Anti-nuclear activists, if they want to be taken seriously, have an obligation to educate themselves on the facts, and to stop exaggerating and stop lying. Activists with degrees in physics, political science or pediatrics -- often misrepresented by the press and by themselves as genuine experts on nuclear weapons and warfare -- get far more ink than real experts, and have entire journals, like the misnamed "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" (most contributors are not "atomic scientists") dedicated to their anti-nuclear views. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
The book Guide To Nuclear Deterrence in the Age of Great Power Competition, edited by Adam Lowther, belongs on the shelves of every policymaker and citizen who wants to be well informed about U.S. nuclear strategy and deterrence; rising nuclear threats from Russia and China; and what the U.S. must do to survive. The book includes chapters from 22 national security experts, many of whom served in senior Defense Department positions, and made significant contributions to deterring a nuclear World War III and ultimate victory in the Cold War.
Lowther himself serves in the Army Management Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, which teaches military officers how to think strategically.
But perhaps what most highly commends Lowther's book is the angst and hysterical criticisms it has elicited from anti-nuclear activists. A recent "great debate" over the book captures in microcosm profound differences between real experts on nuclear weapons, strategy, and national security policy versus anti-nuclear activists who have no expertise — but are an important part of the Democrat political base, and highly influential in the Biden Administration.
Critics Stewart Prager, who teaches astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, and Alan Kaptanoglu, a physicist at the University of Washington, denounced Lowther's book in an article titled "Rebuttal: Current nuclear weapons policy not safe or sane," published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Prager and Kaptanoglu ask: "Who is qualified to participate in the debate over U.S. nuclear weapons policy?" As evidenced in the dismissive title of their article, Prager and Kaptanoglu apparently think the "U.S. defense establishment" is less qualified than "Those who promote arms control and disarmament," like themselves.
So the philosophy of "a little child shall lead them" is prescribed for the field of nuclear strategy, just as the views of Greta Thunberg are supposed to silence the many scientists who doubt that "climate change" is an existential threat. We live in a time when the "Wokists" are at war with any expertise that contradicts their agenda, a time of unthinking egalitarianism when all opinions are supposed to matter equally (providing they are "Woke") — and the West may die from it.
College physicists, political scientists, physicians, pediatricians, and their impassioned students who comprise much of the anti-nuclear movement typically have little or no expertise in nuclear weapons and strategy. Yet Prager and Kaptanoglu would substitute their uninformed opinions for those of national security experts who have spent professional lifetimes studying nuclear weapons, theories of nuclear conflict, nuclear exchange modeling analysis, and other disciplines related to nuclear war.
They accuse Lowther of wanting to establish a "priesthood" of nuclear specialists that excludes the opinions of anti-nuclear activists — when it is anti-nuclear activism that is a fanatical quasi-religious movement that dismisses 75 years of the Defense Department's successful nuclear deterrence policy as: "not safe or sane."
Anti-nuclear activists are entitled to their opinions, enjoy free speech under the First Amendment, and their views are, if anything, over-represented relative to the opinions of the general population in newspapers, journals, and books. Anti-nuclear lobbies — including Ploughshares, Union of Concerned Scientists, Federation of American Scientists, Global Zero, Carnegie Foundation, Nuclear Threat Initiative and many others — significantly outnumber organizations such as the Heritage Foundation or the Center for Security Policy, who support nuclear "peace through strength." Activists with degrees in physics, political science or pediatrics -- often misrepresented by the press and by themselves as genuine experts on nuclear weapons and warfare -- get far more ink than real experts, and have entire journals, like the misnamed "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" (most contributors are not "atomic scientists") dedicated to their anti-nuclear views.
Expertise in nuclear weapons and strategy really does matter, however, just as much or even more than expertise in brain surgery matters, and real experts are under no obligation to listen to the erroneous opinions of non-experts, any more than a brain surgeon is obligated to heed technical advice on brain surgery from his mailman.
Academics and anti-nuclear activists have only themselves to blame if they are largely ignored by the national security community, because they so often falsely accuse the national security community of bad faith, conspiracies, corruption, and irrationality for disagreeing with them.
Anti-nuclear activists, if they want to be taken seriously, have an obligation to educate themselves on the facts, and to stop exaggerating and stop lying. Examples of five whoppers, and not necessarily the worst ones, that often appear in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
- Allegedly, U.S. arms racing is making Russia and China build-up their nuclear arsenals. In fact, U.S. arms control initiatives have reduced the number of U.S. nuclear weapons by 90%, leaving the U.S. with nuclear weapons and delivery systems over 30 years old, while Russia, China, and North Korea are building mostly modern nuclear weapons and delivery systems—often in violation of arms control treaties.
- Allegedly, the U.S. has 6,000 nuclear weapons ready for war. This misrepresents the total U.S. nuclear stockpile as the number of weapons that would be employed in a nuclear war. In fact, most of these are in storage, mostly cannibalized for spare parts, and would take months to mobilize, if they could be used at all. Under New START the U.S. is allowed only 1,550 operational strategic nuclear weapons (counting rules allow more than one weapon on strategic bombers, so the actual number of U.S. operational strategic nuclear weapons is about 2,000). Of these, because mobilization of bombers takes three days and SSBNs on patrol would probably require hours to respond, only U.S. ICBMs with their 400 warheads are constantly ready, 24/7, for a nuclear exchange, not 6,000 warheads.
- Allegedly, radioactive fallout from a nuclear war would be a death sentence for the whole world. In fact, as long as the warhead is fused to burst at altitude, so the fireball does not touch the ground, which is likely for optimum burst height, there would be little or no nuclear fallout.
- Allegedly, thermal effects and fires from a nuclear war would cause a "nuclear winter" dooming the whole world. The "nuclear winter" myth is based on erroneous computer models rigged to produce a "nuclear winter" outcome, that goes away by tweaking a few variables, and is contradicted by hundreds of atmospheric nuclear tests and historical (and recent) volcanic eruptions that have never produced a "nuclear winter."
- Allegedly, nuclear war is unrecoverable. Nagasaki and Hiroshima are larger and more populous today than they were before the atomic bombings of 1945.
Anti-nuclear activists will not stop exaggerating and lying because they are not open to facts and reason, are like a religious cult willing to say anything to advance their ideological agenda, like the "priesthood" that declares "climate change" is the greatest existential threat.
The greatest existential threat is nuclear war. An example of one way to reduce the threat of nuclear war: The US should stop Iran from achieving nuclear breakout before it is too late. The US has the capability; the administration might ask the Pentagon to draw up a plan. President Joe Biden's poll numbers would turn around overnight. The world does not need Iran, the country that Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to as the "largest state sponsor of state terrorism," possessing nuclear weapons. [See author's report: "Iran: EMP Threat"] Unfortunately, thanks to Biden, anti-nuclear activists already have an outsized and unwarranted influence on national security policy that threatens to undermine the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence, and ironically make nuclear war even more likely.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served as Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, and on the staffs of the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of the books Will America Be Protected?, Blackout Warfare, and The Power And The Light.