Dr Dumblove

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Imagine there are three people in a room and each person is pointing a gun at the other two people.  Anybody can chose to fire their weapon at any time, but they cannot actually hit and disable the other two before those parties get a shot off.  If the participants are rational then a stable equilibrium exists.  Nobody will fire.  Next, it is proposed that three parties put their loaded guns on a table a few steps away and then return to the original position of facing each other.  None of the parties is now sure of who could get to the guns and get a shot off first.  That is not a stable equilibrium.

A push for total global nuclear disarmament is discussed in the Economist this week.  This strikes me as incredibly naive, especially for the usually level headed Economist.  The suggestion is that we move from an equilibrium of mutually assured destruction to an unstable situation where nuclear weapons don’t exist but can be produced in a short period of time.  It is just a dumb idea.  How would any of the existing powers convince themselves that the others were not secretly harbouring weapons that were ready for launch?  Facing that concern every power would secretly store weapons and we would go from a world where the weapons are out in the open, to where they are hidden.

Extending the analogy above the supporters of total nuclear disarmament, say that we are about to go to a world where instead of three people pointing guns at each other we will have 15 people pointing guns at each other, and not all of them will be thinking rationally.  Maybe so, but is the US disarming itself going to make North Korea less likely or more likely to use nuclear weapons?

2 Responses to "Dr Dumblove"
  1. Your analogy is overly simplistic.  Firstly, in the current Mexican Standoff, the room is full of shifting smoke and dancing lights and shadows: it’s possible for a participant to percieve one of the others as going for their guns when they are not.  The guns are also not entirely reliable, and have a small but non-zero chance of firing uncommanded by their owners.
    Secondly, in the proposed eventual end-game (which is necessarily a long way off), all the players have the means to percieve the others making moves towards the table, in time to make their own move.
    Recommended reading is David Hoffman’s The Dead Hand.

  2. Sam, if you’re really interested in this subject I suggest you go acquaint yourself with some of the literature.
    A professed goal of eliminating nuclear weapons is the basis of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  If that goal was ever explicitly abandoned by one of the five NPT nuclear weapons states (US, UK, France, Russia, China) they would be in violation of that treaty.
    As such, you can’t have non-proliferation under the NPT without at least lip service being paid to elimination.

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