“Strange Game … The Only Winning Move is Not to Play.”

For all of us who have watched the movie Wargames, we remember the iconic final scene in which a computer analyzes every possible scenario concerning all-out nuclear war. Bruce Blair’s article on strengthening checks on presidential authority draws valid points about our current response structure to a nuclear attack. In short, a considerable amount pressure is placed on the president and his closest advisors in a very narrow window of time as to what strategy the US would implement in the response given a multitude of contingencies offered by military strategists. Bruce Blair, as the co-founder of Global Zero, is against this notion that such world-ending power should be allowed in the hands of such few individuals including our current president (or any). For his proposed solution, he optimized democratic checks and balances upon the president through Congress whilst minimizing “use it or lose it” forces such as missile silos, making the US response one that would take deliberation concerning legality, ethics, and logical consideration. Alongside this is a push to eliminate land-based missile silos and remove nuclear strikes as a counter to non-nuclear threats.

While I agree that basing the US’s nuclear strategy upon subs and other mobile launch platforms, I can see the logic of maintaining a “base-load” of silos as a deterrent in itself. What is your incentive for nuclear war if you know that your opponent is willing to use their nukes rather than lose them. It is nearly a guaranteed reaction, as opposed to a deliberated response which would increase the time to decision and quite possibly have ethical issues as the time-horizon of justified M.A.D. passes with every minute. In a sense, the peace brought by the age of nuclear weapons is the rationalization of known strategies and irrational reactions. During the cold war in Germany, the US established the “nuclear tripwire” system where lower yield tactical nukes were to be used at the discretion of regional military commanders given an attack from a Soviet invasion force. No one wants to end the world and everyone is afraid that someone will shoot first, conventionally or strategically, in a scenario where escalation will not only be absolute and irreversible but also be based in non-rational responses. The Congressional solution also assumes that we have the ability to safeguard our politicians and that there won’t be irrational group-thinking under such stress – there’s a reason why military strategy is not a democratic process.

In my argument, I propose that checks and balances are necessary for a first-strike scenario, but irrelevant in a response scenario after receiving a nuclear attack. Sun Tzu stated that one should never fully encircle one’s foe, but leave an avenue for them to give up, and I will use that in a metaphorical sense. Deterrence strategy is all about showing rational state actors an outcome that will encircle them and thus be trapping them into a fixed detrimental outcome for all parties. The avenue of escape into peace, then, is not simply in the deterrence system, aside from some strategy adjustments and disarmament to “baseload” levels for assurances, safety, and practicality, but in the diplomacy between states and the ability for representatives thereof to give options that allow contesting parties to play the only winning move. — Dean