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Thread: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

  1. #1

    Default How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    "We don’t want to start a nuclear war unless we really have to, now do we Jack?"
    ---Capt.Mandrake (Peter Sellers)
    . Dr. Strangelove, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb



    Results of Hypothetical Nuclear War - Princeton University (2019)
    https://sgs.princeton.edu/the-lab/plan-a
    ...............

    The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) asserts that there can be no winners in a nuclear war. In fact, because of MAD, one wonders if war between nuclear armed countries is even possible at all. War between Russia and the United States for instance, is irrational. No side could conceivably hope to benefit from armed conflict that would inevitably result in its own destruction. The cost of nuclear fallout and loss of life sustaining ecosystems would also devastate the Earth, making it less hospitable to human life. Thinking about nuclear war, therefore, like suicide to rational agents, is not possible.


    On Thermonuclear War (1960)

    Enter Herman Kahn, author of On Thermonuclear War, RAND Corps physicist, futurist, Princeton professor, and the historical inspiration for Dr. Strangelove.

    According to Kahn, nuclear war wasn’t only possible, it was also winnable. And he aimed to prove it by demonstrating the logical fallacies associated with mutual destruction.

    Suppose the Russians did invade a NATO country and did denotate a nuclear weapon, according to MAD and massive retaliation theories the US should respond disproportionately with nuclear weapons – including (possibly) an attack on Moscow itself. A minor conventional attack, or even a nuclear device used on a NATO country, could thus conceivably result in an all-out nuclear war.

    It’s here, according to Kahn, where deterrence theories leading to unlimited destruction and mutual annihilation begin to fall apart.

    “However angry both of us would be,” Kahn writes, “we would not start an all-out [nuclear] war” over an invaded country or a nuclear attack “because suicide is not a rational way of expressing one’s anger.” [1]. And if a tit-for tat exchange were used instead (in the event of an actual nuclear attack), it eventually becomes irrational to continue with escalation. Both sides will eventually have an incentive to stop using nuclear weapons as continued conflict becomes unprofitable.

    According to Kahn then, nuclear war between Russia and the United States was possible because it would be limited.

    “Even if the United States and [Russia] cannot wage all-out war against each other this does not mean that the role of force will be entirely eliminated. There may still be many disputes between the two nations—disputes which may tempt one side to use force on a small scale. If the only counter the other nation has is to commit suicide by starting a thermonuclear war, that nation most likely will not act. Therefore, one needs Limited War capabilities to meet limited provocations. Those who adhere to the [Mutual Annihilation] theory often feel that the “nonaggression treaty” of mutual deterrence is so binding and so stable it is impossible to provoke the other side to violate it by anything less than an all-out attack. Seen in this perspective, cannot one safely use the most extreme forms of violence in a limited war?” [2]

    To further this point, that the decision to use nuclear weapons does not logically lead one to Armageddon, Kahn posed the following question; would the survivors of a nuclear conflict envy the dead?

    As horrible and catastrophic a nuclear war might seem, Kahn writes, the answer is no. Nuclear war in any of its forms is survivable.

    “From a scientific perspective there is some indication that a nuclear war could deplete the earth's ozone layer or, less likely, could bring on a new Ice Age – but there is no suggestion that either the created order or mankind would be destroyed in the process.” [3]

    And

    “Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, objective studies indicate that even though the amount of human tragedy would be greatly increased in [a] postwar world, the increase would not preclude normal and happy lives for the majority of survivors and their descendants.” [4]



    Finally, even with a Doomsday Machine, an autonomous weapon that could guarantee the complete destruction of the Earth (via detection of a nuclear launch), mutual annihilation would still suffer from a huge credibility problem.

    “Who would even build it?” Kahn argued. And who in their right mind would hand the fate of the world to a computer? How would you even begin to account for miscalculations along with nuclear accidents? According to Kahn, the threat of mutually assured destruction in its most perfect form -the legendary Doomsday Machine- served no purpose other than to again threaten idiotic suicide.

    “The Doomsday Machine is not sufficiently controllable. Even though it maximizes the probability that deterrence will work.. it is totally unsatisfactory. One must still examine the consequences of a failure [and its unpredictability]. In this case a failure kills too many people and kills them too automatically. There is no chance of human intervention, control, and final decision. And even if we give up the computer and make the Doomsday Machine reliably controllable by the decision makers, it is still not controllable enough. [No country] would be willing to spend billions of dollars to give a few individuals this particular kind of life and death power over the entire world.” [5]

    Plus, in the event of a thermonuclear war, there logically had to be another option between surrender and the end of history.


    Escalation Dominance

    After showing problems inherent in mutual annihilation, Kahn then went on to theorize how an actual nuclear war could be won.

    Nuclear war, according to Kahn, would be fought on an escalation ladder consisting of 44 rungs. Each rung representing a level of intensity that could be expected during a nuclear crisis. Nuclear armed states might begin maneuvering through peacetime disputes, accelerate to brinkmanship and conventional warfare, before finally passing the nuclear threshold, which, however unprecedented, would still not automatically lead to general nuclear war.

    Kahn's Ladder of Escalation
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Invoking Clausewitz, Kahn argued his escalation ladder worked (and that nuclear war had a limited character) because it was impossible to separate the use of force from political goals. Even with the possibility of a full-on nuclear exchange, contestants must begin the crisis with political goals that were limited in character. As adversaries engaged in nuclear war pursue limited objectives and increase the use of force overtime -either to gain advantage or avoid defeat- it becomes increasingly obvious that its wartime objectives are unreachable or no longer worth the costs. At some point in the nuclear ladder (Kahn argued), countries will seek to negotiate or de-escalate the conflict. Even with a full-on nuclear exchange- countries would be allowed to continue fighting -or seek de-escalation- through spasm war. A maximum discharge of nuclear weapons was not the maximum threshold for wartime violence. Nuclear war again, according to Kahn, was survivable and could continue past Armageddon.


    Levels of Conflict (differentiated by intensity and level of violence) leading to de-escalation

    To win a nuclear war, Kahn thus argued for a strategy of escalation dominance. In broad military terms, escalation dominance means a country -through its political power or its military- controls the pace of escalation. This is achieved ideally by demonstrating dominate capabilities at each of the 44 levels of escalation. A country that possess escalation dominance can win a war at any level of conflict and is able to choose the rung on the nuclear ladder at which a nuclear issue would be resolved. Because costs tend to rise as violence intensifies, opponents engaged in a nuclear war must have enough poker chips to compete at each level of escalation. An opponent will surrender its wartime objectives once it no longer has the capabilities -or the incentives- necessary to climb the ladder of escalation at a favorable cost. A country that possess escalation dominance is the only one who can improve his situation by raising the level of violence but still make things costly or disadvantageous enough for his opponent to continue.

    Like any other war then, Kahn’s escalation ladder shows that the decision to use force (and nuclear weapons) will be governed by principles in economics. The goal in nuclear war is not merely to achieve political objectives, or kill your opponent, but to achieve one’s political objectives at the lowest cost possible.


    Kahn and His Critics

    Kahn theories and strategies of course, are not without their critics. And it is important to remember that Kahn complied most of his thinking and writing in the first two decades of the Cold War. ICBMs were still in their infancy, MAD had yet to be formally coined, and Massive Retaliation was justified on the premise that nuclear weapons were necessary to overcome Soviet numbers and advantages in conventional warfare.

    Since publishing his theories however, more countries have obtained nuclear weapons, and nuclear proliferation has become a dominate arms control issue. Critics contend that Kahn’s theories on nuclear war -especially escalation dominance- open the doors for future arms races. Dominating each level of conflict in a theoretical nuclear war would require huge investments in civil defense, missile defense, early warning radar, first and second-strike capabilities, along with conventional force. Many arms control experts agree, reinventing the missile gap would be dangerous, and could lead to preventative war. Arms races, if World War I was any indication, encourages mistrust and are politically unstable. Kahn however, might contend that World War II happened because there wasn’t an arms race.

    Still, military superiority, even after paying a hefty price for it, does not guarantee victory. A risk-taking opponent might still choose to escape escalation dominance through gambling, to include deception and denial. The inevitable fog of war also calls into question whether a nuclear armed state would even realize it faced escalation dominance – which of course could still lead to accidental nuclear exchanges.

    Finally, a nuclear war would literally be unlike anything the world has ever seen before. For all Kahn’s models, research, and assurances, the world has never experienced a nuclear war, or experienced the expected loss of life and damage that would wreck the planet and global economy. To the extent it would fundamentally alter human society and our way of life remains an unknown possibility. Yet the effect of nuclear winter and radioactive fallout -along with the death of millions, and millions more to still be born- is sure to be a step back for us as a species. Mankind might still survive a nuclear holocaust, but there won’t be any gains.





    In the end, whatever we might think of Herman Kahn, it is important to remember that he was not a war monger. His theories and writings showed potential holes in deterrence strategies that saw no other way out of a nuclear stalemate other than through mutual suicide. Kahn’s thinkings and writings at least give credibility to a new theory of flexible response – which is much more preferable to nuclear oblivion. It was Kahn’s job after all to think through the unthinkable and provide solutions that would help policymakers prevent or win a nuclear war. To Kahn, the only reasonable way to prevent nuclear catastrophe was to prepare for it. Kahn provides a way out of nuclear oblivion through daring but also rational thinking. In a nuclear war, dare what may, a way out through rational thinking is the only thing we can hope to pray for.

    …………..

    1. Kahn, Herman. On Thermonuclear War (p. 12). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
    2. On Thermonuclear War (p. 12)
    3. Kahn, Herman. Thinking about the Unthinkable (p. 30) - Google Books Result
    4. On Thermonuclear War (p. 27)
    5. On Thermonuclear War (p. 172)
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; July 30, 2020 at 07:04 AM.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    I had heard that it was the inventor of the H bomb, Edward Teller, who was the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove in the movie.

  3. #3
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    I think Kahn has a tendency to underestimate the rapidity of the fog of war or the risk of some sort of first strike being manageable. Say Russia attacks W Europe and nukes the key US storage facilities for tactical nuclear weapons and EMPs US satellites. Their aim might just be to take over Germany and Achieve European Hegemony, even communicated directly but how can the US be sure at that point and can it afford that result to happen... What measured response does it have?

    I mean the Cuban missile crisis was a series of small scale events but the option JFK got from the SIOP was singular a massive attack on Russia (and China and any other communist enemy) because the US military figured the risk a small response that could create a major one was unacceptable.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

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    realIK17's Avatar Foederatus
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    I agree. It may be possible for a communist dictatorship to act in an entirely rational way (I doubt it since most communist dictators are uneducated.) However, a leader in a democratic country must act according to people's will, and the people is always emotional and irrational (look at the Brexit referendum.)

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    alhoon's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Greetings, there is some very unfortunate oversight in this simulations, that ignores the key parameter that will decide the fate of this war and could well lead to a winner and a loser:

    HESITATION
    Delay 20 minutes because you can't really believe it is happening, that your country is doomed to die, that your loved ones and you have a 30% chance to be dead within a week... and it is all over.

    That hesitation may show up at any part of the chain, with the more people involved ~> greater delay.

    If a general delays to follow the order given by a few minutes, that general and his nukes may not be around long enough to respond. If a secretary hesitates to pass over an order, the same may happen.

    Assume China in say 2025 decides to erase their biggest client (USA) from the face of the earth and without much warning or waiting for escalation, launch real 300 ICBMs (the 3-6 warheads, 250-750KTns each), carpet bombing the centers of leadership, infrastructure and population in USA.
    That is it for USA. It's a goodbye situation. It is the end. The "We had a good game" part.

    The only question now is if USA will also take China down with it.

    If the attack comes without much warning, the PotUS that is absolutely necessary to fire the weapons may take a critical 10 minutes to believe his ears and get out of the shock that since about 1000-2000 MTs of explosives target Washington and everything within 100 miles from it, he or she will be dead within 40-50 mins as even if the PotUS jumps in the airforce one immediately, that airplane would not be able to outrun the destruction.
    The choice the soon-to-be-dead PotUS now has is simply: Do I take China down with me?

    If the soon-to-be-dead PotUS fails to realize that they are all dead and fails to give the order "FIRE BACK!!!" within a few minutes and use his codes and all, that is it. USA will go down and most of their nukes around the world won't fire back at China... which can afford to lose 10-15 cities.


    This is exactly the same for China or Russia. If USA decides that Asia is a bit too crowded and carpet-nukes everything of value in China, by the time the bureaucracy of China responds they won't have any nukes left and since China is not very cohesive, there is always the possibility that warlord_1 will use his nukes to force regional_cabinet_2 to bow down in the post-apocalyptic China.

    If USA hits Russia with their famous Death-Hand... I doubt the death hand will respond in a decisive, end-all way, as I doubt the Russians keep it updated and connected to enough nukes to take USA down with them.

    The only reason that USA citizens, Chinese citizens, Russian citizens and Pakistani citizens still breath a fallout-free air is because their geostrategic competitors allow them to live. In the case of India, Pakistan so far (probably) doesn't have enough nukes to take down India.
    France and England don't have enough nukes to take down USA, China, Russia or India.
    North Korea doesn't have enough nukes to wipe out anyone, including South Korea.
    If China shoots nukes right now at USA, as we speak, USA is doomed because not enough people will believe it's happening in a timely fashion. And 1 hour later, it would be too late to strike back.

    In short: Nobody expects a nuclear war. If you catch the other side by surprise and you're a big boy, they won't be able to strike back.
    If you are fire-cracker nation like France, England, NK and Pakistan with a handful of laughable nukes 15Kt each, even if you catch the other side by surprise and destroy 30% of their urban centers and kill 10% of their population, they and their allies will genocide you while your allies will be so appalled by your crime that they won't help you.

    Global economy and basic human decency stop China, USA and Russia from destroying their biggest trade partners and that is it. If a psycho that doesn't value 300M American lives and 200 million of his own people's lives get ahold of China's nuclear arsenal once it becomes decent*, then USA will be destroyed. China may also be destroyed and lose 1 billion people but that's not a given.


    *decent nuclear arsenal: enough to reliably wipe out 50 cities with some firecracker nukes (The 15-KT kind) left over to nuke military bases and aircarrier groups of the enemy. So... like 300 real ICBM warheads (The big ones) and ~200 ICBMs to carry them (some ICBMs will be shot down).
    China is getting there.
    Last edited by alhoon; July 26, 2020 at 03:10 AM.
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    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    One caveat of course is if the US and China remain on their hostile course and China stands aside from arms talks the US might well decide to re up the Trident II to 8-14 warheads and go all in with a plan R - R for Romeo. Edit Of course the US also can go back to adding nuclear armed cruise missiles to its ships and subs as well. Thus it fairly easy to create a no win situation for China.
    Last edited by conon394; July 26, 2020 at 05:16 PM.
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

    'One day when I fly with my hands - up down the sky, like a bird'

    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

    Hyperides of Athens: We know, replied he, that Antipater is good, but we (the Demos of Athens) have no need of a master at present, even a good one.

  7. #7

    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Quote Originally Posted by alhoon View Post
    Greetings, there is some very unfortunate oversight in this simulations, that ignores the key parameter that will decide the fate of this war and could well lead to a winner and a loser:

    HESITATION
    Delay 20 minutes because you can't really believe it is happening, that your country is doomed to die, that your loved ones and you have a 30% chance to be dead within a week... and it is all over.

    That hesitation may show up at any part of the chain, with the more people involved ~> greater delay.

    If a general delays to follow the order given by a few minutes, that general and his nukes may not be around long enough to respond. If a secretary hesitates to pass over an order, the same may happen.

    Assume China in say 2025 decides to erase their biggest client (USA) from the face of the earth and without much warning or waiting for escalation, launch real 300 ICBMs (the 3-6 warheads, 250-750KTns each), carpet bombing the centers of leadership, infrastructure and population in USA.
    That is it for USA. It's a goodbye situation. It is the end. The "We had a good game" part.

    The only question now is if USA will also take China down with it.

    If the attack comes without much warning, the PotUS that is absolutely necessary to fire the weapons may take a critical 10 minutes to believe his ears and get out of the shock that since about 1000-2000 MTs of explosives target Washington and everything within 100 miles from it, he or she will be dead within 40-50 mins as even if the PotUS jumps in the airforce one immediately, that airplane would not be able to outrun the destruction.
    The choice the soon-to-be-dead PotUS now has is simply: Do I take China down with me?

    If the soon-to-be-dead PotUS fails to realize that they are all dead and fails to give the order "FIRE BACK!!!" within a few minutes and use his codes and all, that is it. USA will go down and most of their nukes around the world won't fire back at China... which can afford to lose 10-15 cities.


    This is exactly the same for China or Russia. If USA decides that Asia is a bit too crowded and carpet-nukes everything of value in China, by the time the bureaucracy of China responds they won't have any nukes left and since China is not very cohesive, there is always the possibility that warlord_1 will use his nukes to force regional_cabinet_2 to bow down in the post-apocalyptic China.

    If USA hits Russia with their famous Death-Hand... I doubt the death hand will respond in a decisive, end-all way, as I doubt the Russians keep it updated and connected to enough nukes to take USA down with them.

    The only reason that USA citizens, Chinese citizens, Russian citizens and Pakistani citizens still breath a fallout-free air is because their geostrategic competitors allow them to live. In the case of India, Pakistan so far (probably) doesn't have enough nukes to take down India.
    France and England don't have enough nukes to take down USA, China, Russia or India.
    North Korea doesn't have enough nukes to wipe out anyone, including South Korea.
    If China shoots nukes right now at USA, as we speak, USA is doomed because not enough people will believe it's happening in a timely fashion. And 1 hour later, it would be too late to strike back.

    In short: Nobody expects a nuclear war. If you catch the other side by surprise and you're a big boy, they won't be able to strike back.
    If you are fire-cracker nation like France, England, NK and Pakistan with a handful of laughable nukes 15Kt each, even if you catch the other side by surprise and destroy 30% of their urban centers and kill 10% of their population, they and their allies will genocide you while your allies will be so appalled by your crime that they won't help you.

    Global economy and basic human decency stop China, USA and Russia from destroying their biggest trade partners and that is it. If a psycho that doesn't value 300M American lives and 200 million of his own people's lives get ahold of China's nuclear arsenal once it becomes decent*, then USA will be destroyed. China may also be destroyed and lose 1 billion people but that's not a given.


    *decent nuclear arsenal: enough to reliably wipe out 50 cities with some firecracker nukes (The 15-KT kind) left over to nuke military bases and aircarrier groups of the enemy. So... like 300 real ICBM warheads (The big ones) and ~200 ICBMs to carry them (some ICBMs will be shot down).
    China is getting there.

    A lot of the US nuclear force is on ballistic submarines which would not be taken out in the first strike scenario you envision. There would be sufficient nukes available ro wipe our not just 10 Chinese cities but probably more like a 100. You have 14 ballistic US submarines with 24 missiles each, so.just assuming half the fleet is at tat is 168 ICBM and assuming 4 warheads each so that is a potential to strike 672 nukes with which to destroy China. Even if China successfully wiped out the US in a first strike, it would have more rhannenough nukes ro.take out China in return.


    That is why the US relies so much on its nuclear ICBM submarines. Because they are currently virtually undetectable at sea, a first strike on the US would gain nothing but their own destruction in return. There is no point in launching the first strike in thr first place.


    That is also why there is so much overkill in the nuclear weapons arsenal - even if you destroy most of the nukes a a major power like.the US and China, the fraction left would be still be devasting. An all out nuclear war would lead to potential mutual destruction. Of course, if you could find a way to detect and take out the submarines a first strike might work, but it would be risking still. Do you want a 100 nuclear bombs falling on your country? Sure you might survive, but it would still cause a lot of devastation.


    No, the reason a nuclrar was hasn't been fought is because among the major powers rhe risk are too great. And if you start escaluating, there is no guarantee a limited nuclear was won't get out of control and lead to all out nuclear war. Only.in countries like Pakistan and perhaps India, with just a limited numbef of nukes, might be tempted to use them. But a greater danger is state sponsored terrorism use of nuclear weapons. What if Iran sold a nuclear bomb to terrorist so they could smuggle it into a country to blow up? Perhaps in a container ship that sailed to a harbor, or evdn on a big semi truck? Even if Iran was behind thr terrorist attack, how do you prove it? Or perhaps it was the Saudi Arabians, using their money to buy s blsck market nuclear bomb, wnd using it to blow up a US city snd then lay the blame on Iran, so the US would take out an arch rival for them.

  8. #8
    Vladyvid's Avatar Wizard of Turmish
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    How to Win a Nuclear War (According Vladyvid)

    1. Build a defence system that will shoot down any enemy balitic missiles.
    2. Send your missiles first.
    3. Shoot down enemy missiles.

    Victory

  9. #9

    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Quote Originally Posted by Vladyvid View Post
    How to Win a Nuclear War (According Vladyvid)

    1. Build a defence system that will shoot down any enemy balitic missiles.
    2. Send your missiles first.
    3. Shoot down enemy missiles.

    Victory
    If you could build a near.perfect defense, you could win a nuclear defense, you could win a nuclear war. But it would nedd to be 99.% or better.

    Let's say that it was 99% effective and the enemy launched a 1000 missiles, that would still leave 10 missiles left, which would still be devaststing . if it was only 90% effective, thst would leave 100.missiles...5 warhead eaxh, 500 cities destroyed ..is that really winning?


    The US has 14 ballistic nuclea submarines with 24 missiles each, so submarines alone have 336 missiles, and thst does not even include land based ICBM and nuclear wqrhead cruise missiles launched by planes and submarines and ships. Shooting them all.down or even 99% is a tall.order. and you really won't know just how effective the systm is until you try it - you get one shot at proving it is ecfective. Not.something I would risk.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    I recently watched "The Man Who Saved the World" and it was pretty interesting. You can watch the whole film on YouTube but here's the trailer.

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  11. #11
    alhoon's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Quote Originally Posted by conon394 View Post
    One caveat of course is if the US and China remain on their hostile course and China stands aside from arms talks the US might well decide to re up the Trident II to 8-14 warheads and go all in with a plan R - R for Romeo. Edit Of course the US also can go back to adding nuclear armed cruise missiles to its ships and subs as well. Thus it fairly easy to create a no win situation for China.
    Yes, but they don't do it. They ADD red tape, they don't remove it. They add to the time they will need to respond.

    Quote Originally Posted by Common Soldier View Post
    A lot of the US nuclear force is on ballistic submarines which would not be taken out in the first strike scenario you envision. There would be sufficient nukes available ro wipe our not just 10 Chinese cities but probably more like a 100. You have 14 ballistic US submarines with 24 missiles each, so.just assuming half the fleet is at tat is 168 ICBM and assuming 4 warheads each so that is a potential to strike 672 nukes with which to destroy China.
    There are a few things to consider here:
    - USA's submarines don't have powerful nukes as USA have decided to remove their most powerful missiles from the arsenal. USA has at the time 200 SLBMs and they are reducing their number, the warheads and the yield.
    - In the case of USA, if China or Russia goes for Armageddon, there will be no PotUS left to authorize the submarines to fire, no "football", no codes. By the time the submarine captains surface to figure what's happening, it would be over. In the case that USA goes for Armageddon and wipes out Russia's or China's cities by surprise, apply the same to what remains of their forces. Yes, the loser would be able to fire a few missiles, but that's it.
    - As for USA's 200 SLBMs as a retaliation, they have scaled back enough that the warheads these carry cannot take down a city. Even if 50 of these manage to launch on China (kinda high estimate without a PotUS) and 40 of the nukes land (not all of those carry multiple MIRVs), that's enough to damage 40 cities but not wipe them out. Sure, USA (or Russia or China) would kill 10-20 million Russians or Chinese (or Americans) as its swan song. But that would be it. And Russia, China (and USA) would survive losing 10-20 million people and having 40 cities damaged. Since they would have been the ones launching the first strike and expecting retaliation, leaders would be spread and hidden around the country. The side that would get the full salvo from the attacker, being hit by surprise (whether China, USA or Russia) would lose most of the urban population, all centers of production and all leaders.


    Again: the first few minutes are absolutely critical. The one that fires first by surprise, wins (whether it is USA, Russia or China)


    The greatest risk of humanity is just what you said:
    - That is also why there is so much overkill in the nuclear weapons arsenal - even if you destroy most of the nukes a a major power like.the US and China, the fraction left would be still be devasting. <=== yes that was true, but that's not the case anymore. There are simply no more "overkill nuclear weapons". The plan is to eventually scale back nukes so much that even at full salvo, you won't be able to destroy a big player like EU, China, Russia or USA.
    - if you start escalating ... <=== the other problem lies here. Everyone knows that so a small boom, would be answered with a full salvo, a war of obliteration in order to prevent YOUR side being completely wiped out.
    - An all out nuclear war would lead to potential mutual destruction. <==== it is supposed to be ASSURED mutual destruction. With the current denuclearization, we move away from MAD to "Potentially heavy casualties"... which is a risk someone may take.


    Do you want a 100 nuclear bombs falling on your country? Sure you might survive, but it would still cause a lot of devastation.
    Certainly! I don't disagree with that.
    It's the reason nukes are not even being brought up in bellicose discussion and chest-thumping. In the current era nobody REALLY wants to take out Russia, USA, China or India out of the game completely and losing 1/4th of their cities in the process (the good scenario).
    And turn the whole world against them (reminder, the rest of the world is still standing and still has nukes, while the big player has thrown most of their arsenal at the other big player) including their own people.
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  12. #12

    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Quote Originally Posted by alhoon View Post
    Yes, but they don't do it. They ADD red tape, they don't remove it. They add to the time they will need to respond.



    There are a few things to consider here:
    - USA's submarines don't have powerful nukes as USA have decided to remove their most powerful missiles from the arsenal. USA has at the time 200 SLBMs and they are reducing their number, the warheads and the yield.
    - In the case of USA, if China or Russia goes for Armageddon, there will be no PotUS left to authorize the submarines to fire, no "football", no codes. By the time the submarine captains surface to figure what's happening, it would be over. In the case that USA goes for Armageddon and wipes out Russia's or China's cities by surprise, apply the same to what remains of their forces. Yes, the loser would be able to fire a few missiles, but that's it.
    - As for USA's 200 SLBMs as a retaliation, they have scaled back enough that the warheads these carry cannot take down a city. Even if 50 of these manage to launch on China (kinda high estimate without a PotUS) and 40 of the nukes land (not all of those carry multiple MIRVs), that's enough to damage 40 cities but not wipe them out. Sure, USA (or Russia or China) would kill 10-20 million Russians or Chinese (or Americans) as its swan song. But that would be it. And Russia, China (and USA) would survive losing 10-20 million people and having 40 cities damaged. Since they would have been the ones launching the first strike and expecting retaliation, leaders would be spread and hidden around the country. The side that would get the full salvo from the attacker, being hit by surprise (whether China, USA or Russia) would lose most of the urban population, all centers of production and all leaders.
    Naval nukes are not like Air Force nukes, they don't need Presidential codes to unlock them. They could fire months after PotUs is gone. The US submarines are nuclear, and are limited.only by the food. 40 missiles means something like 160 warheads, keep in mind most missiles have multiple.warheads.

    The Trident missiles replaced yield with accuracy. The.bombs are still around 90 to 100 kt typically, more than 5 times Hiroshima bomb. (The 76#2 warhead is a low yield one, but the 90 kt 76-1 is the typical warhead and it is big enoug to destroy a city)


    That is just thr SLBM missiiles. Fast Attack submarines are also.capable firing cruise missiles could have nuclewr warhead.

    Again: the first few minutes are absolutely critical. The one that fires first by surprise, wins (whether it is USA, Russia or China)
    US primary nuclear force is their submarine fleet which is mostly immune to a first strike. Most of the ballistic submarines are at sea at any given time. It is prrcisrly because the submarinenfleet is largely immune to a first strike. Even assuming only half the SLBM were at sea, that is 100 missiles capable of hitting Chinse targets, with many having multiple warheads, 200 hundred warheads is xonservative estimate and most would be at least 90 kt yield, 5 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.



    The greatest risk of humanity is just what you said:
    - That is also why there is so much overkill in the nuclear weapons arsenal - even if you destroy most of the nukes a a major power like.the US and China, the fraction left would be still be devasting. <=== yes that was true, but that's not the case anymore. There are simply no more "overkill nuclear weapons". The plan is to eventually scale back nukes so much that even at full salvo, you won't be able to destroy a big player like EU, China, Russia or USA.
    - if you start escalating ... <=== the other problem lies here. Everyone knows that so a small boom, would be answered with a full salvo, a war of obliteration in order to prevent YOUR side being completely wiped out.
    - An all out nuclear war would lead to potential mutual destruction. <==== it is supposed to be ASSURED mutual destruction. With the current denuclearization, we move away from MAD to "Potentially heavy casualties"... which is a risk someone may take.

    Anyone willing to see a hundred of their biggest cities destroyed as acceptable, I doubt it. Since the 5kt 76-2 warhead was only tested in 2019, it does not represent the majoirty of US submarine warheads currentlu nor do I see it intended to be the main warhead, it is called a tactical nuke. The main warhead still seems to br the 76-1 90kt warhead on US SLBM, and thst is big enough to destroy a city. Maybe a big city like Shanghai would take several



    Certainly! I don't disagree with that.
    It's the reason nukes are not even being brought up in bellicose discussion and chest-thumping. In the current era nobody REALLY wants to take out Russia, USA, China or India out of the game completely and losing 1/4th of their cities in the process (the good scenario).
    And turn the whole world against them (reminder, the rest of the world is still standing and still has nukes, while the big player has thrown most of their arsenal at the other big player) including their own people.
    A missile defense system might work against a country with juat a few nukes like North Korea or Pakiatsn. Unlikely against a major nuclear power like Russia. An effectivr nuclear.defense system might redufe the risk of a minor nuclear war but not a major on. A.madsive strike would.likely overwhelm any defensr system
    Last edited by Common Soldier; August 05, 2020 at 11:45 AM. Reason: correct typos

  13. #13
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    Yes, but they don't do it. They ADD red tape, they don't remove it. They add to the time they will need to respond.
    Time really does not matter they will individually know state X (China or Russia) launched the attack and as far as I can tell the crew on a US sub would have the authorization to retaliate at any time. They will be at sea and will not have the shock of facing nuclear destruction but the knowing it happened to their nation. Considering they likely also realize the fallout effects of that attack and absolute cratering of the global economy I am reasonably sure it would not be hard to turn the keys on US SSBNs
    IN PATROCINIVM SVB Dromikaites

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    But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place; some swearing, some crying for surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

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  14. #14
    alhoon's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    All those are true nowdays but USA and Russia are reducing their stockpile while China is increasing it.
    Guys, if we go by today's standards, China doesn't have the nukes necessary to wipe out USA or Russia. Even if we assume China is hiding some of their nukes in those big catacombs they put in the desert, it is still doubtful that they have enough ICBMs at the time. Same with India.

    India, Pakistan, UK, France don't have enough nukes to cause an obliteration of a big player.
    While USA's submarines may (or may not, this is as far as I understand not released) be able to fire, remember that the MIRVs are down to 4 already per missile and missiles are getting fewer per submarine. Also while 75KT warhead is x5 Hiroshima, it's not, by itself, a city-killer (for big cities). Remember that the radius of the blast drops by the 3rd power.
    You would need two missiles to effectively wipe out Beijing (or NYC, LA, New Delhi, Moscow etc) from the map.

    Each such warhead has a 'moderate blast damage' area of ~35 sq.km. Even if we go x10 that area (because you don't have to turn the whole thing to rubble, just turning 10% of the city to rubble works fine) it's 350 sq. km.
    Beijing is 4000 sq.km, NYC is 1200 sq.km, Moscow is 2500 sq.km etc.

    The whole problem with this is... we're moving away from MAD to "Assured heavy casualties but not destruction while the other side is brought to their knees".

    USA has the SLBMs with their missiles but they are reducing their number and yield.
    Russia's death hand is probably not well connected enough to work properly if Russia is carpet bombed by China or USA - most of their nukes would go down anyway as they are landbased.
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: How to Win a Nuclear War (According to Herman Kahn)

    He lost me at "rational". I think Conon nailed it with the fog of war as a factor overwhelming Kahn's argument. I'd add there's more than one kind of rational, there are multiple mindsets and ignorance at play in international politics.

    We see this in the various collapses of the Roman Empire, where some elites within the Empire have differing agendas that clash. between the 4th and 5th century the Imperial leadership saw benefits in cooperating with Gothic warlords (essentially privatising and outsourcing a lot of the military) that in hindsight seems suicidal to me. I imagine they felt the empire was immortal and short term advantage outweighed potential existential threats.

    We see this in early 20th century Europe where the mere existence of neighbours is seen as an existential threat (whereas half a century earlier the "concert of Europe' repressed revolution with some success for many decades). There's also performative politics, leaders behaving as expected by their followers or their own world view, hence Hitler and to a lesser extent Tojo's unwillingness to surrender. "Rationality" (as Stalin or Eisenhower might understand it) is a secondary factor in the Furherbunker.
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