Evidence, Commentary, and Judgment

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3.3.5 Tendency of Weaponry and Strategies Towards Use

Here the Tribunal considered factors such as the disposition of various nuclear states to use nuclear weapons, cumulative tendencies to use nuclear weapons, crisis stability, specific technologies and strategies leading towards use and the likely influence of possible defensive components (for example, the SDI) in conjunction with the highly offensive nuclear weapons. A large body of evidence was presented and several specialist witnesses were cross-examined (Wilson , Rogers , Dando , Harbottle , Smith , Pentz , Webber , Vlasikhin , Kaldor , Prins .

Strong evidence was presented to the Tribunal that nuclear strategies currently in force, particularly western strategies, had detailed contingency plans for the first-use of nuclear weapons in response to conventional attack -- known as 'extended' deterrence . Nuclear weapons were not seen as purely existing to make a devastating response to any nuclear attack. Soviet declared strategy differed in that the Soviets had made a unilateral pledge not to use nuclear weapons first, against non-nuclear states or neutrals. Despite this declared strategy, evidence was presented that the Soviet Union might in certain circumstances, such as in anticipation of an imminent nuclear attack by NATO, launch nuclear weapons first. Nevertheless the strategic trends were that NATO was more ready to threaten or actually to initiate nuclear weapons use than the Soviet Union. This was a clear asymmetry between the positions of the two superpowers.

Relating to the weapons themselves, the trend in weaponry is towards larger numbers of smaller and more accurate warheads. The accuracy of present-day warheads is far above that needed to target cities, which gives rise to the fear that these weapons are targeted upon other nuclear weapons in their silos and that they might be used in a nuclear 'first strike'. Neither side has sufficient weapons of sufficient accuracy to achieve such a disarming first strike over the other, also both sides possess submarine launched weapons whose positions were not sufficiently well-known to be hit. Nevertheless this trend in weaponry and in anti-submarine warfare was to increase the numbers of weapons systems potentially vulnerable to first-strike. The US was 5 to 10 years ahead of the Soviet Union in this technology.

New conventional weapons also 'fudge' the firebreak between nuclear and non-nuclear use for two reasons: (a) new dual-capable weapons systems are planned using cruise and Pershing type missiles to strike Warsaw Pact airfields and fixed targets, these launches would be indistinguishable from nuclear launches; (b) certain weapons such as the fuel-air explosion have explosive powers larger than the smallest nuclear weapons, others are intended to be just as destructive as neutron warheads to tank concentrations (MLRS Phase 3 warhead), others such as the cluster bomb can devastate large areas with withering blasts of shrapnel and deposit plastic minelets for area denial purposes.

Witnesses (Boyle, Meyrowitz ) referred to the Rand Study to support a proposition that more accurate and smaller weaponry could be an attempt to legitimize nuclear weaponry by reducing collateral damage. Evidence was presented that although individual warheads are smaller, intermixing of military and civilian targets would lead to inevitable and unlawful killing of civilians. Also increased forward basing of land-based weapons in highly populated areas such as Europe could only exacerbate the problem.

Both sides have deployed weapons which could be targeted upon the other's command and control networks and reaching them in 5 to 10 minutes from launch. These deployments were judged by the Tribunal to be diminishing stability in a crisis by reason of the very short flight times and the vulnerability of command and control networks. This trend represented, in the view of the Tribunal an increase in risk taking which was deemed to be both unnecessary and reckless endangerment.

The influence of possible future defensive measures was considered. The US SDI is defensive only insofar as its intention is to destroy incoming warheads. Both the US and the USSR possess large numbers of highly offensive weapons including long-range nuclear warheads. Such offensive capability in conjunction with a new defensive ability, would enhance both the defensive and the offensive capability of any power deploying an SDI system. If one side deploys SDI the result is simply a greater degree of threat to the side not possessing it, because as far as it is successful a certain proportion of the nuclear warheads of one's opponent are made useless. SDI could be interpreted as enhancing a possible first strike option because any response after first strike could be stopped by the shield. It can also be interpreted as removing the deterrent ability of the smaller nuclear powers. In both these respects it is de-stabilizing. SDI as presently envisaged cannot defend Europe, because tactical weapons do not go up into space, or defend against low-flying weapons of longer range. Anti-tactical Ballistic Missile (ATBM) systems are being considered for the point defence of US airfields in Europe. As far as SDI is successful and the belief that any retaliatory strike may be sufficiently blunted is enhanced, the likelihood of further unlawful and unethical risk-taking is increased.

Evidence was given to the effect that the nuclear state could only exist by means of excessive state security and was thus by its nature counter-democratic leading to a gradual erosion of human rights (Kaldor ). The existence of nuclear weapons had led to a militarization of international relations since the Second World War. Successive nuclear threats were known to have been made by the US in Korea, but the effectiveness of these threats as a means of nuclear coercion or blackmail was severely questioned. It seemed that the only successful case of nuclear blackmail was by a small nuclear state (Israel) against the US.

The Tribunal found that the trends in weaponry and strategy made the unlawful use of nuclear weapons more likely, both the threat of use and the actual detonation of weapons. Many of the newer, smaller types of weapons particularly the US cruise missile , made verification of future treaties more difficult (cruise is outside existing arms control treaties such as Salt-2 ) . This also applied to a lesser extent to mobile weapons such as the Soviet SS-20 . Modern developments made the likelihood of escalation to all-out nuclear war from serious conventional conflicts almost inevitable and constituted an unlawful and unethical degree of risk taking. The US SDI initiative was seen as a further de-stabilizing development, particularly as an existing arms control treaty, the ABM treaty, was likely to be threatened.

One positive trend which emerged from the technology was that with the extremely high sensitivity of satellite monitoring operating at many different frequencies and new technologies for higher frequency seismic analysis - the transparency revolution - the possibility of any side cheating on any arms control agreements was more remote. This could not be used as a valid reason for not ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or a implementing a freeze on deployment, testing and development.

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© 1985-2005 Geoffrey Darnton. All rights reserved.