Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 01-03-2019, 09:41 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
Nuclear terror attack on US - how does the US respond if the bomb is known to be from Pakistan?

What might the US response be if it were certain that a nuclear bomb from a Pakistani lot had been used in an attack on American soil?

Say most of Philadelphia had become history due to a nuclear attack in an act of terrorism and that the evidence was incontrovertible that a Pakistani bomb had been used (assuming it is even possible to know and prove such a thing, although I believe it may be). What should/would a response entail?

I believe the declared US policy is to retaliate against Pakistan no matter how strong the latter may protest that 'we had no idea' or 'it honestly wasn't us'. Sounds somewhat constraining if so.
  #2  
Old 01-03-2019, 10:10 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Assuming a sane POTUS I imagine similar to the ultimatum given to Afghanistan after 9/11. Hand over everyone, give us full access to investigate everything, no ifs, no buts.

The more complicated thing is if they say no. They are a nuclear armed power, they don't have the range to reach the US, but could reach our allies, including Israel (and obviously India). Do we attack Pakistan, even though they could nuke our allies? Something (if the decide to do the brinksmanship route) they would do.

Hell they could even go full game theory and decide to nuke Russia or China (or threaten to) in the hope of bringing them into the war.

Even without nukes invading Pakistan would be a vastly more difficult undertaking than invading Afghanistan.

Last edited by griffin1977; 01-03-2019 at 10:12 PM.
  #3  
Old 01-03-2019, 10:13 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post

I believe the declared US policy is to retaliate against Pakistan no matter how strong the latter may protest that 'we had no idea' or 'it honestly wasn't us'. Sounds somewhat constraining if so.
Where is that declared? Seems pretty unlikely to me.
  #4  
Old 01-03-2019, 10:19 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Where is that declared? Seems pretty unlikely to me.
Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant that their policy is to retaliate against ANY country in such a circumstance. And, in my hypothetical, that would be Pakistan.

ETA: But "any" now seems absurd. UK? I must be misremembering.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 01-03-2019 at 10:21 PM.
  #5  
Old 01-03-2019, 10:29 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant that their policy is to retaliate against ANY country in such a circumstance. And, in my hypothetical, that would be Pakistan.

ETA: But "any" now seems absurd. UK? I must be misremembering.
Oh yeah, I believe that is the stated policy for any attack on the US using WMD by a nation state (even against US troops, not just the US mainland IIRC).

But presumably in the case in the OP, a non-state terrorist group got hold of a Pakistani nuclear warhead and took it to the US. That is not the same thing as Pakistan launching a missile at the US.

Also its presumably it is just policy, not a law or anything binding. Even if another country did attack the US with WMD, there is nothing forcing the POTUS to order a nuclear attack in retaliation, if there was a good reason not to do so.

I'd guess the reason for that policy is as a deterrent to nations (e.g. North Korean or Iraq in 2003/1991) that might be tempted to use WMD against the US.

Last edited by griffin1977; 01-03-2019 at 10:30 PM.
  #6  
Old 01-03-2019, 10:43 PM
TimeWinder TimeWinder is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Albany/Corvallis, OR
Posts: 4,573
Seriously, and without any attempt to politicize, I think an important question here is: "In this hypothetical, is Trump the President?" Because our response is likely to be very different if we have a typical president vs. our current one.
  #7  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:05 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 18,907
Beyond the immediate retaliatory response in the case of a (perceived) ICBM attack from a major nuclear power (Russia, China, France, Great Britain) that threatens the ability to retaliate there is no explicit doctrine in how to deal with a nuclear attack beyond what is essentially the whims of the President and the guidance of his Cabinet and advisors (specifically, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and the National Security Council). In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is perhaps the closest a sitting President has come to launching a nuclear attack, it was a minor Cabinet official (Llewellyn E. "Tommy" Thompson Jr.) who advised him to seek a path of de-escalation even as national security advisors were recommending preemptive nuclear attack.

It should be possible to identify the country of origin of the nuclear material used in the attack on the basis of isotope ratios, but that doesn't mean that the specific actors are identified, particularly in the case of a nation like Pakistan where access protections like Permissive Action Links are not built into the design of nuclear devices, and where some rogue element of the military structure could act independently of the nominally civilian government.

It is frightening that the retaliatory response of the most powerful nation of the world is essentially dependent upon the whims of one executive who wasn't even appointed by a popular vote and who has essentially zero understanding of nuclear deterrence theory, but this is the world we live in, and we can only hope in such a circumstance that response is mediated by professionals who have spent their careers considering such a contingency, but ultimately, whomever is President makes that decision. And Trump is not a person who makes regularly good business decisions, much less decisions that affect the strategic security of nations.

Stranger
  #8  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:08 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,841
Pakistan, presumably, is claiming that the nuke was stolen. When did they discover this fact? And when did they notify us that they were missing one of their nukes? If they notified us (and the other potential targets) before the bomb actually went off, then they just might be sincere. If they didn't, then at the very least their silence was partially enabling the attack, and it becomes much more plausible that the bomb wasn't "lost" or "stolen" in the first place. And then, Mr. Alvi, are you going to give US forces complete and absolute access to all of your records, all of your facilities, and everything else they might want to check? You have a half hour to reply, after which "all of your facilities" will be the empty set.
  #9  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:09 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Western New York
Posts: 79,645
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
Sorry, I wasn't clear. I meant that their policy is to retaliate against ANY country in such a circumstance. And, in my hypothetical, that would be Pakistan.
There's a significant difference between an attack by Pakistan and an attack by some third party using a Pakistani weapon. In the scenario described by the OP, Pakistan wouldn't be responsible for the attack but they would be responsible for their apparent failure to adequately safeguard their nuclear weapons.

I agree with griffin1977; the American response to a terrorist attack using a Pakistani nuclear weapon would be to insist that Pakistan co-operate with a thorough and unobstructed investigation to be conducting in Pakistan with American investigators.
  #10  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:24 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train View Post

It should be possible to identify the country of origin of the nuclear material used in the attack on the basis of isotope ratios, but that doesn't mean that the specific actors are identified, particularly in the case of a nation like Pakistan where access protections like Permissive Action Links are not built into the design of nuclear devices, and where some rogue element of the military structure could act independently of the nominally civilian government.
But that makes the response by the US even more tricky. The civilan government can go "that's awful! whatever you want! don't blow us up!" But that doesn't mean the pakistani military (who have much of the real power) are going to go along with it. What does the US do then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train View Post

It is frightening that the retaliatory response of the most powerful nation of the world is essentially dependent upon the whims of one executive who wasn't even appointed by a popular vote and who has essentially zero understanding of nuclear deterrence theory, but this is the world we live in, and we can only hope in such a circumstance that response is mediated by professionals who have spent their careers considering such a contingency, but ultimately, whomever is President makes that decision. And Trump is not a person who makes regularly good business decisions, much less decisions that affect the strategic security of nations.

Stranger
In the situation the OP describes even a very competent, mentally balanced, well informed president could still be dragged into a hideous ground war with nuclear power, even if no one wanted it (outside the terrorists who planted the bomb). The current POTUS will doing well if he goes through four years of running the presidential twitter feed without getting us into a hideous ground war with a nuclear power.

Last edited by griffin1977; 01-03-2019 at 11:26 PM.
  #11  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:34 PM
AK84 AK84 is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 15,779
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Assuming a sane POTUS I imagine similar to the ultimatum given to Afghanistan after 9/11. Hand over everyone, give us full access to investigate everything, no ifs, no buts.

The more complicated thing is if they say no. They are a nuclear armed power, they don't have the range to reach the US, but could reach our allies, including Israel (and obviously India). Do we attack Pakistan, even though they could nuke our allies? Something (if the decide to do the brinksmanship route) they would do.

Hell they could even go full game theory and decide to nuke Russia or China (or threaten to) in the hope of bringing them into the war.

Even without nukes invading Pakistan would be a vastly more difficult undertaking than invading Afghanistan.
Why would Pakistan hit Israel? For shits and giggles? Pakistanís actual aim at that point would be to keep the US at bay. We donít need to guess how that would be done. Any reasonable nuclear threshold is going to be crossed if we are looking at an Afghan or Iraq type operation. So the efforts would be to stymie such an event. There would be phone calls to nearby states, telling them in no uncertain terms that if they host or assist US military operations in any way, they can expect to be dealt with
  #12  
Old 01-03-2019, 11:46 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Why would Pakistan hit Israel? For shits and giggles? Pakistanís actual aim at that point would be to keep the US at bay. We donít need to guess how that would be done. Any reasonable nuclear threshold is going to be crossed if we are looking at an Afghan or Iraq type operation. So the efforts would be to stymie such an event. There would be phone calls to nearby states, telling them in no uncertain terms that if they host or assist US military operations in any way, they can expect to be dealt with
Attacking those hosts (with nuclear missiles, which would be the only way they could realistically threaten them) would result in catastrophic nuclear retaliation by the US. So why stop there? You might as well threaten ALL the US's allies.
  #13  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:10 AM
AK84 AK84 is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 15,779
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Attacking those hosts (with nuclear missiles, which would be the only way they could realistically threaten them) would result in catastrophic nuclear retaliation by the US. So why stop there? You might as well threaten ALL the US's allies.
Israel has no direct involvement with anything here, so it would be a waste of time and material.
Not sure why you think that the only way most of the hosts can be attacked, places like Qatar, Bahrain and S Arabia already have infrastructure are within range of conventional assets and the first and third are places where Pakistani troops already deployed.
Itís true that a nuclear attack threat would be made to them probably both implicitly and explicitly.
  #14  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:43 AM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Israel has no direct involvement with anything here, so it would be a waste of time and material.
But they are high profile US ally (with alot of influence on the US) within range of their missiles. Why wouldn't they threaten them? And any other US ally their missiles can reach. Once they start launching missiles they are getting flattened by the US, they would need to make attacking Pakistan seems as damaging to the US as possible.

Hence why they might even target China or Russia, even the chance they might get involved could possibly dissuade the US.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
Not sure why you think that the only way most of the hosts can be attacked, places like Qatar, Bahrain and S Arabia already have infrastructure are within range of conventional assets and the first and third are places where Pakistani troops already deployed.
Alongside much larger vastly better equipped US troops. Pakistan could never military threaten anyone the US is protecting. Except by launching a ballistic nuclear missile at them (a conventional airborne attack would barely get off the ground)
  #15  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:51 AM
Velocity Velocity is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 13,054
I don't think you could attack Pakistan the same way in retaliation as if Pakistan directly attacked America. It's the difference between Mr. Smith the Gun-owner directly shooting you (attempted murder) and Mr. Smith carelessly leaving his gun safe unlocked and thus allowing a crook to steal them and use them to shoot you (in which Smith is guilty only of negligence.) Negligence can't be punished the same as murder/attempted murder.
  #16  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:53 AM
HurricaneDitka HurricaneDitka is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 12,048
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
... Hence why they might even target China or Russia, even the chance they might get involved could possibly dissuade the US. ...
I genuinely can't understand the logic here. Why would "I might nuke Russia / China" be a deterrent to the USA in the first place? That sounds more like a bonus, if anything.

Secondly, how would you expect that China / Russia would respond to these Pakistani threats? Would it be to try to tell the USA to do whatever Pakistan wants? Or would they tell Pakistan they better fucking not?

How is adding a couple of regional nuclear powers to one's enemies list (when one is already staring down the barrel of the global superpower) the smart play?

ETA: and if you're Russia or China and the USA is on the nuke-the-shit-out-of-people warpath, "getting involved" is the LAST thing you want to do. You want to sit as quietly in the corner as possible and hope no one notices you there.

Last edited by HurricaneDitka; 01-04-2019 at 12:56 AM.
  #17  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:03 AM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
I don't think you could attack Pakistan the same way in retaliation as if Pakistan directly attacked America. It's the difference between Mr. Smith the Gun-owner directly shooting you (attempted murder) and Mr. Smith carelessly leaving his gun safe unlocked and thus allowing a crook to steal them and use them to shoot you (in which Smith is guilty only of negligence.) Negligence can't be punished the same as murder/attempted murder.
Good luck explaining that differentiation to the nation after a nuke just wiped out Philadelphia, and the body bags are being filled. It would take a VERY level headed president not to get dragged into immediate military action.

Especially as the facts would almost certainly point to somewhere between to two extremes. Yeah it wasn't the Pakistani government that sent the nuke that attacked the US, but it wasn't a random terrorist who stole without anyone knowing. There would most likely have had to be some collusion from inside the Pakistani military. In as far as you can say for a purely made up hypothetical, of course
  #18  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:17 AM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by HurricaneDitka View Post

How is adding a couple of regional nuclear powers to one's enemies list (when one is already staring down the barrel of the global superpower) the smart play?.
How does that make things worse? Your getting nuked to glass by the US anyway. Getting nuked to glass twice is not really any worse.


Quote:
Originally Posted by HurricaneDitka View Post

ETA: and if you're Russia or China and the USA is on the nuke-the-shit-out-of-people warpath, "getting involved" is the LAST thing you want to do. You want to sit as quietly in the corner as possible and hope no one notices you there.
Completely, UNLESS the warpath the US is taking will result in you getting nuked. Then you intervene to do anything to convince the US not to go down that path.

That's the thing once Pakistan has played (or threatened the nuclear card) its in their interests to threaten to nuke everyone they can. Then its not just you trying to convince the US not to attack you, its everyone else too.
  #19  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:19 AM
AK84 AK84 is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 15,779
TIL that in need of dissuading the worlds only superpower Pakistan is going to threaten the other two great powers (Chiva and Russua) on the globe one of which is Pakistan’s greatest strategic ally and the other a country with who relations are on the upswing.

Seriously, let’s just fire nukes at every city in range, tell pilots to fly to the limits of their fuel and then drop nukes, tell sub captains to sail as far as they can and let their CM’s rip.

It’s less crazy than what’s been suggested here.
  #20  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:54 AM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
TIL that in need of dissuading the worlds only superpower Pakistan is going to threaten the other two great powers (Chiva and Russua) on the globe one of which is Pakistanís greatest strategic ally and the other a country with who relations are on the upswing.

Seriously, letís just fire nukes at every city in range, tell pilots to fly to the limits of their fuel and then drop nukes, tell sub captains to sail as far as they can and let their CMís rip.

Itís less crazy than whatís been suggested here.
Well if Pakistan had nuclear submarines then they would need to threaten anything crazy like attacking third parties. They would just have to say "sorry about Philly and all, but if you attack us we'll attack you back". (Just like Russia or China would, if it was their nuke the terrorists used)
  #21  
Old 01-04-2019, 02:03 AM
Velocity Velocity is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 13,054
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
How does that make things worse? Your getting nuked to glass by the US anyway. Getting nuked to glass twice is not really any worse.




Completely, UNLESS the warpath the US is taking will result in you getting nuked. Then you intervene to do anything to convince the US not to go down that path.

That's the thing once Pakistan has played (or threatened the nuclear card) its in their interests to threaten to nuke everyone they can. Then its not just you trying to convince the US not to attack you, its everyone else too.
Isn't this like Israel's rumored "Sampson Strategy" whereby if Israel is about to be annihilated, it will nuke not only its adversaries but also a whole lot of neutrals and even allies besides?
  #22  
Old 01-04-2019, 04:17 AM
septimus's Avatar
septimus septimus is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: The Land of Smiles
Posts: 18,146
Quote:
Originally Posted by HurricaneDitka View Post
Why would "I might nuke Russia / China" be a deterrent to the USA in the first place? That sounds more like a bonus, if anything.
Yes; nuclear war, or human society in general, is a zero-sum game. This is a lesson we're finally learning from our Dear Leader.

Perhaps the 17th-century poet John Donne said it best. I've edited his poem to reflect modern English/American spelling and usage.

No man is an Iland island, ientire of itselfe; every man
is a peiece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Asia's Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse greater, as well as if a Promontorie city were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends any manner of aliens or of thine
owne rivals were; any man's death diminishes enriches me,
because I am involved contempt of in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee in glee.
  #23  
Old 01-04-2019, 05:08 AM
Mijin's Avatar
Mijin Mijin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Shanghai
Posts: 8,690
I think some here are confusing what the US *should* do with what they *would* do.

If the US is attacked with a nuclear weapon then there absolutely will be a retaliatory attack, probably a nuclear one, regardless of whether it was an isolated terrorist group.
The majority of the american public would never forgive an administration that did anything less.
(And I know much of the public now is anti-war. But virtually everyone is going to be a hawk in the aftermath of millions dying.)
  #24  
Old 01-04-2019, 08:38 AM
filmstar-en filmstar-en is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2013
Posts: 880
The target for attack would very much depend on who has the ear of the President at that time. All the states in the region would telling the US to go hit their rivals. It would not really matter about evidence. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 but it was decided it was a suitable enemy of the US.

Something similar would happen.

Iran would probably become a target given the US sides with their enemies, principally the Saudis. If Pakistan were to be the target, it would remove a regional threat to India. These countries are huge, with large populations and have the capacity to hit back. If not at the US directly, its allies in the region. If there is regional instability and the trade routes for Middle Eastern Oil and Gas are compromised, that would create a global economic crisis. It as happened before.

The wisdom and judgement of the US presidency would be very sorely tested in an emergency such as like this.
  #25  
Old 01-04-2019, 08:47 AM
Grim Render Grim Render is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 1,098
Surely Pakistans best strategy is to have smuggled more nukes into the US and hidden them. Or if they have not, at least claim to have done so.
  #26  
Old 01-04-2019, 08:59 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 38,210
I think a lot would depend on why Pakistan nuked Philly. If it was an act of the government, that's one thing. In that case, their government would cease to exist - possibly not by nukes, but would cease nonetheless. If some semi-rogue faction within the government, what were they hoping to accomplish? In that case, we would expect thorough cooperation by the Pakistani government in removing that element. If the government needs help doing that, we will assist. If they don't need help, they will get assistance anyway, IYSWIM.

If some terrorist group got hold of a Pakistani nuke, then much the same - the Pakistani government will be expected to hand over the leaders and as many of the prominent members as convenient, and we will take care of the others.

The operative sentiment would be this -
Quote:
Originally Posted by George W Bush
We gave that regime a choice: Turn over the terrorists, or face your ruin. They chose unwisely.
Let us hope that the Pakistani government would choose wisely.

Regards,
Shodan
  #27  
Old 01-04-2019, 09:18 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,841
I still don't see how Russia or China "getting involved" would be a deterrent. Russia's not going to say "Pakistan just nuked us, so now we're going to nuke the US". They're going to go after the country that nuked them. It's like the old joke of the hostage-taker holding a gun to his own head and saying "You're next".
  #28  
Old 01-04-2019, 10:26 AM
HurricaneDitka HurricaneDitka is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 12,048
Quote:
Originally Posted by Grim Render View Post
Surely Pakistans best strategy is to have smuggled more nukes into the US and hidden them. Or if they have not, at least claim to have done so.
That does kind of take the whole "cooperate" option off the table, which I thought was their best option. Bluffing about it sounds like the absolute worst option, particularly against President Trump.
  #29  
Old 01-04-2019, 10:36 AM
Czarcasm's Avatar
Czarcasm Czarcasm is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 58,930
Is the fact that Pakistan dropped the bomb known to the public at large, or just the powers that be?
If the latter, then I suspect that a story will be spun to direct public anger at whoever the enemy of the week is and, if the former, it is still possible to point fingers at "outside agitators" from said enemy of the week.
  #30  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:03 AM
Shodan Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 38,210
Quote:
Originally Posted by Czarcasm View Post
Is the fact that Pakistan dropped the bomb known to the public at large, or just the powers that be?
If the latter, then I suspect that a story will be spun to direct public anger at whoever the enemy of the week is and, if the former, it is still possible to point fingers at "outside agitators" from said enemy of the week.
Right, right - there is nothing that the House of Representatives, the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the Department of Defense, the officials of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, and the MSM would like better than to assist in a cover up. Especially when Trump is President.

Regards,
Shodan
  #31  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:04 AM
andros andros is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Dejagore
Posts: 10,406
He said "spun." Never said "successfully spun."
  #32  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:10 AM
spifflog spifflog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 2,286
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mijin View Post
I think some here are confusing what the US *should* do with what they *would* do.

If the US is attacked with a nuclear weapon then there absolutely will be a retaliatory attack, probably a nuclear one, regardless of whether it was an isolated terrorist group.
The majority of the american public would never forgive an administration that did anything less.
(And I know much of the public now is anti-war. But virtually everyone is going to be a hawk in the aftermath of millions dying.)
I disagree.

The only recent event which we have to compare this to (and it's not the best comparison I'll conceed) is 9/11. And while there was anger and a desire to avenge those killed, there wasn't an immediate bloodlust. I beleive the President stated that those who conducted the killings would be held accountable.

I think a similar statement would be made by the President, and that whould be suffieint in the immediate aftermath. There would have to be a reckoning in some short timeline, but I don't think nuclear relatiation immediatly would be demanded.
  #33  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:17 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,841
It's a different situation. 9-11 ceased to be repeatable as of a few hours later that day. But nukes are repeatable. If one of a nation's nukes is used against us, the only rational response is to ensure that that nation ceases to be a nuclear nation. In fact, that's true regardless of how that nation's nukes came to be used against us; how it happened will just influence how it will happen that the nation loses its nuclear capability.
  #34  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:39 AM
spifflog spifflog is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 2,286
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
It's a different situation. 9-11 ceased to be repeatable as of a few hours later that day. But nukes are repeatable. If one of a nation's nukes is used against us, the only rational response is to ensure that that nation ceases to be a nuclear nation. In fact, that's true regardless of how that nation's nukes came to be used against us; how it happened will just influence how it will happen that the nation loses its nuclear capability.
I'd concur with that statement against a state actor who had the ability to launch additional or continued attacks against the US. But first we have to know who attacked us. So for this exercise, lets look at ICBMs because that would make the actor readilly apparent to the US. And lets take the UK, France and Isreal off the table. So would we go to full scale nuclear war with China, Russia and North Korea? I guess in that case we would.

But that wasn't the OPs question. He seemed to ask (I'm not totally clear) if a non major nuclear power managed to get a bomb to Philly and detonated it, how would react. And first we'd have to figure out who it was, and during that time we'd try and figure why. And most likely, Pakistan wouldn't have bombs in 10 major US cities, so the deterent effect may not be in play.

Last edited by spifflog; 01-04-2019 at 11:40 AM.
  #35  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:10 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by septimus View Post
Yes; nuclear war, or human society in general, is a zero-sum game. This is a lesson we're finally learning from our Dear Leader.
Actually although nuclear brinkmanship is the classic example zero sum game theory (thanks to the RAND corporation, Nash, Everett, etc). I don't think it applies here, its not zero sum.

The US starts the game with -1000 points, but no one has +1000 points. The US can take unlimited points off Pakistan, but they don't any points back when they do. Invading and occupying the fallout ravaged remains of Pakistan does not gain the US any strategic advantage. Likewise for Pakistan, though they can't take any points off the US directly, they can take points off US allies (and anyone else within 2700 miles or so). That is the only card they have in the game, but it doesn't gain them any points, its only a deterrent threat against other players .

I guess some non-zero sum variant of the dollar auction is the best game theory simulation of the OP. Also I bet its one someone at the pentagon has actual ran (though good luck explaining any of this to current POTUS)
  #36  
Old 01-04-2019, 12:22 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
It's a different situation. 9-11 ceased to be repeatable as of a few hours later that day. But nukes are repeatable. If one of a nation's nukes is used against us, the only rational response is to ensure that that nation ceases to be a nuclear nation. In fact, that's true regardless of how that nation's nukes came to be used against us; how it happened will just influence how it will happen that the nation loses its nuclear capability.
Yeah you can bet the ultimatum that is sent to Pakistan, will include that they must allow the US to completely dismantle their nuclear capacity.

Another reason that whatever the civilian government says, the Pakistan military may not comply, whatever the repercussions might be.
  #37  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:12 PM
AK84 AK84 is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 15,779
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Yeah you can bet the ultimatum that is sent to Pakistan, will include that they must allow the US to completely dismantle their nuclear capacity.

Another reason that whatever the civilian government says, the Pakistan military may not comply, whatever the repercussions might be.
I have been amazed by your in-depth knowledge and penetrating analysis of Pakistan, and itís military, political and diplomatic policies so far in this thread, but thatís hogwash. Such an ultimatum will be turned down. Pretty much everyone in power of whatever persuasion would rather take their chances rather than get denuclearised and suffer a Ukraine or Libya fate, and that is exactly what awaits.

Americans are not to be trusted at the best of times, and this would not be the best of times, to put it mildly. Plus everything they have touched in the last decade and a half has turned to shit. See Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Libiya.
  #38  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:18 PM
griffin1977 griffin1977 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,285
Quote:
Originally Posted by AK84 View Post
I have been amazed by your in-depth knowledge and penetrating analysis of Pakistan, and itís military, political and diplomatic policies so far in this thread, but thatís hogwash. Such an ultimatum will be turned down. Pretty much everyone in power of whatever persuasion would rather take their chances rather than get denuclearised and suffer a Ukraine or Libya fate, and that is exactly what awaits.

Americans are not to be trusted at the best of times, and this would not be the best of times, to put it mildly. Plus everything they have touched in the last decade and a half has turned to shit. See Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Libiya.
The Americans can absolutely be trusted, they can be trusted to turn Pakistan into smoking ruin if Pakistan says no (most especially Americans after Philly has been turned into a smoking ruin). So there is a good chance the civilian government of Pakistan (or any other country without the ability to turn America into smoking ruin in return) will say yes.
  #39  
Old 01-04-2019, 01:45 PM
XT's Avatar
XT XT is offline
Agnatheist
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: The Great South West
Posts: 34,299
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
What might the US response be if it were certain that a nuclear bomb from a Pakistani lot had been used in an attack on American soil?

Say most of Philadelphia had become history due to a nuclear attack in an act of terrorism and that the evidence was incontrovertible that a Pakistani bomb had been used (assuming it is even possible to know and prove such a thing, although I believe it may be). What should/would a response entail?

I believe the declared US policy is to retaliate against Pakistan no matter how strong the latter may protest that 'we had no idea' or 'it honestly wasn't us'. Sounds somewhat constraining if so.
Well, for one thing this would bring NATO into it due to the mutual defense aspects. I think several other countries as well. So it wouldn't JUST be a US response. I'm not sure of the current relationship between the US and India wrt mutual defense treaties goes, but my guess is that if this indeed came from Pakistan (for some bizarre reason they chose to attack the US instead of India), I'm pretty sure India would probably want to be involved at some level as well.

As to what the US (et al) would do, it depends. Is there confirmation this was actually done by the Pakistani government? If so then the US and at a guess several of our allies would retaliate directly, almost certainly with tactical nuclear weapons, though we could use more conventional means too. If it's not confirmed that it was in fact the Pakistani government then my guess is that rather extreme, say, pressure would be brought to bare on Pakistan to figure how how one of their nukes slipped the leash and who, exactly, was responsible. Whoever that was would then pretty much have a ton of brinks headed their way, but they would be conventional bricks (though 'conventional' can mean up to a FAE weapon, which is only better in that there wouldn't be radiation fallout).

My guess is that if it was Pakistan then the US would be pushing for an all out invasion and complete regime change, perhaps threatening massive nuclear strikes (or conventional ones) unless and until the current regime folded...sort of like what happened in the run up with Saddam in GWII, electric boogaloo but with no one in doubt what the US would be willing to do. Whether the current Pakistani government would fold or not is open to debate, but the US would pretty much pull out all the stops to ensure they were put down.

As to what other countries would do, my WAG is there would be some VERY tense moments after the nuke destroys Philly, but that unless someone panics everyone would pretty much rush to assure the US that it wasn't them, and what can we do to help figure out who it was (all while keeping their own forces at readiness levels to do something just in case while demonstrating that they aren't even thinking about using them unless they are attacked).
__________________
-XT

That's what happens when you let rednecks play with anti-matter!

Last edited by XT; 01-04-2019 at 01:47 PM.
  #40  
Old 01-04-2019, 02:55 PM
HurricaneDitka HurricaneDitka is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 12,048
I think Chronos is right that Pakistan would be denuclearized (or maybe denuclear-weaponized is a clearer statement, depending on how much they resist the idea). If one of your nukes blows up an American city, you don't get to have nukes anymore.

Last edited by HurricaneDitka; 01-04-2019 at 02:55 PM.
  #41  
Old 01-04-2019, 05:08 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Western New York
Posts: 79,645
Quote:
Originally Posted by XT View Post
As to what other countries would do, my WAG is there would be some VERY tense moments after the nuke destroys Philly, but that unless someone panics everyone would pretty much rush to assure the US that it wasn't them, and what can we do to help figure out who it was (all while keeping their own forces at readiness levels to do something just in case while demonstrating that they aren't even thinking about using them unless they are attacked).
I don't see any country defending Pakistan in a case like this. It was Philadelphia this time but next year it could be Moscow or Shanghai or Paris or Cairo; nobody wants to condone a country that isn't able to control its nuclear arsenal.

After 9/11 even countries like Cuba and Iran publicly announced their support for America and condemned Al Qaeda. After a nuclear attack, the reaction would be even more one-sided.
  #42  
Old 01-04-2019, 05:15 PM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 3,593
Quote:
Originally Posted by spifflog View Post
...The only recent event which we have to compare this to (and it's not the best comparison I'll conceed) is 9/11. And while there was anger and a desire to avenge those killed, there wasn't an immediate bloodlust. I beleive the President stated that those who conducted the killings would be held accountable.

I think a similar statement would be made by the President, and that whould be suffieint in the immediate aftermath. There would have to be a reckoning in some short timeline, but I don't think nuclear relatiation immediatly would be demanded.
Going to disagree about the immediate bloodlust. At least among the people I knew and conversed with in the aftermath. But different people have different experiences and the plural of anecdote isn't data.

Really though, I wanted to chime in to point out that even a 'modest' Hiroshima-sized device, detonated at ground level in the heart of Philly, is going to result in a public health catastrophe at least an order of magnitude greater than anything this country has ever faced. Play around with NUKEMAP and get your own numbers, but I had 80k-ish deaths and the same number of wounded, not counting those from fallout. EDIT: Which, in a groundburst, even with a small device, are going to be significant, if the plume extends over a populated area. At least in contamination and later health care costs, if not actual deaths.

Ballpark, my guess for casualty in $ would be in the 100s of billions USD. IMHO, the desire for retribution that would unleash in Vox Populi Americana, would not be satisfied by merely killing/capturing those responsible and denuclearizing Pakistan.

The losses and shock to the American public would be unprecedented in US history. I easily can see it triggering something like a global economic depression, and I don't know that the republic would survive it, frankly.

Last edited by Gray Ghost; 01-04-2019 at 05:17 PM.
  #43  
Old 01-04-2019, 07:41 PM
DinoR DinoR is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2014
Posts: 3,214
Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Oh yeah, I believe that is the stated policy for any attack on the US using WMD by a nation state (even against US troops, not just the US mainland IIRC).
It is not stated policy. The latest Nuclear Posture Review published in Feb 2018 has this set off from the rest of the text as it's "articulation of U.S. declaratory policy regarding the potential employment of nuclear weapons" (my bolding)-
Quote:
The United States would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.
We consider nuclear response. It's an option, not a promise. It doesn't even take targeting US forces specifically. Allies or partners is enough. We need to be careful about assuming old notions of bilateral Mutually Assured Destruction from the Cold War sstill apply in a multilateral post-Cold War environment. Things change. Nuclear use policy is one of the things that's continued to change during the almost three decades since the Berlin Wall fell.

One significant change is in the next paragraph of declaratory policy which specifically mention usage only against nuclear states or states that are not signatories of, and in compliance with, the Non-proliferation Treaty. We abandoned the old notion of treating all WMD attacks as the same in 2009 under the Obama administration NPR. As a matter of policy, most states in the world can currently use chemical weapons against the US without that potentially triggering a nuclear response.

There is a section in the executive summary of the NPR that specifically talks about the role of our nuclear weapons in response to nuclear terror:
Quote:
Although the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in countering nuclear terrorism is limited, our adversaries must understand that a terrorist nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners would qualify as an “extreme circumstance” under which the United States could consider the ultimate form of retaliation
.
I could see some extreme hypotheticals where Pakistan actually assisted a terror organization in a failed attempt to create plausible denial for a limited nuclear strike. Outside of that, I'd be surprised if the Joint Chiefs or CENTCOM Commander would recommend nuclear release against Pakistan, or against terror organizations in the loosely controlled Federally Administered TribalAreas of Pakistan, under current policy There's just not much in the way of clear benefit for using a nuclear versus a conventional response. We certainly aren't in a policy environment where we'd automatically treat it as a nuke for a nuke.

Last edited by DinoR; 01-04-2019 at 07:42 PM.
  #44  
Old 01-04-2019, 08:21 PM
KarlGauss's Avatar
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,727
One aspect that I believe has not been raised yet is the fact that Pakistan is an Islamic nation.

Would that enter into the US's deliberations?

I hadn't meant for it to be considered in the OP, but the effect of an 'Islamic Bomb' does, I think, add an interesting 'nuance'. ETA: and any US response may be contingent on who is POTUS at the time, e.g. Trump or someone else.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 01-04-2019 at 08:23 PM.
  #45  
Old 01-04-2019, 08:35 PM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 80,841
According to the OP's original premise, it's already known unambiguously that the bomb was of Pakistani origin. We might not know who actually set it off: It might be the Pakistani government itself, or it might be rogue factions within the Pakistani military, or it might be unrelated terrorists. But that's not even relevant. At the very best, their security was insufficient to keep one of their weapons out of the hands of those who would use it against us. And if it happened once, it can happen again. Hence, we will ensure that they disarm.

How they disarm will be up to them. They can cooperate, or we can do it without their cooperation.
  #46  
Old 01-04-2019, 09:52 PM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 3,593
Dino, while the benefits of ambiguity in strategic response are documented (See, e.g., the United States's policy towards the PRC regarding Taiwan's independence and maintenance of same.), isn't the clause, 'the United States will not necessarily respond to a nuclear attack on its city with nuclear weapons', really meant to cover things like a radiological attack instead of a city getting nuked? IOW, I wouldn't expect that clause to decide whether the US would respond with a nuclear attack upon the nation that originated the weapons or personnel that were responsible for Philly taking a Hiroshima groundburst.

Karl, since this is an oddly specific hypo, how does the US know the device originated from Pakistan? And if it did, with Stranger's post in mind, does the US know if it was the: device, nuclear material (fissionable material, tritium or other source for boosted fusion, or fusible material), actors, or any and all of the above? Because it seems to me that culpability varies greatly depending on which permutation we choose.

Moreover, what other information is available concerning the attack: is there an entity claiming responsibility, do they claim that other devices are cached in other US cities, is there a decapitation attack inbound figuring---based on some of the above posters' logic---that the US is just going to lash out at everyone anyway, so see if they can interdict any US retaliatory response?
  #47  
Old 01-04-2019, 10:44 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Western New York
Posts: 79,645
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gray Ghost View Post
Karl, since this is an oddly specific hypo, how does the US know the device originated from Pakistan? And if it did, with Stranger's post in mind, does the US know if it was the: device, nuclear material (fissionable material, tritium or other source for boosted fusion, or fusible material), actors, or any and all of the above? Because it seems to me that culpability varies greatly depending on which permutation we choose.
My understanding (and I'll acknowledge I'm not an expert) is that it is possible to determine the origins of nuclear material to a fairly high decree. The processing of raw ore into weapons-grade material requires the use of a number of facilities and each one is different enough that it leaves its own distinct signature on the final product. So investigators can analyze the various trace elements and specific isotopes that are present and tell if the weapon was made in Russia or France or China or Pakistan.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 01-04-2019 at 10:46 PM.
  #48  
Old 01-04-2019, 10:54 PM
Mijin's Avatar
Mijin Mijin is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Shanghai
Posts: 8,690
Quote:
Originally Posted by spifflog View Post
I disagree.

The only recent event which we have to compare this to (and it's not the best comparison I'll conceed) is 9/11. And while there was anger and a desire to avenge those killed, there wasn't an immediate bloodlust.
I didn't say "bloodlust" and would never frame it like that. But public support for sending troops to Afghanistan was over 90% in 2001 according to Gallup.
Obviously there's a great deal of opposition to the Afghanistan war (let alone Iraq) now, but let's not misremember what it was like in the initial aftermath.

And a nuclear strike is of course many orders of magnitude greater in terms of bodycount, casualties and destruction.
Americans will be watching, day after day, countless horrific images: huge population centers reduced to ash, charcoal corpses, casualties with burns covering their whole bodies, the blind, the families weeping for their lost relatives and on and on. I doubt any country would be appropriately restrained at a time like that, but especially not the US.

Playing devil's advocate, maybe if it's very clear immediately (within 48 hours) that it was an isolated action of a terrorist group and US troops and/or Pakistan army were able to apprehend or kill all of the leadership of that group within, say, 2 weeks, and Pakistan agreed to surrender its nuclear deterrent and for a huge number of US troops to be stationed there while that happened...yeah I can conceive that there would be no further escalation. But that's what it would take to avoid another war.

Again I am not talking about the rights and wrongs of it at this point, just speculating about what would happen.
  #49  
Old 01-04-2019, 11:23 PM
Gray Ghost Gray Ghost is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 3,593
Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
My understanding (and I'll acknowledge I'm not an expert) is that it is possible to determine the origins of nuclear material to a fairly high decree. The processing of raw ore into weapons-grade material requires the use of a number of facilities and each one is different enough that it leaves its own distinct signature on the final product. So investigators can analyze the various trace elements and specific isotopes that are present and tell if the weapon was made in Russia or France or China or Pakistan.
Yeah, I'm not an expert either, but I thought the transmutive properties of multi-stage devices muddied the ability by which a radio chemist could pronounce definitively the properties of a bomb debris sample, a la the denouement of "The Sum Of All Fears". Moreover, and not covered in the Clancy novel, you're only going to be able to match bomb debris to a given reactor run (as in that book, from Savannah River's reactor) if you had material coupons from the source reactor to begin with. None of which---unless the CIA's a lot better than I think---applies to a device from Pakistani source nuclear material.
  #50  
Old 01-05-2019, 06:19 AM
MrDibble's Avatar
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Cape Town, South Africa &
Posts: 24,378
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
What might the US response be if it were certain that a nuclear bomb from a Pakistani lot had been used in an attack on American soil?
"Certain" like a plane flying into a building, or "certain" like Iraq having usable WMDs in 2003?

Since the world would be expected to go by some sort of isotope analysis here and - let's just say the US government and its allies' track record of honestly sourcing nuclear materiel is ... not great.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:18 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017