The Nuclear Weapons Effects National Enterprise… Sucks

Last month, an immensely forgettable group of boffins released a hopefully-doomed-to-obscurity 92-page report (7.9MB PDF). The Report of the Joint Defense Science Board / Threat Reduction Advisory Committee Task Force on The Nuclear Weapons Effects National Enterprise – and how’s that for a ponderously long name? – argues not-very-convincingly that America’s ability to engage in military operations in a nuclear environment has atrophied – that’s a word they seem really infatuated with, by the way – since the glory years of the Cold War. This may or may not actually be true; keep in mind that the U.S. military has never actually operated in a nuclear environment, so all the nostalgic bluster about Cold War-era readiness and capabilities is at least partially wishful thinking.

The Task Force further alleges that this is a ginormous problem that poses an imminent danger to capitalism, democracy, and the American Way of Life(TM) in part because our conventional military forces are just so gosh-darned awesome that the only way a deranged third-world tyrant could ever hope to defeat us is through the use of nuclear weapons.

This is the point, dear reader, where I sincerely hope you just did the whole facepalm thing.

But wait. It gets worse.

The whole report is chock-full of unfounded assumptions, strawman arguments, logical fallacies, and jingoist blather. The recommendations are refreshingly short, and so distressingly full of meaningless, clueless babble that it makes me want to pull my hair out:

+ Immediate attention should be given to:

– Making nuclear survivability a routine issue for leadership attention, focused in the current context of growing horizontal proliferation by both state and non-state actors.

– Taking the first step in establishing a national enterprise by forging an agreement with the Department of Energy to reverse the decline in the nuclear weapons effect enterprise. Engage the intelligence community as well.

+ In the near term, actions should focus on: advancing the human skills base; improving the Department’s understanding of reliance on net-centricity and unmanned systems in a nuclear environment; updating survivability standards; and pursuing radiation hardening advances.

+ In the long term, the Department needs to move to a model-based approach for the weapons effects enterprise to make up for the lack of underground testing; expand agreements to collaborate with other agencies with a stake in the enterprise; and ensure that a minimum “national enterprise” capability in trained expertise and above-ground simulators is sustained.

(Before you ask, yes, they can’t agree on whether it’s the “nuclear weapons effect enterprise” or the “nuclear weapons effects enterprise”; that’s not a typo I inserted.)

I cannot be the only person who gets irritated by idiotic and meaningless statements like this. “Let’s take the first step to establishing a national enterprise, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean, by forging – love that word, so dynamic and sexy – a relationship with another agency to reverse the decline – good phrase, that – in the very national enterprise we’re supposed to be newly establishing.”

Hnur, what?

Don’t worry, it gets even worse than that.

Ever heard of the Federal plain language initiative? It’s a law that requires government agencies to produce material intended for public distribution that’s actually comprehensible by the, you know, public. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it; almost nobody has – including the Task Force on The Nuclear Weapons Effects National Enterprise, obviously.

…[T]he nation lacks a clear understanding of the response to nuclear radiation exposure of general purpose forces, the Global Information Grid (GIG) and the GIG-edge, and critical infrastructure on which the Department of Defense (DOD) relies. Moreover, the technical expertise and infrastructure to help remedy the situation has decayed significantly. Investments in addressing nuclear survivability have declined precipitously.

How did this atrophy of attention and capability come about? The root causes seem to lie deep in the corporate point of view among DOD leadership that has developed since the end of the Cold War about these matters. A number of factors have contributed. Nuclear weapons have not been used, other than in deterrence, for over sixty years. And for the past twenty years, even the deterrent uses have been less immediate and direct, and have seemed less important than before. Since the first Gulf War, conventional
operations of great difficulty and importance have consumed DOD and national attention, and have displaced nuclear deterrence as the reigning paradigm. Furthermore, there seems to be widespread belief that the United States will be able to deter enemy use of nuclear weapons. For all these reasons, the possibility that U.S. forces would have to operate effectively in a nuclear environment simply seems, in this view, to be extremely remote. Finally, the costs of hardening military systems, and the difficulty of developing ways of operating forces to be effective in a nuclear environment, seem larger to many than the likelihood of the threat warrants—and are assumed to be greater in real dollars than they actually are. The complicated—and, to many decision-makers, arcane—nature of assessing the nuclear cost/risk trades exacerbates the problem. As a result, fewer
and fewer military and civilian leaders in DOD have had experience with nuclear weapons and issues around them … and the downward spiral continues.

The task force believes that this point of view, though generally tacit (and often denied when alleged) holds sway widely in DOD—how else could one explain what has happened? The task force also believes this point of view is profoundly wrong and dangerous. It is wrong in part because, although deterrence seems to have worked during the Cold War, the situation is different today. Some adversaries today are prima facie undeterrable. Some may be desperate. Some may believe that asymmetries in the perceived political stakes of war, perhaps compounded with perceived U.S. unwillingness to break the “nuclear taboo,? will prevent the United States from retaliating forcefully against
their use of nuclear weapons.

That’s pretty representative of the report as a whole. Badly-written gibberish that goes on and on and on for ninety-two painful pages, and can’t decide at any given moment what point it’s trying to make, if any. At times it tries to argue that nuclear terrorism by non-state actors is the gravest threat freedom and democracy have ever faced, and that not enough is being done to deter it. At other times it tries to argue that a reliance of missile shields has left the free world vulnerable to other forms of nuclear weapon delivery, which may possibly even be true, unlike most of the other idiocy in the report. Occasionally it seems to argue that the downsizing of America’s nuclear arsenal – and de-facto moritorium on new nuclear weapons development and testing – has somehow left us all incredibly vulnerable. And repeatedly they argue that enemy actors – including “terrorists” – would logically choose not to use nuclear weapons to, say, create a giant smoking crater where the Pentagon or White House used to be, but to set them off way off in the middle of nowhere, creating an electro-magnetic pulse that would inevitably destroy all the conveniences of modern society within hundreds, thousands, or even millions of miles… and “enhance the earth’s radiation belts with fission electrons.” (Page 19, if you want to see this particular bit of idiocy in context.)

The only boogey-man they forgot to include was little green men from Mars, who might bombard our population centers with tetra-phased gamma-ray ion-flux cannon beamers from their invisible ships high in orbit.

If we’re all really, really, unimaginably lucky, not a single idiotic recommendation from this task force will be considered by decision-makers, let alone implemented.

I have a bad feeling we’re not going to be very lucky. How about you?

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', General, Security | on July 26th, 2010| No Comments »

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