“What Difference Do Nuclear Weapons Make?,” by Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky, The Real World Order: Zones of Peace, Zones of Turmoil, revised edition published 1996, pg 66.
“Revisiting Questions on Deterrence and Nuclear Terrorism,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 22 November 2004, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2004/11/revisiting-questions-on-deterrence-and.html.
“The Tancredo Blunder,” by Hugh Hewitt, HughHewitt.com, 18 July 2005, http://www.hughhewitt.com/#postid1815 (from Captain’s Quarters through private email).
Representative Tom Tancredo suggested that the United States destroy Mecca if there was a devastating al Qaeda attack on the United States.
â€œWell, what if you said something like â€” if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites,â€ Tancredo answered.
â€œYouâ€™re talking about bombing Mecca,â€ Campbell said.
â€œYeah,â€ Tancredo responded.
Hugh Hewitt criticizes Rep. Tancredo, and is wrong on in almost every paragraph
I have been hearing from people who urge that Tancredo is just voicing the updated version of the MAD doctrine which kept the USSR at bay through the long years of the Cold War. That’s silly. Destroying Mecca wouldn’t destroy Islam. It would enrage and unify Islam across every country in the world where Muslims lived.
Wrong. The purpose of MAD wasn’t to destroy the Soviet Union — that would have been an effect, but not the purpose. The purpose of the Massively Armed Deterrent was to deter the Soviet Union.
More specifically, if the United States knew that al Qaeda had acquired a weapon, we would need a way to compel al Qaeda to give us that weapon.
To go one step farther:
Deterrence against clandestine weapons presents quite different problems from the traditional deterrence relationship with the Soviet Union, even if the analytic structure of deterrence is essentially the same. The deterrent threat is likely to have to be against the individual or small group [or their interests — tdaxp] that is being deterred, not against a country.
It is really “compellence,” rather than deterrence, that is needed to deal with the threat… [The United States] would need to be able to compel the threaten to reveal the location of the weapons so that they could be disarmed… Now the democracies need a threat against [the terrorist organization] that will prevent [the terrorists] from retaliating for his own destruction. For some [terrorists], it is hard to imagine such a threat.
So in truth, Tancredo did not go far enough. Not only should we be prepared to destroy what bin Laden considers most holy and special if he severely hurts us. We must also be prepared to do so to avert him from hurting us, or even defending himself, if the circumstances permit.
Hewitt goes on, still wrong:
Let me be blunt: There is no strategic value to bombing Mecca even after a devastating attack on the U.S. In fact, such an action would be a strategic blunder without historical parallel, except perhaps Hitler’s attack on Stalin. Anyone defending Tancredo’s remarks has got to make a case for why such a bombing would be effective.
Of course it would not grow our power or wealth to destroy Mecca. Of course a radiated Mecca would not be able to be used to preposition aircraft for future conflict. That’s not the point.
Mark Safranski pondered this earlier:
No one knows though bin Laden reportedly told the BBC that he had acquired nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes which indicates:
a) That bin Laden understands the concept well enough, and
b) There is something he considers important enough to acquire nuclear bombs in order to deter America from some action.
The question is “what” ? My guess it is to protect Islam’s Holy sites.
Hewitt’s conclusion is right, at least
I want to be very clear on this. No responsible American can endorse the idea that the U.S. is in a war with Islam.
Of course not. We are at war with al Qaeda. It will be them we will deter and compel, even if there will be collateral damage to to an ancient multicultural temple and Christian church, long shorn of her decorations and venerations.
Elsewhere on the Blogosphere: Stones Cry Out conflates massive armed deterrent with mutually assured destruction. Power Pundit says an attack on measured cannot be a “measured and appropriate response” (whatever the circumstances? — tdaxp). Point Five mocks hawks. One Hand Clapping started all this.
From the Hawk Right: La Shawn Barber decries weakness in the face of terror. Baldilocks sees nothing new in Rep. Tancredo’s words. InstaPunk exhaustively defends the congressman. HCS and Gen both understand theory.
Update: Mark from ZenPundit adds his thoughts
Tancredo’s hamhanded, off-the-cuff, bluster looks positively milquetoast next to U.S. nuclear doctrine under Jimmy Carter. The purpose of making terrifying, credible, deterrence threats is to NOT have to actually use nuclear weapons. If a nuclear bomb goes off inside the United States tomorrow, I can just about guarantee that we will use nuclear weapons in retaliation against probably more than one terrorist-supporting country. If we are bombed it will because our enemies disbelieved that we would retaliate, not because we are clear that we will.
Update 2: More thoughts from…
Riting on the Wall:
” the core critique (and there is a secondary critique below as well) here is that deterrence is, at root, a byproduct of rational actor theory. which is to say that all actors within a system will under all circumstances make rational decisions to maximize identified self-interests. these interests can be existential (which is the essential logic of mutually assured destruction) or they can fall to other categories: symbolic, tactical, strategic, etc. under normal circumstances, making a clear and credible existential threat to a defined action would deter such an action (in this case a nuclear strike on us soil) from taking place. all this is well and good under traditional understandings of rational actor theory, but i have to throw several wrenches in the works at this point.”
In real-world nuclear deterrence logic as it played out in the era of brinksmanship through MAD, rational actor theory was not actually subscribed to by either superpower.
Update 3: While Sahhabh picks up the story, the Saudis have already started Mecca’s destruction.”