Friday, June 15, 2012

Shooting ourselves in the foot

In business, there is considerable advantage in bringing a new commodity to market. After a while the competition will succeed in producing similar or better products. But for a while the company that has a new gadget will profit substantially. Just look at Apple.
This same thing seems to be true with respect to weapons. The United States was the first country to have a functioning atomic weapon. For a number of years that gave us a significant advantage in world politics. But in the case of weapons, the short term advantage gained by finding new ways of killing and destroying is far outweighed by the long term damage done by new weapons systems.
David Sanger, who writes for the New York Times, recently published a book – Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power – in which he points out that a new kind of warfare is now being conducted by our government. Its chief weapons are drones and, more recently, computer viruses. Everyone knows about the drones. Not everyone knows that the US government succeeded in infecting Iran's computers with viruses that blew up a significant number of centrifuges producing weapons grade uranium. Some terribly clever people here, and in Israel, have discovered a way of interfering with the production of weapons of other countries.
Once again we are the first to be able to wield this new form of causing mayhem. At the moment that clearly gives us an advantage. But when it comes to armaments, being the first to use a new weapon is in fact a very bad idea.
The conflict with Iran illustrates this forcefully. When we succeeded in building an atomic bomb some people thought that we needed to use it, even though many people believe today that Japan was about to surrender even before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost 70 years later, many countries have atomic weapons, even such precarious states as Pakistan. Others are trying to build atom bombs, as for instance North Korea and Iran. Our eagerness to be the first to use this new weapons has cost us untold billions trying to protect ourselves from other countries that now have nuclear weapons. It has contributed significantly to make the world a whole lot less safe. It has now made an Iranian nuclear program a real threat.
No country ever can monopolize a new form of destruction. If one country has a new weapon, all the other countries will try to get them also. It will not be long before other countries will fly drones perhaps against targets in the United States. Other countries have technically ingenious computer people who will figure out how to infect computer systems in our country.
What will happen next? Will your computer blow up in your face? Will children die when their Xbox explodes? Will atomic power plants explode because some enemy managed to infect its computer control program with a virus?
It is clearly a mistake to introduce new weapons. The worry about Iran's nuclear program is the best example of that. Had we kept the atomic secrets to ourselves, would Pakistan be armed with nuclear weapons? Would we now have to unleash new ways of warfare on the Iranians in order to slow down their program of becoming a nuclear power? 
Instead of learning from past mistakes, our government has chosen to unleash a new weapons system. All of us will pay the price for this latest, short-sighted policy.