Embrace the ‘Nuance’ of Nuclear Weapons

We must not allow a missing rung on America's nuclear escalation ladder!

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Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

I get email notices for Aether, a professional journal for “strategic airpower & spacepower,” and the lead article on the cover caught my eye:

A Tactical Nuclear Mindset: Deterring with Conventional Apples and Nuclear Oranges

James R. McCue, Adam Lowther, and James Davis

Comparing and contrasting low-yield theater nuclear weapons with conventional precision strike weapons leads to a nuanced conclusion that both contribute to deterrence.

Imagine that! Both nuclear and conventional weapons “contribute to deterrence.” Even though they’re apparently apples and oranges. Well, there’s “nuance” for you.

Anybody want a tasty nuclear “orange”? Fresh and juicy, and with a low yield. It may very well deter you from eating citrus fruit for, well, forever.

I’m not familiar with the authors of the piece. McCue is an Air Force lieutenant colonel with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. I don’t know about you, but suggesting that low-yield nukes can be used in nuanced ways heightens my sense of threat. Lowther directs strategic deterrence programs at the National Strategic Research Institute, which makes me think anew about the meaning of “deterrence.” In this case, it seems to mean the willingness to use nuclear weapons against “bad actors” like China but especially Putin and Russia. And Davis is an Army major assigned to U.S. Central Command. It’s nice to know the Army, just like the Air Force, has a strange love for nukes.

In essence, the article’s argument is this: Russia, China, and North Korea are “investing” in low-yield nukes while the US and other NATO allies have generally been reducing their arsenals of the same. To deter those three adversaries, the US must make new “investments” in low-yield nukes, because you never know what those foreigners are up to.

Here’s how the authors put it in their conclusion: “In the right circumstances conventional weapons offer greater certainty of destruction than tactical nuclear weapons. The West must examine what this means for warfighting, as well as what adversaries are signaling by investing in low-yield nuclear weapons. The best solution may be the development of a state-of-the-art nuclear capability that ensures certain, prompt, proportionate, and in-kind response options. The perception of a missing rung on the American escalation ladder could prove alluring to Russia or China in a conflict.”

Mr. President, we must not allow a missing rung on America’s escalation ladder!

Even if that “missing rung” is only a “perception.”

Let’s keep that in mind if nuclear weapons start flying in Europe or Asia. We can console ourselves that at least we weren’t missing a rung in our escalatory ladder as millions get blasted, burnt, and irradiated.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.

10 thoughts on “Embrace the ‘Nuance’ of Nuclear Weapons”

  1. Both of the nukes used on an ailing, truce-seeking, Japan were science project. Survivors reported observing men walking around, wearing protective clothing, jotting notes on clipboards at the scenes of the murders. Using those weapons was criminal, with long lasting effects; birth defects, etc, against a country that had been seeking to end the war for a year before the days of infamy. Oh yes, we know plenty about nuclear war.

  2. When nuclear weapons start flying in Europe and Asia, they will fly all over the world. It will cause far more damage than the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan and all the chemical weapons that have been used in wars combined.
    WWIII will end all wars since it will end the world. WWII was called The War To End All Wars but there were numerous wars after that.

  3. Jan 12, 2023 Nuclear War is the Ultimate Crime Against Humanity

    Explosive power is only one way to describe the difference between conventional and nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapon is like a piece of the Sun. When it explodes, the surface of the fireball it creates is hotter than the surface of the Sun, so anyone close to it is going to be vaporized, and it will ignite fires over large distances.


  4. How much of a psychopath does one have to be to say or write things like that? Just asking.

  5. By promulgating Russia-gate, Hillary Clinton may have still succeeded in destroying humanity even though she didn’t become our President. That’s truly remarkable, but it’s not entirely her fault. She knew we would believe her. Most of us believed her, regardless whether we supported her or if we were “the deplorables” who didn’t support her. (Sarcasm alert)

    1. It was obvious from Day 1 that Russiagate was a bunch of BS cooked up by the Democratic Party (Clinton et al.) for the purpose of blaming Russia for Clinton losing to Trump instead of properly reflecting on how awful Clinton is and how hated she was, and how awful the party itself is. Many of us knew that at the time, the most prominent of whom I guess was Noam Chomsky, and we said so. Of course we had to take a lot of crap from the Blueanon folks, but that’s the reward for not being a Pavlovian idiot.

      Now we see that Russiagate has had the secondary effect of getting Americans to hate Russia again so that the U.S. can ramp up war against it without a lot of resistance at home. So Clinton didn’t get to start a nuclear war by imposing a no-fly zone over Syria as she threatened, but maybe she was playing the long game. :)

      1. 100%. I recall that when Killary did a campaign rally, her approval rating dropped. Many said that’s why she stopped doing them and sent Obama to rally for her instead. What she got was the “vote blue no matter who” crowd.

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