Behind and Beyond the Scenarios

The idea of a 'doomsday machine' as an ultima ratio of deterrence is due to Herman Kahn. As a 'terminal' retaliation should deterrence fail, such a hypothetical device was thought to automatically kill the majority of mankind, if not the species of man or all life on Earth. MAD was a sort of 'homicide pact' indeed, settled by the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 (which allowed one BMD system at either side). Negotiations could give MAD a frame as long as it was accepted as a matter of fact and a relatively stable island was sought within the sea of inherent risks. In a severe crisis, however, a strategic exchange could have been initiated just by technical failure, misinterpretation, false information, or madness. Aimed to balance Soviet conventional forces, the US nuclear guarantee for Western Europe established the principal context of the doctrine of extended deterrence. The ability to control escalation, a prerequisite of this posture, was its dilemma as well. The myth, the adversaries in a nuclear war could climb a fictitious 'escalation ladder' up and down at will, is not backed by any realistic view on the dynamics of escalation, be it only due to the vulnerability of the very means of control, the C3I systems, which are primary targets in the earliest phase of war. Moreover, tactical nuclear weapons are an escalation-prone arming per se. Their massive deployment along the European front made an early, uncontrolled use in any armed conflict nearly certain. Postures other than MAD were also delusionary due to the 'third power problem': the nuclear forces of Britain and France, maintained in part in recognition of the US dilemma with extended deterrence, were 'MAD forces' by intention, with a substantial destruction potential. 'Escalation control' and 'limited nuclear war' were sold by a 'nuclear utilization theory' (NUT) as alternatives to MAD. Soviet strategic forces in 'launch on warning' alert, however, and a doctrine of earliest possible, massive infliction of (not just response to) any nuclear attack would have left no space for bargaining after crossing the threshold to war. NUT did not replace MAD, but increased the risk of strategic instability.

When Herman Kahn died on 3 July 1983, a revision of his classic Thinking about the Unthinkable had been caught up with 'nuclear winter'. In a comment, the editors admit strategic consequences, excepting the 'war fighting' postures. A similar view was held in a brief report delivered by the US Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger. It focuses on the early TTAPS study and uncertainties discussed there, cites with the same bias the reasoning of the NRC study, 'massacres' Soviet contributions as 'propaganda', and praises escalation control as one of the means to avoid nuclear winter. That resistance of the military bureaucracy to new knowledge drives the 'overkill' arsenals beyond any justification shows also the example of the Pacific-Sierra Research Corporation, where smoke emissions and fire effects have been studied with a primary view on target planning for nuclear war: the 'blast model' of casualty estimation survived any 'fiery' challenge. For a 10 000 Mt war, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated a short-term toll of 2.22.5 billion casualties, with a ratio of deaths to injured from 1.1 to 1.6. Lacking appropriate medical care, many of the injured would be doomed to die. Immediate casualty estimates of the Greater London Area War Risk Study (GLAWARS; 1986), the most comprehensive public assessment of the impact of nuclear war on a region, range from 1 to 6.2 millions (97%) of the London population. At a symposium at the NAS Institute of Medicine (IOM; September 1985) such estimates were challenged by a new model that takes 'postnuclear' fires into account. Immediate fatalities had been underestimated by a factor of 2 or more when 'only' prompt radiation, heat and blast waves, as well as local radioactive fallout were considered (blast model). The lower-edge figures for London increase substantially when using the 'conflagration model'.

Difficulties in 'translating' climatic into health effects are partly due to missing local information, neither provided by climate models nor easily derived: fog or haze, storminess, chemical and radioactive load of precipitation, etc. For the longer term, GLAWARS' gravest concern is food supply for survivors. Genuine medical aspects include enteric diseases and those spread by insects or due to poor sanitation and nutrition, all favored in victims who became 'immunocompromised'. The key point here, also identified at the IOM symposium, is just the combined action ofstresses in the nuclear aftermath to impair the immune system. Factors causing immune suppression include radioactive and UV-B radiation, malnutrition, burns and trauma, as well as psychosocial stress. Clinical evidence indicates that these factors all converge in their action on a single element of the immune system, the T-lymphocyte, of which also the 'helper-to-suppressor ratio' is crucial. The Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is characterized by deficiencies of the T-lymphocyte variety similar to those expected due to the combined stresses after nuclear war. The list of factors is certainly not exhaustive. The 'clinical record' of today's monsoon and ENSO variability, from lasting hot-dry to torrential flooding, should bear medical implications of structural impacts on the tropic-subtropical climate. Coming to grips with these dynamic systems challenges climate modeling today, as did a smoky atmosphere in the 1980s.

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