Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Let's step back from the Micro to the Macro View

From Anonymous:

Let's step back from the Micro to the Macro View for a Moment

The micro view debate on this blog revolves around management practices, pensions, the RFP and the contract, who did what to whom, etc.
This is a vibrant and worthwhile dialog, but it is a situation like asking who left the doors and windows open to your house in the desert letting
sea water in. A macro view question is to ask is why there is sea water sloshing across the desert...

1) During the cold war, nuclear weapons deterrence prevented a world wide conflict. In this era were the lab's capabilities unique and vital? The answer is yes. In a post-9/11 world, would a US nuclear weapon prevent the use of a terrorist nuclear weapon or other WMD? The answer is no. Can the lab's capabilities help prevent another terrorist attack? The answer is yes. Are the lab's capabilities as unique in this regard as it was in the past? Maybe and Maybe not. In this new world situation, we are much closer to the rest of the national security pack than before. As a result of this, we don't look that much different to the Government than any other extremely important national security asset or capability, so we are less likely to get special treatment.

2) If you think LANL has a retirement bump crisis, the rest of the national security infrastructure has as well. Many government agencies are seeing a big exodus of retiring senior people, being replaced by a new flock of folks that are learning the ropes. In the DOD, this is compounded by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war has drawn many senior officers away from the core planning and acquisition bureaucracy leaving junior officers with a lot more responsibility supported by major contractor SETA support (Systems Engineering Technical Assistance) which in many cases leave the foxes guarding the chicken coop. Combine this situation with point 1) above, and you see why someone might start saying, "why not start treating the care and feeding of nuclear weapons just like military communication satellites, F-22 fighters, M1 Tanks", etc.

So the world changed, the seawater came into the desert, the Admiral was in put in charge of the adobe house, and no matter what commands he gave, surprisingly it didn't float..... What we really needed was a naval engineer a few years before the sea water came in....

Yes, the world has changed and has become even more dangerous. Since that September day in 1933 when Leo Szilard conceived of the nuclear chain reaction the genie has been out of the bottle. Fortunately it was the United States and Los Alamos that mastered the technology. That supremacy has allowed for many decades of relative peace for our country.

Now consider your first point, a WMD attack on U.S. soil. Considering the porosity of our borders it is not unrealistic to think that one or more such weapons could be smuggled into the country and used in a coordinated attack. Consider also, that the proliferation of nuclear technology and delivery systems has increased in the past 15 years.
Some estimates say that the information that Loral sold to China in the 90's gave them a 20 year jump on the technology of advanced delivery systems. Add this to the capabilities of Russia and the alliance between those two nations which shares critical technologies and the picture of a looming threat becomes more clear.

If we were perceived to be weakened by a major terrorist attack countries like Russia and China might see it as an opportunity to remove an old adversary. If they believed that our nuclear deterent was similarly weakened and our ability to retaliate was diminished it could lead to an attack that otherwise would not occur. It has always been our clear superiority in the nuclear arena that has kept the peace.

Not all nations and cultures value human life as we do. Countries with large populations and vast land area might be willing to attempt an attack if they believed our systems were unreliable. They might lose a few cities and millions of people but they would be able to rebuild into an even greater power once we were not around to deter those with global ambitions.

The dangers are already high, they become unacceptable when we become complacent and show the world that we are willing to let our weapons and our weapons labs atrophy and die due to neglect and mismanagement.

John Horne
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