Deficits, the National Debt, and Economic Growth: What many politicians don't want you to know.
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"The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."

--Albert Einstein

Einstein seems to have been throwing down a challenge. Let's take him up on it. Let's see if we can change our mode of thinking.

Mutual Assured Immunity

(Note: If you're wondering how the heck this subject relates to deficits and debt, be patient. The economics angle is in the Epilogue at the end.)

For the last four decades or so, I've been contemplating what my generation would bequeath to our kids and grandkids. A wealthy, innovating, growing society, with freedom and equal opportunity for all, has been in the front of my mind. Maintaining the USA's position as the wealthiest nation in the entire history of civilization is a big part of that vision. It sure has been challenging and fun thinking about how to accomplish all that stuff.

But a recurring nightmare has also been bugging me for those same four decades. It's the dark side of "technological advancement"; i.e, thermonuclear annihilation. A sixty-minute scenario, in which all we've built and learned is vaporized in a whole bunch of simultaneous, massive fireballs -- quite possibly the result of a "simple" misunderstanding or a "stupid" mistake. Minimum result: a 1500-year setback to civilization. Maximum result: no more civilization, ever. No more kids, no more grandkids. No more debates about demand vs. supply economics. No more Bush or Gore jokes.

Have you ever thought about that same nightmare? I bet you have. As you'll see in this website, I contend that "destruction-prevention" is a good investment. Achieving that goal in a nuclear-armed world is particularly challenging, given the current, increasingly insane policy of Mutual Assured Destruction. But I think technology has placed us on the verge of a solution. I think we have the ability to eliminate the nightmare -- if we have the will to step carefully, but assertively, towards a new defense policy. I call it "Mutual Assured Immunity."

First, let's review the psychology that led to the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction in the nuclear age. The matrix below illustrates the basic situations and attitudes of four possible scenarios. (Note that box #1 is where we are today, and where we've been for decades.)

Nuclear Terror Matrix (Bilateral)

Situations and Attitudes:

Box #1: Mutual Assured Destruction
"Holy s---, what if somebody makes a mistake?"

Box #2: Inferiority
"Ugh; can I trust you. . . or should I build my own nukes?"

Box #3: Superiority
"Don't try anything stupid."

Box #4: Mutual Assured Immunity
"We're both safe from nukes. Let's get on with life."

Note that, before technology released the nuclear genie, all nations were in box #4 in the Nuclear Terror Matrix. Nobody had the technology, therefore everybody was immune from it. But Einstein and his compatriots changed that forever. (By the way, are you as glad as I am that they freed the genie before Hitler could?)

Today, the USA and Russia are bilaterally stuck in box #1. Furthermore, relative to most other nations, the USA is in box #3; consequently, those nations are in box #2 relative to us. (Put yourself in their place: would you trust us, or would you build nukes? Those in box #2 have a range of attitudes: e.g., Canada trusts us; China is building nuke systems.) Is it a surprise that some other nations, for whatever reason, want to move out of box #2 -- into box #1? It isn't a surprise to me.

Macho-men, of course, prefer to be in box #3. They also prefer that their adversaries remain confined to box #2. But box #3 is an ephemeral dream, even for the USA in the long run. As soon as any adversary acquires the technology, both the macho-man and his adversary quickly find themselves in box #1, the MAD box -- i.e., the nuclear neurosis box. (Neurotic macho-men are scary, if you hadn't noticed; especially those wielding missiles topped with nukes.)

In any case, wouldn't it be nice if there were a way to move the world back into box #4? Please keep reading, because I think there's a way.

Remember when Ronald Reagan articulated a vision of rendering nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete"? I do. I've been thinking about it a lot over the last twenty years, and one thing that finally hit me is that there are not one, but three types of "impotent" nuclear weapons systems:

  1. Those that have been dismantled and thrown away (disarmament);
  2. Those that don't exist yet (nonproliferation); and
  3. Those that can't penetrate a defensive (BMD) shield.

Some people are pushing for type 1 impotence, achieved through multilateral disarmament. And just about everybody except a third-world megalomaniac would prefer type 2 impotence (nonproliferation). Some are pushing for a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system that will inflict type 3 impotence on their opponents. But each has its implementation problems.

The disarmament option (1) would magnify the nuclear blackmailing power of club-member nations that didn't participate, and induce more nations to join the nuclear club.

The nonproliferation option (2) requires agreements and cooperation by all the the countries in box #2. (Can't we all just get along? Yeah; right. Sorry folks, I prefer Reagan's attitude: Trust 'em, but cut the cards.)

In the BMD option (3), deployment alone might trigger a first strike by the side about to have impotence inflicted on it (Russia, China). In his Foreign Affairs article (Sept-Oct 2000), Missile-Defense Madness, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov doesn't talk about a "first strike"; however, he does speak a lot about destabilization. I'm listening. . . and I think I get it, Mr. Ivanov.

All three scenarios are problematic. But maybe a combined approach could break through the conundrum. Just maybe.

Let's take this one step at a time, starting with today's situation -- the MAD scenario -- and then proceed towards the solution I've been envisioning -- Mutual Assured Immunity. I'll finish with my step-by-step implementation scenario. (I'm no expert on the details, so it may have some holes in it. Not only am I interested in where the holes are, but also how to plug them -- so give me some feedback if you have better alternatives. What I do know is that we gotta do something to reduce the threat, and we'd better start figuring out how -- then start doing it.)

Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD):

There are 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 95% of which are in the arsenals of the USA and Russia. Although we each think of ourselves as trustworthy-yet-vigilant caretakers of those weapons, my guess is that at least some other countries think of us as neurotic macho men.

In any case, how many billions of people, in your opinion, are thinking the following:

"Holy s---, what if somebody makes a mistake?"

Now let's move over to box #2. . .


Put yourself in a developing country's shoes. No nukes (i.e., you have "impotent weapon type 2 -- those that don't exist"). I bet you're thinking a lot about all those nukes owned by other countries, aren't you?

More significantly, put yourself in Russia's shoes. Lots of nukes, but alarmed at America's plan to deploy a missile defense system (i.e., you'll soon have "impotent weapon type 3" -- those that can't penetrate a defensive shield).

Neither is a comfortable situation for you, is it?


(Don't jump to the conclusion that I oppose building a ballistic missile defense system. Quite the contrary; I am for it. But I think there's a way to do it without putting the Russians in box #2. Keep reading.)


This one is easy. You're Saddam Hussein, or Muammar Qaddafi. Relative to all your Middle East neighbors except Isreal, you'd like to be in box #3. (Relative to Isreal, however, you'd just rather get out of box #2.)

(Note that until those rogue third-world dictators acquire both nukes and long-range delivery capability, the USA is in box #3 relative to them. Those oceans on both sides of the USA make for a nice moat, don't they?)

Moving towards Mutual Assured Immunity

Stepping away from MAD

A policy of staying in box #1 forever will fail in the long run, maybe even in the short run. My kids and future grandkids will get vaporized.

I admit it, folks: I'm selfish; I don't like that scenario. We gotta move to box #4, somehow. Fifty years from now, I'd rather have my future grandkids thinking:

"Wow, grandpa's generation solved that insane problem for us; that was pretty cool of them, wasn't it?"

Two Steps to Mutual Assured Immunity

I think there's a way to move the world into box #4, delicately. Here's the implementation idea:

(a) Forced nonproliferation, followed immediately by

(b) Unilateral Build-up, plus Bilateral Build-down

Step A: Forced nonproliferation

We and the Russians agree not to change the MAD balance between us, for the moment. However, we build a forward-deployed, sea-based, boost-phase interceptor system on the Aegis cruiser platform (the Navy Upper Tier system, employing an interceptor dubbed the Standard missile). A short-range system that could kill strategic nuke-tipped missiles in their boost phase -- when they're slow, easy-to-detect single targets (as opposed to the multiple targets they'd become in their post-launch bus phase).

Also, to make this a potent system, we must remove the speed limit on interceptor velocity. The current treaty limits it to a too-slow 3 km/s, and it's hampering our development program -- partly because the tremendous sonic boom caused by a faster interceptor "might crack a glacier" (boo-hoo), or "cause temporary deafness in sea otters or grizzly bears" (boo-hoo). [Sheesh, that's like telling Mark McGwire, "OK, Mark, it's the bottom of the ninth, you're up, and the game depends on you. But you're not allowed to use a bat." Gimme a break.]

Deploy this Aegis system around the globe, but only near the hot spots (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Pakistan, India. Stay away from Russia. Not sure about China.) Force a combination of type-2 impotence (nonproliferation) and type-3 impotence (BMD) on them, using the USA's new technology. (We'd be doing them a favor: They could stop wasting their money on nukes, and start feeding their people.)

Also, we could consider deploying the Aegis technology in the USA's offshore waters, to kill short-notice ship-launched missiles in their boost phase. (That would also neutralize Russia's boomers -- but, hey, we're not supposed to be letting those subs get that close anyway, are we? Anyway, this might require some kind of boomer-for-boomer build-down swap, to keep the Russians from wigging out.)

In any case, rendering the hot-spot countries' nukes impotent -- without upsetting the MAD balance between the USA and Russia -- is the goal of step A.

Step B: Unilateral Build-up, Bilateral Build-down

(This step assumes that getting the bilateral dismantlement process rolling requires some kind of kick-start. A safe assumption, I think, because it hasn't happened yet; that's evidence enough for me.)

Here's the basic idea: Build a limited-capacity defense unilaterally, build down the offense bilaterally. Deploy land- and space-based missile defense technology capable of knocking down "x" missiles. Then dismantle "x" missiles on each side. A new treaty would define how each side would select which ones would be dismantled (. . .not sure how; I'm not that much of an expert).

The logic of step B: If our new defense renders type-3 impotence (BMD) on 100 Russian nukes -- which they won't need any more -- what's wrong with rendering type-1 impotence (dismantlement) on 100 nukes on each side? Seems to me that we'd never have to build any more defensive capacity at all -- because after the first 100 were dismantled on each side, guess what: we could still knock down the next 100, so we might as well dismantle those, too. After a few dozen iterations, each neutralizing 100 strategic warheads, we'd be very close to achieving Reagan's "zero option" proposed in the 1980's. Carefully negotiated and executed, it might be the only way to move the USA and Russia slowly but surely from box #1 directly to box #4, before our grandkids grow up.


This two-step process would obviously require carefully-negotiated treaty modifications, and mutual iteration over a period of years. It would also require ongoing maintenance and improvement in the forward-deployed Aegis system, to keep the third-world megalomaniacs pinned down, with no way out.

But if we succeed, we will move the whole world into box #4: Mutual Assured Immunity. We will have achieved Ronald Reagan's vision of rendering all nuclear missile systems impotent and obsolete. (When Reagan referred to arms talks, he wisely said: "Trust 'em, but cut the cards." To that I would add: ". . .and back away slowly, deliberately, and simultaneously from the card table; this is a game that has no winners.")

Note: Neutralizing strategic nuclear weapons takes care of the vast majority of the problem. We'd still have to worry about suitcase nukes and suicide barge bombs. But the proper way to eat an elephant is -- One bite at a time. Neutralizing the strategic threat is job #1. Neutralizing the remaining threats can be done, too; preferably in parallel.

Lastly: If we succeed, we will have met Einstein's challenge. We will have changed our way of thinking, and acted upon it. Our grandkids might call us "The Second-Greatest Generation."


The number one duty of our government -- providing national defense -- requires intelligence, diplomacy, military force potential, and the will to use it if necessary. That costs money.

But please. Let's not get sidetracked onto the unimportant debate about whether to use borrowed money to finance it.

Don't let the mundane, sidetrack topic of deficits, surpluses, and debt obfuscate the missile defense debate. Let's not blow it. Ronald Reagan's vision of twenty years ago -- rendering strategic nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete -- is on the verge of becoming a reality. The greatest betrayal of our kids and grandkids would be you and I falsely allowing debt-phobia to stand in the way of saving them from destruction.

Let me say it a different way. If it costs $10 billion, we should build it. If it costs $50 billion, we should build it. If it costs $100 billion, we should build it. And we shouldn't worry about borrowing as necessary to finance it.

We have an eight-trillion-dollar-per-year economy. In thirty years, if we do the right thing today, our grandkids could be enjoying a thirty-trillion-dollar-per-year economy. But if we do the wrong thing today, economic activity could drop permanently to zero within sixty minutes. What's it worth to keep that from happening? What if the USA had to sell a few savings bonds and T-bonds to pull it off? Would you buy some? I would. I'd buy as many as I could. And I'd bequeath them to my grandkids.

Debt phobia is nothing more than an ignorance-based, potentially fatal pseudo-reason for rejecting it. (The reason I published this website is to explain why.)

Destruction-prevention is a good investment -- and borrowing money as necessary for good investments is sound financial practice. Ask any banker. Ask our grandkids.

Who knows; maybe Vladimir Putin would want to invest in the Mutual Assured Immunity effort by purchasing some U.S. Treasury bonds -- the safest investment on the entire planet.

"You are an interesting species. An interesting mix. You are capable of such beautiful dreams -- and such horrible nightmares."

--Ellie's dad.
on Pensacola beach,
at the center of the galaxy.

(ask me if you don't get it)

"I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

"My fellow Americans, tonight we are launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history."

--President Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

"I support a zero option for all nuclear arms."

--President Ronald Reagan, Jan. 16, 1984

End of this article
Last update of this page: June 24, 2001
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