Monday, April 8, 2013

calibration of force

I'm not sure how to assess the reported agreement between U.S. and South Korean officials on a "counterprovocation" plan with immediate "response[s] in kind" that will still "prevent an escalation to broader war."

I strongly favor advance consultations and agreement where possible between military allies so that they are not confused by the fog of war or emotion in responding to provocative acts by Pyongyang.

I'm impressed by the level of detail and sophistication that seems to have gone into these contingency plans.

But I also know that military plans have to adapt to what happens in the real world, including what seems to be happening when those first reports turn out to be inaccurate.

And most of all, I'm worried about the hubris -- that overpowering assumption of rationality and control in the use of  and response to military force -- that is implicit in any such escalation ladder.

 I used to believe in Herman Kahn's escalation ladder for nuclear war; I thought both sides would be rational and not go all the way.  I used to believe in the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. nuclear war plans and the withhold options that would "signal" our restraint. I even thought that American bombing strategies in the Vietnam war made sense and somehow should have worked -- but the North Vietnamese didn't react as our planners hoped and predicted.

And so I worry that what may seem "proportionate" to one side may not be viewed the same by the other, and that the spiral toward greater violence may grow out of control.

The world's greatest security threat -- not just in Korea but wherever there are nuclear weapons today -- is that leaders may actually decide to use such weapons and consider themselves rational.

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