No Longer Unthinkable: Should US Ready For ‘Limited’ Nuclear War?

 

 

 

 

 

” For more than 60 years, most Americans have thought of nuclear weapons as an all-or-nothing game. The only way to win is not to play at all, we believed, because any use of nukes will lead to Armageddon. That may no longer be the game our opposition is playing. As nuclear weapons proliferate to places that might not share our reluctance to use them in small numbers, however, the US military may face a “second nuclear age” of retail Armageddon for which it is utterly unprepared.

Adversaries are less likely to be deterred by America’s nuclear arsenal if they decide we won’t strike back with our big bombs in response to a limited, low-yield nuclear attack on US troops. It’s even less credible the US will retaliate massively if the adversary stages the nuclear strike on its own soil as a last-ditch defense against “regime change,” as Russia has wargamed and as Iran is no doubt tempted to do. Least credible of all  is US nuclear retaliation for a nuclear attack that doesn’t actually kill anyone: An enemy with even modest space capability can detonate a nuclear warhead high in the atmosphere, where it will generate a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (or HEMP) that disrupts the electronics on which the US military depends without actually taking any lives. (Congress has held hearings on electromagnetic pulse in the past, albeit focused on threats to the American homeland rather than US forces abroad, but legislative interest has waned since the 2012 defeat of Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the Hill’s foremost hawk on EMP).

“We’ve gotten very used to bombing countries, going downtown and working our will” from Baghdad to Belgrade, Wilson said. When the target has nuclear weapons, however, even using  America’s fading conventional superiority starts looking a lot more dangerous.”