Friday, October 10, 2008

Nukes and the Prisoner's Dilemna

James Call: Expert! Smarter than you! Also handsome!

Reader "Amy" requests: "explain the prisoner's dilemma and comment on whether you think the USA is increasing the risk of nuclear war by having WMD. "

Oh, the prisoner's dilemma. A great dilemma, one of my faves.

Ok, the premise of the dilemma is this: two people are arrested, and throw in jail. They alleged committed or were planning a crime together. The police separate them, and offer each a deal: if you testify against the other prisoner, you go free and he/she stays in jail. If NEITHER of you testify, you both stay in jail for a little bit, but eventually go free. But if you BOTH testify, the jail term is longer.

Classic game theory shit, nice thing to teach schoolchildren. Sets you to to understand "nuclear deterrence" and "mutually assured destruction" (MAD). MAD basically states that if you're facing down a person with nukes, and vice versa, one of you is going to have to be batshit insane to launch a nuclear attack, because that will end all life on Earth forever, and no one wants that. The point of war is to win, not for everyone to lose.

Thankfully so far nukes haven't gotten into the hands of people who literally want to blow up the Earth. But they will, one day, if we don't get rid of them.

Look at Hitler. During his "downfall," he wanted Germany itself to burn. Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out. Imagine if he had had nukes! That would have been it for the Earth, potentially. He was genuinely crazy enough to use them. Most world leaders are NOT, but that's why I keep saying you should read Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It CAN happen here, ladies and gentlemen.

But assuming no madmen are around, MAD works very well. Imagine if there had been no nuclear deterrence during the Cold War!!! Holy fuck, that would have been awesome!!! It would have been the bloodiest, and largest, land/sea/air war of all time. World War III! That would have ruled so hard.

But the pinko commie rats didn't want to blow up the Earth, nor did the yankee imperialist swine. That's why the Cold War wasn't really a "war" at all, it was a gentleman's agreement to divide up the Earth between two "opposing ideologies" (questionable at times).

However, since nukes are so freaking powerful, you really don't need too many to achieve MAD conditions. Let's look at today's nuclear powers. For good measure, let's include those who are unofficial or former nuclear powers. So that gives us: the US of A, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, France, England, Israel, Nouth Korea, and South Africa. Soon to include Iran (yay, go Persia!). Now, let's say each of those powers has 10 hydrogen bombs. That's a total of 110 hydrogen bombs, discounting Iran. That's MORE than enough to create pollution so severe that mankind is almost totally eliminated. Let's crank it up to, say, 30 bombs per world power, and you have enough destructive force + radiation to end life on Earth. Period.

So where the WMD issue becomes a problem is when you exceed the MAD threshold. I'm not sure how many thousands of nukes we have left in this country, but we do have thousands: more than enough to destroy the Earth many times over. Now let's say we get sloppy and let a few nukes slip - you can sell those fuckers for a pretty penny.

Now one of those nukes ends up in the hands of a suicide bomber.


And that's the problem with the prisoner's dilemma/MAD... that you can go too far with it. Most of our nukes, I maintain, were built with profit, rather than strategic, motives in mind. There's money to be made in selling missiles to the government. But eventually, when central governments melt down - like the USSR's, like Pakistan's often does - nukes get loose. And then you REALLY have to track them down. It's one thing for North Korea's petty dictators to have a bomb. But what about the Taliban? Can you imagine that shit?

But keep deterrence levels manageable, and they're excellent: look, so far, no WWIII. If we ever figure out how to "defeat" nuclear weapons, you can expect another serious land/sea/air war. Hopefully, this won't happen in our lifetimes. Nor will the madmen getting the bomb. But that's a more likely scenario: it's all just a matter of time.

RECOMMENDED READING: I would just watch Dr. Strangelove over and over. Also, anything on Henry Kissinger, a master of nuclear deterrence theory.

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