Resisting the War of Words against U.S. Nuclear Deterrence
by Joe Buff, MS, FSA
Both domestic naysayers and foreign influence campaigners just love to confuse and frighten us. Stoking up these destructive emotions has been a recognized tool for manipulation since the dawn of organized enemy propaganda during Biblical times. And yes, in the modern era with its Internet-enabled stochastic radicalization of targeted home-front splinter groups, the sincere doubters and honest questioners around the U.S. are hard to distinguish from the nefarious professional overseas operatives. On no information warfare battlefield is this truer that in the relentless verbiage attacks against the bedrock of our country’s national security, the ultimate bulwark protecting our precious American Way of Life, our nuclear deterrence triad forces.
So what’s a pro-peace, pro-America word warrior to do? We can fight a battle of attrition like Verdun, a frontal assault which was an unproductive bloodbath. Or we can fight a war of maneuver, an armored punch like Patton’s victorious counterattack at The Bulge. In the present context of info war our military objective, our mission, is to provide effective, economical talking-point fire support for adequate Congressional funding in the vital modernization and replacement of our obsolescing, aging-out ICBMs, nuclear strategic bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and their various fission and fusion ordnance.
Akin to an attrition strategy is to continue simply repeating and repeating the basic conclusions and facts about nuclear deterrence, which defense professionals already know to be true but which laymen don’t know about one way or the other: If nukes were outlawed, only outlaws (terrorists, rogue states, big dictatorships) would have nukes. Freedom-lovers beware! Mutual nuclear deterrence has helped prevent any major shooting war between the U.S. and the Russian Federation/USSR for seventy-plus years. Phew! A strong nuclear deterrent-in-being, with a committed nuclear umbrella extended to our allies, is essential to preventing nuclear blackmail, coercion, and intimidation. Big bullies are out there. A diverse, dispersed Triad of different types of delivery platforms, differently based and traveling through different mediums, with dedicated personnel differently trained, is needed. Only this assures aggregate survival of the deterrent against any unpleasant scenarios — technology failures, surprise attacks, or breakthrough enemy advances in offensive and defensive hardware. You never know.
But DOD leaders, think tankers, and defense pundits alike have been saying these things in the media for a while. The sincere doubters haven’t stopped doubting, the genuinely-confused naysayers haven’t stopped naysaying because they’re still confused, and the honest questioners haven’t stopped questioning. It’s time to up our game to a maneuver fight.
As Rommel said, it will only get us so far to keep trying to lop off the enemy’s arms and legs. Our citizenry will just look on from the grandstands, entertained and revulsed by turns, like the audience at some ancient Roman gladiator fight. We must graduate to a more peaceful and productive environment instead, akin to an ancient Greek academy of learning, to become more than just knowledgeable defense intellectuals. We need to become defense teachers and explainers, with empathy for the informational needs and the distracting outside priorities of our students. In terms of the Roman Coliseum, we need to lop off the overseas adversary’s head — let Plato and his Socratic Method show us the way domestically.
In short, we need to seize the initiative in the anti-Triad info wars and get inside the American voter’s mind, in a good way. We need to appeal to our electorate’s natural curiosity about important stuff that affects their and their family’s well-being. We need to appeal to Members of Congress and their military legislative staffers’ normal instincts to look smart by being smart, and to do their jobs well to get reelected.
We need to write down a good curriculum in “American Nuclear Deterrence Triad for Dummies.” We need to develop a series of understandable, engaging lesson plans that break the complicated issues and answers into bite-sized pieces, ones that folks with average skill levels and short attention spans can master. Always, we need to explain the whys and the wherefores of how nuclear deterrence works, what real-world history has taught us, what the latest best practice R&D says about the dos and don’ts, and what America’s next National Nuclear Posture Review — and the one after that — ought to include.
We need to do more than simply feed rote facts to the public, over and over, and expect them to accept and memorize the material — that’s war-of-attrition thinking. Our adversaries are trying to win the anti-Triad influence campaign by attacking our populace at a much more visceral level — their confusion and fear. We need to become effective defense educators. We need to go high when the adversary goes low, and train up peoples’ cognitive skills, their critical thinking, their judgment and insight.
We need bring into our national defense infrastructure more people who don’t merely know the STEM* details and TTP* doctrine of global peacekeeping and peace-restoration, and know them cold. We need to be constant learners ourselves, of better public communication skills, of the challenging discipline and fulfilling creativity involved in honing the special talents of science educator, science journalist, science writer — for nuclear deterrence science.
We need to do this to preserve, protect, and defend our precious American Way of Life, in a world that’s increasingly adversarial, violent, anti-democratic — and increasingly nuclear armed.
* STEM = science, technology, engineering, math. TTP = training, tactics, procedures