the National Debt, and Economic Growth: What many politicians don't
want you to know.
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 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.
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
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.)
Terror Matrix (Bilateral)
#1: Mutual Assured Destruction
"Holy s---, what if somebody makes a mistake?"
"Ugh; can I trust you. . . or should I build my own
"Don't try anything stupid."
#4: Mutual Assured Immunity
"We're both safe from nukes. Let's get on with life."
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?)
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.
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.)
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
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:
that have been dismantled and thrown away (disarmament);
that don't exist yet (nonproliferation); and
that can't penetrate a defensive (BMD) shield.
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
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.
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
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.
three scenarios are problematic. But maybe a combined approach
could break through the conundrum. Just maybe.
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.)
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.
any case, how many billions of people, in your opinion,
are thinking the following:
s---, what if somebody makes a mistake?"
let's move over to box #2. . .
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?
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).
is a comfortable situation for you, is it?
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.)
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.)
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?)
towards Mutual Assured Immunity
away from MAD
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.
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:
grandpa's generation solved that insane problem for us;
that was pretty cool of them, wasn't it?"
Steps to Mutual Assured Immunity
think there's a way to move the world into box #4, delicately.
Here's the implementation idea:
Forced nonproliferation, followed immediately by
(b) Unilateral Build-up, plus Bilateral Build-down
A: Forced nonproliferation
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).
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.]
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.)
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
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.
B: Unilateral Build-up, Bilateral Build-down
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
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
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.
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.
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.")
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
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."
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.
please. Let's not get sidetracked onto the unimportant debate
about whether to use borrowed money to finance it.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
is a good investment -- and borrowing money as necessary for good
investments is sound financial practice. Ask any banker. Ask our
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.
are an interesting species. An interesting mix. You are
capable of such beautiful dreams -- and such horrible
on Pensacola beach,
at the center of the galaxy.
me if you don't get it)
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
fellow Americans, tonight we are launching an effort which
holds the promise of changing the course of human history."
Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983
support a zero option for all nuclear arms."
Ronald Reagan, Jan. 16, 1984
of this article
update of this page: June 24, 2001