Defense and Deterrence
To the Editor:
Aside from the obvious objective merits of “The Strategy of Deterrence” [H. Stuart Hughes, March], I was especially pleased with its sober, judicious consideration of the issues as contrasted with the attitude taken by some other reviewers of my book, On Thermonuclear War.
I do believe that the final solution has to be some sort of international authority; in fact, I make the explicit point on page 6 of my book that even a bad world government may be preferable to an uncontrolled arms race. I also believe that if we could keep the current order stable for a century or so, we are quite likely to back into such a world government. The problem is that it seems to be unlikely, under current conditions, that we will maintain stability for anything like one hundred years. As a matter of fact, I find it difficult to believe that we will reach the year 2,000 or even 1975 without some kind of blow-up or major crisis. However, these estimates are so uncertain, they depend so much on one’s personal biases, that attempts to improve stability along the route of arms control seem to me of the utmost importance. Improbable as it seems to both Mr. Hughes and myself, arms control may buy us the time that is needed.
I do not really find it impossible to imagine a world in which each side carefully nurtures weapon systems which it will never use. There have been other human institutions even more ridiculous which fulfill important needs. In fact, if stability is achieved, the whole picture would not be dissimilar from the potlatch ceremonies of the California Indians. I’d be delighted to see a situation where dumping $100 billion a year worth of goods in the ocean would be the price tag for preserving, if only temporarily, international order. The potlatch war may offend our sensibilities, but it still seems to be the ideal war.
I would also like to comment on Mr. Hughes’s questions—“Have the Russians really thought up such stratagems? Or are our military theorists perhaps suggesting to them ideas for cheating they might never have come to on their own?”—with some other questions. How could any responsible negotiator not spend time trying to think out strategems? How can one negotiate the control of surprise attack without studying and discussing surprise attack? Or the control of cheating on a test suspension without explaining how to do such cheating? At any rate, we must not only consider ideas that the Russians may be thinking of now, but also those ideas which they would think of if at some later date they decided that they might want to cheat.
While I quite agree that little will be accomplished without an act of faith, one may still be unwilling to accept less than the best schemes that can be devised, even if the schemes finally chosen do not seem good enough to satisfy the most suspicious. I, at least, prefer relatively small acts of faith with the consequences moderately well-controlled if the act of faith goes badly. As for the possibility of a real act of renunciation, such as accommodation up to and including the point of surrender, I would be willing to envisage that also under some conceivable circumstances. But it is difficult for me to believe that the consequences are likely to be other than awful. The Soviets would then have the responsibility for working out on their own, and without any checks, a worldwide arms control system. The alternative, a totally disarmed world, I personally believe is the most unstable of all situations.
We need an international authority with arms to challenge all who would upset the order by violence. And if such an international authority were set up unilaterally by the Soviets, it would likely end as one of the most oppressive governments in history. This is not an estimate that the Soviets are wicked, but an estimate of uncontrolled government anywhere. And a world government which can depend less upon internal pressures to maintain unity than any national government in history seems to me as likely to be pushed in the direction of oppression as any national government has ever been—unless there are important and reliable checks built into the system.
Therefore, when I suggest that a bad world government is better than the current arms race, I don’t mean to indicate there are no limits on how bad a government I’d be willing to accept now. Of course, if the arms race gets worse, my limits will change.
The important question is not whether to give credence to Soviet professions of faith, but rather to ask ourselves how can we get a postwar or pre-war world organized which is really stable to all of the challenges it will have to meet. This takes more than a few Soviets and Americans trusting each other. I suspect it cannot be set up by a simple act of faith. It is more likely to be achieved as a result of violence or at least real pressure on the part of somebody; and even if an international order can be set up reasonably peacefully, I would guess it is much more likely to be set as the result of negotiation and blackmail than as the result of an act of faith.
I would also agree that Mr. Hughes’s picture of negotiating a peace after a thermonuclear war, even a small one, and going back to normal is unreasonable. In fact, this seems like the most probable route to a world government—that is, through a war or a crisis.
Lastly, I do not really believe that anything like “boundless grief and madness” would result from even a very destructive thermonuclear war. It may seem very callous, but such an attitude is less likely to be the result of the overnight destruction of thermonuclear war, in which most survivors do not experience the direct rigors of the war, than from the drawn-out suffering and hopelessness of a conventional war or the plague.
I would like to congratulate Mr. Hughes again on what I think of as one of the best “review” articles on the current defense literature I have read.
The RAND Corporation
Santa Monica, California
To the Editor:
H. Stuart Hughes’s article illuminated the subject with a very rare flash of sanity.
One aspect of the situation which he raised but did not elaborate upon is contained in the attitude expressed by his quotation from Herman Kahn. Hughes wrote: “A child, [Kahn] says, could tell the difference between ten and sixty million casualties, yet ‘few adults seem . . . able to do this. . . .’” A child, or a technically brilliant RAND Corporation strategist, would see, and solve, a purely mathematical problem. An adult with a sensitive moral conscience, however, realizes the enormity of destroying ten million lives, and cannot conceivably accept it. Killing an additional fifty million human beings can hardly be more unacceptable. Hence there is actually no difference at all.
Are our values, or all that America stands for, so much superior to Soviet Russia’s that we would willingly torture and kill ten million people in their defense? The answer, I believe, is that the moment we are willing to accept such a price we no longer can be said to hold superior values, or indeed any humane values at all. On the other hand, assuming the very worst—that we give up our deterrent power and that Russia then chooses to “conquer” us—isn’t it probable that the moral force of 180 million Americans who have been willing to accept humiliation and defeat rather than massive destruction of human life would eventually prove irresistible?
Any course of action currently open to us is a gamble, but the one Mr. Hughes favors seems one in which the odds are overwhelmingly on the side of humanity. . . .
Portola Valley, California
To the Editor:
I am in entire agreement with Mr. H. Stuart Hughes when he advocates negotiated disarmament as the lesser of two risks. But in discussing Herman Kahn’s book Mr. Hughes concedes more than it is really necessary to concede. On Thermonuclear War is hardly a successor to Clausewitz. Its aura of sophistication ought not to conceal the exceedingly primitive manner in which it arrives at its conclusions. Thus (as Mr. Robert Paul Wolff pointed out in a review of the book in the New Republic), when Kahn attempts to calculate the probable effects of a thermonuclear attack on the United States, he considers each of the various factors entering into such calculations—deaths from radiation, damage to the economy, etc.—individually, without for a moment considering them in relation to each other. When he estimates deaths from radiation, he forgets to take into account the damage to hospitals and medical facilities in general which a nuclear attack would involve. When he considers the prospects for restoring public morale in the wake of the attack, he leaves out of account the extent to which morale-building facilities would have been paralyzed and the morale-builders themselves demoralized. And of course, as Mr. Hughes himself points out, when Kahn considers the length of time it would take for “B” country to rebuild “A” country, he ignores the fact that the two “countries” are economically interdependent.
Such lapses hardly characterize a thoughtful appraisal of the possibility of surviving a nuclear attack. . . .
To the Editor:
H. Stuart Hughes’s article presents the pessimistic posture of many American liberal intellectuals. It is optimistic as regards the possibility of reaching accord with the Russians (actually a “that’s-all-we-can-hope-for-anyway” attitude) and pessimistic as regards engaging in political and economic competition with the Russians. . . . At the core of liberal pessimism is a general unwillingness to accept the fact that America is a world power engaged in a world wide power struggle and to accept responsibility for directing that struggle. . . .
Conspicuous by its absence in Hughes’s dissent to Kahn is any discussion of the appropriate means for conducting political and economic opposition to those aspects of Communism which are repugnant to anyone who cherishes the democratic heritage. By the same token, Kahn’s image of “Real Estate America” says nothing about meeting the threat to democratic values posed by Communist expansion in the rest of the world. In fact, it seems evident that Kahn is an utter defeatist concerning the possibility of political competition with the Russians. Hence his advice to start digging in. . . .
If we were frank in our acceptance of conflict, perhaps we could learn to work through conflict to understanding and mutual respect. . . .
New York City