Apple Atomics: Nuclear Survival In A Liberated Age

by | Dec 1, 2016

Apple Atomics: Nuclear Survival In A Liberated Age

by | Dec 1, 2016

In debates, particularly with those on the left who share a proclivity for hyperbole, the subject of self-defense soon has the libertarian tasked not only with a defense of firearm ownership, but with defending themselves in their newfound position as proponents of nuclear weaponry in “private” hands. Or to state it less pretentiously:

“When an argument over gun control breaks out between a libertarian and a statist of some variety, it is only a matter of time before the libertarian backs himself into a corner where he must defend the right of individuals to own nuclear weapons by extension of the principle that anything that is not aggressive is legally permissible.”

This is part of an introduction to a blog post (of which I am building upon and recommend if you prefer brevity) by C. Harrison Myers. In it, Myers argues that Walter Block and Mathew Block are wrong in their analysis of the libertarian position on nuclear weapons. I agree with Myers and with the statists. libertarians must defend the right to keep and bear nuclear arms.

The position taken by the Blocks is that simply holding thermonuclear weapons is an aggressive act due to the impossibility of limiting the harmful effects to the proprietor in the case of an accident or to belligerents in a conflict. Murray N. Rothbard in The Ethics Of Liberty, regarding the use of these weapons, held the same. The major flaw in the Block position is the outcome of a failure to make a strong enough distinction between use and ownership or between a risk and a threat, this allowing them to justify prohibition. Myers on use versus ownership:

“Even if detonating a nuclear weapon in the vast majority of places would be a danger to innocents, this only makes the use of nuclear weapons in those places illicit. Since nuclear weapons could be owned in a populated area and could possibly target a location where no innocents will be harmed, ownership of nuclear weapons in a town or city is legitimate; their use there is not.”

A threat itself embodies a risk making the two superficially similar. What exactly distinguishes one from the other must be clarified. Noted by both Meyers and Block is a subjective element to threats. The first thing considered is whether or not the threat is a valid one. Then the risk of doing nothing and being harmed is weighed against the risk of evading this harm by responding in force. There is a knowledge problem.

The victim must know of the weapon, language or behavior with which they are being threatened. In making a threat, though, the assumption is made that all these necessary factors are present. Otherwise, there would have been a jump directly to the threatened action. The essential difference between the two concepts is a threat is an overt act, a definite thing, while a risk is only a passive possibility. An exhilarated citizen would soon feel as the anarchist does once a foreign bomber rather than his own nations is hovering over his home. This is the because they understand who it is flying it and why, not the specific act of the aircraft being flown.

No private individual could, engaging in the simple act of transportation, unannounced, in an unmarked plane, be considered a threat by any reasonable standard. Obviously, This is not to say harmful intentions exist solely in threats only that absent some form of ostentation the means of identifying malice and acting accordingly is also absent. To be expedient it could be said that a threat cannot truly exist unless received. Like an exchange, as it is an exchange of very specific information, it either exists or does not. For a threat to be actionable it must be an action, not a mean thought or a conjecture. A claim to the contrary is a claim to knowledge of the workings of the minds of others, an innate evil within inanimate objects or to augury.

The conditions required to meet the criteria of a threat are not present in the case of an atomic bomb sitting idly in a city basement. This is an example of a risk only which cannot be prohibited without having outlawed living. It is present in the prop knife example provided by the Blocks and Meyers’ example of a violent confrontation. Any deviation from the criteria of an explicit demonstration of adverse intentions leads hand in hand with Hayek’s concept of coercion to at best equivocation. The problem as explained by Rothbard:

“It follows that defensive violence may only be used against an actual or directly threatened invasion of a persons property and may not be used against any nonviolent ‘harm’ that may befall a persons income of property value…. Defensive violence, therefore, must be confined to resisting invasive acts against person or property. But such invasions may include two corollaries to actual physical aggression: intimidation, or a direct threat of physical violence. …

“It is important to insist, however, that the threat of aggression be palpable, immediate, and direct; in short, that it be embodied in the initiation of an overt act. Any remote or indirect criterion—any ‘risk’ or ‘threat’ is simply an excuse for invasive action by the supposed ‘defender’ against the alleged ‘threat.’ Once we bring in ‘threats’ to person and property that are vague and future i.e., are not overt and immediate then all manner of tyranny becomes excusable.”

The Blocks dismiss the possibility of prohibiting Nuclear Power Plants or Airplanes though the negative effects of an accident cannot be restricted to the owners because: “The difference is that the one is a weapon, the other is not.” First, Numerous groups advocate banning nuclear energy out of fear of accidents. Historically accidents involving Nuclear power plants have been more catastrophic than those accidents involving Nuclear Weapons, clearly justifying these fears. Should all members of these groups be considered unreasonable simply because a Nuclear Power plant is not exactly a hydrogen bomb? Second, What makes something a weapon whether the plane of a kamikaze pilot or a Saboteurs nuclear power plant, is the way it is used, either offensively or defensively not its design. A rifle (much to the chagrin of the authoritarians) does not become any more criminal than the hammer when equipped with a high capacity magazine, now that it carries more destructive capability and therefore more risk.

It becomes criminal only when used to harm the innocent.

Why neither bombs nor plants nor planes can be banned is because they are not per se aggression. The Blocks include a “Crowded Phone Booth” graph which can no doubt be helpful in determining some kind of sensible policy. But if relied upon to provide a solution not found in a property right ethic, it becomes a graph revealing the libertarian discomfort threshold indicating the intolerable levels at which libertarians agree property rights are to be voided thus solving quite a few problems faced by our opponents.

All one needs to grasp the absurdity of “private” (Block points out due to the nature of property all nuclear weapons are already owned by private parties. These parties are simply employed in governments which prohibit ownership by anyone else.) ownership of nuclear weapons is to examine their history. While history cannot convey any principles or tell us definitively of anything other than what happened in the past meaning the iteration of historical fact does not result in a universally valid argument for any position, it provides perspective and serves as an auxiliary.

The history of nuclear weapons begins for most with the bombing of Japan in August of 1945. The attacks no less real time tests than a show of force killed around 210,000 the majority being civilians. Clearly the most egregious crime and indictment enough against any state possessing these actual Weapons of Mass Destruction, for now, they are not the focus. Rather, something more crude that doesn’t require one be an “ideologue” to comprehend; namely money. The total costs of the U.S. Nuclear weapons program are not fully known even to the U.S. government with the best estimate (figures have been inflated from 1996 to 2016) at over $8.4 trillion, $150.9 billion a year, or roughly equal to the Public debt by 1996.

The first and most difficult step of weapon fabrication is the production of fissionable materials primarily Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) and plutonium. This task fell first on the Manhattan Project which birthed the Atom bomb including those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This project alone cost $40 billion. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) put the cost of the Manhattan Project through 1945 at $33.2 billion with $1.8 billion to purchase materials, $2.4 billion on research and development, $6.9 billion on plutonium production and $20.9 billion on uranium enrichment. To acquire materials nearly 5,000 tons of uranium were shipped from the Belgian Congo, Congress was bypassed by transferring $600 million into the personal bank account of Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves to secretly purchase ore deposit rights and establish a monopoly (the Combined Development Trust controlled 97% of global uranium supply), and 14,700 tons of silver was transferred by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to the war department for a “highly secret” project.

In 1948 the AEC set a decade-long guaranteed minimum price for uranium concentrates and $150,000 ($10,000 1948) for the discovery of ore deposits. The resulting “uranium fever” had domestic production at 18,000 tons in 1958, double the optimal amount, and by 1959 with 23 active ore processing plants in the U.S. spending was over $6.6 billion. The AEC allocated $29 billion for construction during the 50-150 expansion that required 5% of the “total construction force of the nation” and operating costs rose to $5.8 billion by 1957 to operate 13 reactors and three gaseous diffusion plants. The total bomb project displaced around 1,000 families including American Indians and islanders and in the case of the construction of the massive Hanford site graves were exhumed and relocated. 13 major facilities occupied around 3,300 square miles.

Facilities and material unit costs are classified but official budget information suggests since 1947, $254 billion has been spent to produce 852 metric tons of HEU, 103.5 metric tons of plutonium and 225 kilograms of tritium along with other special nuclear materials. $118 billion went to operating costs, $54 billion to source material $2.4 billion on security and $78.7 billion for capital and construction equipment. Actual expenditures are closer to $531.5 billion roughly one-half for material production the other on R&D with $121.7 billion on construction and operations at $349.7 billion. Through the end of 1952, Manhattan Engineering District (MED) and AEC operating costs on thermonuclear weapons research exceeded $5 billion ($586 million $1952). The U.S. manufactured 70,000 bombs and warheads in total, spending at least $630 billion.

The only source for official costs of nuclear weapons systems comes from mistakes by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a censored congressional transcript that claims nuclear shells which would range from $1.5-$6 million were canceled due to being “more of the same.” A partially declassified report with the cost of the physics package, which contains the fissile materials, missing indicated that it is the most expensive aspect of the warheads; in the case of the W84 possibly $2.5 million. The next most expensive step is deploying the new arsenal.

The U.S. manufactured 50 types of nuclear-capable missiles including 6,135 ballistic missiles and 13 different types of nuclear-capable bombers 4,680 in total. The estimated acquisition cost of the first B-29’s is $41 billion with an additional $117 million for conversion to nuclear capability. The B-2A bomber is the most recent and most expensive at $4 billion each. In total it cost $83.9 billion ($36B R&D, $30B procurement, $770M conversion of early model) to arrive at 20. According to the GAO, the B-2 is the most costly bomber to operate per aircraft at $49.1 million annually. Excluding the B-52, B-1B and B-2A the average service life of the various aircraft deployed was 9 years. Comparatively, commercial aircraft can remain in service over 30 years.

The intercontinental ballistic missile program was “the largest single military program ever undertaken by the United States” involving over 30 major contractors, 200 major subcontractors, and 200,000 suppliers. The price of the Atlas D/E/F missile systems ranged from $2.3-$4.3 billion each and the Minuteman cost $5.8 billion. The average cost of deploying the various missiles ranged from $40.5-$68.4 million per missile. Between 1960-67 at a cost of $21.5 billion; 1,180 underground silos, 57 aboveground Atlas launch sites, and 100 Minutemen Launch Control Capsules were built on or around 22 air bases in 17 states. White Sands Proving Ground the first land-based test site and location of the Trinity detonation covers 3,200 square miles. The Future Years Defense Program puts its operating costs from 1962-95 at $7.8 billion.

MX and Minutemen silos were spread over 67,000 square miles. According to the FYDP archive each Ohio-class nuclear submarine operating and support costs were no less than $91.6 million each or over $1.5 billion a year for a fleet of 18. The Polaris program cost $98.6 billion between 1956-67, and of $394 billion for Trident I-II missiles, support ships, weapon system, and strategic support, $53.6 billion was spent to buy 18 Ohio class SSBNs. In total, the U.S. expenditures for nuclear force deployment was at least $4.9 trillion $1.8 trillion of this to integrate it into general purpose forces. The Atlas D could be destroyed by a well-placed rifle shot.

At the point, failing even to go into detail about the hundreds of billions spent on command & control, communications, and intelligence, or other projects including numerous failed and abandoned, the notion of a “private” entity attempting any approximation of the U.S. nuclear program is a preposterous one. Rather than cool-headed deliberations by wise bureaucrats, lies, interservice rivalries, special interest lobbying and simple caprice were the factors determining the orientation of, and pervaded every aspect of, the nuclear weapons program. This would have put any private enterprise out of business as noted by Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor in 1960:

“We never look at our forces; we never build our forces in a budget sense in terms of military functions such as atomic retaliation, limited war capability, antisubmarine warfare, continental air defense. We don’t case our books in that form. So as a result, I never know, and I doubt personally that anyone knows, exactly what we are buying with our budget. The Joint chiefs of staff were never in the budget making business in this sense.

“We are building the structure of our defense without knowing what the factors of safety are. If you were running an engineering company, you would go bankrupt on that basis.” 

The extent to which whim ruled was explained best by Herbert York the First director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and former director of research and engineering at the Department of Defense:

“[B]ecause one million is a particularly round number in our culture….Human beings have two hands with five fingers each and therefore count by tens….[I]f evolution had given us six fingers on each hand, our first ICBM warhead would have had to be three times as big, [and] the rockets to deliver them would have threatened the lives of up to three times as many human beings. …It really was that arbitrary, and, what’s more, that same arbitrariness has stayed with us.”

Private nuclear weapons might elicit images of massive corporations, Apple Computers, for example, secretly developing and deploying them. It would certainly bring another dimension to promises “to go thermonuclear war.” The first question that must be asked is what reason would any company whose success depends on being amenable to the market and providing the goods and services demanded by consumers  have to invest not in something that would increase productivity and profit but in something that could wipe out hundreds of thousands of patrons or potential patrons?

The simple construction of these devices would alienate a considerable amount of people and make the owners a target to any members of society, not as adherent to property rights as the radical libertarian. Further, whatever kind of businessman, after taking into account the fact materials used to make nuclear bombs could instead be used in energy production, remain undaunted by the venture that likely carries virtually zero (legitimate) return on investment, is one too myopic to amass the vast amounts of wealth required to do so. Building one rudimentary facility to produce enough fissile material for one crude bomb a year is “relatively inexpensive” estimated to be $200-$500 million. Actual capital investments in the nuclear program exceeded that of GM, Du Pont, Alcoa, Goodyear, U.S. Steel, and Bethlehem Steel combined by the 1950s and it is very informative that the corporations contracted to manage the complex refused unless granted total legal and financial indemnity.

The cost of managing the waste generated by bomb production will possibly surpass the cost of bomb production. Deploying the weapon requires complex and extremely expensive systems only a few of which are listed above and as Block correctly points out the case when they can be utilized legitimately is an exceptional one. This leaves almost any use of the weapon a criminal and therefore impractical means of defense. A bit more realistic than nuclear-armed supermarkets are private nuclear defense agencies.

Assuming these entities are able to overcome the obstacles to nuclear capability would suppose there is a demand for such a service. Or It’s been argued that these agencies could use these weapons to threaten and extract wealth from a populace giving them incentive enough and making the weapons a viable investment. In this case, they wouldn’t be engaged in a method of revenue collection not already held as appropriate and legitimate for any contemporary nation state. Those who hold this up as a valid argument against the desirability of a free society should realize it is first an argument against the status quo which they are almost certainly attempting to defend. If anything, one potential benefit of numerous nuclear capable defense agencies is any particularly benevolent agency would be less inclined towards any attempts at prohibiting the”risky”operations of the others, preventing monopoly and abuse.

Another result more favorable than the status quo is the extent to which individual arsenals would be restricted. Lacking access to the deep-pocketed taxpayer not limiting the great states of the modern age, any agencies engaged in an arms race of the kind between the Cold War Super-Powers would soon face insolvency. Through the fog of speculation, a single thing can be known for certain. If nuclear weapons had emerged in a free society and over $1.3 trillion was expended on systems to defend against them, bound by its nature, a free society would have provided something more efficacious than the interstate.

One major argument in favor of nuclear weapons is their supposed service as an insurance policy. Stephen I. Schwartz criticizes this reasoning:

“This is clearly a popular characterization, one that resonates with nuclear policy makers. Yet it is flawed in two critical aspects. First as has already been demonstrated, the actual fiscal costs of this ‘policy’ have never been apparent, either to military and government officials or to the general public. Insurance policies can indeed be a prudent investment, but few would purchase one without knowing the premiums up front.”

“Woolsey’s observation that ‘paying the premiums can make the catastrophe less likely,’ misses the point that both the premiums and the policy itself are expressly designed to unleash the catastrophe they are supposed to deter. Here again, the insurance policy fails, for who would purchase a life insurance policy that may actually increase the risk of death? What homeowners, to follow Alsop’s analogy, would buy a fire insurance policy knowing that by doing so they increased-even slightly-the possibility of not only burning down their own home but ensuring that the fire would be uncontainable?”

Another common justification for this kind of state spending is the benefits of “spin-off products.” William J. Weida argues that if accidental consumer goods the result of primarily military public sector spending had such significant impact on the private sector should not the inverse be true? If so the larger private sector should produce innovations reducing the need for military R&D. There is also no evidence the Soviets responded in kind to Ronald Reagan’s military buildup meaning the U.S. was likely in a race against itself and possibly prolonged the Cold War. In fact, fans of Reagan that consider themselves proponents of the Free Market should be critical not only of military spending but even more so of the American Nuclear Program:

“Not only was the production of plutonium and tritium controlled by the government as a monopoly, but consumption was all taken by the government. … This unique arrangement … represented an anomaly in the American industrial world. … None of the operating contractors … risked major capital investments in the enterprises; the contracts provided for cost reimbursement. Demand was not driven by a free or even by a regulated … market but by the single consumer’s weapons policy. … As a result of the Cold War and the imperatives of the nuclear standoff, this aspect of the American economy resembled the economy of the Soviet Union, in which decisions were made on a planned basis by a remote government, without reference to market forces, behind closed doors, for reasons that would not be made public.”

Libertarians would add another criticism, not very different from Schwartz’ first criticism. The difference between the fire insurance policy and the U.S. government’s nuclear “insurance policy” is, which is almost always the case when it comes to government (even if the costs are known) there is no choice in the latter. The reason being no one but the radical egalitarian would purchase the fire insurance policy that mandates the entire neighborhood be burned down if one home catches fire and no one except the religious fanatic indulging in apocalyptic fetishism would choose the nuclear option.

Finally, while the ownership of nuclear weapons is permissible in libertarian theory the conditions requisite for their emergence would not be present in a society based on this system. If the Manhattan Project is any indicator, the resources necessary to produce only a few primitive atomic weapons requires a level of political and economic centralization not possible in a state of ‘market anarchy.’ The consumer, the average person in the endless endeavor to improve their situation as quickly as possible, would not have had any reason to sacrifice immediate satisfactions to make way for the production of something that ultimately brings nothing but absolute destruction to everything of value whether material or ideal. These weapons are consumers goods that cannot be consumed. They cannot be used to further production. Unless the idea that nuclear war could be economically beneficial is to be believed. Which is clearly absurd, an exception perhaps being made for the purveyors of winter coats. To close, the world free of the Leviathan and its total war has no need for nuclear weapons.

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