For almost half a century, the world's most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960s, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had grown so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the other's retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to committing suicide.Scary stuff. Read the whole thing.
This debate may now seem like ancient history, but it is actually more relevant than ever -- because the age of MAD is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.
Some may wonder whether U.S. nuclear modernization efforts are actually designed with terrorists or rogue states in mind. Given the United States' ongoing war on terror, and the continuing U.S. interest in destroying deeply buried bunkers (reflected in the Bush administration's efforts to develop new nuclear weapons to destroy underground targets), one might assume that the W-76 upgrades are designed to be used against targets such as rogue states' arsenals of weapons of mass destruction or terrorists holed up in caves. But this explanation does not add up. The United States already has more than a thousand nuclear warheads capable of attacking bunkers or caves. If the United States' nuclear modernization were really aimed at rogue states or terrorists, the country's nuclear force would not need the additional thousand ground-burst warheads it will gain from the W-76 modernization program. The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.
Not to beat a dead horse, but this is why questions of Ignatieff's support for Iraq, and the whole "Empire Lite" thesis is so important. The Bush Administration is building a form of imperialism that is explicitly based on the use of preemptive war and even nuclear weapons. We need to know if a candidate for the Liberal leadership supports this insanity or not.