Missile Accuracy: Natural Consequence or Not?

The other day I was speaking to a fellow engineer about missile accuracy and mentioned Inventing Accuracy, which looks at the connections between guidance system design, nuclear strategy, and key actors (i.e. technologists, politicians, and the military). Her first comment was, “Well, why wouldn’t missiles be accurate? Why would they be designed to be less accurate?” Yet MacKenzie’s book “reveals just how wrong it is to assume that missile accuracy is a natural or inevitable consequence of technical change” (7). Before reading the assigned chapters, I thought very similarly to my friend: people in technical fields want to design and create the best technology possible so it makes perfect sense to have missiles accurate to within 100 meters. After reading, it becomes apparent that there is much more involved, such as nuclear strategy (counterforce vs. assured destruction) and political issues.

Some questions for thought: What were your preconceived notions about missile accuracy and how were they shaped by your background? For example, someone in finance might wonder if spending the extra money to develop missile accuracy within 100 meters is worth it or if it is a case of diminishing returns. How did your perception change after this reading? And what did you see as MacKenzie’s strongest argument against the belief that accuracy is a natural consequence of technical change and why? — Michelle

20 thoughts on “Missile Accuracy: Natural Consequence or Not?

  1. Michelle,

    It was interesting to read about your preconceived notions on ICBM guidance system accuracy and
    how they shifted as you read MacKenzie’s work. I think one of MacKenzie’s most
    interesting insights is that regardless of whether his subjects were in favor
    of increasing missile accuracy or not, they almost always assumed it would
    happen. Growing missile accuracy is seen as the “natural direction…of
    technological change.” It is an assumption that “crosses political divides.” He
    proves throughout his book, and outlines in Chapter 8, that this is a complete
    fallacy. He claims that technological change is absolutely socially driven,
    arguing that institutional structures drive technological advancement. These
    institutional structures are not created at random, as they are at the
    crossroads of numerous social and political forces that facilitate their
    emergence and development. This, in my mind, is his strongest argument: The
    institutionalization of a pattern of technological change focused on increasing
    BM accuracy was driven by the existence of a stable framework (US as a driver
    of innovation in the world) and the strong channeling of resources to support
    the process by political, military, and technological actors. This may seem
    like an over simplification of the numerous insights MacKenzie provided, but it
    is just a concrete way for me to summarize his argument. Did I expect this to
    be the case going into the reading? Nope. Even as a
    non-Engineer/Physicist, I saw technological advancement as an unstoppable and
    constant force of our human nature. It is evident, however, that technological
    advancement is a much more nuanced issue when examined under a sociological
    lens.

  2. As Michelle says, on the surface it seems as if missile accuracy would be a natural goal of engineers designing missile guidance systems, and that much focus on technological change would be directed towards this end. However, looking at this issue from an economic perspective, it becomes clearer to me why this would not always be the case. Defense budgeting is often a contentious issue in political debates, and therefore, it is necessary to allocate the funding that is available in the most efficient way. When considering technological change in missile delivery and guidance systems, it is possible that the research necessary to make significant progress in this area of defense technology is quite expensive, and the returns from this investment relatively smaller on margin compared to some other area of defense technology. For example, if a missile is accurate to within 100 meters, is it really productive to fund the research necessary to increase this accuracy (say to 50 meters), especially if the destructive capability of the missiles being controlled by the guidance system exceeds the margin of error of the guidance system itself? To me, it seems like the logical answer is no. Although there is something to be said for increasing precision and accuracy (especially in preventing excess collateral damage), pursuing further advancement in this area seems to be marginally less productive than directing resources to other areas, especially in a political environment where there is significant pressure to reduce military spending.

  3. Mackenzie made many good points arguing that outsiders often believe that matters of
    technology are set in stone and not to be questioned. While reading Chapter 8,
    I found myself particularly drawn to the idea that nuclear politics is, in many
    ways, an “ordinary” issue. Though nuclear weapons and the terminology
    surrounding them sound incredibly daunting—and for good reason—this does not
    mean that the topic is untouchable. According to Mackenzie, the engineers who
    build nuclear weapons treat their work as “just a job”; they do not tend to
    engage in policy-related discourse when among coworkers. Though I never thought
    to approach the creation of nuclear weapons from this perspective, it does in
    fact further Mackenzie’s argument. Though the progression of nuclear technology
    seems like an untouchable subject, the men and women who are engineering new
    forms of this technology are just trying to do their jobs. They (probably) do
    not have a strong political agenda. As such, policy makers must not be daunted
    to engage in dialogue with these engineers and truly collaborate. Perhaps as
    soon as politicians stop seeing the path of technological innovation as a
    continuous, unwavering entity, the path will in fact become easier to influence
    and to understand.

  4. As an engineer, my first instinct is to share Michelle and her friend’s attitude – if you are creating a certain technology, why not make it as perfect (i.e. efficient, accurate) as possible? Engineering-wise, the difference between perfecting a guidance system and perfecting, say, a given computer code, is not so great. However, I don’t believe this development of technology is automatically unstoppable on its own – rather, it could be considered unstoppable so long as it promises to be profitable (not just in the money sense). To continue my example, so long as a computer code can be made more efficient and the return outweighs time spent coding, a professional programmer will do so. However, they will generally not continue working on it once it’s serviceable. Similarly (and as ebartholomae points out below) the returns for increased missile accuracy should outweigh the resources spent. I saw this as McKenzie’s strongest argument against people who believe that “it is a laboratory development, and there is no way to stop progress in that field” (3). The decisions therefore seem to lie in the hands of politicians and investors who control flow of resources to engineers and scientists, specifically in the case of defense funding. It is up to them to realize when a technology is “good enough” for their ultimate strategies, or if it needs to be improved further. For this there must be a joint effort between the two groups, both understanding to at least some degree the other side’s work.

  5. Naturally, technical change implies overall improvement, but when we’re talking about a device with multiple desirable features to optimize, the ordering of preferences or priorities (between, say, accuracy, reliability, producibility and economy) comes into play. In this case, the opportunity cost of investing in each is of utmost importance in determining the path of development. However, opportunity cost refers not only to strictly economic considerations but also to how it is positioned within a socially constructed framework. When a tradeoff exists is when a given pattern of technological change stops being “an autonomous, asocial process” (384) and starts depending on the strategic needs of those who set the institutional goals. Sure, in a utopian world endowed with unlimited resources, all features would be optimized simultaneously. (Yet in a world with unlimited resources, weapons would be unnecessary.) Why does accuracy seem like a natural consequence of technical change? MacKenzie says that the reason “lies in the self-fulfilling nature” (391) of technological change. When an interest in maximizing accuracy is created by scientists/politicians/decision-makers, people start believing that the only path of advancement is through increased accuracy; resources and energy are devoted to the pursuit of that one goal – increasing its chances of survival – while the alternatives are starved off investment, leading to their demise. This fundamentally darwinist argument sums up the author’s view of the causal mechanism by which an instrumental aim shapes the pattern of development of a given technology.

  6. The issues brought up in the Mackenzie reading highlight the important distinction between the science and policy of Nuclear Technology. At the outset, Mackenzie acknowledges that his work was designed for the layperson who does not want to be “put off by undue technicality.” However, the premise of his argument suggests that those engaged in Nuclear policy should be well versed in the technology. One of the most problematic aspects of the nuclear discussion is the idea that there is a group of non-scientific actors who control the priorities for the development of the weapons and there is a group of engineers who carry out the work but have no voice in the debate. Mackenzie’s reading underscores the tension between the practicality of a nuclear budget and the collateral damage that could result from a careless understanding of the weapons and their ultimate use. The reading questions the entire system in which it becomes “just a job” to create deadly weapons of mass destruction, especially when within that system missile accuracy is superseded by affordability.

    One of the tenets of Mackenzie’s work is easily applied to any scientific or technological field: that often the research is controlled or directed by those who understand little of the content. What makes this especially dangerous in the context of nuclear weapons is the lives put at risk. As other commentators have stated, the idea that missile accuracy is not a natural progression was jarring. However, I was not shocked by the claim that often policy makers are subject to different constraints and goals than the scientists carrying out the work. I found this to be Mackenzie’s winning argument because that piece at least was not surprising. Applying it to the development of nuclear weapons, though, was new since the general population assumes that field is approached with much care and a logical and scientific set of goals.

  7. I can honestly say that beyond the general sense of accuracy – delivering the payload within a serviceable distance from the intended target – I have never given any thought to the matter. As a politics major this lack of concern does not stem from any pre-formulated method of thinking about technological advancement, nor does it stem from some policy-related concerns. Rather, when considering the size of a nuclear bomb’s impact – especially in the days of megaton weapons with blast radiuses of several miles – it has always struck me as a moot point. The main purpose of obtaining and stockpiling nuclear weapons has, from my political perspective, always been a matter of security, and all that is needed in this matter is the ability to credibly threaten the opponent with an unacceptable level of damage. This is easily reached with a moderately (by today’s standards) sized nuclear weapon even if it didn’t detonate directly over the target.

    From my perspective, then, the development of a more accurate missile system specifically for a nuclear warhead would be a waste of resources – although it might be pennies compared to the size of the defense budget, I’ve always believed that the small numbers add up. At the same time, however, ICBMs and other long distance weapons systems, which deliver smaller payloads and therefore demand more attention to details like accuracy in order to maximize efficiency, will continue to see improvements in their accuracy and these improvements should (once again, from the perspective of a pol major with little to no technical background) be, with minimal cost, transferable to the payload delivery systems of nuclear weapons.

  8. I must admit that, while not from a technical background, I was in the same mindset as you and, as MacKenzie puts it, “assumed that missile accuracy is a natural or inevitable consequence of technical change”. When talking about weapons and missiles that are designed to cause some form of destruction, it seems a given that the ability to control that destruction as much as possible would be in the best interest of the creator/user. What really stood out to me from Mackenzie’s writing, however, was the emphasis he placed on the idea that engineers are so divorced from the decisions to use the devices they create that they create them simply as their job. Like a carpenter making a reliable chair, these engineers create missiles and other technologies that they ensure are reliable without any direct hand in the consequences of their use or even in the decision to use them in the first place.
    For an engineer that manages to design an even deadlier version of an existing technology, it simply means that he has perfected his craft further and done the math/science to make it all work out. For the politicians charged with deciding to use that technology, however, its effects are much more relevant and yet there is a concern that they themselves do not fully understand the science behind it. Regarding this particular point, however, it does not seem to me to be a particularly worrisome issue. Politicians have to make decisions on a variety of different subjects that they could never be expected to be absolute experts in, and have access to advisers and experts for this very reason. The fact that it is “just a job” according to MacKenzie seems to me an obvious and understandable state of affairs (though this does not mean that there shouldn’t be efforts to try to include more nuclear engineers specifically in the discussion). There are plenty of “creators” of tools and devices that are simply that: creators. The carpenter has no say in whether his chair will be used at dinner by a picture-perfect family or whether it’s particularly sturdy construction prompted someone to wield it as a dangerous weapon. That being said, the issue of sacrificing accuracy in order to lower costs that I started this post with is a problem (I would equate it here to encouraging the carpenter to build chairs that have a small chance of falling apart in order to shave off some costs in production) that brings with it real moral and practical concerns that should be addressed.

  9. I too did assume initially that improving missile accuracy was a natural course of technological development, but with the understanding given from the first couple lectures about the widespread nature of nuclear/thermal radiation and fallout, accuracy is not necessarily important when genocide is the goal. However, as MacKenzie points out in Chapter 8, political realities do shape the development of the technology. He addresses the obvious political factors, such as the rise of a nuclear “warfighting” coalition that advocated for the development of nuclear counterforce. But what I think MacKenzie misses is that, even in a framework of Mutually Assured Destruction, measurable technological “advances” could be sought out for political advantage.

    Increasing missile accuracy is an easily quantifiable way of measuring “advance,” up there with increasing the energy released by a single bomb. Even if it adds no strategic advantage (especially if the sheer number of nuclear weapons at your disposal could compensate for flawed accuracy), the public perception of each actor’s scientific/technological capabilities could easily be affected. It also affects the rival actors’ perceptions of one another: whether their opponent would be irrational enough to believe that counterforce was a viable possibility (the mad dog approach). Perceptions of the “state posture,” as MacKenzie puts it, of a nuclear-device wielding state is but one level of nuclear policy. This idea isn’t just a historically fascinating concept to study; it has real world impact today as we assess the willingness of states like North Korea and Iran to actually put to use nuclear devices.

  10. Like SStrauss, I was intrigued by MacKenzie’s discussion of the
    “self-fulfilling nature” (p. 391) of technological change as an
    explanation for why missile accuracy seems like a natural consequence of
    technical change. It does seem plausible that leaders’ (frontrunners in policy
    and science) initial focus on accuracy could have spurred a more widely held
    notion that missile improvement could only come by perfecting accuracy. And
    what MacKenzie puts forth about missiles parallels what has happened with another
    important technology—the computer. Moore’s Law, a term coined around 1970,
    refers to Gordon Moore’s prediction that the number of transistors on
    integrated circuits doubles about every two years. For decades, the
    computer-industry has striven to validate this hypothesis, making it a central
    goal and closely relating it to computer improvement. Indeed, many would argue
    that Moore’s law has a “self-fulfilling nature” much like that of missile accuracy.

    On a brief, separate note, MacKenzie’s discussion also made me glad that decision-makers furthered
    accuracy as the main way to improve missiles. I imagine that we’re much better of that this has been their concentration instead of, for example, focus on making as many missiles as quickly as possible.

  11. As ebartholomae, in my opinion “accurately” notes, the economic opportunity costs for funding missile accuracy development may be far outweighed by other initiatives that need funding, whether military or not, because in the end, as we have noted in class, often accuracy within 100 meters will be fine to destroy a target. As policy makers and governmental decision makers, we must take more than just the technology into account when creating solutions to policy problems. To answer Michelle’s question of how my perception of “accuracy” changed after the reading, I will say that my idea of how political leaders face military weapons issues (ICBMs, Warheads, Deployment and Delivery Methods) includes many challenges that I did not at first see, not just that technological parlance is not the easiest to understand or that the mathematical concepts that go hand in hand with trajectory and accuracy are not the easiest for your average Woodywu major to understand. One compelling argument that I though Mackenzie makes is that the constituency for which the policy maker serves must be in favor of creating weapons that are more accurate. This is a question of public opinion and inherently a sociological idea that lends strength to his argument.

  12. I had always thought that having more accurate missiles would be beneficial to military strategy. As we saw from the readings, there are also spillover effects from innovation that allow the ‘blackbox’ system to missile guidance to have importance in things like commercial aircraft and other navigation. I also held the notion that technological and tactical advancement can be important for future uses we did not originally envision. That is to say, pushing the envelope for one thing has a positive externality by producing knowledge overall, and can lead to unintended applications in different fields and sectors. Thus, to me it seemed as though innovation for missile guidance would be a natural course that could provide long term benefit not only from the strategic improvement it gave our missiles, but also by developing a base of knowledge that could later be applied in different areas.

    I did not consider the idea that this development was not necessarily ‘natural’ and depended instead on institutional and political factors as well as a social adaptation of the notion that we needed missiles of such precision. After learning in this class the effects of nuclear weapons it seemed silly to me that we would need nuclear warheads to be delivered with a 100yd precision. It then makes sense that the arguments for tactical retaliation and preeminent strikes are needed to justify the development of these technologies. I am sure that without the proper push, competition between institutions, and political factors, resources used to develop these technologies would have been allocated elsewhere.

    However, I do think that this view overlooks the larger applications that development in any field can have for the future. Although accuracy for missiles may not be a necessary concern or natural technological advancement during that time period, it only makes sense that internal navigation to a high level of precision be developed eventually. I feel that the development of this technology did not necessarily rise on its own, and definitely needed several other factors in place to have such resources dedicated to it. However, taken out of the context of nuclear missiles, it seems to make sense that workers in this field would want to push the development as far as they could. Even if there were not immediate external benefits, there could be in the future, and overlooking those to say the level of precision is unnecessary for nuclear payload delivery may glaze over the general benefits found form advancements in scientific research.

  13. One line that really stood out to me in MacKenzie’s argument was his question “Has the perceived military need for such weapons been created by technologists so as to generate a market for their technology?” (216). Although MacKenzie later says that he does not fully credit the technology industry with weapons development, I think this line really gets to the core of his argument in that it forces us to consider how much of the drive for increased accuracy is pushed by science and how much is pushed by other factors. MacKenzie also notes that some in some instances, the issue of increased accuracy has become “interservice rivalry rather than…national strategy” (216). This again highlights the importance of external factors, beyond the science, that influence weapons technology. In response to Michelle’s initial question, I would say that this article definitely changed my perception on missile accuracy and the role of policy/society in missile development. Missile development is much more of a political game that it is a scientific problem.

  14. I personally think the issue of missile accuracy is significant, but completely reliant on the purpose for which these missiles are designed. While much of the previous discussion on the (perhaps unnecessary) drive towards accuracy and the author’s (somewhat counter-intuitive) argument that society does not naturally have an inclination towards improving missiles in that way, the issue I see with this argument comes from nature of the atomic bomb, and its reputation for mass destruction. In our minds the weapon is seems large and cumbersome, extraordinarily lethal but somewhat clumsy in its execution; it destroys huge amounts of human lives and property indiscriminately, and the author’s point that missile accuracy is moot is due to the atomic bomb’s sprawling nature. But recent trends in militarization of the atomic bomb may very well be towards the other end of the spectrum, where scientists are seeking to make the bomb’s effects have a smaller impact and reach a lower number of victims. It is natural to think of science improving in this manner (as have telephones to portable cell phones), and with this evolution the atomic bomb becomes a much more “practical” and perhaps “realistic” option for militaries to use during battle. In this case, we would see the intuitive trend of increasing accuracy among missiles, and indeed the author’s counter-intuitive argument might have only been due to the atomic bomb’s somewhat extreme nature. Accuracy lies not only with the physical location that the missile is fired, but also in the ability of the military to accurately contain its impact.

  15. As a public policy major/finance minor, I’m not surprised at all that missiles with thermonuclear warheads aren’t designed to be perfectly accurate. It wouldn’t be cost-effective to tailor the accuracy of a weapon with a blast radius of several square miles to within 100 meters (or larger, in the case of MIRVs,) unless attempting to make a weapon capable of destroying hardened targets like silos or bunkers. But that itself would be unnecessary with the development of cheaper, cost-effective solutions like this so-called “pencil nuke” http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-14/30-000-pound-bunker-buster-bomb-now-ready.html
    designed specifically to destroy underground structures without use of a fission warhead. I’m also a bit skeptical about the potential to destroy missiles before they leave their silos – given that an ICBM takes roughly half an hour to reach its target, I would think that would be plenty of time to launch a counter-attack given ICBMs no longer require fueling before launch. I’m no military expert, but it seems money would be better spent on “missile shields,” or better yet, avoiding nuclear war in the first place.

    As to Mackenzie’s argument, I agree with other commenters in that engineers and programmers won’t design a missile/payload delivery system to be superior than whatever technical specifications policymakers/military brass demand. That being said, given policymakers’ understanding of any given topic is limited by nature, it’s not unexpected that they would demand impractical goals without respect to the technical issues. In my personal opinion, the continued pursuit of bigger, better bombs in the 60’s and 70’s was more a result of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex than any actual expectation by policymakers that technological advancements could render any nuclear exchange “winnable.”

  16. I’d like to bring up two points in response to some of the comments made below. I agree with Ahanna’s point that increasing missile accuracy can definitely serve as a political advantage, even if an incremental increase in accuracy may be trivial in the broader context. North Korea claimed in 2012 that its missiles can reach the American mainland. Although the credibility of this statement needs to be further examined, if North Korea were to be able to confidently say that it could reach a specific target within the U.S., NK would be able to leverage this to increase its political power. Going back to Michelle’s original post, although it may not financially make sense to invest in extra resources to make incremental improvements in accuracy, I do think they bring some degree of political benefits.

    Also, npinnadu’s point that programmers will generally not continue working on a code once it’s serviceable is very much in line with one of MacKenzie’s arguments: “One consequence for technological change of the need to keep the black box shut is a pervasive conservatism on the part of program managers, a willingness to accept only those goals they are sure they can meet, and a preparedness to use only those technical means they are sure will work” (415). I agree with his argument that politics and technology are very much separated, especially in the context of nuclear policies, and think that there definitely needs to be increased efforts to improve collaboration and communication between the two.

  17. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic, but I believe that in a unipolar world where the United States is dominant, missile accuracy (to the nearest meter) is no longer as important. In other words, missile accuracy only matters to the extent that there are two comparable superpowers in a bipolar world whose shared objective actually may have been the complete destruction of the other in which there might only emerge one victor. (In other words, the point of war can’t be mutual death. From what I gleaned from the readings, the objective for investing in missile accuracy in the first place was to emerge on top in some technological way, including in the event of a potential nuclear war.) The Hafemeister and Davis-Schilling readings make it clear that missile accuracy was most crucial during the Cold War (especially in the hardness vs. accuracy argument) when “survivability” and “kill probability” were the main issues in potential scenarios where US Peacekeeper silos might be destroyed in a preemptive Russian attack. In such a world of two competing poles (the US and USSR as two contending poles) where both superpowers possessed similar destructive strength, accuracy to the nearest hundredth degree might have been useful for technologically edging out the other in a potential battle or for being the first to disable the other’s military capacities (For example, it was calculated that it would take an average of two warheads to take out one enemy silo target. Accuracy is crucial in that missing the target would for obvious reasons be a signifiant disadvantage on a nearly equal playing field).

    But our world is no longer so bi-polar. The Cold War order has collapsed and China doesn’t pose the same military threat to the United States the way the USSR might have 20 years ago. Accuracy isn’t as important a factor in that we are not facing the threat of preemptive strike from another nuclear armed superpower against which every degree, every centimeter, every silo, and every warhead might matter in battle. Our concern today is more focused on nuclear-armed non-state actors, whose objective may not be to destroy a specific target, but simply to destroy whatever gives. North Korea, for one, doesn’t need to show how accurate, how precise its missiles have become. To make a political assertion, it needs only to show that its missiles can somehow reach somewhere in mainland USA (whether it be Denver, Los Angeles, or a rural village in South Dakota doesn’t really matter.) By the same token, the United States also no longer needs to prove to another superpower that it can hit a penny on the other side of the globe from 10,000 miles away. In order to make a political assertion, it needs only to prove that if it wanted, Pyongyang could disappear in 30 seconds.

  18. The point you raise regarding the political leverage caused by missile capabilities is very interesting. Political factors do indeed play a key role in this issue. I agree with your assertion that marginal improvements in accuracy are in fact rather trivial. What truly determines political leverage is instead range. Once a country has the proven capacity to hit a potential rival nation (and hints at its intention to exploit that capacity, think of Iran with its nuclear facilities), then it gains that leverage since other countries are now rightly fearful that they might be hit. Whether or not the likelihood of the hostile country being able to hit a specific target is 50% or 70%, or even 90% is virtually insignificant. No politician on the receiving end can afford to take this risk in any case, no matter what the probability (once it passes a certain very low threshold). This explains why, given the tradeoff between accuracy and range, policymakers generally have a clear incentive to demand missiles with longer ranges as opposed to more accurate ones.

  19. Given the amounts of destruction that these missiles are capable of inflicting, I was not surprised that less effort is dedicated to refining the accuracy of said missiles. In an arms race, such as the one brought on by the Cold War, the goal was likely to produce as many powerful weapons which could cause as much damage to the enemy as possible. Especially given the fact that they might be launched preemptively, the intent was to fire as many weapons as possible before they were destroyed. The missiles, as long as they landed in the general area of their target, would likely do enough damage to take out enemy supplies, factories, or arms. Given the powerful ramifications of a missile being fired, which could likely escalate quickly to nuclear war, accuracy in order to minimize civilian casualties or damage to non-military facilities was probably not as strong of a concern as the continued development of new weapons. In a modern sense, as jiweonk mentioned, nations such as North Korea might find some political power in being able to confidently state their missile’s accuracy; however, I think that North Korea’s aim to reach the mainland United States with a missile relies less on accuracy to the 100th of a degree, and more on covering the distance between the United States and North Korea. At that point, I believe any ability by North Korea to strike a part of the United States with a long-range missile would afford them some political edge.

    However, I can also understand the importance of increasing missile accuracy. Given the threat of nuclear war, when the goal is to outlast the other in survival (essentially, to win), accuracy might provide the edge over the other nation that one needs. For instance, the nation with more accurate missiles might be able to strategically eliminate missiles of the enemy in a more surgical manner, rather than going for the blunt force, all-out nuclear war approach. Since an all-out two-sided nuclear war would likely result in mutual destruction and leave no winner, technology could, at this point, provide the necessary advantage to a very tight race.

  20. McKenzie’s fallacy with technological determinism was very interesting and insight. Similar was his noting political determinism, the concept that everything results as a political decision Here, the government is considered to have a goal and makes decisions based on that goal. McKenzie notes political objectives are often simplified and made increasingly benign, the most clear example being ‘for the protection of its people.’ Such an objective is rational and legit, if actually applicable to the situation, but is often not the case. Citing Keohane, Mckenzie points to the position known as “realism” to counter such seemingly benign objectives quoting “that states are key actors in world politics; that they seek power, either as a ends or a means to other ends; and that they rationally seek to advance their interest.”

    This last statement brings up the idea highlighted in our problem set. Secretary Stimson and the U.S. justified
    the use of atomic weaponry against enemy targets claiming it would save American and Japanese lives alike. A very benign goal, as McKenzie states, seems overly simplified, and as we have since learned is not the full reality.
    The position of ‘realism’ factored into the decision.

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