We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” - Omar Bradley

This week, an interesting podcast on China’s military is worth spending the time listening to. The speakers correctly argue that while the USA is a global military power, China is a local, but increasingly powerful, player. What is important is that China’s forces are concentrated on its immediate borders, with apparently no desire for foreign adventures, while the US forces are scattered around the globe, trying to manage many crisis.

The ability to concentrate resources being a key element in conflicts, this disposition of force allows China to push forward its border claims, increasing tensions with its immediate neighbors. While war remains a distant possibility, its probability increased significantly.

We hear a lot that nuclear weapons, globalization, and ‘inter-connectedness’ are reducing the chances of armed conflict. Indeed, our societies currently depend on goods manufactured half way around the world, which makes any large inter-state conflict a global disaster. But this argument is a bit like saying that a car can’t crash because if it did all its passengers would die.

It also flies in the face of history: WWI engulfed the world in the midst of unprecedented (and in some aspects never recovered) levels of international integration, including globalization, new technologies and connectivity. The Great War started out after years of posturing in which politicians gradually invested themselves into position from which they would ultimately be unable to back down from… Follows 30 years of chaos, tens of millions of death, and destruction on an unprecedented scale.

The wiping out of humanity was then narrowly avoided several times throughout the Cold War, but the main take away from the brink of extinction appears to be that we’re too smart to nuke ourselves to death, a preposterous and dangerously numbing conclusion. In fact, there are still an estimated 4,400 deployed nuclear weapons (with operational units) throughout the world in 2013, of which half are kept in ‘high operational alert’ (SIPRI, 2013).

We are not suggesting that nuclear war is around the corner. But we should remember that we are currently depending on the ability of our politicians and diplomats to avoid a major confrontation. If they fails, we will thus rely on the ability of civilian and military commanders to keep a potential conflict localized and with conventional weapons.

This is not easy, because modern wars (up to about 100 years ago) have shown that conflicts are now total and global. As a result, how to define victory has been a problem ever since the end of WWII and the decision to avoid the complete destruction of the opposing military and civilian assets, and the unconditional capitulation of its government.

If you then look at the graph below, you will see the gradual reduction in nuclear warheads since the START talks. But as we described above, there are still a substantial number of weapons in state of readiness. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking these are mere posturing tools: the Russian nuclear briefcase was activated the only and last time in… 1995 -or 4 years after the end of the Cold War.

To conclude, nuclear weapons’ history is full of human errors -and courage. The only true lesson we are able to draw is that so far we may have been merely lucky to survive.

Global Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles

History & Politics

Five myths about the atomic bomb – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Another bomb fell Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Decades later, controversy and misinformation still surround the decision to use nuclear weapons during World War II.

Debating the Morality of Hiroshima – “The Japanese themselves were not certain what happened in Hiroshima. Many of Japan’s leaders dismissed U.S. claims of a new type of bomb, thinking that this was simply a continuation of the conventional destructions of cities. It was one of the reasons that no decision on surrender was made.

How China’s military might matches up with the United States – [Podcast] – “But does regional power lead to global dominance? What does China really want in the Pacific? And would China and America ever go to war?

China’s Crisis: The Price of Change – “But that challenges decades of tradition and entrenched power and interests. It also creates a contradiction: The economic policies are moving toward liberalization, but the political and social policies are moving toward autocracy.

Ukraine: Russia’s new art of war – (Hat tip Tecumseh) – “He also argues that Moscow is better at espionage – not just traditional undercover work but also “the standard open source analysis of the kind that the west has forgotten how to do”. Hybrid war, Mr Donnelly suggests, is perhaps the wrong term. “It is hyper competition.”” From a year ago, still worth reading carefully.

Conversation: Russia’s Perfect Economic Storm – “Stratfor Senior Managing Editor Ben Sheen and Senior Eurasia Analyst Lauren Goodrich discuss the economic factors that are putting pressure on the Kremlin’s control over Russia.

Russia Is Destroying Its Food – “Perhaps because of these successes, the public crackdown on illicit food imports has generated — and will continue to generate — opposition across the Russian political spectrum.

Finance & Economics

Is the Local Economy the Solution to a Post-Capitalist World? – “Without easy access to economic development funds, pollinator businesses rely on a DIY ethos and the sharing economy, which includes cross-selling with other like-minded businesses, cost-savings through collectively buying goods and services, and being creative with financing.

China’s Hard Landing Suddenly Gets a Lot Rougher – “Despite the 7% GDP growth published and hotly defended by the Chinese government, it is increasingly clear that the country is beset with a host of immense problems, after a debt-fueled binge of overbuilding and over-stimulating. These problems aren’t going to evaporate. And whether or not the government is willing to admit it, they’re dragging down vast sectors of the economy.

Picture of the day: Montage of the launch of a Trident C4 SLBM and the paths of its reentry vehicles

Trident Montage

About Carlito Riego

"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi