It’s interesting to look at how attitudes towards nuclear weapons and their use has changed quite a bit since the cold war and the 1980’s. However since the recent change of tune in Russia and the rise of Putin, it seems our attitudes are set to change once again. It’s informative to look back on some articles of the time to see just how people looked at the historical implications:
Officially, the West remains firmly committed to the initiation of nuclear combat in response to a Soviet conventional attack. But public support for this policy has already dissipated as a result of growing concern that it would result in a catastrophic nuclear war. Polls taken in 1981 and 1982 show that the strategy of using such weapons first is supported by less than 20 percent of the public in France, Germany, England, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. “I do not believe that Western public opinion will long continue to support a defense strategy that relies too much on nuclear weaponry,” remarks Canadian Admiral Robert Falls, a former chairman of NATO’s military advisory committee.
Public opposition to a primarily nuclear deterrent has not yet been translated into formal government support for a primarily conventional deterrent. But advocates of this viewpoint abound, and they are beginning to have an impact. Former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara, former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, and former British chief of staff Lord Carver are among those who have recently urged that NATO repair or overhaul its nuclear strategy. Even the Reagan Administration, which initially emphasized only nuclear weapon modernization, is increasingly interested in improving conventional forces so as to delay the moment in battle when it seems necessary to resort to nuclear weapons. “Not that we’ll ever get to the position where we won’t eventually have to rely upon theater nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, but as a minimum we ought to be able to raise the threshold so we won’t have to cross it as quickly as we must now,” says General Bernard Rogers, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
Perhaps the most articulate and enthusiastic supporter of a conventional defense in Western Europe is Robert Komer, a former security analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency who has also served as a staff member for the National Security Council, a special assistant to the President, an under secretary of defense for policy, and a U.S. ambassador to Turkey. A flamboyant public speaker, Komer, 62, has long been a popular figure on the NATO lecture circuit. He argues repeatedly that raising the nuclear threshold is not only feasible but imperative. “NATO’s failure to adapt itself to the realities of nuclear stalemate will over the long run seriously erode its deterrent credibility–its very reason for existence,” he says. “It’s time we realized that nuclear deterrence has been a wasting asset since the time it was first adopted.”
Sporting a bow tie and gesturing wildly with his pipe, Komer typically begins by dispelling the popular impression that the Warsaw Pact enjoys an overwhelming advantage over the West in conventional firepower. This conclusion has been nourished, he says, by armchair analysts who point to numerical Warsaw Pact advantages in combat troops, missiles, aircraft, tanks, and artillery, and then conclude, mistakenly, that a conventional defense is either financially or tactically impossible. A proper comparison takes into account the quality and firing capacity of the weapons, the skill of the personnel, and the geographical obstacles faced by an attacker, he says. As other analysts have pointed out, when these factors are taken into account, the West is actually superior in tactical air power and the Pact’s 2:1 or 3:1 advantage in personnel and ground-based weapons shrinks to less than 1.2:1, even by the Pentagon’s own measurements (1). This is well below the 3:1 to 6:1 advantage that General Rogers describes as the minimum necessary for a successful infantry attack.
Komer believes that “a high-confidence non-nuclear defense is indeed feasible,” but he cautions that there are two complementary ways to go about it, and the Reagan Administration seems interested in only one. Backed by a coalition of technology enthusiasts and large weapons contractors, the Administration wants to raise the nuclear threshold by developing a large variety of so-called smart weapons capable of destroying targets deep in enemy territory from launch pads in Western Europe. As Rogers recently explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the idea is “to target and strike deep in the enemy’s rear . . . with very accurate, very destructive conventional warheads, interdicting choke points, bridges, railroad yards, and disrupting, delaying, or destroying their forces as they move forward toward the battle area.””
Smith, R. Jeffrey. “The allure of high-tech weapons for Europe.” Science, vol. 223, 1984, p. 1269+.
Obviously there are newer technologies available now, and that changes the game. With the advent of cybercrimes and hacking, the nuclear age is now in a new frontier. We all know that nukes would wipe out the world in about 5 seconds, however are they even necessary anymore given climate change and global disasters caused by hacking?