You are the leader of Country A, a land which is both free and democratic. You are being attacked by Country B, an aggressive dictatorship run by a cruel and ruthless despot who has already subjugated Countries C and D.

Your scientists have developed a new superweapon which would allow you to defeat Country B should you decide to use it. However, the cost will be the killing of millions of Country B's citizens, most of whom are themselves innocent either by being subjugated by the dictator or by being fooled by his propaganda machine.

If you win the war, Countries C and D will be free, too.

However, if you use the weapon, every other country will want to have the technology, too. So, you could tell your scientists not to make the weapon and, beyond that, to permanently destroy the technology hoping, as is unlikely, to win the war the conventional way.

Should you use the weapon?

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I think that North Korea is going to end up getting nuked, unless there is a people's revolution to get rid of the leadership.  The US has no choice but to act, if North Korea launch a nuclear missile anywhere.  The leadership would prefer that their country is obliterated, and them along with it, as long as it means they're not bested (typical naricissists). 

The THREAT of the weapon is TYPICALLY its ONLY advantage.

You cannot "permanently destroy the technology", as, historically, parallel means of achieving it tend to be the norm rather than the exception...and, your enemies are LIKELY to develop it, on their own, eventually.

So, the PRACTICAL issue with a weapon that is SO powerful, the scenarios it can be deployed in are too limited to be practical, unless you are ok with collateral damage of a certain threshold.

IE: If the local cop did not carry, say, a Taser or 9 mm pistol, and, instead carried a bomb he could launch a few miles or so, that would destroy a city block sized area...when would the use of that be practical?

To end WWII in Japan, OK, both sides were at that point OK with collateral damage, as "total war" was the norm not the exception.

We have EVOLVED, as a tendency, in war, to consider "a war with a country" to NOT include war with its population.

This is a new concept, historically.

When you essentially add a team of lawyers and collateral damage assessment personnel to the targeting group, it becomes almost impossible to attack "the enemy" when they are part of a larger population...so they DO THAT.

Fire bombing Dresden vs atomic bombing Hiroshima, is not really that different, in that, other than the number of planes and how many bombs were needed to do it....being IN either city is no picnic.  

WE (Now a days) tend to TRY to limit civilian casualties...whereas a society that will blow up an office building in Manhattan or a school bus in Israel, is unlikely to view civilian casualties as a negative in a given attack...as they do it with NO military impacts intended, all by itself, on purpose.

So, our enemies of CONCERN are the ones who are not playing by the same rules so to speak.

After that, its merely OUR desire to be nice to THEIR population, if we could, even though they would slaughter OUR population, if they could.

I prefer to take the high road, as its MORE universally fair to the innocent victims, even though it makes it HARDER for us, as a country, to wage war on another nation.

So, other than having it so its not just THEM having it, weapons past a certain limit simply never get deployed, with any luck at least.

The mutually ensured destruction philosophy can protect you from the sane and humane...and, that's about it.

So, about now, Russia for example sees our pickle...and KNOWS it can take what it wants within certain "deniability limits"...so they can claim they are fighting terrorists and not propping up a dictator so as to make sure OTHER dictators see that RUSSIA doesn't hand their allies out to dry, or NOT attacking the Ukrane, etc...while DOING IT.

Is Russia likely to attack the US?  NO.  Is China?  NO.  Is North Korea?  Well, they have a darker haired Trump facing our lighter haired Trump...so, who knows.

And so forth.

:D

So, the answer is the technology aspect is not a factor as stated, but, there are other factors that go both ways.

 

The THREAT of the weapon is TYPICALLY its ONLY advantage.

You cannot "permanently destroy the technology", as, historically, parallel means of achieving it tend to be the norm rather than the exception...and, your enemies are LIKELY to develop it, on their own, eventually.

So, the PRACTICAL issue with a weapon that is SO powerful, the scenarios it can be deployed in are too limited to be practical, unless you are ok with collateral damage of a certain threshold.

IE: If the local cop did not carry, say, a Taser or 9 mm pistol, and, instead carried a bomb he could launch a few miles or so, that would destroy a city block sized area...when would the use of that be practical?

A very sound analysis. The police weapons analogy is a great one. The atom bomb question is a real life example of "game theory" only instead of the subjects being prisoners it is a city of millions of ordinary women, men, children and pets and creatures and buildings and trees and trains and cars and schools and gardens on the line. 

In general, countries which posess atomic weapons put their most serious faces on when it comes to strategy in the use of the weapons. Even in Pakistan, a country that is utterly bonkers bonkers bonkers, doesn't screw around with such policy. That being said, there still are elements within atomic weapon strategy which is cause for concern.

One of the top five academic essays I ever read was about the narratives around weapons of mass destruction is the avoidance of using terms that betray how ghastly atomic weapons are and how horrific atomic warfare would be. Those who deal with the theory most intimately, who work on theoretical strategy etc. replace gruesome realistic terms with innocuous ones. Instead of a weapon that will unleash an olympic swimming pool of TNT, they are reffered to as "tools" and the mushroom cloud is the "energetic dissasembly" or "action in progress" and unexpected accidents are "freak abberations". A giant crator with the incinerated remails of a million people, it is called a "collateral damage". In order to stay emotionally stable while dealing with the disturbing elements of WMDs they turn the viciousness of the weapons and carnage into something akin to a childs game or cops and robbers or a video game that can be turned off. And instead of thinking about the number of innocent victims, they must dehumanise them as "acceptable fallout" or even the more disturbing "career alternative participants". How could they not become mentally unhinged if they had to confront mass murder of specific innocent human beings and the loss of cities with thousands of standing buildings?

Those who work in the industry/stragegy of WMDs have to see the targets (mostly innocent targets) as bowling pins instead of flesh and blood. When they discuss nuclear theory they even talk about ranges of acceptable limits of carnage even to the point where 25 wiped out cities is acceptable, with the fall out cities seen more as big plastic lego towers that have fallen down ontop of lego figures, instead of twenty five incinerated towns and millions of lives lost with most of western civilisation on the trash heap. What is most disturbing of all though, is that if you try and use realistic vocabulary with such people, they look at you as though you are some silly first year university student spazing out over something they don't understand. In otherwords, to say "millions of innocent lives lost" would change you from being an educated participant in a serious conversation into a pedantic child who cannot participate in an adult discussion. How else could they keep talking about the same thing every day?

It is only this that gives me pause, or gives me the willies...because I can't imagine anyone who would better serve a redheaded Trump or a black-haired Trump that people who let the relabeling and dehumanisation of WMD policy go bananas. A fabulous essay (which I admit goes slightly post-modern a couple times) is this essay which was required reading in a "Just war theory" class and surprisingly showed up again in "The philosophy of human rights and dehumanisation". Do give it a read if you have a chance.

https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura1999PSPR.pdf

I would prefer if this discussion stayed purely hypothetical for a while and didn't devolve into discussions of actual situations like N. Korea or Hiroshima/Nagasaki, in order to keep preexisting attitudes and opinions from entering in as much as possible. 

You're the leader of a democracy which could be overrun and subjugated by a despotic regime. You have a likely solution, yet the solution is dreadful and is likely to be copied by every other country if you use it. 

Do you owe more to your own people in the here and now or to posterity? It may be terrible if the weapon proliferates, but can you throw your own people under the bus, if it comes to that, to keep from using the weapon?

Who is your main responsibility to, your own citizens in the here and now or to mankind down the road?

Once we've talked about the hypothetical for a while, we can see if we can bear to apply our thoughts and conclusions to real world situations.

"Should you use the weapon?"

Yep.  Greater Good...Pandora's box is open, there is no going back only forward.

It really depends on the nature of the super weapon. How targeted/focused is it? Does it's use cause environmental damage, or just human damage? etc.

I'm going to assume the worst and assume this superweapon causes huge environmental and human destruction over a large area. The formula for consideration for its use is this:

(Country A lives lost * weight of a Country A citizen's life) + (Country B lives lost * weight of a Country B citizen's life) + environmental damage / likelyhood of victory

Where a lower number is better. In other words, use of the superweapon would need either increase likelyhood of victory, or decrease the total destruction of the war, or both, in order to be considered for use. In practice, this is unlikely as we typically set "weight of a Country A citizen's life" to be approximately equal to "weight of a Country B citizen's life", leading us to risk the lives Country A's citizens (as soldiers) to conduct conventional warfare in a targeted manner, limiting the lives lost on both sides as well as the environmental damage.

Short answer is yes. We spy on other countries and even use the CIA to incite riots to overthrow or to help overthrow other countries. It stands to reason that country B would have spies in country A. Even if the spies don't have direct access to the technology or the plans, just knowing the basics of how it is supposed to work or what it can do might be enough for them to develop similar technology. Just like we currently believe that it is not possible to travel anywhere near the speed of light let alone at or above. If say Russia found a way to do exactly that, we would not be far behind because we would actually put effort into it too. If aliens from far away all of a sudden warped into our solar system and then came to visit us, we would know it is possible and start trying to do the same. Just the knowledge of it would instigate a race. If we had it first and used it, it would go a long way to deter others. If we had the knowledge out there and a working prototype and then scrapped it the enemy would begin development or just steal it. Much like the Clinton's allowed our enemies to indirectly purchase nukes and other military tech. Once the idea is formed it should be seen completed. Also, people are not unique. If someone here has an idea, it is a good bet that somewhere someone else might have the same idea.

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