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Extremely important to read and understand this

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  • wolfsave@aol.com
    This information should be read, understood, shared, and acted upon as soon as possible. If you thought the movie Dr. Strangelove was weird, well, reality
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2000
      This information should be read, understood, shared, and acted upon as soon
      as possible. If you thought the movie "Dr. Strangelove" was weird, well,
      reality is even weirder. The US is mortgaging life on Earth's security for
      an ideological trade off.

      May 1, 2000, Monday
      Foreign Desk

      U.S.-Russian Talks Revive Old Debates on Nuclear Warnings


      By WILLIAM J. BROAD
      American proposals to change a key arms control agreement have revived some
      of the more important, if arcane, debates over nuclear strategy that not long
      ago seemed consigned to the dustbin of the cold war.

      One of those strategies is called ''launch on warning'' and is widely viewed
      as raising the risk of accidental nuclear war.

      It was mentioned recently in documents that American negotiators gave Russian
      officials in an effort to persuade them to amend the 1972 Antiballistic
      Missile Treaty and let the United States build a limited missile defense.

      The documents, presented to the Russians in January, were obtained by The New
      York Times, which published parts of them last week.

      Opponents of changes to the ABM treaty are now charging that the Clinton
      administration is encouraging Russia to engage in a high-risk nuclear
      strategy. But American officials strongly deny that charge, saying they are
      simply acknowledging the reality of what Moscow might do in time of war.

      The launch on warning strategy is essentially this: if a defender detected a
      nuclear launch, it would send up its own missiles and warheads even before
      its enemy's could hit the ground. That way, a country would not be left
      defenseless by having its missiles destroyed while they were still sitting in
      their submarines and silos.

      Launch on warning was once seen as a way to reinforce the idea that all sides
      would lose in a nuclear exchange -- and thus deter one -- as modern arms
      became increasingly accurate.

      The problem, most experts on strategy say, is that it also puts nuclear war
      on a hair trigger. And it increases the risks of an accidental nuclear
      exchange because early warning systems are notoriously faulty. In 1995, for
      instance, the Russians misread the launching of an American weather rocket
      from Norway as a surprise nuclear attack. If not caught by vigilant humans,
      such false alerts can start an accidental exchange of nuclear missiles.

      Despite such dangers, the new American documents mention launch on warning in
      an approving context. They say it would help guarantee that the United States
      would not strike first in a disarming attack, even if it had a missile
      defense, which strategists, as well as the Russians, see as destabilizing
      because in theory it can give one side a protective advantage.

      A Russian policy of launch on warning would thus continue to insure that both
      sides would lose in any nuclear exchange.

      ''It is highly unlikely,'' the documents said, that an enemy with a shield
      would ever attack Russia because Moscow could launch its missiles on warning
      of attack, ''which would neutralize the effectiveness of the assault.''

      The documents also say Russia is keeping its nuclear forces on ''constant
      alert and apparently will do so'' well into the future. High states of alert
      are a prerequisite for a policy of launch on warning, but they too can add to
      the risks of accidental war.

      Critics of an missile defense system say statements like those in the
      American documents, coming in the context of reassuring Russia about its
      ability to penetrate any American shield, are encouraging risky strategies
      and undermining nuclear stability. ''The U.S. position should seek to reduce,
      not embrace, Russia's readiness to launch on warning,'' said Bruce Blair,
      president of the Center for Defense Information, a private Washington group.

      John D. Steinbruner, a nuclear expert at the University of Maryland, said the
      Clinton administration's tacit endorsement of Russian launch on warning was
      ''pretty bizarre'' because ''we know their warning system is full of holes.''

      Experts agree that Russia's network of early warning radars, satellites and
      computers is decaying and increasingly prone to false alerts.

      Lisbeth Gronlund, a scientist at the Security Studies Program of the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the documents show that the
      United States, in exchange for what she characterized as an unworkable
      antimissile dream, was willing to pay an absurd price: ''the continued threat
      of Russian unauthorized, accidental and erroneous launches.''

      Instead, the critics say, Moscow should be encouraged to take its nuclear
      forces off alert and to disavow launch on warning, and Washington should do
      likewise.

      Federal officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, denied that the
      arms negotiators were blessing dangerous practices and said the critics were
      being naive. The references in the documents, they said, simply conceded
      military realities and what Russia might do in war.

      ''It's not our job to say it's a bad thing,'' a senior official who works
      intimately with the Russians on military matters said of launch on warning.
      He said that Washington, eager to lessen the odds of accidental war, is
      actively working with Moscow to help Russia improve its early-warning
      systems.

      ''We're into lowering the risk'' of war, the official said, ''not raising
      it.'' He added that in some cases that meant a nation would adopt arguments
      and strategies that might look risky, but over time would prove beneficial.
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