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The Return of Dr. Strangelove
The Diplomat (2012)
  • Jan Kallberg, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Adam Lowther

With the prospect of sequestration looming, the United States may find itself increasingly rely ing on nuclear and cy ber deterrence as an affordable means of guaranteeing national sovereignty and preventing major conflict between the U.S. and potential adversaries in the Asia-Pacific. While earlier defense planning and acquisition were based on economic conditions that no longer ex ist, Congress’s options to balance the budget by cutting defense spending are politically palatable because far fewer American are “defense v oters” relative to “social welfare voters,” according to a number of recent public opinion surveys. The simple fact is China’s rise has y et to present a clear danger to American interests in the minds of most Americans. The first steps in this process are already underway and exemplified by the administration’s new strategy – published in January 201 2. When the official requirement that the Department of Defense (DoD) be able to fight two major wars simultaneously disappeared, an opportunity to downsize the armed forces presented itself. From Congress’s viewpoint, the budget crisis must be solv ed without unseating its members. Ironically , austerity may cause Americans to stop worrying about a hypothetical rogue detonation and learn to love the bomb. Dr. Strangelove may return with a vengeance, but this time with a cyber doomsday device under one arm and its nuclear counterpart under the other. After all, dollar for dollar, nuclear weapons—in particular—provide American tax pay ers the greatest level of security and stability of any weapon the nation has ever fielded. The fact that at an estimated $30 billion per y ear—5% of the defense budget—the nuclear arsenal is cheap, may spur Congress to take a pragmatic position toward the nation’s most powerful military capabilities (as the federal budget is increasingly engulfed by social welfare programs) and support an effective nuclear deterrent along with the development of devastating cyber capabilities. It is important to keep in mind that both areas—nuclear and cyber—are a primary focus of Chinese military developments. Failing to maintain an advantage in both may prov e unwise for the United States. Some in the scientific community argue that this perspective is unrealistic. Politics, being what they are, is all about getting elected; complex strategic calculations in the Asia-Pacific offer little comfort during a tough reelection fight that is focused on the domestic economy . With Congress having a number of incumbents whose constituencies loathe the thought of cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans’ benefits, and Social Security , taking greater risks in national security is a more tangible option. As the nation borrows over $1 trillion per y ear, the quest to balance the budget is impossible without dramatic spending cuts given the unacceptability of tax increases.

  • cyber,
  • cyber space,
  • cyber operations,
  • nuclear,
  • deterrence,
  • sequestration,
  • austerity,
  • budget,
  • nukes
Publication Date
Summer August 20, 2012
Citation Information
Jan Kallberg and Adam Lowther. "The Return of Dr. Strangelove" The Diplomat (2012)
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