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Much Ado About Very Little
June 6, 2002
By Michael Shannon

Is there a more oxymoronic term in the English language than the "rules of war"? Not only do I think not but it is such a wholly flawed concept that to define it merely as a contradiction in terms is to give it far more legitimacy than it deserves. It is more aptly defined as the total absence of lucidity. War is by definition the antithesis of all that life under the rule of law implies. The thought that it can conducted within the genteel confines of some Marquis of Queensberry style guidelines is delusionary at best.

Whenever I hear someone use the term I think of Moe Howard. Have you ever seen Moe refereeing a fight between Curly and some guy who looks like he could kill him just by looking at him? Before the bout begins, Moe will calmly explain what is and is not allowed. And every time he says, "we'll have none of this" -- be it eye gouging, ear pulling, stomping on feet etc -- he demonstrates on poor hapless Curly, much to his painful chagrin.

In the real world, when it is all said and done, it really doesn't matter how you choose to kill your enemy. They are equally dead whether or not the preferred weapon is a fifty caliber bullet, a laser guided bomb or mustard gas. Still, "civilized" states have attempted to control/eliminate any number of methods of mass execution over the years. Some have been seemingly effective. That is until the other side resorts to some previously outlawed method of mass murder or even insinuates that they will resort to it.. Then -- it you permit me to use another celluloid based metaphor -- it becomes painfully obvious that, as Butch Cassidy once said, "There are no rules in a knife fight."

The debate within "civilized" circles over what is or is not acceptable when it comes to annihilating your enemy was recently re-engaged with chilling immediacy in the aftermath of the public dissemination of the contents of the Defense Department's Nuclear Review Plan. For those not familiar with this extraordinary document; it is the Bush administration's declaration that the United States retains not only the power to use nuclear weapons but that we have chosen to expand the parameters of what scenarios and circumstances would warrant a nuclear response.

While the release of this document was met with widespread derision amongst both friend and enemy alike, the most recent news in regards to nuclear weaponry has been bathed in far more favorable light. Unfortunately, once your eyes adjust to the glare what you see is not all together a pretty picture.

It's not that I want to be a spoil sport. And I will admit that a little progress is better than none at all. But this treaty the Bush administration is so joyously trumpeting as a major breakthrough in nuclear disarmament is one gift horse whose mouth is not very appealing.

The gist of the agreement is that the United States and Russia will reduce the number of their respective strategic warheads by 65 percent. On the surface, I admit it does sound like a heck of a deal. However, there are a number of rather serious caveats. First; the word "strategic" is a key word in this arrangement. The treaty only covers those warheads which are mounted on intercontinental missiles. It does nothing to reduce the thousands of "tactical" warheads both sides still have. Secondly; the two parties will have up to ten years to make these cuts. Why so long you ask? I haven't the slightest idea. And third; at the insistence of the United States, these warheads are not to be destroyed but rather they are to be put into storage just in case some unforseen development down the road makes us wish we still had them handy.

It has long been a concern of people in the know that the ability of Russia to maintain state of the art security over their nuclear stockpile has been severely diminished by their economic difficulties. So much so that the United States has already spent upwards of a billion dollars to help the Russians keep these monstrosities out of the hands of you-know-who. And now here we are asking them to keep several thousand more safely tucked away. Now as bad as all this is, there is even worse news.

There will still be enough nukes sitting on the top of missiles capable of reaching the United States to kill practically everybody you know and all in a matter of a few short minutes.

Let's crunch a few numbers to see if that assertion shakes out.

According to my unscientific census analysis there are approximately 250 cities in the United States that have a population in excess of 100,000 people. There are maybe another hundred or so whose greater metropolitan area also exceeds that number. Using the median figure of 2,000 -- the treaty calls for a reduction to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads. A remarkably wide variance, don't you think? -- this means that even if they threw 5 at each of our ten biggest cities with the detonation of 400 warheads they would be able to obliterate every single major population center in the United States and still have 1,600 warheads left over.

And in case you're saying to yourself, "This is exactly why we need to build a missile defense shield," I hate to burst your bubble but by our own -- read, even the most stalwart supporters -- admission, no shield would ever be able to stop a full fledged Russia nuclear onslaught.

In other words; while the newspaper headlines may seem reassuring, as long as we have political leaders who believe in the viability of a nuclear deterrence the future of humankind will remain balanced on the head of a pin.

A pin whose prick is beyond imagination.

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