Nuclear War with Russia Winnable Said Trump's Incoming National Security Advisor

-edited

Questioning “mutual assured destruction,” Charles Kupperman called nuclear conflict “in large part a physics problem.”

Incoming National Security Advisor, Charles Kupperman, made the claim Nuclear War With USSR Was Winnable.

He made those statements in the 1980s. I do not know his views today, but let's review what he said then.

President Donald Trump’s acting national security adviser, former Reagan administration official Charles Kupperman, made an extraordinary and controversial claim in the early 1980s: nuclear conflict with the USSR was winnable and that “nuclear war is a destructive thing but still in large part a physics problem.”

Kupperman, appointed to his new post on Tuesday after Trump fired his John Bolton from the job, argued it was possible to win a nuclear war “in the classical sense,” and that the notion of total destruction stemming from such a superpower conflict was inaccurate. He said that in a scenario in which 20 million people died in the U.S. as opposed to 150 million, the nation could then emerge as the stronger side and prevail in its objectives.

His argument was that with enough planning and civil defense measures, such as “a certain layer of dirt and some reinforced construction materials,” the effects of a nuclear war could be limited and that U.S. would be able to fairly quickly rebuild itself after an all-out conflict with the then-Soviet Union.

At the time, Kupperman was executive director of President Ronald Reagan’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. He made the comments during an interview with Robert Scheer for the journalist’s 1982 book, “With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War.”

The National Security Council did not immediately respond to questions on whether Kupperman, 68, still holds the same views of nuclear conflict as he did in the early 1980s. Kupperman’s seemingly cavalier attitude toward the potential death of millions of people was criticized at the time both by Democratic politicians and arms control experts.

The article posts excerpts so let's look at a couple of precise statements.

Kupperman Statements

  • If the objective in a war is to try to destroy as many Soviet civilians and as many American civilians as is feasible, and the casualty levels approached 150 million on each side, then it’s going to be tough to say you have a surviving nation after that. But depending on how the nuclear war is fought, it could mean the difference between 150 casualties and 20 million casualties. I think that is a significant difference, and if the country loses 20 million people, you may have a chance of surviving after that.
  • I think it is possible to win, in the classical sense. It means that it is clear after the war that one side is stronger than the other side, the weaker side is going to accede to the demands of the stronger side.

Winning in the Classical Sense

We lost 20 million, they lost 150 million.

Let's call that "winning in the "classical sense".

It's precisely how one "wins" trade wars, but on a much larger scale.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (42)
No. 1-21
numike
numike

The most inaccessible fortress is the human skull Marx

Tengen
Tengen

Did this fool Kupperman think Dr Strangelove was a documentary?

"Mr President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks".

yyzen
yyzen

To be fair, we do not know how much of this is what Kupperman actually believes and how much of it is posturing aimed at the USSR's Politburo.

For context, Mao Zedong was famous for engaging in this type of rhetoric, but never came close to nuking anybody.

shred1
shred1

Kupperman is an acolyte of John Bolton. Bolton was pulled due to his not goading the Donald into war with Iran (to fight Israel's wars for them). The Zio's will have no problem sacrificing the USA for Israel's survival:

"Kupperman worked at two defense contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing; he was the vice president for business development for missile defense systems for Boeing and the vice president of Washington Space Operations for Lockheed Martin Corporation.

From 2001 to 2010, Kupperman was on the board of directors for the Center for Security Policy. In late 2014, he was the treasurer of the Bolton for New Hampshire PAC.

In April 2018, after Bolton was chosen to be the National Security Advisor, Kupperman took a temporary leadership post on the National Security Council. In January 2019, he became the Deputy National Security Advisor, replacing Mira Ricardel, who had left that position in mid-November 2018. On September 10, 2019, the date when John Bolton departed from his position of United States National Security Advisor, Kupperman was made interim United States National Security Advisor."

Augustthegreat
Augustthegreat

Does anybody still wonder why the world hate the USA so much

Country Bob
Country Bob

HuffPo is a garbage source, so I am inclined to give this guy every leeway. he may turn out to be Bolton 2.0, but I will wait for a reliable source. Not HuffPo

Is this quote from 30-40 years ago even accurate? Its the HuffPo making the claim. Was he quoted out of context? Very likely. Its HuffPo.

Was he talking trash to the Soviets? Almost everyone at the time was. I seriously doubt the morons at HuffPo even understand the concept. Is the alleged reporter even old enough to understand the cold war era?

Its also very likely Kupperman's opinion changed over the years, regardless of what he said at the time. The technology and accuracy of missiles has changed 10000x over the 30-40 years since the alleged statement.

The reason the federal government is staffed by crooks and morons is (at least in part) because the most talented people don't want to have their characters assassinated by "communication majors" with nothing to lose.

Too many misquotes of late. Too many quotes taken out of context. Even in papers that used to be reputable way back when.

abend237-04
abend237-04

I remember Carl Sagan comparing the MAD defence strategy to two kids sitting in a fuel tank awash with fuel, each periodically threatening to strike a match. It's barking mad, but it's working. Maybe both sides, or all sides, need a sprinkling of Kuppermans among their bureaucrats to convince the narcissistic alpha male warmongers everywhere that we are indeed barking mad and not afraid of matches.

Country Bob
Country Bob

@abend237-04 ... Sagan was an astronomer with a TV show. He spent a LOT of time spewing forth his opinions on all sorts of matters that had nothing to do with astronomy.

His colleagues over in the math department spent decades studying game theory and John Nash's theories on which MAD is based. They couldn't find any flaws in Nash's theories. All over the country, academics without a TV show studied Nash's game theory and found it solid.

Most importantly, MAD appears to have worked (at least when it was two powers pointing missiles at each other). A disturbing number of international incidents, many of which could have led to nuclear war, but they did not.

A truly failed theory is the United Nations, which was supposed to prevent wars. Korea, Vietnam, India-Pakistan several times. Iran-Iraq. France invading Algeria. England vs Argentina over Falklands. That is just a few that made the US papers, there were many many others. The UN is a failed concept. Sagan supported that.

MickLinux
MickLinux

I think by classical sense, he meant a pyrrhic victory; the related quote was "if we are victorious in one more [such] battle...we shall be utterly ruined.

It seems to me he was clear that he meant "technically a victory, costly beyond our ability to pay more than once."

Mish
Mish

Editor

not out of context. they posted the interview. but it was long ago

Advancingtime
Advancingtime

In an article published by Project Syndicate, Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister, and Vice-Chancellor from 1998-2005 writes;

In this new environment, the “rationality of deterrence” maintained by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War has eroded. Now, if nuclear proliferation increases, the threshold for using nuclear weapons will likely fall.

I agree with Fischer that today a great number of people have come to accept the idea of a "small or limited' nuclear war as acceptable. The reason they feel this way may center around the fact they have not given it enough thought. The article below warns of the danger a major nuclear war may damage the world to where those surviving will face lives that are greatly diminished in quality.

Country Bob
Country Bob

@Mish Editor "not out of context. they posted the interview. but it was long ago"

Whether one agrees with the opinion or not, if you were alive at the time (early 1980s) quite a few experts at the time were questioning how many Soviet missiles would actually launch if the Soviets pushed the launch button. Many others questioned the accuracy of their guidance systems -- a missile aimed at LA might likely end up exploding in a desert or over the ocean and lead to far fewer casualties than if it exploded over a city. A lot of US cities are constructed out of concrete, which holds up better than the wood structures in Hiroshima -- and a lot of people in Hiroshima survived.

Don't forget the number of Soviet subs that malfunctioned in one manner or another at the time. Whether correct or not, US missiles were believed to be more accurate and more likely to accurately launch. That was the thinking at the time, even if some of it turned out to be wrong in hindsight.

A lot of media pundits and armchair warriors think they know the answer of what would have happened. Luckily the world never found out. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, it turned out that many Soviet missile silos were filled with water. Many missiles hadn't been tested or warmed up in years... in other words, a lot of their ICBMs never could have left the launch tube.

If Kupperman had access to classified intel about soviet missiles at the time, it would have effected his thinking on the matter. The reporter at the time would not have a clue about classified info about Soviet missile readiness, nor what effect that had on anyone's thinking.

That would make all quotes in non-classified interviews very, very out of context -- even if we give the reporter the benefit of the doubt that he/she wasn't spinning the story to their own political viewpoint. I was trying to be polite suggesting the quote might be out of context; it most likely was.

Today, 30-40 years after that quote -- foreign missiles are more accurate and more likely to launch if ordered. There are more than two sides, making any deterrent strategy a lot more complicated. We also know more about the long term health consequences of radiation exposure.

I don't know how Mish expects the quality of federal bureaucrats to improve if he is going to hold them to impossible standards. I doubt any human can anticipate what technical advances will happen 30-40 years in the future.

Kupperman's thinking today might or might not be questionable. He might be a warmonger like Bolton. He might be a bad advisor to Trump like Bolton was. Kupperman might be bad for the job... But if we want better advisors to Trump (and all Presidents), we the people need to be a lot smarter about how we critique nominees. I am not sure Mish's post fits the bill. The HuffPo character assasination definitely does not.

1KoolKat
1KoolKat

How dare anyone question the believe (religious) in MAD. When Bush abandoned the ABM treaty in 2004 (colossal blunder) it opened the way for a future anti missile system. The balance of power (terror) is over and the future looks bleak. Ending the ABM treaty was (in my opinion) one of the primary reasons US Russian relations went south. Simply look at Putin's newest weapons all meant to counter Ballistic Missile Defense. Gasp! the world is in grave danger.

CautiousObserver
CautiousObserver

For M.A.D. to be effective, everyone else must understand that your country has at least as much advantage as they do in a nuclear exchange, probably more. They must also understand that opposing countries will not survive such an exchange, and possibly your country will survive. Who better to make such statements publicly than a 35 year old mouthpiece who is a person old enough to be listened to and young enough to be dismissed as not completely credible? That way, everyone will still be able to sleep at night.

When I think about how my own attitude has changed in that period of time, there is little comparison. I am inclined to think this news release is nothing more than a political hit piece.

thimk
thimk

good commentary, but in any event it seems an escalation in weapons of mass destruction are on the rise, weapons that may be never used . A terrible waste of resources . And still no infrastructure , and a planet choking on plastics, toxic waste, and the impact of deforestation, that is what will destroy us.

Webej
Webej

There is one party who has always refused to even think about denuclearization, and that is the party who is also the only one to actually have used them (to scare the USSR, despite the fairy tales in your history text book). The party that thinks proliferation is extremely risky and does everything to retain a monopoly is also the only party that has ever talked about "winning" a war with them. Do your homework. Every initiative to have a meeting to even discuss a framework to discuss denuclearization has been rebuffed by the USA, usually as the sole dissident. Every other party has declared that they are willing to work towards denuclearization.

2banana
2banana

So to summarize:

Some guy said something 40 years ago, about a country that no longer exists, about weapons that no longer exist in a situation that no longer exists.

But this is news because it fits that narrative. Orange man is bad an is a warmonger. And wants to nuke Russia (or others) even though, himself, is a puppet of Russia...wait, this is getting confusing...

Warren used to be a free market republican.

Biden used to be very pro-life.

Funny, I don't remember any Mish articles on this.

Tony Bennett
Tony Bennett

My initial thought:

General Jack Ripper ... leaning back in his chair ... cigar clamped in his mouth ... hands folded on chest ... with a satisfied smile ...

Zardoz
Zardoz

Win till you glow!

Poohbah
Poohbah

The scary thing today is that warhead counts on both sides are low enough that a sufficiently desperate head of state might think victory is possible.

The most unstable crisis interactions we've had between nuclear powers all involved very low deliverable warhead numbers.

Arms control agreements need to specify MINIMUM force deployments that are robust enough to ensure that even the craziest mofo on the planet will understand that to start a nuclear war is to ensure their own death.