Going ‘Round the Maginot Line
A couple of days ago I wrote a piece comparing our never-ending missile-defense initiative to the Maginot Line. Some further thought on this has led me to wonder whether getting around such a line might not be even easier for a budding Arab Guderian than I originally thought.
My idea would require our adversary to have copious amounts of chutzpah, but little else. It’s a strategy that’s only really suited for an Evil Genius with nerves of steel and balls of brass. The upside for such a person, though, could be substantial.
The strategy, in a word, is: bluff.
In my previous piece I described the looming danger posed by miniaturized nuclear weapons, and how easy it would be to smuggle one into the country. I said a smart adversary would pre-position one or two in the United States long before they needed them — kind of like an insurance policy.
But what if you don’t have one or two bombs, or the means to smuggle them into the U.S.? Well, then, you just pretend that you did. Announce to the world that you have planted a thermonuclear device somewhere in a major U.S. city of your choosing. Heck, may as well throw a real scare into ’em — announce that you’ve planted two. Then outline your demands and set a deadline for compliance (make it short).
If the deadline is short enough, and the city is large enough, you’ll have put the U.S. in an unenviable position. Finding a device the size of a crate that could be hidden anywhere in a major city, with no leads to go on and a ticking clock, makes finding a needle in a haystack seem like a simple problem. Finding such a device when it doesn’t even exist is even harder! (Especially if you, the Evil Genius, were smart enough to plant some false leads and promising-seeming paper trails in the city in question before you made your threat.) And if you claimed you’ve got two, they’ll be sweating even more, because even if they find one they’ll still be out of luck — it’s all or nothing.
When time runs out on the deadline, the U.S. will have a number of choices, all of them bad:
- Launch a first strike on your country, killing large numbers of innocent civilians and (as far as they know) possibly not even pre-empting the threatened strike (even if they killed everybody in your country, your agents in the U.S. could act alone — if they weren’t fictional, but the Americans don’t know that)
- Grit their teeth, tell you to go pound sand, and run out the clock — in which case they’ll discover it’s a bluff, but to get there they’ll have to display about ten thousand times more backbone than any recent politician has
- Cave in and give you what you want, to avoid the “inevitable” (heh heh heh) apocalypse.
Of course, this policy would make you an international pariah, but I’m assuming that if you’re an Evil Genius and your relations with the U.S. have deteriorated this far, you probably are there already anyway, so a little more disapproval isn’t the end of the world. And even if the plan fails, the worst-case scenario for you (you look like an idiot in front of a world that thinks you’re an idiot anyway) is much less dire than what the Americans think it is for them (substantial devastation of a major city), so the odds favor their giving in.
I don’t bring things like this up because I enjoy them. I bring them up only to illustrate the folly of assuming that a missile defense system would mean the end of nuclear confrontation between powers. It would only channel that confrontation into different avenues that missile defense couldn’t stop.
That’s what fortifications do — they are like stones in a stream: no matter how large the stone, the water always finds a way to flow around it. Sometimes it takes moments, sometimes it takes millennia, but the water always finds a way. When you retreat into a fortification — when you surrender the initiative to your opponent — you become the stone.