Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Living With Nuclear War

Last week the US laid the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to rest, acknowledging that democracies with nukes threaten no-one except their attackers, and dictatorships will get nukes regardless. With nuclear war now a matter of "when" not "if", how do democracies survive?


The death of the NPT was implicit in the US agreement with India, the world's largest democracy (and nuclear power since 1974).

President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974.

The NPT has always been weak. Its sponsors - US, UK, France, China, and the USSR - all hung onto their nukes. So when India, Israel and Pakistan got theirs, sponsors had zero moral leverage. Now North Korea, Iran, Japan & Taiwan are likely soon to have nukes.

How do democracies survive in a world in which every tin-pot dictator can kill hundreds of thousands of their citizens?

1. Promise Assured Retaliation

This was the Cold War doctrine - if you nuke me, I'll nuke you, probably killing you and your elite. This policy has to be clearly enunciated in advance - after the event it has little deterrent value!

2. Propagate Nukes to Democracies

For Assured Retaliation to work, democracies must either rely on allies to retaliate for them, or have their own nukes.

Having your own is safest - as Iraqi Freedom showed, once-solid alliances can crumble overnight. For example, the US or UK are unlikely to risk counter-strikes by retaliating against Iran (say) for a strike on Berlin. Germans needs to get nukes and can easily do so.

3. Deploy Missile Defenses

Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) limits damage but is not an alternative to counter-strike - the history of warfare tells us that you can never rely 100% on defense. Still, in 5 years time the US BMD shield should be capable of stopping most Iranian and some Chinese strikes.

Co-operation with other nations does make sense for BMD - it needs radars all over the place. Hence the UK deployment of US BMD radar, which means eventually the shield can be extended to the UK. Same applies to Japan.

4. Prepare Civilians

Civil populations need education on how to survive nuclear war. And simple changes to building codes can reduce casualties, for example requiring that new buildings have basic blast and fallout shelters, on the Swiss model.

However, democracies probably won't do anything to prepare their populations until a nuclear exchange actually occurs - like the UK before 7/7, they'll just hope it won't happen.

Meantime, individuals should educate themselves to look after their families.