Reprinted from dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com
At a time of growing tensions between nuclear powers--Russia and NATO in Europe, and the U.S., North Korea and China in Asia--Washington has quietly upgraded its nuclear weapons arsenal to create, according to three leading American scientists, "exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike."
Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the American Federation of Scientists, Matthew McKinzie of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and physicist and ballistic missile expert Theodore Postol, conclude that "Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program," the U.S. military has vastly expanded the "killing power" of its warheads such that it can "now destroy all of Russia's ICBM silos."
The upgrade--part of the Obama administration's $1 trillion modernization of America's nuclear forces--allows Washington to destroy Russia's land-based nuclear weapons, while still retaining 80 percent of the U.S.'s warheads in reserve. If Russia chose to retaliate, it would be reduced to ash.
Any discussion of nuclear war encounters several major problems. First, it is difficult to imagine or to grasp what it would mean in real life. We have only had one conflict involving nuclear weapons--the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945--and the memory of those events has faded over the years. In any case, the two bombs that flattened the Japanese cities bear little resemblance to the killing power of modern nuclear weapons.
The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a force of 15 kilotons. The Nagasaki bomb was slightly more powerful at about 18 kt. Between them, they killed over 215,000 people. In contrast, the most common nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal today, the W76, has an explosive power of 100 kt. The next most common, the W88, packs a 475-kt punch.
Another problem is that most of the public thinks nuclear war is impossible because both sides would be destroyed. This is the idea behind the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, aptly named "MAD."
But MAD is not a U.S. military doctrine. A "first strike" attack has always been central to U.S. military planning, until recently, however, there was no guarantee that such an attack would so cripple an opponent that it would be unable--or unwilling, given the consequences of total annihilation-- to retaliate.
The strategy behind a first strike--sometimes called a "counter force" attack--is not to destroy an opponent's population centers, but to eliminate the other sides' nuclear weapons, or at least most of them. Anti-missile systems would then intercept a weakened retaliatory strike.