Rantings and tirades of a frustrated economist.
To end the world in case the Chinese ever surpass us.
Where's the research behind this? It reminds me of that Mark Twain line about "such wholesome returns of conjectures out of such trifling investment of fact." They've just pulled these numbers out of thin air. The US and USSR numbers are probably close to reality, but the rest is just B.S.
An interesting answer can be found in "The Europeans," by Luigi Barzini (http://www.amazon.com/Europeans-Luigi-Barzini/dp/0140071504).Referring to the Soviets, "Why do they theoretically endanger their own hold on power for the sake of building up an unnecessary war machine? One answer is that they literally can not stop. The economy is directed by the bureaucracy. Bureaucrats do not willingly abdicate their responsibilities in any country. To reduce Soviet armaments might entail the demobilization of entire Ministries. ...Armaments come under heavy industry, and heavy industry had the highest priority in the five-year plans since the early beginning, a priority defended tooth and nail by the military, who constitute the most powerful pressure group in the Soviet Union. Allied to the bureaucracy they are unbeatable. Consumer goods can wait. They have been waiting since 1917 anyway."
Because you never know when you might need to melt a country.
You're overestimating the destructive power of a nuclear weapon.The blast from one rather large nuclear weapon has approximately:Total blast area: 616 sq. km.Moderate Damage: 200 sq. km.Severe Damage: 79 sq. km.Complete Destruction: 50 sq. km.A standard military map is about 25km by 30km (750 square kilometers). One nuclear weapon could not even lightly damage one map sheet.The United States has a combined land area of about 9.8 million square kilometers, requiring over 13,000 nuclear weapons just to hit every square inch with at least light damage. It would take almost 200,000 weapons to obliterate it.Those are estimates of the largest warheads. Many were much smaller with half those damage estimates.Of course, much of the US is barren land not worth wasting a nuclear weapon on. However both the US and Soviet Union expected that a certain percentage of their weapons would either fail to launch, fail in transit, fail to detonate, fail to destroy their targets, be intercepted, or destroy each other. Therefore they planned for redundancies. Every major city and military facility was targeted with multiple warheads.The nuclear fallout will likely kill most of the people not killed by the blast, but it's the initial effects that military planners wanted to maximize to prevent retaliation. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction created an equilibrium where each nation had to have sufficient firepower to completely annihilate the other in a first strike.The Soviet Union was many times bigger than the US, so we needed more missiles to achieve the desired effect.I'm not saying that's a sufficiently good answer to your question, but it's the correct answer.Then, of course, we had the issue of nuclear waste. It's safer to keep and maintain a missile than dispose of the nuclear material. Once a missile, always a missile.Breeder reactors continually make more fissile material and you have to use it somewhere. We never had sufficient nuclear power to use as an alternative, so we made more warheads.Finally, as every leftist knows, we had to support the Military Industrial Complex (which fails to explain why the Soviet Union had so many).
One reason is practical. We can't be sure how many of the nukes will be duds. Due to PC thinking in Congress and the White House for a long period of time our underground testing has been suspended. President Obama will continue this suspension. The testing provided data on percentage rates of operational effectiveness of various nuke types. They have to be replaced over time but without actual testing we don't accurately know replacement rates and if new models are more reliable. Thus as the dud uncertainty grows over time the more nukes needed to offset.
If they need to cut back by a few more, I'd be willing to buy a couple.
Tony -- That was a really interesting quote. It makes total sense. I read something similar in one of P.J. O'Rourke's pieces about manufacturing priorities being determined by bureacratics rather than market forces (or even market research), but I never realized that military goods would be a whole separate and very large division within the bureacracy that decides what gets built.Robert -- Also some very good points. I did want to point out that last I heard, the U.S. no longer uses breeder reactors because of some nuclear non-proliferation treaties. I had a couple summer internships at a DOE site that had done a lot of nuclear research at one time and got to sit through some presentations about some newer more efficient and safer reactors which were also less picky about what type of reactor fuel they could use -- but alas, they were a breeder reactor and as such were banned under a treaty (the SALT II treaty, I think?), even though the figures presented to us looked like something that would be worth pursuing otherwise.
Robert's account is correct as far as it goes but insufficient. It is a matter of historic record, as witnessed by annual DOE submissions to Congress on the US strategic materials stockpile, that the total inventory of fissile material in weapons has declined nearly every year since at least 1970. The reason was a fundamental change in weapons technology. Rather than using megaton scale weapons, the military programs switched over the years to much smaller, higher yield weapons in the kiloton range. This was made possible by increasing accuracy of the delivery systems.The result was that the US has been accumulating surplus weapon grade plutonium for at least the past 35 years. This is why in the early 1980s the SecDef said to Congress that plutonium production was no longer a priority; every year more and more of it was going on the shelf even as the number of weapons was going up.Second, the purpose of the large weapons inventory was not for a first strike. It was to have sufficient to survive the first strike of the other side.
IIRC, from my childhood in the Cold War, the estimate of missile-delivered nuclear warheads that would actually detonate on target was about 1 in 20.Also agree w/ Colin in the shift from radiant energy to improved accuracy.
Yep, I agree with both Ryan and Colin. Breeders built our stockpile but were phased out when we decided arms growth wasn't necessary anymore. Our weapons did get more accurate and were MIRVed, resulting in smaller warheads. So the total number of warheads became increasingly irrelevant as a measure of deterrence. The USSR could not keep up the arms race: it was spending up to 50 percent of GDP on the military.Those factors are why it was so politically easy to agree to START after a 40 year arms race. Technology, economics, and Ronald Reagan saved the world.Pebble bed reactors are extremely safe. We should be building hundreds of them. It's embarrassing that France uses more nuclear power than us. We can fill up empty oil wells in the Middle East with nuclear waste.
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