McNamara on Nuclear Weapons Ryan 09 May 2005

50 comments Latest by Anonymous Coward

This very serious warning from Robert McNamara is a must-read.

On any given day, as we go about our business, the president is prepared to make a decision within 20 minutes that could launch one of the most devastating weapons in the world. To declare war requires an act of congress, but to launch a nuclear holocaust requires 20 minutes’ deliberation by the president and his advisors.
I have never seen a piece of paper that outlined a plan for the United States or NATO to initiate the use of nuclear weapons with any benefit for the United States or NATO. I have made this statement in front of audiences, including NATO defense ministers and senior military leaders, many times. No one has ever refuted it. To launch weapons against a nuclear-equipped opponent would be suicidal. To do so against a nonnuclear enemy would be militarily unnecessary, morally repugnant, and politically indefensible.

50 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Justin P 09 May 05

To all who haven’t seen it yet, The Fog Of War gives great insight into *who* McNamara is.

Todd 09 May 05

Why worry about nuclear war? We only have about 200 years before global warming ends civilization.

Please. 09 May 05

Seriously, I was just about to recommend this blog to a website designer friend, then there was this post.

Stay on message. I’ll go elsewhere for politics.

mark 09 May 05

Please: To be honest, I was thinking the same thing. Then I looked at the top of the page…

“This is Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, customer experience, entertainment, politics, Basecamp, products we like, small business, ourselves, and more.”

So it looks like Ryan’s “on message” after all.

Dan Boland 09 May 05

Why are so many people here against talking about something besides the web? That’s one of the things that keeps me a loyal reader — the acknowledgement that there’s more to life than the web and the willingness to occasionally talk about something, anything, else.

Raphy 09 May 05

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to wait for an Act of Congress to give the President authorization to launch a nuclear counter-strike.

Justin P 09 May 05

It’s “Signal vs. Noise” for god’s sake. If that name doesn’t allow the guys at 37 Signals to post whatever they want, I don’t know what does.

Personally, I like blurring the line between my various interests (web development, politics, whatever …). It helps to foster ideas and conversations that wouldn’t normally happen if you limit your area of discussion to one subject.

Chris McMahon 09 May 05

Nuclear weapons are primarily a deterrent. Making the use of them more difficult reduces that deterrent to a point where they become useless.

Richard 09 May 05

I have seen The Fog of War and am old enough to have been alive during the Cuban missle crisis.

McNamara is in many ways like Robert Oppenheimer who built the first atomic bomb, watched it get dropped, twice, then grew a conscience and was blacklisted as a traitor.

McNamara helped build the very military industrial complex that continues to build new nuclear weapons to this day. Yes, he’s grown a conscience but he wasn’t thinking big enough during the cold war, just like Bush wasn’t thinking big enough about how Iraq had been erroded by sanctions and was in bad shape pre-invasion.

The idea that our current president has his finger on the “nookular” trigger, the same guy who uses phrases like “the evil ones” is scarier than anything MacNamara, Kennedy, Truman or any of those cold warrior types thought or did.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to wait for an Act of Congress to give the President authorization to launch a nuclear counter-strike.

What Bush did in Iraq was not a counter strike and what he might be planning to do in Korea won’t be either. The current mantra is “get them before they get you” and the only people to get us recently are still around and we’re going after everyone else. That kind of thinking is thinking I’d rather not have its finger on any buttons.

Eloy Anzola 09 May 05

This article is almos quoted word from word from “The Fog of War”. It is a fantastic movie, visually and otherwise. Highly recommended.

mh 09 May 05

[OT]

“Why worry about nuclear war? We only have about 200 years before global warming ends civilization.”

That may be, but apparently humans had nothing to do with it:
http://canadafreepress.com/2005/cover050705.htm

Ben 09 May 05

The majority of the country voted for the president, apparently they trust him to make good decisions.

Sounds like someone is stuck in the cold war.

Have fun. But now you've polluted your purpose. 09 May 05

Talk about anything you want, it’s your blog. I came here for design information and news, and was going to recommend it for that purpose. But now I won’t. Turns out it’s not about that.

Nice disclaimer, “and politics, and whatever we feel like.” Just don’t forget that some people, perhaps the majority, come here for your expertise in design. Not world politics, nor itch medication, nor laxatives. If I want to be distracted by something other than design I’ve got a huge folder full of Favorites to distract myself with. I’ll distract myself, thank you.

Of course, I needn’t remind you that mixing politics with business gets you neither. I can name many sites that I no longer visit, products I won’t use, and celebrities I no longer support because of their politics. Beware of going there. I won’t support companies who use the the money and influence I give them by purchasing their products towards political ends that I do not agree with. (Someone send that sentence out for tailoring, please!)

Stay on message. Consider a second blog for specific topics that are not on message.

On Message? 09 May 05

Actually, I wouldn’t mind the expertise on the itch medication. I have this rash on my knee that is taking forever to go away.

Darrel 09 May 05

As for being ‘politically indefensible’ sadly, that seems to be a lost issue these days. Almost anything seems defensible…lying to start a war…destroying the environment…writing discrimination into the constitution…if you can spin, you can defend anything.

Have fun. But now you’ve polluted your purpose.

Ironically, all you are doing is polluting the topic at hand.

Dan Boland 09 May 05

LOL!!!

S 09 May 05

“some people, perhaps the majority, come here for your expertise in design. Not world politics, nor itch medication, nor laxatives…

Perhaps you should instead find a weblog that can recommend something to remove whatever is up your ass.

Raphy 09 May 05

Richard,

After winding my way through your post, in which you quote my previous comment, I can honestly say I have no idea what you’re talking about. Perhaps you’re also old enough to have lived through the Age of Aquarius.

Cheers.

Scott Becker 09 May 05

Yes, our lives are pretty much in the hands of world leaders, as it has been for many years. Not much we can do, so why worry about it?

Richard 09 May 05

Raphy:

Perhaps you’re also old enough to have lived through the Age of Aquarius.

I am and in case you skipped that chapter in your history book, Hair came out during the cold war.

I’ll try again, I’m sorry if I was less than clear.

The reference in this post is that Robert McNamara has something important to say on nuclear weapons. As others have stated, The Fog of War (a movie you may have missed) is probably the best way to get the full context of his message and of his history.

My comment is that the post, which consists of a title and a lead-in to a quote, doesn’t really give context to those who don’t know who he is and was. Simply, McNamara, along with others, was responsible for the buildup of nuclear weapons in this country and now, many years after the fact he’s gone public as having second thoughts.

And, while I was at it, I editorialized that our current president seems more capable of pre-emptive use of said weapons than any of those guys who pre-dated him.

Are you with me?

The key word is “pre-emptive” and this country has never gone to war without being attacked first. Bush is the first president to do that.

Now to your comment, you said:

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to wait for an Act of Congress to give the President authorization to launch a nuclear counter-strike.

Well, given our current president, I would.

Nuclear deterence is one thing (I don’t agree with that either but there it is and I live with it), pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons is another. Given that Bush is the first president in US history to invade another country that did not attack us, I think there’s a fair chance he might do it again and if he does, maybe he’ll decide to use nuclear weapons.

Peace and love man…

Raphy 09 May 05

Richard,

I did see Fog of War (I’m a big Erol Morris fan) and do understand the historical importance of Robert McNarmara. Where you lose me is with the leap you make with respect to George Bush and his so-called twitchy nuclear trigger finger. To suggest that he might launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack and invasion is total lunacy, stunningly ignorant, and likely based in fervent political ideology - seriously.

Bush will never use a nuclear weapon. The only US President who’ll have that “honor” is Harry S. Truman - ahem, Democrat.

Chris 09 May 05

To those who are speaking out “against” this post, good riddance. Keep it up, signals. This post, like all your posts, is spot-on and will keep me coming back.

Most of you are crazy 09 May 05

I understand McNamara’s concern that one person has the ability to create a nuclear holocaust, but that’s not going to happen. George W. Bush isn’t about to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike. And no, he doesn’t want to bring about the rapture.

If the United States were to give up its nuclear weapons it would be the biggest mistake in history. It would open the door to challengers like China and cause massive nuclear proliferation among rogue nations. If it weren’t for America, there would be a lot less stability and a lot more tyranny in the world today.

It’s amazing how the words “Christian” and “right” have the ability to scare the crap out of so many of you. It’s a good indication of your complete and utter ignorance.

Ross 10 May 05

The Fog Of War: One of the most gripping interviews I’ve ever seen.

Max Niederhofer 10 May 05

The potential of pre-emptive nuclear first strike is a well-proven deterrent for other countries. There is no plan that shows the benefit of an actual nuclear first strike; however, there are many plans that show the benefit of a nuclear first option.

Michael 10 May 05

Most Liberals are as afraid of Bush as they were of Reagan. Reagan was this “crazy actor” who was going to start a nuclear holocaust. Were they right?

The assumption that other countries are by default peace loving and friendly is ridiculous. If this were the case, we would not have had two world wars during the first 50 years of the 20th century.

Nuclear weapons are an excellent deterrent of war. Again, history provides the necessary evidence as another world war did not erupt in the second half of the 20th century, while nuclear weapons were successfully used as a detterent.

Michael 2 10 May 05

Most Liberals are as afraid of Bush as they were of Reagan.

I’m not as afraid of Bush as I was of Reagan during the Cold War, when the threat was 1000x bigger than any terrorist we face today, but I do think that Bush is a far inferior President than Reagan in almost every way imaginable. And I’m sure as hell glad Bush wasn’t the one staring down Breshnev. Going back further, can you imagine Bush at the helm during the Cuban Missle Crisis?

The assumption that other countries are by default peace loving and friendly is ridiculous.

It certainly is. Good thing liberals don’t beleive that. Bush, on the other hand, seemed to think that Iraq without Saddam would become, by default, peace loving and friendly. Whoops!

Most of you are crazy 2 10 May 05

George W. Bush isn’t about to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Nobody has suggested that he would. You are assigning opinions to people who have not actually expressed those opinions. You are arguing against an opponent that exists only in your imagination. That’s called a “straw man”.

If the United States were to give up its nuclear weapons it would be the biggest mistake in history./i>

I would imagine that the number of left-wingers who actually recommend unilateral disarmament is about as tiny as the number of right wingers who recommend unilateral first strikes against any and all of America’s enemies. In other words, you have built another straw man.

Most of you are crazy 2 10 May 05

Hm, well, it looks like someone did propose that Bush might go for a first nuclear strike. The straw men exist! (Thanks a lot, Richard, for playing right into their hands!)

I stand corrected!

Michael 10 May 05

I would imagine that the number of left-wingers who actually recommend unilateral disarmament is about as tiny as the number of right wingers who recommend unilateral first strikes against any and all of America’s enemies. In other words, you have built another straw man.

So should we have multilateral disarmament? What happens when everybody disarms, but some other nation rearms? What happens when somebody like South Korea refuses to cooperate with disarmament.

I am not someone who really likes the thought of nuclear weapons. However, I am practical. Until we come up with some fantastic way, besides maintaining our own nuclear stockpile, to nullify another countries nuclear arsenal I am not going to preach for disarmament.

Furthermore, I think this post is ridiculous. Just because someone famous says something does not mean it’s true. I am tired of liberals, conservative, libertarians, and most other using a quote of someone famous to justify their beleif. Just because the President of the United States thinks the Patriotic Act is a good thing does not make it so, and just because Robert McNamara doesn’t like nuclear weapons doesn’t make them bad. Argue the Patriotic Act and nuclear weapons based on their merit and not who is for and against them.

Darrel 10 May 05

Nuclear weapons are an excellent deterrent of war.

Absurd. Maybe, when the only two folks with them…us and Russia…maybe…but now, we’re not even warring with countries. If Osama get’s a nuke, then what? Who are we going to nuke?

Bush can’t even go after the actual attackers. He has to lie and go bomb a different country. And you ridicule folks being ‘afraid’ of Bush’s decision making process?

Again, history provides the necessary evidence as another world war did not erupt in the second half of the 20th century, while nuclear weapons were successfully used as a detterent.

That’s some amazing reasoning there. Rove has his work cut out for him.

Darrel 10 May 05

can you imagine Bush at the helm during the Cuban Missle Crisis?

It would have been awful. He would have bombed Jamaica.

Darrel 10 May 05

If the United States were to give up its nuclear weapons it would be the biggest mistake in history.

Maybe. The problem is that it’s really hard for us to tell the rest of the world that they can’t make nukes when we have them ourselves. It also doesn’t encourage Russia to start getting rid of their unsecured stockpile before it gets into the hands of people that could care less if we actually have a nuke.

Nothing deters a suicide bomber anyways.

But we can’t even give up our land mines, so I don’t see us volunteering to get rid of the nukes anytime soon.

I am tired of liberals, conservative, libertarians, and most other using a quote of someone famous to justify their beleif.

Who’s the group that’s always quoting the bible?

Michael 10 May 05

Absurd. Maybe, when the only two folks with them…us and Russia…maybe…but now, we’re not even warring with countries. If Osama get’s a nuke, then what? Who are we going to nuke?

Skis are an excellent way to get around a snow covered region, however they are of little use in the desert. Does that mean that skis are not useful?

Your argument follows the same logical fallacy. Just because nuclear weapons are not useful for deterring terrorism, does not mean they are not useful for deterring war.


The problem is that it’s really hard for us to tell the rest of the world that they can’t make nukes when we have them ourselves.

It’s really not that hard to do. Just repeat after me “You can’t have nukes!”

As I am not a churchgoer, I do not feel it is god’s right the US has nukes. Rather, I feel lucky I live in a nation that has them. Furthermore, I am very happy we developed them before someone like Hitler did.

I am tired of liberals, conservative, libertarians, and most other using a quote of someone famous to justify their beleif.

Who’s the group that’s always quoting the bible?

Jesus is just another famous person. I thought when I stated others that Christians, Muslims, and other groups were included.

Daniel Lakier 10 May 05

A couple of points: The US pre-emptively has waged several wars, including the US-Mexico war (mid 1800s) and I suppose the recent invasions of Panama and Cuba (Bay of Pigs), etc. Iraq is not our first.

Secondly, nukes are an excellent deterrent - anybody want to take on Korea?

Third, there is the concept of a “Splendid First Strike” capability which assumes that you are able to eliminate your opponent’s ability to retaliate. This is not viable with opponents who maintain dispersed arsenals (read USSR, England, France), but is quite reasonable against nations like Israel or Pakistan. If Korea obtained ICBM technology, and relations deteriorated markedly, this might be an appropriate US response.

Sadly, there really is no alternative to maintaining nukes, and it seems inevitable that someone will nuke someone else at some point. Realist political theory cannot account for irrational actors (read terrorists) and liberal Institutionalism theory really cannot accomodate states that will not engage us (such as Iran or Korea).

Now what would happen if the nukes were running Windows?

Darrel 10 May 05

Just because nuclear weapons are not useful for deterring terrorism, does not mean they are not useful for deterring war.

But you’re missing the big point. We’re not at war with countries anymore. It’s terrorists or insane dictators.

It’s really not that hard to do. Just repeat after me “You can’t have nukes!”

OK, I take that back. It’s easy to talk the talk. No one takes us seriously outside our own borders when we talk like that, but yea, it’s easy to do.

Realist political theory cannot account for irrational actors (read terrorists)

Right. And having nukes will do nothing to deter them anyways. In fact, you are just increasing the liklihood that they’ll get their hands on some themselves.

and liberal Institutionalism theory really cannot accomodate states that will not engage us (such as Iran or Korea).

I don’t think either country has anything to gain from engaging with us with or without Nukes. A well planned offensive and our military can do pretty much anything.

Michael 10 May 05

But you’re missing the big point. We’re not at war with countries anymore. It’s terrorists or insane dictators.

Were we at war with any countries on December 6th 1941? Just because you are not at war today does not mean that a country will not attack you tomorrow.

Walker 10 May 05

“It’s amazing how the words “Christian” and “right” have the ability to scare the crap out of so many of you. It’s a good indication of your complete and utter ignorance.”

Like all those people who think ‘liberal’ is a dirty word.

There is somewhere in the middle, america used to know where it was, now it seems, with a ‘my way or the highway’ president, peremptory statements are the norm on both sides.

Darrel 10 May 05

Were we at war with any countries on December 6th 1941? Just because you are not at war today does not mean that a country will not attack you tomorrow.

The planet has changed immensely in 60 years. With a key change being the blurring of arbitrary borders.

You are right, a country may attack us. But it’s improbable in this day in age. At least much more improbable than the continuation of terrorist/guerilla factions that have been the primary MO these past few decades.

Michael 10 May 05

The planet has changed immensely in 60 years. With a key change being the blurring of arbitrary borders.

The borders of the US and other countries are just as distinct as 60 years ago.

You are right, a country may attack us. But it’s improbable in this day in age. At least much more improbable than the continuation of terrorist/guerilla factions that have been the primary MO these past few decades.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, I’m sure people said it is unlikely the US would be attacked, since there had never been an unprovoked attack on US soil prior to that. But they were wrong.

Many other large countries have not been extremely passive in the past 60 years. The cold war ended just 15 years ago. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Chinese have conducted numerous missile tests over Taiwan. South Korea has developed nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the entire reason Pearl Harbor was so shocking is that nobody expected it. When you are prepared for the possibility of attack and have measures in place to prevent and respond to such an attack, you are much less likely to be attacked. And since nobody, not even you, can know when somebody will or will not attack us, it is best to always be prepared for the possibility of attack.

To pound this point in, just because it is unlikely a foreign nation will attack us within the next 10 years does not mean we should stop protecting ourselves. You are not likely to be in a car accident tomorrow, yet you have car insurance.

Finally, our arsenal of nuclear weapons does not make it any more likely that a terrorist will get ahold of nuclear weapons. True, the selling of nuclear secrets from the Russians and Pakistanis may make it more likely, but those issues are not related to our current stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The argument for eliminating nuclear weapons to prevent terrorism is much like the idea that gun control will keep people from having guns. Gun control doesn’t prevent people from getting guns, it just prevents the good people from having guns. Reducing our nuclear weapons will not reduce the probability a terrorist will obtain them. However, it will reduce our defenses from attack from another nation.

Michael 10 May 05

OK, I take that back. It’s easy to talk the talk. No one takes us seriously outside our own borders when we talk like that, but yea, it’s easy to do.

So the Taliban doesn’t take Bush seriously? Saddam doesn’t take Bush seriously? Libya doesn’t take Bush seriously?

It’s true tough words do not mean you will be taken seriously. However, tough words followed by tough actions result in you being taken seriously. For example, Bush said he would attack countries promoting terrorism, and he attacked Afghanistan and Iraw. Then, out of the blue, Libya agrees to disarmament.

Further evidence can be found with the Iran Hostage situation. Carter could talk all he wanted, however the Iranians refused to release the hostages. Carter even notes “The entire Islamic world condemned Iran.” Yet, with all this condeming nobody was freed.

However, when that crazy Reagan came to office, the hostages were released. True, Reagan hadn’t made any tough actions, but people were afraid he would. A condemenation or threat means nothing unless you are willing to back that up with force. People were scared of Reagan and thought he would use force. People are scared of Bush and know he will use force.

Carter felt that “A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity.” Yet, it was Reagan’s bluster, boasting, and rashness that got those hostages back.

Daniel Lakier 10 May 05

It is disingenuous to imply that Reagan scared the Iranians into releasing hostages. The Iranians used the hostages as a means to influence the US elections and humiliate the US president - regardless of who that was.

A strong argument can, and has been made, that US posturing has made North Korea feel more vulnerable and has accelerated some of their military posturing. Simple Realist logic would predict their recent actions(increased militarization) based on their perceived threat (and they do perceive a threat based on President Bush’s actions)

Whether or not US military activity in the mid-east will make us safer in the long run is anything but clear. What (in my mind) is moving us down the safer world front far more than nukes, or war in general, is progress in Israel/Palestine. Neither President Bush, nor President Clinton can really claim credit for that.

While carrying a big stick is one thing, improvements in democracy, the international economy, and other touchy feely stuff is probably the best way to make us safer. We’ll never be “safe” but the more prosperous our potential adversaries are, the less likely they are to want to risk it.

I think that there is some stat out there that no two countries with McDonalds have ever been at war with one another. Intriguing stat, though the data sample size is too small to draw any real conclusions.

But you’ll never get rid of the nuts, and nukes are not always the best way to hit them. But they do discourage other countries from supporting them - but, then so, do regular guns.


Dan Boland 10 May 05

I don’t know about anyone else, but the country I’m most concerned about is China.

Michael 10 May 05

A strong argument can, and has been made, that US posturing has made North Korea feel more vulnerable and has accelerated some of their military posturing.

I disagree, the North Koreans nuclear ambitions began long before Bush’s arrival. They blatantly lied during neogations for a power plant in the Clinton administration. They have long desired nuclear weapons, and recent actions have probably not accellerated their plans or desires.

While carrying a big stick is one thing, improvements in democracy, the international economy, and other touchy feely stuff is probably the best way to make us safer.

I almost completely agree with you. I think a strong international economy has the best potential for providing long lasting peace. Democracy’s are also helpful. However, I don’t think either of those things are “touchy feely.” I think associating them as “touchy feely” devalues their importance.

I was not trying to advocate nuclear weapons as the only ingredient for peace. It is just one very effective deterrent for war. I find it disgusting that some people try to ignore reality, and say that as long as we love our neighbor all will be well. The best way to maintian a safe and secure society is to not make enemy’s and have a strong defense, so that the enemy’s you do have are not likely to attack you.

Darrel 11 May 05

Yet, it was Reagan’s bluster, boasting, and rashness that got those hostages back.

You are missing some key facts there.

John 11 May 05

You Americans love your nuclear weapons. God knows why. Nice deterrent, threaten our livelihood and we will kill millions of your citizens. Invade us or our “allies” and we wipe out life on earth.

Something tells me those who love this philosophy might change their mind as they feel their skin melting from a nuclear blast. But then it would be too late wouldn’t it.

Issues important as this should be raised everywhere - good job.

Jeff 13 May 05

> Something tells me those who love this philosophy
> might change their mind as they feel their skin melting
> from a nuclear blast. But then it would be too late
> wouldn’t it.

The whole point of a deterrant is so that nobody’s skin has to melt from a nuclear blast - it is to create a stalemate in which nobody is willing to act so rashly for fear of annhilation.

So far, this deterrant has worked fairly well. Trust me, the number of Americans who _want_ to die in a nuclear war - or kill tens of thousands of others in such a war - is very, very small.

Anonymous Coward 21 Nov 05

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Anonymous Coward 21 Nov 05

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