Friday, October 26, 2007

Inflection Points and Strategic Solvency

I was preparing to summarize and comment on an excellently-argued piece by Richard Betts in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, but it would seem that Ilian Goldberg at Democracy Arsenal beat me to the punch with a great summary, so I'll try not to be overly redundant. The article argues that U.S. defense expenditures need to be "strategically solvent" and appropriately matched to reasonable and achievable international goals. He argues that the half-trillion plus dollars that we currently spend on defense is both much more than is necessary to provide basic security, and much less than is necessary to achieve global imperial dominance. Particularly in an environment of economically-burdensome public debt that grows by the minute, our current defense posture, Betts argues, makes little sense. Without going into too much detail (again, just read the article, or at least the excerpts, which I promise are worth your time), he advocates a reorientation of U.S. security policy towards increased special forces and intelligence to combat trans-national threats, coupled with the ability to mobilize superior conventional forces should we enter into the sort of environment that requires them. Thus, spending on military research and development is important, and should perhaps be increased, but the maintenance of a large army and navy in peacetime makes no sense in a post-Cold War world. The United States should maintain a technological edge over, for example, China, such that we could mobilize to defeat it if and when the threat it poses becomes real as opposed to theoretical, but we need not be perpetually and fully mobilized to fight at the drop of a hat.

The article brings to mind two related points that are worth considering. The first is related to an essay by Robert Kelly posted by Seth Weinberger at Security Dilemmas; namely, the conceptual tendency of U.S. leaders to 'state-ize' threats, and then deal with them as such. In other words, because the U.S. military has enjoyed considerable success defeating other states, we have a tendency to want to view new threats as state-like organizations that can be defeated with a vigorous application of military power (I would argue that Israeli leadership has suffered from the same conceptual problem since the end of the 1973 war). For a more light-hearted, but still intelligent treatment of the issue, take a look here. Instead of adapting our capabilities to relevant threats, we try to adapt relevant threats to our capabilities, with problematic results.

For example, recent proposals to add additional divisions to the army are being treated as practical, hard-headed responses to the array of security threats the United States now faces. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation, though, as to how another armored division will help combat shadowy, trans-national terrorist groups. These additions are likely to come too late to make a difference in Iraq or Afghanistan, so I fail to see what they will accomplish, unless (perish the thought) we intend on repeating the Iraq experience any time soon. Increasing the size of our military, though, is the historically standard hedge against emerging security threats, so it is the knee-jerk response of American leaders, whatever its objective merits. National security would be improved if decision makers could lift such cognitive blinders, and commit scarce resources in a more holistic and appropriate way.

Taking a wider view, Betts's article also raises the issue of America's geopolitical standing in the 21st Century. I have argued elsewhere that the United States is likely to see it's relative power decline precipitously over the next hundred years. Though America will almost certainly remain a major player in the global system, its position will likely be akin to that of 19th Century Great Britain - the most powerful state in a group of powerful states - and unlike the hegemony that it now enjoys. The transition to an international system of "asymmetric multi-polarity," though, will not go smoothly if the United States bucks against a sensible reorientation of its global posture to reflect the increasing political and economic power of nations like China, India and Japan.

Particularly in Asia, America will almost certainly have to accept a reduction in influence and military dominance, as the aforementioned states increasingly take control of their own back yards. The sensible way to do this would be for the United States to use its remaining influence to head off serious disputes and build up regional, multilateral institutions to manage economic development, trade and (increasingly) environmental policy. The foolish way would be to continue to claim regional military hegemony and to enforce American will through domineering bilateral relationships until the strategic, political and economic solvency of such an approach collapses, leaving a divided, tension-ridden region behind as we slink back across the Pacific.

Drawing on the work of political scientists such as A.F.K. Organski, who proposed what is known as Power Transition Theory, and Charles Doran, who introduced the notion of "inflection points" in nations' relative power, I would argue that there is at least some relationship between the relative trajectory of nations' power and the likelihood that they will come into conflict. As the events of recent years have demonstrated with painful clarity, there is a temptation for U.S. leaders to confuse U.S. predominance with omnipotence, and overreach the bounds of its long-term capabilities. Meanwhile, leaders of a state like China, the economic and political power of which is growing with astonishing speed, could overestimate their own power (particularly if some part of the U.S.-maintained political regime in Asia is dissatisfying to them) and spark conflict. As the dominant power in Asia, it is incumbent upon the United States to give China sufficient room to flex its muscles, while drawing boundaries around core interests (such as the security of South Korea and Japan) and creating an environment that gives China no incentive to foment international discord. Turning back to the question of defense spending, then, engaging in a de facto arms race with the Chinese in Asia is both economically unsustainable and strategically unwise.

Viewed in such a way, Betts' call for a bit of sanity in American military outlays is a breath of fresh air. He even has the political acumen to propose a slogan that U.S. politicians can use to launch the debate: "Half a trillion dollars is more than enough."


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Collective Punishment in Gaza

This fascinating little item in the BBC allows me to add Israel to the list of countries whose legislatures seem hell-bent on working against their own national interest. Evidently, the Knesset has approved a measure authorizing Israel to cut power to Gaza in response to rocket attacks coming out of the small strip. Though the government has not specified exactly if or when it will act on this authorization, the plan's architect, Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai has spoken of cutting power "gradually, without causing anything that could create a humanitarian problem, like hospitals." Evidently the plan is to begin by cutting power for fifteen minutes following specific rocket attacks, then gradually increasing the length of time if/as the attacks continue.

Leaving aside for a moment Minister Vilnai's forgivable lapses in English grammar, this latest development touches on several important issues. First, however the Israeli government tries to spin it, this policy is a blatant form of collective punishment. I can see no tangible tactical military advantage to cutting power to Gaza, certainly not for incremental periods of time. Forgive me for stating the obvious fact that the rockets being fired at Israel don't plug into anything. Clearly, the objective is to impose pain on the people of Gaza in order to undercut whatever tacit support they give to groups that fire the rockets. That intelligent military and civilian leaders would employ such reasoning in this day and age simply baffles me. Ever since World War II, when the strategy of collective punishment was employed on an industrial scale, it has been obvious that it almost universally backfires. Rather than weakening and dividing an enemy's populace, it unites it through shared hardship and a common enemy. This is why drill sergants and team coaches often collectively punish those in their charge; to increase their effectiveness and cohesion. Israel, fresh from it's debacle in Lebanon in 2006, which greatly increased the prestige and popularity of Hezbollah in large part because Israel collectively punished the Lebanese populace as a whole for the group's actions, should have learned this lesson better than anyone. The notion that somehow Gazans will curtail their support for Hamas and other violent groups in response to Israel adding yet another hardship to their already difficult lives flies in the face of every conceivable historical precedent. Israel's leaders ought to know better.

There is also the question of legal and ethical justification for such tactics - which is weak at best, whatever semantic gymnastics Israeli lawyers have managed to perform (see "hostile entity") - but the question shouldn't even come up; on purely strategic grounds, this is an asinine policy.

I of course understand why the government feels it must do something - one cannont tolerate such violence indefinitely - but I would have thought it obvious to rational Israelis at this point that the realities of asymmetric conflict mean that a truly secure border with Palestine will come only in the context of a comprehensive and fair peace settlement. Absent that, groups in Palestine will always find some way to remind Israel of their discontent. The announcement that Israel will now hold Gazan's basic welfare hostage to the whims of the Knesset - justified or not - is simply one more counter-productive indignity that weakens Fatah and makes negotiating more difficult. It will also further reduce international sympathy for Israel's position at a time when it can ill-afford to lose the political capital.

Israeli leaders should resist the urge to engage in knee-jerk, ineffective responses to Gazan attacks and look at the situation with a more dispassionately strategic eye. Such a view, in my opinion, illuminates only one reasonable path: that of aggressive diplomacy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Turkey, Congress and the Armenian Genocide

I have been watching the ongoing nervous dance between Ankara, the White House and Capitol Hill over the question of the Armenian Genocide with some interest. On many levels, the whole thing smacks of political theater; however, especially on the international stage, political theater can have serious consequences for both the actors and audience. To bring readers up to speed, the House of Representatives, lobbied enthusiastically by the Armenian-American community, has been toying with the notion of passing a resolution recognizing the massacres and ethnic cleansing that took place against Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. The Turkish government, understandably sensitive about the issue, and viewing the resolution as an official slap in the face from a close ally, has voiced considerable protest, warning that the bill's passage could jeopardize the logistical support that Turkey gives U.S. forces in Iraq. Faced with such an environment, the bill's once overwhelming support has waned (though not vanished) and it remains unknown whether the measure will ultimately pass.

This is one debate in which I am genuinely sympathetic to both sides, and have a difficult time forming a concrete opinion. On the one hand, the Armenians were unquestionably victims of a genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks. No remotely serious person who is acquainted with history, and whose view is not filtered through particularly strident Turkish nationalism, can or should deny that for so much as half a second. The Turkish government maintains that the killings that took place were simply the inevitable byproduct of quelling "civil unrest" in a time of war. That a modern democratic government would make such claims is disgusting. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were systematically driven from their homes, gathered into camps and massacred. If the term "genocide" does not apply to such events, then the word has no meaning. The Turkish people owe it to themselves to examine their past with a less skewed lens, and in so doing scrub some soot from their national consciousness. Furthermore, for the United States Congress to bow to the pressure of those who would paper over the crimes of history for the sake of political convenience imparts upon it a moral stain.

Still, principle's sweet nectar must at times be drunk diluted by reality's brine. Whatever the sins of Turkey's past, the fact is that Turkey, though too often overlooked, is strategically indispensable to U.S. and Western interests. It is one of our oldest Muslim allies, the only Muslim country in the Middle East that could presently be called a democracy, a member of NATO, a friend to Israel, and a critical supply route for U.S. forces in Iraq. It is also going through a political realignment that makes its future international posture somewhat plastic. The is precisely the last time that Turkey needs a rhetorical slap in the face by the U.S. Congress.

Events in recent days only leave more cause for worry. The Turkish Parliament has, with much fanfare, authorized Turkey's army to strike at Kurdish militant bases across the Iraqi border. Clashes with militants on Turkey's side have led to a mounting death toll, and there is real reason to believe that Turkey may become more than a side player in Iraq quite soon. The possibility that such incursions could escalate - quickly - into the broader regional war that has been the nightmare of U.S. planners for some time is not remote. At the very least, Turkey's intervention would create serious problems in the one area of Iraq that the United States counts on to remain relatively calm. Were such actions to be coupled with a reduction of logistical support for the U.S. military, it would be a strategic disaster for the United States, end what remaining chance Turkey has to enter the E.U., and lead to a decisive rupture with the West that would seriously harm everyone involved.

In this climate, then, I take pause at the notion that Congress would proactively decide, with no strategic purpose and for no more than rhetorical gain, to remind Turkey of a part of its history that it would just as soon forget. Thus, reluctantly, with lowered eyes and a soft voice, I would counsel against this resolution.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can Democracy Solve Climate Change?

I've very much enjoyed the interesting and sometimes quirky blogs that the New York Times has brought together over the past year or two (check out Freakonomics if you haven't yet done so), and I've found the varying and sometimes contrarian opinions expressed by Stanley Fish to be particularly engaging. He has the kind of plodding, old-time academic style that I've actually grown to enjoy in recent years, and he puts it to work in a masterful way. Still, I have to strenuously disagree with a point he made in a recent post answering questions on the merits of democracy:

One question I was asked seemed to me to involve a category mistake: “Can democracy solve climate change?” Solving the problems of climate change, if it can be done, will be a matter of advances in technology and alterations in personal and corporate behavior in response to state directives and regulations. No political system is either naturally suited to the task or barred by definition from performing it. Politics and technology are independent variables.

Dr. Fish makes several serious mistakes in his flippant dismissal of so important a question. First, he treats "advances in technology" as a variable that is not only independent of politics (which I'll get back to in a moment), but of resources. In other words, in this day and age, the speed with which particular technologies advance is largely (though obviously not totally) a function of the amounts of a society's material resources and human capital that are applied to advancing them. The United States may well possess the necessary brain power and material resources to develop the kinds of energy technologies that will be needed to arrest the worst aspects of climate change, but that will mean very little if we fail to apply those resources vigorously and efficiently. Whether or not we do that, in turn, is a function of decisions made by those members of our society - mostly government leaders and captains of industry - that dictate the ends to which scarce resources are dedicated. To argue that somehow the structural environment in which such people operate does not affect the ultimate speed and direction of technological advances seems a bit small-minded.

Indeed, the anthropologist-biologist-geographer-sociologist-historian - I suppose I'll just call him a polymath - Jared Diamond has written two incredible volumes, Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse, that detail the interaction of environment, culture, technology and politics in the development and decline of human societies (criticisms of Diamond's work as "environmental determinism" which are mentioned in the above links strike me as simplistic, and mis-represent his arguments as a whole, which are more nuanced). Consider also the work of a man like Joseph Needham, the orientalist (before Edward Said made the word pejorative) who opened the history of Chinese science to the West, which highlights the very different technological trajectories that societies can take based, at least in part, on their political structure. The level and nature of feedback between different elite classes of society, as well as between elites and non-elites, can have a profound effect not only on the development of particular technologies, but on the fate of societies as a whole. To make myself a bit more clear, I'll point out a few examples:


The printing press (combined with movable type) that most see as a key springboard of western modernity was not, as popular lore would have it, developed from thin air by Gutenberg and his predecessors, but rather was an import from the Chinese, who had developed the technique centuries earlier. Needless to say, this technology had a very different impact in Europe than it did in China.

In the context of the politically-unified Middle Kingdom, ruled as it was by a centralized authority that derived legitimacy from a combination of force and a nebulous Confucian philosophical milieu that emphasized the importance of hierarchy to social harmony and correct behavior, the development of print did not have particularly tumultuous social effects. To be sure, the technology streamlined government administration, fostered intellectual exchange, and was doubtless beneficial to the overall economy, but it did not threaten the prevailing social order, because that order was not predicated on an elite monopoly of particular information (it is worth noting as an aside that, except in certain administrative areas, movable type never caught on in China, partly because it is a far more cumbersome technology when applied to a language with thousands of written characters, and partly because of the aesthetic importance the Chinese placed on a writer's calligraphic talents; however, block printing was ubiquitous).

In Europe, of course, print fundamentally undermined the feudal hierarchy atop which stood the Vatican, because that hierarchy was not based on any unified political and administrative structure, but rather on a set of ideas that depended upon a small cadre of elites holding an interpretive monopoly. As long as the organs of the Catholic Church remained the principal repositories and transmitters of knowledge, especially theological knowledge, the authority of the Church was basically secure (Marxists might call this 'engineered false consciousness'). Once printing allowed for the wide, multi-linguistic dissemination of the purported textual basis of Church power (the Bible), as well as criticisms of that power, the entire system broke down. Furthermore, while printing in China remained primarily an administrative tool and/or an intellectual cottage industry, in the West it mixed with capitalism to remake Europe's ethno-linguistic map. In their desire to increase the size of their market, European printers unwittingly codified localized dialects into unified regional languages, creating "print communities" that were the embryos of modern European national groups (see Benedict Anderson's seminal work Imagined Communities for a better treatment of the argument that I just tried to summarize in a sentence).

Chinese Shipping

The case of the printing press may do a fine job demonstrating how technology can affect the development of politics, but can politics truly affect the development of technology? Absolutely. Recall the voyages of Zheng He, the Chinese admiral who led a massive treasure fleet around the Indian Ocean in the decades before Columbus. His travels are indicative of a level of ship-building technology and navigational knowledge that far surpassed that of other contemporary civilizations, yet much of it was lost in the centuries that followed his last voyages because of a political decision by the Ming court to stop such ventures and restrict Chinese contact with the outside world. Had China not been so bureaucratically unified, such decisions may well have carried less weight, and history may have witnessed Spanish Conquistadores vying with Chinese soldiers for control of the New World.

Guns in Japan

Recall also the deliberate halt called to the development of firearms in Japan following the ascent of the Tokugowa Shogunate. Guns, at first purchased from European traders, then indigenously produced, had played a central role in the many decades of fratricidal conflict that preceded Tokugowa ascension. Because Ieasu Tokugowa (correctly, perhaps) saw such devices as a greater threat to his rule than their utility merited, he arranged for their almost complete elimination in Japan, and Japanese firearm technology began to fall behind. This would have fateful consequences when Commodore Perry's gunships sailed into Tokyo Harbor in 1852.

Stem Cells in the United States

Finally, those who require a demonstration of the effect that politics can have on technological development need look no further than the contemporary United States which, despite impressive wealth and some of the most advanced biotechnology facilities and researchers on Earth, devotes almost no resources to one of the great biomedical frontiers of our time: embryonic stem cells. This is entirely because structural peculiarities in the American political system make it advantageous for the President to defy the will of the majority and put a de facto moratorium on such research. It is also worth noting that this moratorium is enforced not through prohibiting the research outright, but by holding back the resources necessary for it to bear fruit.

Regime Stability and Economics
All this history to emphasize just how important the political structure and climate of a society can be to the development and trajectory of important technology. Had Ming China been more decentralized, the rise of a new Emperor may not have brought Chinese naval development to such a grinding halt. Had the Tokugowa shoguns not halted firearms production, Japanese batteries may have been able to repulse Commodore Perry's ships. Were America's current leaders not so politically beholden to a minority of social conservatives, U.S. biotechnology might develop more freely.

Dr. Fish, though, understands that solving the question of climate change is not just a technological challenge, but an economic and behavioral one as well. Though many scientists predict that the sacrifice in current production and growth necessary to bring global warming to heel pale in comparison to the future production and growth sacrificed by letting it continue unchecked, it still bears mentioning that adjusting modern societies to sustainable energy usage will involve some material sacrifice, as well as changes in economic behavior. The problem, which Fish evidently fails to recognize, is that some political systems are better structured than others to respond flexibly to changing economic circumstances rather than sprinting at full speed towards their own collapse.

A prime example noted by Diamond and others is that of Easter Island. As best we can tell, that society evolved a fragmented political structure that incentivized elites to one-up each other in religious monument-building in order to maintain political legitimacy. These public works programs eventually overtaxed the society's (very) scarce resources, leading to a catastrophic economic meltdown accompanied by revolution, war and famine, reducing the remaining population to half-starved subsistence. Had the Easter Islanders' political order been better suited to managing resources, perhaps with more constructive feedback mechanisms between elites and the general population, more would remain of their civilization than haunting, eyeless statues.

In sum, a society's political structure is intimately related to the pace and direction of its technological development as well as the efficiency and flexibility with which it manages available resources. I return to the question, then, of whether or not democracy is a superior means of political organization when it comes to the question of climate change. Some might reasonably argue that it isn't. Authoritarian regimes, which have a certain capacity to insulate themselves from public discontent, might in theory be better suited to make the kinds of gargantuan economic adjustments necessary to move their societies away from a carbon economy (Orwell was famously impressed - and terrified - by the ability of Nazi authoritarian industrialism to organize Germany's mighty war machine). If those hurt by the adjustments have no voice in government, then the political road might be more easily cleared.

This logic, though, suffers from some empirical difficulties. First, there is little evidence that most autocrats take the problem of climate change particularly seriously. The Russian government seems to actually count on some benefits from the World heating up, and Chinese leaders seem inclined to pursue growth at all costs, climate be damned. Pettier dictatorships and juntas from the Middle East to Myanmar seem all too willing to follow this logic as well. While the World's democracies have few bragging rights in this area, their are fewer inherent contradictions between their political structures and the steps that will need to be taken to address global warming. I would direct readers to a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Elizabeth Economy which highlights the quandry currently faced by China's rulers: take concrete steps to address climate change, and one harms growth. Breakneck growth, in turn, is the only legitimating factor the CCP has left. China's authoritarian government cannot impose economic pain without undermining its own power. It is not alone in this regard.

Democratic states, by contrast, are more flexible. Yes, individual governments can be frustratingly slow to recognize and confront serious problems, and election year pandering can make democratic leaders reluctant to demand sacrifice, but well consolidated democratic systems have proven capable of withstanding stresses that would topple the most iron-fisted dictator. A president may risk his job by telling harsh truths, but he seldom risks democracy itself. Thus, democratic development and climate solutions should be looked at neither as unrelated issues nor as competing imperatives, but rather as complementary goals.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Barack Obama, Nuclear Weapons, and the Wrong Kind of Experience

As I've said previously, this isn't a blog about the the U.S. Presidential Campaign. I don't want to step too far into the whole morass that is campaign blogging, and I don't intend on spilling ink analyzing contenders' laughs, comparing fund-raising numbers, or, for that matter, making specific endorsements. That said, every once in a while something resembling intelligent discourse on global affairs manages to filter its way through the campaign noise, and in such cases I'll briefly comment.

In this case, I'd like to call attention to a speech made Tuesday by Barack Obama, the inexperience of whom is frequently derided in the campaign's prevailing press narrative. Obama called for the United States to work earnestly toward the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Some might brush this off as overly-idealistic fluff, unworthy of a serious presidential contender, but I think it is time to put nuclear non-proliferation, coupled with nuclear disarmament, back on the agenda for serious political thinkers.

I'd like to call readers' attention to a recent article in Foreign Affairs by Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky. This man knows something about nuclear weapons; he is a particle physicist who worked on the original Manhattan project, was an adviser to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter, and had a front-row seat to the evolution of nuclear technology over the last century. Panofsky, echoing such left-wing peaceniks as George Shultz, William Perry and Henry Kissinger, convincingly argues that, whatever their past merits, nuclear weapons have no place as a serious component of a modern U.S. global posture, and that what limited role they have as a strategic backstop could be played with a dramatically reduced arsenal. Furthermore, he argues that the political and strategic costs of an over-inflated nuclear posture far outweigh the benefits, and that the current American nuclear arsenal actually makes us less secure.

Before I continue, I would like to emphasize that we have, in some ways, made progress in nuclear disarmament. During the mid-1980s, for example, the combined U.S.-Soviet nuclear arsenal topped 70,000 warheads. In retrospect, the insanity of such a buildup is difficult to comprehend. A recent hypothetical study on the effects of a small regional nuclear war (such as an Indo-Pakistani exchange) predicts tens of millions of immediate casualties, and catastrophic damage to the global climate that would shake the foundations of modern civilization.

That's with the detonation of approximately 100 small weapons.

The notion that some of the most intelligent people in both the United States and the USSR found it necessary to build nuclear arsenals that could independently render the Earth uninhabitable several times over simply defies my understanding (before people chime in with explanations, I understand the internally consistent logic of attempting to mitigate the possibility of a nuclear first-strike, but the logic of psychosis is often internally consistent). Since the Cold War, both superpowers have considerably cut back their arsenals, but the United States remains in possession of over 10,000 warheads including reserve stocks (they are scheduled to be reduced by 2012, but still remain in the thousands). This is well above the level necessary to deter a foreign nuclear attack, and the maintenance of so many weapons does nothing to enhance American security.

Even more counterproductive, though, has been the Administration's pursuit of a new generation of nuclear warheads, in the form of the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program. If the purpose of nuclear weapons is to provide a strategic backstop - a red line drawn around vital security interests that hostile powers may not cross - marginal improvements in quality and reliability will have negligible effect (the notion that, were the United States to launch 400 warheads, two or three might conceivably fail is not likely to significantly alter a potential adversary's cost-benefit calculus). Still more dangerous are plans advanced by some in the government to design a new generation of miniature "bunker buster" nuclear weapons with the intention of using them in situations other than all-out nuclear war.

Whatever tactical advantage might be gained from such developments would be more than outweighed by the damage done to American credibility as a champion of non-proliferation, as well as by the unnecessary re-escalation of an increasingly crowded nuclear arms race. By continuing to give robust nuclear forces a central role in U.S. global policy, we not only expose our non-proliferation efforts to well-grounded charges of hypocrisy (there is that little clause in the NPT that requires nuclear states to work towards eliminating their arsenals), hindering our ability to rally global opinion against potential proliferators like Iran, we also reinforce the norm that only states with nuclear weapons are worthy of international standing. The Iranian nuclear program, for example, certainly has some basis in defensive realism; but, harping on about Iranian nuclear "rights" plays well with the population and shores up the regime in Tehran precisely because the Iranian people view nuclear capabilities as markers of international prestige. Efforts to convince them otherwise ring somewhat hollow when lead by states with thousands of warheads on hair-trigger alert.

When we consider the current U.S. nuclear posture, then, we ought to remember that maintaining a large nuclear arsenal comes with serious political and strategic costs, while delivering limited benefits. Coming back to the campaign, Obama recently stated at a debate that he would not use nuclear weapons in the fight against terrorism. His rivals (Sen. Clinton in particular) chided him for his supposed naivete and inexperience, but upon reflection, many commentators wondered what possible use nuclear weapons would be against groups of guerillas holed up in the mountains of Pakistan. The exchanges reminded me of a quote by a certain Lord Salisbury while stationed in British India:

If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.

Whatever happens with the campaign, Senator Obama may be commended for injecting a drop of that.