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The case against tactical nuclear weapons

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posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 02:37 PM
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Before we begin, lets first describe the nature of tactical vs strategic weapons.

A tactical nuclear weapon is a low-yield, battlefield weapon. Although no official technical distinction is made, we will say (for this post) that they are limited to sub/low kiloton yields.

A strategic nuclear weapon is a multi kiloton to multi megaton bomb intended for use against military targets (counterforce) and cities (counter value).

Today, I'd like to present a case against the use and development of tactical nuclear weapons. I will not be focusing on the various treaties in place, or on political issues involving their use. Instead, I will try to focus on "tactical" considerations.

The bulk of my argument is based on the policy of strategic deterrence and force escalation.

To begin, strategic deterrence is affectionately known as MAD (mutually assured destruction). This basically means that any actor using nuclear weapons against the country will be met with a massive retaliatory strike also using nuclear weapons - thus assuring both actors are destroyed. MAD's feasibility is based on nuclear weapon states maintaining second-strike capability, usually through a nuclear triad (ICBMs, Bombers, Subs). MAD has been the guiding principle for over 50 years.

In contrast, the continuum of force escalation provides for a graded response to aggressors, including the use of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons to achieve battlefield and theatre objectives.

I hold that any use of nuclear weapons will eventually escalate to the use of one-ups-manship leading to a strategic exchange.

I'll use a scenario to illustrate this theory.

The DPRK decides to "reunify" the Korean peninsula by force. They send 500,000 troops to the DMZ and commence a massive conventional strike on US/ROK forces. NK, fearing US nuclear retaliation, withholds use of nuclear weapons. Allied forces, quickly in danger of being overwhelmed, request permission to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. The president authorizes this, and the forces deploy the Davey crocket system. The yield is set to only 100t, and it does little to halt the waves of human attacks. North Korea retaliates by using 1 40kt device against Seoul. The US nuclear submarine sitting nearby now launches 1 MIRVd trident SLBM, unleashing a total of 3MT on NK military targets in a counterforce attack.

Now, this is all pure speculation.. Assuming China/Russia both remain out of the fight, and that the North's nukes were destroyed by the Trident strike, we now have Seoul in flames, and parts in NK glowing.

But what if China/Russia did get involved? We all know the horrifying consequences of that.

I realize the scenario is purely hypothetical, but it does demonstrate how tactical nukes - even of the lowest order - can easily escalate a nuclear exchange to the multimegaton level.

Thoughts? Am I completely wrong here? Or do tactical nukes completely undermine strategic deterrence?




posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:16 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

I can't disagree that any nuclear exchange will be a net negative for all interested parties. However, while I sympathize with the idea of a nuclear weapons free world, I believe it is impossible.

The main issue is that you cannot take any capability off the table, not a single one.

The ultimate goal of the peace movement is the declaration by states of their voluntary and permanent incapability to deploy force. Such a strategy is all but guaranteed to result in war. So, while we may not want to and actually fully intend not to, we must not make that statement if we are to benefit from the threat of the use of any and all force within our capability. Additionally, we must never imply that our responses will be comparable or limited.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:21 PM
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a reply to: greencmp

I agree completely in regard to massive retaliation and strategic deterrence. To eliminate nukes, at this time, would be suicide.

I am only making a case against the tactical use of NW in a first strike setting.

since its inception, first strike capability must be able to destroy the enemies ability to use WMDs before they can retaliate. Tactical nukes eliminate a true first strike, and, following their use, puts us in a very uncomfortable position.




posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:30 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

I think we have stated that we won't use first strike nukes, strategic or tactical.

The only scenario I can imagine where first strike tactical nukes are used on us would be a naval engagement and I can't imagine that we wouldn't retaliate in kind.

Still, just like the playground or the bowling alley, you don't want to seem too unviolent if you want everyone to behave themselves.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:35 PM
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Yeah I never much understood the TN. So it does the job of a few smaller bombs but like you said, once "nukes" get used it's hard to see a de-escalation. I may be off a bit on the "few smaller" comment, it just seems dangerous to start there.

I can imagine a scenario similar to yours where bigger players don't get involved, but it's a huge gamble in my opinion.

In your scenario, maybe China and Russia stay out in exchange for a new DMZ between Korea and China. Isn't that the biggest reason China fought with (and still supports) NK? To not have their border be contested by the "west"?

a reply to: JBurns



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:43 PM
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I too do not believe in the viability of tactical nuclear weapons. But their conception was at a time when US military strategy was entirely different from what it is today. In my opinion however tactical nuclear weapons would have been much more likely to start an actual nuclear war, with large yield devices, during the Cold War than at present. I do think you are off the mark regarding the Korean scenario however. The US would be very unlikely to unleash even tactical nuclear weapons in the event of a North Korean invasion into South Korea. The reason for this is mainly because simulations and planning have shown that after the initial North Korean surge, the Northern forces would be repulsed. Their main advantages would come from surprise and force concentration. Surprise is negated if a considerable advantage is not maintained, and the attacking force essentially has to keep the initiative or advantage. The force concentration is great, and alone can win some battles, but an invading North Korean force would quickly get bogged down.

If my instincts are correct the US will take a multi-faceted approach, led by establishing air superiority and essentially bombing the invading forces night and day. There would definitely be a US ground presence, as evidenced by the fact that we have troops in South Korea for just such an invasion, and these US forces would supplement South Korean forces, with more US troops being sent over time. I estimate that the initial invasion would bog down within a week. The US would never open a war with the use of nuclear weapons, even tactical nuclear weapons. I have mentioned in the past that my belief is that a nation will be most likely to use nuclear weapons when they are on the verge of defeat.

If you want a historical example, the Korean War is a good one. US forces were pushed back to what essentially amounted to the southern edge of the country. We had nuclear weapons at that time, and it would have been a great time to use them, and this is quite similar to the scenario you propose for the Korean peninsula. Lines of defense do not tend to evaporate all at once. You will generally have a break in one or more portions instead of a dissolution along the entire front, due to the mass thrown at a particular area as well as the strength of the defense. And any decent commander would not allow portions of their lines to remain in place once a breakthrough occurs. In fact, a single breakthrough, if it is not thought it can be plugged, calls for a strategic evacuation of the entire front. It would depend on the force concentrations and dispersement of course, but as a general rule you pull back. The US would likely fight a sort of defense in depth, or a fighting retreat. This is a tried-and-true strategy because a rapidly advancing enemy, who is advancing at a fast pace because they are pursuing and have "got the scent," will usually tend to overextend itself. They will outrun their supply lines, although this is not really a concern on the Korean peninsula imo, but they can easily get bogged down at the very least. They essentially open themselves up to a brutal counterattack.

I do think that China's actions will play a large part in the US decision making process. Will the US continue to push into North Korea, or will they simply force NK out of SK? Many countries would be upset over the use of any nuclear weapons in my opinion, and such usage could provoke China, as might a US incursion into North Korea. But, I am thinking that China is a bit fed up with North Korea at present. I'm not sure they would come to their aid. I just really do not see the US being the first to use nuclear weapons. The only nuclear weapons ever dropped in anger were of course dropped on Japan in 1945, and I think the US learned a great lesson here. Which was that Japan barely even took these two bombings into account when they made their decision to surrender. Everyone seems to think that these two atomic bombs were the reason Japan surrendered, but this is not the case. So anyway, I just do not think there is a need for tactical nuclear weapons. The same thing can be accomplished with conventional munitions, without the stigma that comes with using actual nuclear bombs, missiles, torpedoes, etc.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:47 PM
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a reply to: greencmp

as far as i know china is the only nation with a "no first strike policy" regarding,this is not to say that we(usa) would just go willy nilly tossing nukes around like candy but given the right situation(no idea what that would be coffe didnt kick in yet )

looking at it from a historical point of view usa only uses nukes when the math of too many dead americans makes the government decide to use them (talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki) every one else we have to guess at their motives as we have the monopoly on depolying them in war (and hopefully it stays that way for a long time as we dont need to be tossing around nukes)

en.wikipedia.org... link for chinas no first use policy



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:49 PM
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To me a nuke is a nuke, once someone uses one, it is inevitable that it escalates from there.
If this is used anywhere,

This will happen everywhere,



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:49 PM
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Great points everyone!

I must admit, when it comes to strategy and war planning I am a bit outclassed by you guys


Especially the NK scenario, makes sense especially when you consider China's proximity.

I'm not certain, however, that we have pledged no first use. Can anyone verify this?

Thanks again everyone, the replies have been most enlightening!



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:51 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

The "Davy Crockett" program was scrapped because it was a really terrible idea.
All those rounds were disassembled and/or destroyed. It doesn't exist anymore.

That's not to say we don't have tactical nuclear weapons, I'm sure we do. But "that dog" that was nuclear artillery "don't hunt" as the saying goes.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 03:59 PM
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Wise nations fight on others soil
Good generals attack when they are ready, and the enemy is not
So, there are many more, but we all know there is no such animal as complete disarmament, even down to pointed sticks and rocks.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 04:14 PM
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originally posted by: RalagaNarHallas
a reply to: greencmp

as far as i know china is the only nation with a "no first strike policy"


I can't verify that myself so you are probably right.

Also, now that I read that declaration from China, I have zero confidence in it.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 04:41 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

I was in a tack nuke artillery unit in the 1980's. We had the capability to fire conventional and "special" weapons out of 8 inch self-propelled guns. All of the officers had to know how to assemble the nuke, which was pretty complicated. I was a signal officer, but had to learn.

None of us were going to put that bloody machine together in any event. Only the officers knew how to do it, so that was the end of US tack nuke.

We all came home, the 8 inch was retired, and now we are old, fat and happy worring about how our kids will do in the next college exam. Crisis averted.

Sometimes the little folks make all the difference.

Selah!



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 04:47 PM
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a reply to: olbe66

Sounds like a very interesting experience olbe!

So, you would have actually had to assemble the shell prior to use? I think I'd be extremely nervous! Sounds like high stakes game of operation.


Thanks for sharing your first hand experience sir.

JB



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 04:56 PM
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Fuel-air weapons were used in Vietnam to some effect, and have the capability to kill everything within a Kilometer or two of the strike.
These are not nuclear....so why not switch to these devastatingly effective weapons instead....



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 04:59 PM
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a reply to: stirling

Agreed! That's an extremely good point stirling!

Why not replace their nuclear counterparts with FAE/thermobarics?

S+
edit on 2/5/2015 by JBurns because: mispelling



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 05:03 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

Big box called "the coffin" would be hauled off a 2-ton trunk by about 8 guys. It was lead lined. Very heavy. Open up the seals on the locks, pop up the top, and get to work. There were the rings you had to assemble around a detonator, and then a casing that was shell-shaped went over the whole thing. Every part was break-arm heavy. There was a super-complicated detonator/timer that took a bunch of math to figure out. Then we had to attach a mounting on the back where the rocket assist would go. In a real event, the enlisted crew would load the shell, attach the rocket and add the charge bag(s) to the back before closing the breach. This was a shell with a 22-mile range, so in all the simulations we did in map exercises we always either nuked friendly troops or radiated ourselves when pulling back. Always did a "Fulda Gap" exercise because - ya know - godless commies.

No worries. They are all gone now.

Or at least the US does not officially field them any more.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 05:33 PM
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a reply to: JBurns

I know I am about to be screamed at, but I think little GW Bush should have used a tactical nuc after 9/11. After identifying the location of OBL, Tora Bora or where ever, I think the President should have gone on world TV and expressed the following : If you gut an American city this is what you can expect in return. Cut to an orbital picture of the location of OBL just as the nuclear flash and issuing mushroom cloud develops. I think that would have been the end of our Muslim problems.
What do you think?



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 05:45 PM
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a reply to: olbe66

Wow, thank you for the information buddy! I can't imagine trying to do all of that while being under attack and having to use that!

Were these the type with variable yield settings? I've always wondered how accurate those actually were.

It is at least comfortable to know these aren't out there anymore.

As far as strategic nukes go, I currently support their use as long as we keep renewing START initiatives and such. As we continue to revise "assured destruction" in the future, I think well see that a mixed conventional and asymmetric strike may be equally devastating as the world relies more on technology.



posted on Feb, 5 2015 @ 06:32 PM
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originally posted by: olbe66
Always did a "Fulda Gap" exercise because - ya know - godless commies.

No worries. They are all gone now.

Or at least the US does not officially field them any more.


Yeah, that was the "welcome to your new home" tour where I was in Germany. The captain would take you to the WSA and show you all the SADMs. "If the Rooskies come toward the Fulda Gap, you and five of your buddies will take one of these and head to a preassigned position in the gap. We figure the Russians will lead with Spetsnaz, so your average lifetime will be about 20 minutes once in position. You won't have time to get clear. So get your head right about it starting today."

And in 1989, they went away to Pantex, never to be seen again. Woot! They are gone, although their innards are still on a rack in Texas.



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