If a nation had the power to eliminate all other nations at minimal risk, must it do so?

The current equilibrium between the world powers is partly due to the limitations of military technology. For instance, when the United States took over Iraq and Afghanistan, the military casualties and economic costs were a significant fraction of the total available resources of the United States. That invasion wasn’t profitable, and most possible territory grabs have the same problem. The United States can’t invade nuclear armed nations, and vice versa.

This equilibrium may not be eternal. 

An actual hermetic defense against nuclear attack would require patrolling every last mile of border with flying and ground robot drones. You’d need enough ABMs and defense satellites to defeat ICBMs with countermeasures, you’d need to scan every last piece of material entering or leaving the country with X-rays and NMR to detect fissionables.

In short, this kind of defense grid means you’d need an enormous industrial advantage - maybe 100:1 or so, over the rest of the world combined.

So this won’t be happening anytime soon. However, hypothetically, what if a nation did gain such a capability? Perhaps it develops self-replicating robotic systems or self replicating molecular assemblers, and after a few years of exponential growth can outproduce the rest of the planet combined.

This means from the perspective of a military leader, you’d have a temporary advantage (since whatever tech gave you the industrial advantage could eventually be copied), and the chance to eliminate all your enemies permanently.

You could in theory create drone aircraft, drone ground robots, and other weapons by the millions. These things would use a mixture of artificial intelligence and remote human operators.

You’d kill their leaders and soldiers until they surrendered unconditionally, and turn every remaining nation into a panopticon police state where the survivors can be watched from cradle to grave for threatening activity. (most of your infantry would be robotic, to make the manpower demands reasonable)

This may sound evil, but keep in mind that every nuclear armed nation on earth, even your “allies”, has had the option to murder your people by the millions since the 1960s or so. You’d offer them the choice to surrender their atomic arsenals and submit to annexation peacefully, and if they chose to fight, you’d fight to the finish.

On to the question : If you’re tasked with ensuring the freedom and security of your people, and you have a chance to eliminate the threats to your people forever at minimal risk to yourselves, don’t your duties compel you to take advantage of the opportunity?

Leaving aside the moral issues (which are pretty significant) it’s still a bad idea. Other nations provide benefits to your nation. Eliminate those nations and you’ll deprive your nation of those benefits.

Strictly speaking, the nations aren’t gone. The people who weren’t killed in the fighting are still alive, and allowed to go about their lives so long as they don’t do anything threatening. (I’m imagining about 1 autonomous robot drone for every citizen, each equipped with sensors to find things like fissionable materials, bio weapons, unlicensed molecular assemblers, weapons, etc)

You know what they say about absolute power.
It would be a global prison.

Yes, that’s the idea. If everyone who might commit a crime against your people is under lockdown, no crimes can occur. Strictly speaking, your own people are also supervised in a form of “custody” that prevents them from committing major crimes against each other, either.

These two statements seem incompatible.


FAllacy of Two Wrongs, writ large.

The assumption here is that my duty trumps human rights. I would say they don’t, and I’d be evil for acting as though they do.

No, besides being evil in itself monsters who would do such things would be guaranteed to strip away that same “freedom and security”, and for much the same reasons. If it’s “justified” to enslave the majority of humanity forever to prevent any possible threat, then the enslavement of your own populace is by the same reasoning “justified”.

You can’t expect enlightened rule from people who are literally enemies of humanity.

Worth remembering that for about 4 years, 1945-49, the United States was the only nation with nuclear weapons, the closest this scenario has come to in real life. They could have used them to run roughshod over any nation that opposed them, destroy any city they wanted. Fortunately for humanity they didn’t.

This turns out to not have been true. During that time, the U.S. only had maybe 1 working bomb core that they could have assembled, given a month of warning. See “Command and Control”

Say what? In 1945 alone they made at least 3, 4 if you include The Gadget. They blew up 2 in 1946 at Bikini Atoll.

Yeah, see the problem is I’m not all that much of a nationalist. I mean I like the U.S. enormously. It’s where I keep all my stuff and I find it comfortably familiar. I don’t intend to move anywhere else.

But I don’t feel much more loyalty to a random stranger in Duluth, Minnesota than I do to a random stranger in Esbjerg, Denmark. So the whole tribal “my people” thing is a little weak with me. Not entirely absent - I’m not Mr. International either. I do think of myself as an American. But I’m just not enough of a jingoist that I want to enforce some imperial ideal with us at the apex.

Hey, lookit! Actual data!. By the end of 1949 the United States had around a couple of hundred nuclear weapons in aresenal (mostly Mark III variants).

And historically, running an oppressive police state where one attempts to control all people in the hope of eliminating dissent and threat has not really proven out historically, and in fact tends to both ferment the very sentiment it hopes to repress and cause the nation to focus on security to the detriment of all other factors necessary to make a successful society. Expanding this to a tyrannical global oligarchy is probably not going to improve the fundamental isses. See every authoritian empire ever, or just the clusterfuck that was the US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.


No, I don’t think people need to be 100% safe. I wouldn’t eliminate every other nation, nor even every bad nation, only the ones that threaten me right now. What do I care if some country goes crazy a hundred years down the line? That’s not my problem or anyone’s problem alive today. And the predictability of something like that is so impossible that I simply won’t even consider addressing it. Cuba could be a shining example of humane and democratic rights in 100 years. France could be overrun by CHUDS and threaten global stability. Because there’s no way to know, and so little chance to predict correctly, I would simply not bother with it

I find it silly and paranoid for someone to prize safety above all else. In life you take your chances. Sometimes you do something that is unsafe for the possibility to experience something unique. Sometimes the very act of danger is what is desirable about it. World peace is boring. Some risk is fun and keeps us on our toes.

Leaders don’t have to care about sentiment, though. It doesn’t matter whether they are actually worshipped, or whether their people are merely prevented from rebelling. The OP is positing a technological solution that prevents the possibility of rebellion. The fundamental issues plaguing an oppressive police state don’t really matter, as there is no precedent for this situation.

There is plenty of precedent. East Germany had one of the most extensive informer networks in the East Bloc (and indeed, the world) and developed some of the most advanced surveillance equipment for its day. Despite this and the authoritarian control of the population it was riddled with spies and malcontents who constantly undermined the government, and when the Warsaw Pact loosened it’s grip on the client states it fell apart like a cheap gold watch. There is no technology short of direct mind control that will prevent insurgency against an authoritarian rule eventually. Even China–the last of the Great Red Scare nations–has been forced to significantly liberalize it’s policies due to internal unrest and international pressure.


During the early 1950s, as the Cold War and Korea were underway, US leaders and generals reportedly debated the wisdom of launching a preemptive nuclear war against the USSR. The question was whether the US leadership had a moral duty to the people of the US to stop Soviet nuclear development while the US still had an overwhelming superiority not only in bombs but the ready means to deliver them. Neither Truman nor Eisenhower endorsed such a scheme.