Transterrestrial Musings

Defend Free Speech!

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type 4.0
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« How Well Do You Know Europe? | Main | Deconstructing McCain »

"A Feature, Not A Bug"

T. M. Lutas has some observations on the concern among the military for the modern political class in the west"

...we've always had the best military toys. But that technological line ended with the invention of the nuclear weapon. Once you can destroy the planet, where else is there to go in terms of outright destructiveness? We're trying to continue to improve by enhancing the precision of our violence but in the face of a force that wants terror, imprecision is a feature, not a bug.

Read the whole thing.

The danger we are confronting now is that mass destruction is coming into the hands of individuals, and it's going to continue to get worse. A policy of "non-interventionism" is not just futile, but suicidal, in such a world.


0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: "A Feature, Not A Bug".

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Jardinero1 wrote:

"The danger we are confronting now is that mass destruction is coming into the hands of individuals, and it's going to continue to get worse"

I don't agree with that statement since there is no evidence to indicate that is true. But for the sake of argument, let's suppose it is true. As a matter of US foreign policy who do we go after the dealers and enablers of such technology?... or the end users?

Rand Simberg wrote:

I don't agree with that statement since there is no evidence to indicate that is true.

I suppose that it's easier to live in denial than to want to figure out how to deal with the consequences.

Jardinero1 wrote:

I don't want to get into a fight with anyone over that assertion but I would really like to know, from any of the posters here, if there is any proof to support that assertion. And again, I ask, who do we, as a nation, go after: the dealers or the users? Please, without engaging in ad hominem attacks, can anyone offer anything?

McGehee wrote:

As a matter of US foreign policy who do we go after the dealers and enablers of such technology?... or the end users?


If an act of nuclear terrorism has been detected -- either as a plan or an outright fully executed act -- all those responsible for the act should be "gone after." I don't know why that's even a question.

Jardinero, here's the assertion you claim to disagree with:

The danger we are confronting now is that mass destruction is coming into the hands of individuals, and it's going to continue to get worse

Now, there are two parts to that assertion, and it's possible you're only taking issue with one and overlooking the other. In any case, let's start with the first part:

The danger we are confronting now is that mass destruction is coming into the hands of individuals...

Another way of reading that, and I think the correct one, is "We are now confronting the danger that mass destruction is coming into the hands of individuals." That, I think, is undeniably true given the claims that devices from the Soviet nuclear arsenal have gone unaccounted-for since 1991.

...and it's going to continue to get worse

The longer nuclear devices are unaccounted for, the greater the likelihood they will indeed come into private hands. That's simple logic.

T.L. James wrote:

Observe that Rand said "mass destruction", and not nuclear weapons specifically.

One of the frequently-noted effects of technological progress is that it puts into the hands of common individuals today capabilities which were not even available to kings yesterday. Having available at your fingertips a freely-available storehouse of information that dwarfs the content of Library of Congress was scarcely imaginable outside of maybe DARPA and the more esoteric IT circles twenty years ago...and here we are today, soaking in it.

This progress also makes activities that once took huge sums of money, vast industrial installations, and armies of skilled participants less money-intensive, less equipment-intensive, and less labor-intensive than before. I can think of at least one privately-funded company building what amounts to an ICBM for around the cost of a single Titan IV *launch*, using a small set of not especially advanced facilities, and with an engineering staff probably fewer in number than the draftsmen alone on the original Atlas program.

Now, couple that with advances in genetic mapping and manipulation knowledge and technology...

Karl Hallowell wrote:

I have to side with Jardinero1 here. Lutas says:

The ultimate expression of widespread adoption is in the super-empowered individual. If you have a solution for him, you can apply that solution to disfavored nations whose rulers are evil or crazy as well as the intermediate problem of sub-national groups seeking nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad and Osama Bin Laden are, as the saying goes "lesser includeds".

In other words, he claims you can treat Al Qaeda and Iran just like "super-empowered individuals". Nevermind that one bullet can end your problem with the individual while successful asymmetric warfare groups like Al Qaeda have substantial fault tolerance.

Elsewhere, I see a number of myths propagated. First, there's no evidence that Russia ever missed 100 "suitcase" nukes. In other words, we don't even know those nukes ever existed or if they did, whether Russia has accounted for them by now. This is a real possibility because the USSR had a habit both of creating phantom weapon inventories for counterintelligence disinformation and of faking their production output in order to meet central planning quotas. In particular, this doesn't "prove" that these nukes have or will have come into the hands of "individuals".

Second, while biological or nanotech weapons have the potential to be the most devasting weapons currently conceived, in practice nuclear weapons are far worse than any other WMD.

Finally, just a remark on the costs of the Titan IV. Those things were pretty expensive (at least $200 million per launch, right). It really doesn't impress me that someone (SpaceX I assume) is building something that could be considered an ICBM for that price. I think such a thing could have been done in the 60's to be honest and maybe was. I don't know how much China or the USSR have spent on these things. It's probably a lot more, but they often were running on shoestring budgets.

I think a better rocekt to consider is the Qassam rocket developed by Hamas. These are simple short range rockets (around 10 km for the newest model according to Wikipedia) built locally in the Gaza Strip. As I understand it, the workshops where these things are made are regularly destroyed and the original designer died (of Israeli causes so I dimly recall) some years ago. Yet Hamas is still able to make these things and actually improve them over time.

Further, I don't understand why we're focusing on the individual when countries are the current problem. Last I checked, it's illegal for me to use chemical weapons or to make my own nuclear bomb. In particular, there are tens of thousands of people that would work to catch or kill me once they knew what I was up to. In comparison, Saddam Hussein only faced legal judgement for doing the exact same thing only because he lost two wars. And technically, he never did get punished for developing nuclear weapons (though IMHO that was probably one of the major deciding factors in the US invasion of Iraq).

Go google "DNA synthesis". You'll find plenty of companies willing to take your gene design and turn it into organic material they can fedex to you. What happens when this gets cheap enough that you have desktop synthesizers capable of cranking out an Ebola virus? The age of bioterrorism, that's what.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Karl, it's long been cheap enough to pick up some foot and mouth disease and fly it around. Won't infect people (well, rarely I gather), but it'll shut down any hooved livestock industry in a country. Similarly, one can pick up any of those invasive species that cause tremendous economic damage in agriculture (for example, the mediterranean fruit fly, killer bees, or the gypsy moth) and spread them around.

Second, as you point out, there're already nasty diseases in the wild. Where's ebola and avian flu, for example? An enterprising terrorist should be able to pick up either, though the latter is more widespread, the former more lethal.

The point here is that the capability has been around for some time to cause tremendous problems with a small amount of effort. I don't know why terrorists don't try. Maybe it's just not sexy to kill farm animals or a good portion of Florida's citrus crop. I don't know.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

In case people don't know the details. Ok luckily it was botched and not that many died but still thousands were afflicted.

It's not the future you're discussing, it's the past.

Leave a comment

Note: The comment system is functional, but timing out when returning a response page. If you have submitted a comment, DON'T RESUBMIT IT IF/WHEN IT HANGS UP AND GIVES YOU A "500" PAGE. Simply click your browser "Back" button to the post page, and then refresh to see your comment.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 7, 2008 2:12 PM.

How Well Do You Know Europe? was the previous entry in this blog.

Deconstructing McCain is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.1