

As far as the world is concerned, for us nothing is off the table, so you better play nice.

There are situation where you can benefit from renouncing some options, at least if you can do so credibly. The main benefit I can imagine, if this were a credible commitment, is that it would remove the need for other nuclear powers to consider launching their nukes to avoid their destruction when they had some indication we had launched ours. But since there's nothing that enforces this commitment, it's probably about as practically relevant as declaring Berkeley a nuclear-weapons-free zone.

Isn't it a bit to late for us to renounce no first use? I mean, I hate to spoil the party.

I see we're at that stage in a Republican presidency when the very rational libertarians start using hypothetical ticking time bomb scenarios to argue the US President needs unlimited power to commit massive war crimes against non-white people...

Non-white people only?

I feel your pain.

You are not alone.

More people have died from machetes than ever have from nuclear weaponry. Banning a weapon just because it efficiently kills people seems unlikely to change the body count given that most of the carnage is not from direct action of major weapons regardless.

Banning nuclear first use because they quickly escalate into catastrophic results is might be decent, but it suffers from a common knowledge problem. Even if the US president knows he will not strike first do the Chinese know that? Do the Indians know the Chinese know that (e.g. assume that Chinese readiness are aimed them and not the US)? Do the Pakistanis know the Indians know the Indians know the Chinese know we wouldn't strike first? Do we know the Pakistanis know the Indians know the Chinese know that we won't strike first? Do the Chinese know that?

It is very hard to get rational actor calculations out of a collective of states without somebody having to be safe "just in case".

And for what? I don't see savings by adjusting our force posture. We pay for a second strike capability regardless. I don't see our adversaries changing their stance either, the DPRK has been crazy and hostile for a good six decades without us nuking them. Will they suddenly spend less?

I see no gain and an increase in potential downside.

'Banning a weapon just because it efficiently kills people seems unlikely to change the body count'

Well, it will be interesting to see such thoughts after the first effective use of a bio weapon. Which is starting to become possible for anyone who keep keep a couple of hundred ferrets alive - 'The Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where researchers led by Ron Fouchier created mammalian-transmissible strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus, this week appealed a September court ruling obliging it to request an export permit before submitting such research for publication.

Export controls are part of an international legal regime intended to prevent exports of technology or information that could result in proliferation of chemical or biological weapons — including ‘dual-use’ materials that can have both legitimate and malicious uses. H5N1 is one of a list of more than a hundred dangerous human, animal, and plant pathogens that fall under export control laws.

Last year, the Dutch government invoked European export control legislation to oblige Fouchier and the centre to obtain an export permit before publishing a paper in Science describing how he engineered the strains. Fouchier initially threatened to defy the government by publishing without a permit, but conceded under protest. He applied for a permit in April, and the government granted it a few days later. '

At the governmental level, bioweapons are inferior substitutes for nuclear weapons. They are unpredictable (will your virus revert under selective pressures), they are hard to aim, and risk being rendered completely obsolete by medical advances (e.g. rapid vaccine development). From the perspective of a state, nukes are simply more reliable and useful. This why, after all, both the US and USSR gave up on them; they were not worth the bother.

From a non-state perspective, laws against use are going to be meaningless. You might have case for banning production, ownership, or research, but merely making them illegal to "use" is going to accomplish nothing. Sub-state actors willing to kill large fractions of the global population seem hardly unlikely to care about legality of use. Particularly as they have extremely limited means of protecting their own folks, bioweapons use by sub-state actors will almost certainly mean killing a bunch of people they like.

A no first use policy for bioweapons, like with nukes, will not change how much a state needs to possess to be "effective"; second strike is always more expensive. Such a policy will also have a common knowledge problem how do you convince everyone that everyone else knows this policy is legitimate and will be followed? Absent a solution there, these are just posturing.

A far more coherent (though I think still terrible) policy would be nuclear arms abandonment or reduction. These would change real costs and alter global strategic calculation (though I suspect not for the better). Unfortunately, I do no expect a modern "freeze" movement to be particularly popular so we will get useless posturing instead.

This is not significant different between state and non-state actors when it comes to the subject we're talking about. We have lots of nonproliferation rules and treaties. What has it got is? A bunch on new nuclear states and states like DPRK making all of them.

We also has non-state actors like ISIS and other terrorist organizations doing the same -- though with their limited resources doing so poorly. But here we also have a problem. State actors are often the enablers of the proliferation of both such weapons and the underlying production technology. Conjecture: DPRK has nuclear weapons because that was actually seen as beneficial by both Russia and China. The concept of cat's paw fits here.

The "Little Rocketman" ha nuclear weapons because:

As far as moods to affiliate with go, the one that says you don't want to use nuclear weapons in a first strike sounds pretty good.

From my memory, we under-manned Germany and S. Korea and said we'd use "field" nuclear weapons if invasions by the commies got out of hand. This left hanging that field weapons could escalate to full exchange, thus bringing non-nuclear aggression under the nuclear umbrella.

On the surface a no first strike rule rather greenlights such conventional invasions.

Why would a unicycle ever come into play?

As for you, you are not dumb as a brick, but you are clearly stupid.

Good luck , my young friend, God loves the stupid people like you just as much as God loves the people who are not stupid.

Oh am I wrong? Say something intelligent ....

not gonna happen.

look I am glad your wife, to whom I expect you to be faithful, does not know you are a moron. But I know. And I am not going to tell your wife.

But please exhibit a little more humility going forward, shorty.

Go ahead, say something intelligent.

Amuse us.

This suits my purposes, perfectly.

A case can be made that given the conventional superiority of the US in most expected conflicts, the existence of a first strike option does not provide much added deterrence. An explicit first strike option might also not be very useful because our enemies don't trust such policy anyway and will always act as if a first strike would be on the table if it seemed strategically appropriate. In that case, the US could benefit from a no first strike policy by marginally strengthen norms against nuclear weapons and assuaging some anti-nuclear concerns (both domestically and among our allies). I think this is how we perceived the no first strike policy of the Soviets during the Cold War. All things being equal, I think a statutorily enacted no first strike policy would definitely decrease actual deterrence versus an administrative policy because it would reflect a much more credible commitment to the policy (i.e., it reflects a great deal more political commitment to the policy and it may create liability for service members and/or bureaucratic processes). But in some circumstances, that may be a price worth paying. Specifically, if you think there is a real risk that the President will launch a first strike inappropriately (i.e., in circumstances other than the gravest military danger) or (2) you think that our enemies are becoming convinced that a US first strike is much more possible, in which case they will take all sorts of actions that we do not like up to and including preemptive actions that they may not have taken if they had a different view of the chance of US first strike. I'm not sure how the strategic calculus adds up currently (who knows how the Iranians or the North Koreans view Trump's appetite for nuclear conflict) but if you think risks #1 and/or #2 are serious, this is a rational, strategic thing to do.

>What if the near future brings very small tactical nuclear weapons, with more discrete impacts than current tactical nukes?

I think this is a good moment to point people at the M28 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon system, and its W54 warhead. In the 1960s, small scale nuclear weapons were put into relatively mass production. "Suitcase Nukes" aren't theoretical - there was a developed and deployed "satchel charge" SADM variant, weighing in at a cool 51 pounds.

Anyways, the US has never really ascribed to MAD; it followed NUTS much closer, and likely for the better. If you ascribe to a no-first-use MAD doctrine, then your opponent will continuously escalate their pressure on you, knowing you'll always rationalize away any retributive action out of fear of MAD. (we can't risk a great power war, because it would go nuclear and the world would end!) If you ascribe to NUTS, you are allowed to respond on a sliding scale, and the "opposition" gets to ask the question "does the US go nuclear if we invade Taiwan/ Latvia/ Israel?" rather than smugly know the US won't do anything until the bombs are already dropping.

Crimea was a stark example of the US failing to follow NUTS-type thinking, though I'm not sure Ukraine ever really fell into the category of "core interest"

Tyler you forgot the part about Trump pulling out of the INF nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. A detail too important to miss.

Nuclear weapons are more useful psychologically now than militarily. Sure, they're incredibly destructive but mostly kill lots of people who were innocent civilians going about their daily lives, and that doesn't really get you anywhere militarily. The inverse square law means that a large number of smaller and more accurate weapons is not only even more destructive, but also more targeted.

For example, if the US in 1945 had had precision-guided munitions it would have been easier and more decisive to launch a conventional attack that destroyed certain key pipelines or other infrastructure surrounding Hiroshima. Then when the eventual surrender comes you can put the local (and still alive) population to work rebuilding.

If we get to the point of this type of war no one is going to play nice angive much a shit about the other's population. Moreover, that population is a core part of the infrastructure for both building the war machines and being the war machine.

Thread winner.

After enough mangled remains come home the hatred of the enemy becomes so intense of the "other", at least among a large segment of the population, that concerns about non-combatants and innocents is not sufficient to stop the slaughter.

I would like to believe we have evolved past tribalism, but the evidence to the contrary is everywhere, including economics blogs of interest only to sophisticated, educated, and intelligent people. That thought is more scary than nuclear weapons and "no first strike" treaties.

Where is the selection pressure to remove tribalism?

It's a pointless law. This seems to be driven by the withdrawal from the INF treaty. Rather than this law we could better let Russia know we have no plans to put such weapons in Europe (with the EU would like to hear) unless Russia deploys such weapons against Europe.

The would be a more verifiable position as well.

"unless Russia deploys such weapons against Europe."

The missile system (SSC-8) has an estimated range of 2,500 km. They can be parked around Moscow and hit Berlin. Furthermore, they are mobile launchers. They can be driven around.

Sure but we already have counter threats available and some ability to identify such launchers around Moscow. Once the presence of such missiles were detected the USA could then start deploying.

Does this mean that until the USA version (or even the Europeans' deployments) Russia could attack without fear? No. But once they cross that line they bring the threat to their door as well.

Now, it's possible they have crossed that line and the USA and NATO are starting to respond....

"Once the presence of such missiles were detected the USA could then start deploying."

The Russians started deploying the missiles two years ago. That's what provoked this.

"Russia Deploys Missile, Violating Treaty and Challenging Trump - Feb. 14, 2017"

Threads can get out of hand, but the moves in Congress to rein in the President are very much about his personality. And sadly, angry responses to that reality by other pundits or commentators are part of the reality as well.

GOP Congress Tries to Rein In Trump on Foreign Policy (Aug 6, 2018)

Republicans are not yet ready to back bills by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., to require congressional authorization for a U.S. nuclear first strike, for example.

But they are ready to take certain steps. A provision in the new NDAA conference report would require a Pentagon-funded study of elongating the time period a president would have to consider using nuclear weapons in a retaliatory strike.

I find it odd that Trump, the least war-happy president in the 21st century, is the target of these efforts. Surely this is all politicking, no one who is on planet Earth actually thinks trump is more likely to do a first-strike than his predecessor or the opponents he defeated.

A headline last year was "Trump threatens nuclear buildup until other nations 'come to their senses'"

The Army War College article linked below describes this kind of thing as "escalation dominance" and a high risk factor.

I think it is the rhetoric, and lack of process, that worries people.

Whereas, my angry and repetitive responses about Trump are purely justified by the inherently higher morale positions I hold.

I really don't understand this idea that the nature of the most powerful man in America should not be discussed, even when it is directly on topic.

Nor that if simple words really do describe his abilities, they should be avoided, less they harm sensibilities.

Otherwise it all just becomes a value network game of avoidance.

I feel your pain.

Don't stop 'till you get enough.

Itmt, focus on your breathing.

If any of you think this is just about me, and not about the character of the President, seriously, read the Army War College piece.

I normally like the Bloomberg posts, but this one feels pretty thin to me--it basically reads as a bunch of hypotheticals without much in the way of serious engagement with the counter-arguments. If you wanted to engage with a more informed set of thinkers on this issue, the Arms Control Wonk site has both good writing and a good podcast.

Given the number of comments, I'd say it was an excellent choice, and some of the comments were good. I choose not to worry about nuclear war because, as the great Andrew Whitworth says...'At the end of the day we're all gonna die'. Well, hopefully not this day.

"The whole point of the doomsday lost if you keep it a secret!"

Cowen, doesn't this heavily go against your longtermist worldview, a la Stubborn Attachments? I.e., if most utility and human good is located in the future, due to economic growth and so on, isn't it overwhelmingly important that the world doesn't literally end? Granting all the arguments that a no-first-strike policy wouldn't do much to decrease odds of apocalyptic nuclear war, it would still do a little, and the expected value of that little seems to outweigh all other considerations.

Disclaimer that I haven't read Stubborn Attachments, and don't find what I've gleaned of its arguments terribly convincing, although I still believe the future is sufficiently valuable that this argument applies. I'd gladly give up the option to nuke North Korea for a 0.01% decrease in the likelihood of nuclear apocalypse. (Apologies to Seoul.)

There is a subtler point here that nobody has brought up, namely the position of Tyler's famous and revered major professor, the late Thomas Schelling. There is now a substantial body of extremely serious literature that argues that Schelling was more respoinsible than any other person for the world not so far having a nuclear war, which many thought was highly likely to happen oh a half century ago and more. The argument is that drawing on Schelling's "focal points" idea for which he mostly got his Nobel, the nuclear powers accepted a focal point norm of no fist use of nuclear weapons, a norm which if adhered to clearly prevents any nuclear war aside from accidental ones (which we have come closer to than many realize).

Now the tricky part here, which is relevant to Tyler's argument, although he said nothing about it, is that this norm has worked best by remaining essentially tacit: nobody actually openly states it. The major nuclear powers maintain the illusion that they are fully prepared to engage in first use of nuclear weapons, even as in reality they are substantially committed not to doing so.

That this is the beckdrop is essentially implied by Tyler's one actual current example of when the US might contemplate such first use. It involves North Korea, whose leader has a reputation for being somewhat unpredictable and irrational, although his irrationality may well be that "crzy like a fox" stance that Richard Nixon evinced: scare everybody into behaving well by acting just a little bit crazy. It is highly likely, although not certain, that this is the reality of Kim Jong Un, and he is no more likely to engage in first use of nuclear weapons than any of the other holders of them.

As it is, it is not obvious to me that this tacitness is really necessary to maintaining the Schelling focal point norm, but clearly quite a few people think it is. If this is what really underpins Tyler's argument, it would behoove him to 'fess up on this and admit it. I am quite certain he is fully aware of this litrature and these arguments regarding his old mentor and his role in all this.

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