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Tags: aec | oppenheimer | teller

New Book Can Teach DC to Think Strategically Again

dr edward teller father of the hydrogen bomb

May 22, 1968 - U.S. physicist, "father of the hygrogen bomb," Edward Teller pointing at a formula. Teller died on Sept. 9, 2003. He worked on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico from 1943 to 1946 that developed the atomic bomb He later worked on developing the hydrogen bomb. (STF/AFP via Getty Images)

Peter Pry By Monday, 09 May 2022 09:53 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

"From Berkeley To Berlin: How the Rad Lab Helped Avert Nuclear War," by Tom Ramos (Naval Institute Press: 2022) should be read by every policymaker, scholar, and citizen concerned with deterring nuclear war — which includes almost everyone on planet Earth, since Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, almost daily, move the world closer to the nuclear precipice.

This book joins a small number of great classics on nuclear weapons and strategy, factually accurate and objective, untainted by the usual anti-nuclear prejudices of academia, because Tom Ramos is himself a genuine expert on nuclear weapons, working at Lawrence Livermore, one of America’s two nuclear weapons design laboratories.

"From Berkeley To Berlin" describes founding of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (originally called "the Rad Lab") by Ernest Lawrence, physicist and Nobel laureate, who played crucial roles advancing the World War II Manhattan Project, that invented the A-bomb. During the Cold War, Lawrence and his laboratory invented the H-bomb.

Most importantly, the book explains the evolution of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy during the early Cold War, through multiple crises over Berlin until the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

During these years the U.S. learned to think strategically about nuclear weapons, formulating the fundamentals of nuclear deterrence strategy that has prevented a nuclear World War III.

Ramos does not use the phrase, but it was a "golden age" for nuclear deterrence, when nuclear scientists, strategic thinkers, and the White House worked well together designing weapons and strategies to prevent a conventional or nuclear world war — an achievement that in retrospect seems miraculous.

Ramos describes crucial scientific and technical contributions to nuclear weapons design made by about 35 scientists, including Ernest Lawrence, John Foster, Edward Teller, Harold Brown, Stanislaw Ulam, Roland Herbst, John Wheeler, Mike May, Herb York and others. Winston Churchill’s praise of the pilots who won the Battle of Britain is even more true of the scientists who invented the sinews of nuclear deterrence: "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

The book is a useful antidote to "politically correct" simplistic accounts that reduce the complex history of nuclear weapons and strategy during the early Cold War to a struggle between "good guy" Robert Oppenheimer (lionized by academia for his opposition to the H-bomb) and "bad guy" Edward Teller ("father" of the H-bomb at Lawrence Livermore).

Interestingly, many of the Los Alamos scientists who supported the A-bomb to defeat Nazi Germany, but opposed the H-bomb to deter communism, were victims of fascism, but not communism. Whereas many of the scientists supporting the H-bomb were victimized by both fascism and communism.

Ramos does not comment on the current status of the U.S. nuclear enterprise and the adequacy, or inadequacy, of U.S. nuclear deterrence today.

But the book has much eye-opening relevance to current concerns.

For example, worries over the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons today, because they have not been tested in 30 years, are warranted by the 1960s test ban that allowed "nuclear duds" into the U.S. stockpile. Ramos:

"Those who had experience designing nuclear weapons knew a device that performed well in an experimental test could perform differently when tried out in its weapon configuration, like being enshrouded in the warhead compartment of a missile.

"In a realistic situation material surrounding a device could bounce neutrons back into the pit, the device could be abnormally reshaped after high explosives detonated, or other physics effects could occur that had the potential to affect performance.

"Nuclear devices were complex and fickle; several tests were needed to understand them adequately."

As a consequence of the 1960s test ban, scientists "found critical warheads had not been tested for weaponization. For instance, the warhead for Polaris had been tested in the final days of Operation Hardtack, but there had been no follow-up tests to ensure it performed as a weapon in a real-world environment . . . Although the AEC claimed their nuclear warheads would work, the complete systems had never been tried."

Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) promises that all the untested nuclear warheads would work, turned out to be wrong. Ramos:

"Those untested devices had become the backbone of America’s strategic nuclear forces, and although the AEC stated they would perform, the level of assurance was not as high as was desirable. Such a lack of confidence, it turned out, was warranted.

"It was later found after testing resumed in the 1960s that a good percentage of the warheads placed into the stockpile during the test ban had fatal defects."

Today, another dangerous misconception is that all nuclear weapons everywhere probably have Permissive Action Links (PALs) to prevent unauthorized use, because U.S. nuclear weapons have PALs.

Yet the Ramos book reveals that PALS happened only because of one man, Livermore Director John Foster, who, over the initial objections of the military, persuaded President Kennedy to safeguard U.S. nuclear warheads with PALs.

How likely is it that Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and India have produced a John Foster to secure their nuclear arsenals against unauthorized use?

After the Cold War, the U.S. took a "nuclear deterrence holiday" for 30 years, failing to maintain technological supremacy over nuclear rivals, so we find ourselves on the brink of nuclear war with Russia and China today.

Along the way, Washington missed the opportunity to escape the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) trap by making nuclear weapons obsolete through space-based defenses, like the x-ray laser project on which Tom Ramos worked — a project foolishly derided by MAD supporters with even more vehemence than the H-bomb.

"From Berkeley To Berlin" can teach Washington how to think strategically again.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Read Peter Pry's Reports — More Here.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Along the way, Washington missed the opportunity to escape the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) trap by making nuclear weapons obsolete through space-based defenses.
aec, oppenheimer, teller
Monday, 09 May 2022 09:53 AM
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