A Single Serving Of Alphabet Soup

Our government is great when it comes to making acronyms. I use a few myself, mostly caryover from my time in the Navy (CEFGW meaning “Close Enough For Government Work,”  as in “this bolt meets CEFGW standards” and DORD for “Department Of Redundancy Department,” where we actually had a rubber stamp made for our fun). There’s a couple I’ve been considering lately that I want to comment on: WMD and MAD.

Weapons of Mass Destruction is fairly recent (at least in general usage) being invoked in the interest of finding nuclear weapon development in the middle east. The concept, of course, goes back a long time and has been used in nearly every world war. Not limited to atomic weapons (although they provide the biggest “bang for the buck”), air-fuel bombs, white phosphorus weapons, jellied petroleum devices (NAPALM) and even the “carpet bombing” runs of conventional weapons could be considered WMDs based upon the level of destruction resulting from their use.

As terrible as these weapons are, I am actually more concerned in massively constructed weapons causing minimal (or no) destruction while causing extensive personnel casualties. Weapons in this category might allow an attacking force to take possession of a local essentially intact after taking out combatants and civilians in the area. Most of these weapons would fall into the CBW class (Chemical / Biological Weapon) of producing death. Toxic nerve agents, for example, could be dispersed and make an area impassable without total protection for weeks to months. Simply walking to your mailbox a week after surviving an attack could be lethal. Biological weapons may be slower but perhaps more insidious, as the amount of global travel could spread a pandemic weapon far beyond the initial deployment area. Again, going to the market to replenish supplies could bring home a bigger package than what has been purchased.

Switching gears for a moment to consider the idea of MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction was the principle device used in the cold war against Russia to prevent nuclear war. The basic idea was to provide a “second strike” capability such that when an enemy launched an initial attack, there would be (more than) enough weapons available to launch a counter-strike that would cause at least as much damage to the aggressor. The concept was to “persuade” a potential foe launching a preemptive strike would be futile as the resulting devastation from the counter attack would not be worth the projected gain.

Growing up in the 1960’s with the mandatory air-raid alerts and practice drills in the school hallways was a quarterly (occasionally monthly) reminder we were only a moment from horrific death from above.  That the launch never occurred is a (kind of) proof of the validity of the concept.

Today, I fear the concept no longer is valid. To have an effective projection of MAD requires both sufficient weaponry (and it’s staging) to make such an attack feasible, in fact virtually certain) and the determination of the highest members of government to make the call. I suspect America in 2015 fails on both accounts. The military has been substantially gutted in its size and power, and our leadership has given little encouragement to suppose a willingness to “pull the trigger” to deliver a knock-out blow to any conceivable enemy. Even a couple of decades ago we projected enough power to give any potential attacker pause, but today….

Even more disconcerting is the rise of terrorist attacks independent of an official nation-state sponsor. Should a massive attack occur (say, in September?) when there is no clearly defined enemy, where would we focus the MAD counterstrike? Even if there is a hypothetical devastating nuclear attack against a single target (the most likely terror strike) and the country of origin could be positively identified, what would be a “correct” response? Would it be rational to wipe a nation from the face of the Earth to retaliate against a single loss? Does a “tit for tat” destruction of one of their cities give a large enough incentive to cease forever making foolish decisions? Would 3 cities, or 10% of their population, or 30% of their national resource production capability? And would the powers that be make the decision?

I don’t know. I doubt if anyone does. But the concern of a WMD without the balancing effects of MAD lead ultimately to a WTF realization.

World Terrifyingly Frightening.

Phred

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