National Academies Press: OpenBook

The Medical Implications of Nuclear War (1986)

Chapter:24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems

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Suggested Citation:"24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems." Institute of Medicine. 1986. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/940.
Suggested Citation:"24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems." Institute of Medicine. 1986. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/940.
Suggested Citation:"24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems." Institute of Medicine. 1986. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/940.
Suggested Citation:"24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems." Institute of Medicine. 1986. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/940.
Suggested Citation:"24 Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems." Institute of Medicine. 1986. The Medical Implications of Nuclear War. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/940.

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The Medical Implications of Nuclear War, Institute of Medicine. ~ 1986 by the National Academy of Sciences. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Managerial Demands of Modern Weapons Systems JOHN D. STEINBRUNER, PH.D. The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. Other papers presented in this volume discussed the psychology of individual decision makers. As a complement to this analysis, I would like to examine the context in which decision makers must operate. I will focus on the burdens that modern military forces impose upon decision makers and on some of the very predictable difficulties that individual decision makers are likely to have in dealing with them, particularly decision makers in the American political system. Not the least of these burdens is the uniqueness of the current situation. Contemporary military forces have a combination of properties that make them much more difficult to manage under crisis circumstances than were their historical counterparts: the extreme destructiveness of individual weapons, the rapid timing of the delivery vehicles, the technical com- plexity of weapons that imposes very intricate operational requirements on the forces that manage and operate them, and the worldwide scale of deployment. It is not frequently realized that the full maturation of the military situation has taken considerable time, and it probably has only been in the last decade that both sides have really had fully integrated and de- veloped forces. This means that any experience before this time can be drawn upon for evidence only by using very uncertain extrapolations. Fortunately, the world has survived this condition for at least a decade, and that fact has to do with the success of modern management techniques for military forces in peacetime. Advanced communications and automated information processing have made safe and coherent management of these 485

486 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR arsenals feasible under normal circumstances, but by extrapolation it can be ascertained that in all probability this coherent management could not be sustained under the conditions of a nuclear war. Though individual weapons probably could survive a dedicated attack in fairly substantial numbers, the military organizations necessary for strategic management could not. If explicitly directed to that purpose, for example, only a small fraction of the current U.S. or Soviet nuclear arsenals would be required to incapacitate the opponent's command system. That fraction, depending on which estimates are used, varies from 1 to 5 percent of the current nuclear arms inventories, and 1 percent is likely enough. Managerial coherence is at once the most critical and the most vulnerable aspect of contemporary military forces. Under peacetime circumstances the dominant objective of the mana- gerial system is that of preventing any unauthorized use of even an in- dividual nuclear weapon. This objective has been labeled by outside observers as that of negative control, although that is not the standard usage within the military. Elaborate, and so far very successful, procedures have been worked out within all military systems to guarantee that negative control can be exercised under all situations that are normally encountered, and again, for more than 20 years the world has successfully survived under these arrangements. If negative control procedures were to be preserved unaltered under advanced crisis circumstances, however, they would expose military or- ganizations to decisive defeat by means of destroying their central com- mand authorities. This has been recognized, and for this reason all military forces have established a competing managerial objective of positive con- trol. The essence of positive control is to ensure that authorization to conduct military missions can be provided and that authoritative orders will be carried out. Strategic forces exercise continuously to be sure that they can do just that. One of the principal effects of crisis is that it would force the military organizations to go through changes of state that in effect would adjust the balance between managerial directives of negative and positive control. To some degree these state changes are explicitly thought out and orga- nized in advance by formalized alert procedures, but they cannot be com- pletely determined or centrally controlled in their entirety. Operational procedures are too complex, too widely dispersed, and too responsive to the immediate circumstances of individual weapons commanders for cen- tralized direction to be feasible. To a significant extent the changes in state in a military organization under crisis are necessarily spontaneous, and their full effects cannot be known in advance by anyone, however wise he might be.

MANAGERIAL DEMANDS OF MODERN WEAPONS SYSTEMS 487 As has become familiar in the long discussion of deterrence, the gov- erning policies of the two major military establishments, those of the United States and the USSR, are disciplined by the conditions of strategic parity. The prevailing balance of military power confers no decisive global advantage on either the United States or the Soviet Union, and there is no serious prospect for changing that fact in the foreseeable future, how- ever strong political aspirations to do so might be. It is a fact that neither side can wish away by political rhetoric. Whatever that rhetoric might be, both superpowers are compelled to act in a crisis to try to avoid global war, and both thoroughly understand that. At the same time, both superpowers are compelled to acknowledge that a threat to the managerial coherence of their forces gives powerful incen- tive to initiate war if they judge that the threat can no longer be avoided. There is an inherent tension between this imperative to avoid war on the one hand and that of controlling the circumstances of initiation if war cannot be avoided on the other. There is good reason to believe that this tension would increase dramatically at the point of crisis and would subject both opposing establishments to severely conflicting internal impulses. That fact makes the prevailing circumstances of deterrence prone to sudden catastrophic failure at the point of serious crisis, a point that could not be known about in advance and that would only be experienced as it happened. The circumstances of the global balance do not apply to all local con- ditions. Each side enjoys a substantial advantage of conventional military power in certain areas of the world, and that fact does have strong effects on a crisis that is focused on one of those areas. In general, undisputed military dominance of one side makes a localized crisis less dangerous and its management easier, simply because its outcome is determined by those initial local conditions. At some of the more likely sources of crisis, however, most notably in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe, the local balance of military capability is or could readily become inherently ambiguous. When that occurs, the outcome turns upon details of circum- stances that the leaders must try to control. Given these situations, under a severe crisis or under one that is oc- curring with an ambiguous local balance, the managerial capacities of decision makers, no matter how stable psychologically or skilled politically they may be, are likely to be overwhelmed. There are several basic reasons for this fact. First, in a serious crisis under current world conditions, the spontaneous interactions of conventional nuclear forces could not be predicted or con- trolled in all their important details. They are far too extensive and too elaborate for anyone to completely determine.

488 IMAGES AND RISKS OF NUCLEAR WAR Second, the rapid timing of these operations would make the discovery and timely correction of the inevitable errors of managerial judgment extremely difficult. It would be very difficult to keep up with the pace of events that would be triggered. The extensive flows of information created by technical sensors directly observing the opponent's military operations would produce interacting perceptions by both military establishments that would tend to dominate the normal channels of diplomacy used to try to produce a constructive resolution. Finally, the background tension between the objectives that I discussed above would inevitably produce major differences in judgment between the civilian and political leadership on both sides, making it very difficult for completely consistent lines of action to be established. Problems of this sort have been experienced during the only two crises involving nuclear weapons in the post-World War II period: in Cuba in 1962 and in the Middle East in 1973. It should be noted that neither crisis is directly relevant to the current situation. The Cuban crisis occurred before both sides had fully developed their managerial establishments. The Middle East was a one-sided crisis as far as nuclear weapons are concerned. Nonetheless, there were some significant failures of managerial direction under those circumstances, although the crises obviously were successfully resolved. In Cuba, despite extraordinary and largely effective measures under- taken to coordinate the American government, some significant features of American actions escaped central control, most of which are well known. There was an unauthorized incursion into Soviet air space by a reconnaissance plane a strategic aircraft. It was officially described as an accident and clearly was not intended directly, certainly not by the top managers. Very extensive antisubmarine warfare operations were conducted by the United States, implicitly under U.S. Navy rules of engagement but without the advance knowledge of the executive committee that was at- tempting to manage the crisis. It is not known explicitly what the executive committee would have done had they thought about it in advance, but it certainly was inconsistent with the tight control that they exercised in other aspects of the crisis. The tactical air operations in the southern part of the United States anticipated the crisis and extensively developed their capability of dealing with it well in advance of the leaders in Washington. Because the American press was able to discover this preparedness, it is very likely that the Soviets were able to as well. These are inevitable features of a crisis, and they would be far worse under current circumstances.

MANAGERIAL DEMANDS OF MODERN WEAPONS SYSTEMS 489 In the Middle East in 1973, an alert was ordered for the sole purpose of sending a diplomatic signal, a signal that was intended to be secret. The persons ordering the alert thought that they could keep it from being public, which reveals just how little they knew about what they were ordering. There is no way that U.S. forces can be put on alert without it being made public. None of these episodes had any major negative consequences on the outcome of these crises; indeed, in context they may well have helped their resolution. However, that may be, in part, a product of fortuitous circumstances, and there is no guarantee that fortune will always be so kind. These were not centrally directed or managed actions. The American political system is particularly susceptible to these kinds of problems. The domains of civilian and military authority are separated fairly sharply, making it difficult for anyone to mesh diplomacy and military operations. The United States has problems with that in peacetime. These problems would intensify in a crisis situation. Neither civilian nor military leaders are normally granted long tenure in office in the U.S. system, making it virtually impossible for anyone to develop all the types of expertise that the circumstances of crisis would, in fact, demand. The open and adversarial political process of the United States protects against wide deviations from common judgment that make it very difficult to identify and correct mistakes emerging from a consensus of opinion. In order to operate at all in the American system, there is dependence on consensus of opinion; otherwise, no coherence is produced. In general, then, the pressures that would be created by an intense crisis with military forces at their current state of development appear to be so formidable that prudent security should focus on their prevention rather than any expectation of safe management. That does not mean we should not try to manage crises safely and think about that, but we shouldn't count on it. Unfortunately, that principle is not widely acknowledged in U.S. foreign policy at the moment. Indeed, the emphasis it appears to deserve would require very substantial change in prevailing assumptions about how for- eign policy is conducted.

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Written by world-renowned scientists, this volume portrays the possible direct and indirect devastation of human health from a nuclear attack. The most comprehensive work yet produced on this subject, The Medical Implications of Nuclear War includes an overview of the potential environmental and physical effects of nuclear bombardment, describes the problems of choosing who among the injured would get the scarce medical care available, addresses the nuclear arms race from a psychosocial perspective, and reviews the medical needs—in contrast to the medical resources likely to be available—after a nuclear attack. "It should serve as the definitive statement on the consequences of nuclear war." —Arms Control Today

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