Pavel picked up the fascinating and counterintuitive argument that the United States shouldn’t help repair Russia’s early warning system (pictured at right), which Pavel has made on his excellent blog and in a memo.
Pavel proposes a political commitment to abandon launch on warning by Moscow and Washington, undertaken with technical measures that are not verifiable—the example he gave was General Dvorkin’s proposal to remove on-board batteries from missiles.
(See my post on Alexei Arbatov’s recent visit to CISSM to present a paper coauthored with Dvorkin.)
Pavel’s argument was that nonverifiable de-alerting would capture all the advantages of dealerting, while maintaining deterrence.
I had a few concerns about this proposal, which I’ll just offer for discussion:
- Pavel argues that each state will be able to realert in a crisis without frightening the other; if such actions are detected, however, they could deepen a crisis. I have practical questions about maintaining that level of secrecy that seems impossible. Making a game effort at creating that level of secrecy would seem to require a massive reduction in transparency efforts between the two countries.
- The greatest danger in a crisis is not deliberate re-alerting to attack, but escalation based on suspicion. If, for example, the United States concluded that Russia had removed on-board batteries, the United States might mistakenly conclude Russia was re-installing batteries perhaps from related actions in a crisis. The advantage of transparency is to provide some measure of reassurance that neither side is escalating the crisis.
- John argued the risk of alerting forces is an organizational one. Where Pavel proposed secrecy to mitigate the impact that alerting would have on the other party, John argued that reversing dealerting and other, attendent measures would signal to the bureaucracy that the leadership was preparing for war—a signal that could result in unaticipated activities by the military and other elements of the national security bureaucracy. John was thinking about the Cuban Missile Crisis (search inside) but I was thinking about Operation RYAN. In other words, don’t encourage leaders to believe alerting is simple and safe.
Anyway, fascinating discussion.