Aug 1, 2021Liked by Claire Berlinski

As Lawrence Krauss says,

“Hypersonic weapons allow vastly reduced times between launch and impact; if they are nuclear tipped, for short- or intermediate-range weapons, the response time is vastly reduced.”

Before the hypersonic era, if a launch were detected, even with all the acute confusion that would inevitably result, there would be time to move the President, Vice President and key military personnel to a location where they had a reasonable chance of surviving the blast. The speed of hypersonic weapons makes protecting key government officials more difficult and as a result they would be less likely to survive an attack.

If the civilian leadership and key military leaders were killed in the initial attack, doesn’t that render the remaining two tiers of the nuclear triad less threatening? After all, upon the death of the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House and President Pro-tempore of the Senate, who would be left to order a retaliatory strike?

In light of this reality, isn’t it realistic to believe that a modernized land based hypersonic ballistic missile capability does provide a deterrent?

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While I agree on the whole that modernizing our nuclear arsenal is relatively worthless, there is ample evidence of the worthlessness of treaties in this article as well, not to mention misleading statements pertaining to Putin’s and Iran’s compliance, or should I say lack thereof, with the IRNF and JCPOA, respectively. Furthermore, R&D into hypersonic capabilities can have conventional as well as nuclear applications, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be fielding comparable conventional weapons systems as strategic opponents like Russia and China, and semi-West-aligned India.

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Regarding the US president's "unilateral authority” over the nation’s nuclear weapons:

(1) Unity of command is not only a bedrock strategic principle, it’s a key component of deterrence. If a potential aggressor knows or suspects that an attack won’t result in prompt retaliation, deterrence is undermined. Anything that complicates or confuses the chain of command is therefore dangerous.

(2) The Constitution of the United States places all executive authority in the hands of the president. He can to some extent delegate this authority but he cannot share it. This applies especially to his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. While it’s true that his authority as such is not unlimited—the power to declare war rests with Congress—there’s no doubt that he may act unilaterally in certain circumstances, e.g. in the event of a surprise attack on US forces or territory. Moreover, nobody but the president and those down the chain of command to whom he has delegated authority can issue or countermand lawful military orders. Thus any system of power sharing intended strip the president of his unilateral authority as commander-in-chief would be unconstitutional.

(3) Although it’s true that the president’s authority over the nation’s nuclear weapons is unilateral, it’s not solitary. He cannot initiate a nuclear strike without the cooperation of numerous officials and officers. This of course does not preclude all possibilities of error, but it does reduce them to a very low order of probability. It also refutes the argument that an insane or murderous president could start a nuclear war. No senior officer or official would obey such an order, coming as it were out of the blue. In that kind of situation officers at STRATCOM and NORAD would be quite well aware that no attack on the US was underway. Anyhow, the madman president scenario strikes me as frivolous.

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