Weiter zu verfolgen: Arbeitender Mensch abhängig und manipuliert, um mehr Profit zu generieren

Digitale Manipulation Werden Sie Teil der Maschine!

Fast unbemerkt krempelt eine neue wissenschaftliche Disziplin die Welt um. Digitale Überredungstechnik lässt Menschen nach ihrer Pfeife tanzen. Nicht nur Konsumenten, sondern auch Arbeiter.

Eine Kolumne von

Sonntag, 21.05.2017   11:03 Uhr

Das Buch, das alles verändert hat, beginnt mit diesem Satz: „Als ich zehn Jahre alt war, studierte ich Propaganda.“ Geschrieben hat es der der US-Wissenschaftler B.J. Fogg, der seit vielen Jahren in Stanford lebt. Gerade Propagandisten profitieren heute enorm von dem, was Fogg damals niederschrieb.

Der Psychologe hat eine wissenschaftliche Disziplin erfunden, mit deren Hilfe gerade die Welt umgekrempelt wird. Viele seiner Schüler sind mithilfe von Foggs Modellen und Methoden reich geworden, zum Beispiel Mike Krieger, einer der Gründer von Instagram. Fogg selbst findet diese Entwicklung beunruhigend: „Wenn ich mir manche meiner ehemaligen Studenten ansehe, frage ich mich, ob sie wirklich die Welt verbessern oder nur Geld verdienen wollen.“

„Computer gehen dorthin, wo Menschen nicht willkommen sind“

Die Disziplin, die Fogg Mitte der Neunziger erfand, hat er selbst Captology getauft, ein Kunstwort aus der Abkürzung für Computer Aided Persuasive Technology, Überredungstechnik also. Computer seien in mehrfacher Hinsicht viel besser geeignet, Menschen zu etwas zu überreden, als andere Menschen, schrieb Fogg 2003 in „Persuasive Technology“.

Computer seien hartnäckiger als Menschen, böten Anonymität, könnten mit riesigen Datenmengen umgehen, auf diversen Kanälen Einfluss ausüben, leicht skalieren, also Wachstum ermöglichen, und „dorthin gehen, wo Menschen nicht hingehen können oder nicht willkommen sind“. Das war vier Jahre vor dem ersten iPhone, also vier Jahre, bevor das Zeitalter begann, in dem fast jeder Bewohner der industrialisierten Welt immer einen Computer dabeihat, auch im Schlafzimmer, auch auf der Toilette.

Captology ist im Kern die Anwendung hundert Jahre alter lerntheoretischer Prinzipien auf die Welt der digitalen Benutzeroberflächen. Erkenntnisse aus Experimenten mit Ratten oder Tauben werden benutzt, um dafür zu sorgen, dass Menschen mit höherer Wahrscheinlichkeit das tun, was Software ihnen sagt.

Klicken, liken, teilen, kaufen, los!

Klicken zum Beispiel. Liken. Teilen. Kaufen. Noch eine Runde spielen, eine nur. Noch eine Folge ansehen. Noch schnell das eigene Geburtsdatum, den Wohnort, Vorlieben preisgeben. Reiz, Verhalten, Belohnung, immer wieder. In den vergangenen Jahren sind vergleichbare Methoden meist unter dem fröhlich klingenden Schlagwort „Gamification“ verhandelt worden. „Persuasive Technologies“ trifft es aber weit besser.

Nir Eyal ist einer von Foggs Schülern und der Autor eines Buches namens „Hooked“, das Entwicklern erklärt, wie man Produkte baut, von denen man nicht mehr loskommt. Eyal formuliert es so: „Damit eine Handlung eingeleitet werden kann, muss Tun einfacher sein als Denken.“ Es geht immer um „Engagement“. Mach was, Nutzer, los. Und jetzt noch was.

Ein schönes Beispiel ist die Autostart-Funktion von Videoplattformen wie Netflix: Wenn man nichts tut, läuft die nächste Serienfolge sofort nach dem Ende der vorangegangenen an. Weiterschauen ist einfacher als Aufhören. Das ist Captology in Aktion. Oder die „nur noch 20 Prozent, dann ist Ihr Profil vollständig“-Statusbalken, die man von Netzwerkplattformen kennt. Facebooks „Reaction“-Emojis. Amazons „andere kauften auch…“. All das sind keine spontanen Ideen cleverer Designer, sondern Konzepte aus der Verhaltenspsychologie.

„Evil by Design“

In einem Buch mit dem erfrischend ehrlichen Titel „Evil by Design“ heißt es: „Wie bei einem guten Zaubertrick sind die besten Beispiele die, bei denen man nicht einmal bemerkt, dass man manipuliert wird, wenn einen niemand darauf hinweist.“

Unglücklicherweise dienen manche der Plattformen, die heute nach Captology-Prinzipien optimiert werden, Zwecken, denen „erst denken, dann handeln“ als Prinzip besser täte als „Handeln ohne Denken“.

Bei Facebook und Twitter zum Beispiel teilen Nutzer nachweislich Artikel zu politischen – und anderen – Themen, ohne sie jemals gelesen zu haben. So können sich sensationalistische, aber falsche Behauptungen schnell und weit verbreiten. Stichwort: Hillary Clintons angeblicher Kinderporno-Ring. Stichwort: Der Papst empfiehlt Donald Trump.

Eine demokratische Öffentlichkeit, die sich an Orten konstituiert, wo Denken als Hindernis beim „Engagement“ betrachtet wird, bekommt früher oder später Probleme.

Optimierung zur Gedankenlosigkeit

„Aus meiner Sicht sollte die Evolution von Überredungstechnologie nicht allein dem Zufall oder dem Markt überlassen werden“, schrieb B.J. Fogg 2003. Aber genau das ist passiert, und wir haben es nicht einmal bemerkt. Die Ziele, die mit den neuen Techniken erreicht werden sollen, sind am Ende in der Regel monetär, von Ausnahmen wie Fitnesstrackern oder Ernährungshelfern einmal abgesehen. „Engagement“ bringt, Klicks, Daten, Absatz. Für gesellschaftlichen Fortschritt wird eher nicht optimiert.

Die Entwicklung ist aber mit der Optimierung zur Gedankenlosigkeit nicht abgeschlossen. Bei Uber, der Firma, die wie keine andere für die rücksichtslose Ausnutzung digitaler Profitmaximierungsmöglichkeiten steht, ist man schon einen Schritt weiter. Dort wird nicht nur das Konsum- und Kommunikationsverhalten captologisch optimiert, sondern auch der Fleiß der freiberuflichen Fahrer.

Wenn die Maschine sich als Frau ausgibt, ist sie erfolgreicher

Die bekommen ihre Aufträge bekanntlich von einer Smartphone-App, und die wiederum wird zentral so gesteuert, dass immer eine möglichst ideale Zahl verfügbarer Mitfahrgelegenheiten am richtigen Ort ist. Eigentlich sind Uber-Fahrer frei, ihre eigenen Schichten zu definieren und einfach aufzuhören, wenn sie keine Lust mehr haben, schließlich sind sie keine Angestellten. Wenn die Maschine, von der sie ihre Aufträge bekommen, aber weiß, dass ihre Arbeitskraft eigentlich gerade noch gebraucht würde, dann wird die Überredungstechnologie ausgepackt, wie die „New York Times“ berichtete.

Uber-Fahrer in den USA bekommen zum Beispiel, wenn sie sich aus der App ausloggen, also Feierabend machen wollen, unter Umständen Botschaften wie „Sie sind noch 10 Dollar von einem Nettoverdienst von 330 Dollar entfernt – wollen Sie wirklich aufhören?“. Besonders gut funktionieren die Motivationsbotschaften, wenn sie von einer angeblich weiblichen Person kommen. Ubers Fahrer sind überwiegend männlich.

Welcome to the machine

Wenn ein Fahrer von Passagieren gut bewertet wird, kann er virtuelle Trophäen gewinnen, für „exzellente Konversation“, oder „exzellenten Service“. Diese Trophäen sind so viel wert wie Highscores in einem Computerspiel: nichts. Gleichzeitig sind sie die digitale Umsetzung einer Therapiemethode, die in Psychiatrien seit den späten Sechzigerjahren angewendet wird, um etwa Psychosepatienten dazu zu bringen, sich selbst anzuziehen: Token Economies. In der Schule hieß so etwas früher „Gutkärtchen“.

Das Softwaresystem, aus dem Uber in Wahrheit besteht, weiß, wer wann wo gebraucht wird, es verteilt Aufgaben, lobt und tadelt, und wenn jemand nicht ausreichend motiviert scheint, stupst es den Betreffenden ein bisschen an, damit er weiterfährt. Zwischen der Management-Ebene des Unternehmens und denen, die die Arbeit machen, ist eine undurchdringliche Schicht künstliche Intelligenz eingezogen. Wer unterhalb dieser Schicht arbeitet, ist kein Angestellter, kein Angehöriger des Unternehmens.

Er ist ein freiberuflicher Teil der Maschine.

Advertisements

Hat die USA mit neuer Nuklearsprengkopftechnologie einen Vorsprung gegenüber anderen Atommächten?

The Saker ArchiveBlogview

Making Sense of the “Super Fuse” Scare

 

For weeks now I have been getting panicked emails with readers asking me whether the USA had developed a special technology called “super fuses” which would make it possible for the USA to successfully pull-off a (preemptive) disarming first strike against Russia. Super-fuses were also mentioned in combination with an alleged lack by Russia of a functioning space-based infrared early warning system giving the Russians less time to react to a possible US nuclear attack.

While there is a factual basis to all this, the original report already mislead the reader with a shocking title “How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze” and by offering several unsubstantiated conclusions. Furthermore, this original report was further discussed by many observers who simply lack the expertise to understand what the facts mentioned in the report really mean. Then the various sources started quoting each other and eventually this resulted in a completely baseless “super fuse scare”. Let’s try to make some sense of all this.

Understanding nuclear strikes and their targets

To understand what really has taken place I need to first define a couple of crucial terms:

  • Hard-target kill capability: this refers to the capability of a missile to destroy a strongly protected target such as a underground missile silo or a deeply buried command post.
  • Soft-target kill capability: the capability to destroy lightly or unprotected targets.
  • Counterforce strike: this refers to a strike aimed at the enemy’s military capabilities.
  • Countervalue strike: this refers to a strike on non-military assets such as cities.

Since strategic nuclear missile silos and command posts are well protected and deeply buried, only hard-target kill (HTK) capable missiles can execute a counterforce strike. Soft-target kill (STK) capable systems are therefore usually seen as being the ultimate retaliatory capability to hit the enemies cities. The crucial notion here is that HTK capability is not a function of explosive power, but of accuracy. Yes, in theory, a hugely powerful weapon can compensate to some degree for a lack of accuracy, but in reality both the USA and the USSR/Russia have long understood that the real key to HTK is accuracy.

During the Cold War, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were more accurate than submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) simply because targeting from the surface and from a fixed position was much easier than targeting from inside a submerged and moving submarine. The American were the first to successfully deploy a HTK capable SLBM with their Trident D-5. The Russians have only acquired this capability very recently (with their R-29RMU Sineva SLBM).

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists just a decade ago only 20% of US SLBMs were HTK capable. Now, with the ‘super-fuse’ 100% of US SLBMs are HTK capable. What these super-fuses do is very accurately measure the optimal altitude at which to detonate thereby partially compensating for a lack of accuracy of a non-HTK capable weapon. To make a long story short, these super-fuses made all US SLBMs HTK capable.

Does that matter?

Yes and no. What that means on paper is that the US has just benefited from a massive increase in the number of US missiles with HTK capability. Thus, the US has now a much larger missile force capable of executing a disarming counterforce strike. In reality, however, things are much more complicated than that.

Understanding counterforce strikes

Executing a disarming counterforce strike against the USSR and, later, Russia has been an old American dream. Remember Reagan’s “Star Wars” program? The idea behind it was simple: to develop the capability to intercept enough incoming Soviet warheads to protect the USA from a retaliatory Soviet counter strike. It would work something like this: destroy, say, 70% of the Soviet ICBM/SLBMs and intercept the remaining 30% before they can reach the USA. This was total nonsense both technologically (the technology did not exist) and strategically (just a few Soviet “leakers” could wipe-out entire US cities, who could take such a risk?). The more recent US deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe has exactly the same purpose – to protect the USA from a retaliatory counterstrike. Without going into complex technical discussions, let’s just say that this point in time, this system would never protect the USA from anything. But in the future, we could imagine such a scenario

1) The USA and Russia agree to further deep cuts in their nuclear strategic forces thereby dramatically reducing the total number of Russian SLBM/ICBMs.

2) The USA deploys all around Russia anti-ballistic systems which can catch and destroy Russian missiles in the early phase of their flight towards the USA.

3) The USA also deploys a number of systems in space or around the USA to intercept any incoming Russian warhead.

4) The USA having a very large HTK-capable force executes a successful counterforce strike destroying 90% (or so) of the Russian capabilities and then the rest are destroyed during their flight.

This is the dream. It will never work. Here is why:

1) The Russians will not agree to deep cuts in their nuclear strategic forces

2) The Russians already have deployed the capability to destroy the forward deployed US anti-ballistic system in Europe.

3) Russian warheads and missiles are now maneuverable and can even use any trajectory, including over the South Pole, to reach the USA. New Russian missiles have a dramatically shorter and faster first stage burn period making them much harder to intercept.

4) Russia’s reliance on ballistic missiles will be gradually replaced with strategic (long-range) cruise missiles (more about that later)

5) This scenario mistakenly assumes that the USA will know where the Russian SLBM launching submarines will be when they launch and that they will be able to engage them (more about that later)

6) This scenario completely ignores the Russian road-mobile and rail-mobile ICBMs (more about that later)

Understanding MIRVs

Before explaining points 4, 5 and 6 above, I need to mention another important fact: one missile can carry either one single warhead or several (up to 12 and more). When a missile carries several independently targetable warheads it is called MIRVed as in “multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle”.

MIRVs are important for several reasons. First, one single missile with 10 warheads can, in theory, destroy 10 different targets. Alternatively, one single missile can carry, say 3-4 real warheads and 6-7 decoys. In practical terms what look like one missile on take-off can turn into 5 real warheads, all targeted at different objectives and another 5 fake decoys designed to make interception that more difficult. MIRVs, however, also present a big problem: they are lucrative targets. If with one of “my” nuclear warheards I can destroy 1 of “your” MIRVed missiles, I lose 1 warhead but you lose 10. This is one of the reasons the USA is moving away from land-based MIRVed ICBMs.

The important consideration here is that Russia has a number of possible options to chose from and how many of her missiles will be MIRVed is impossible to predict. Besides, all US and Russian SLBMs will remain MIRVed for the foreseeable future (de-MIRVing SLBMs make no sense, really, since the entire nuclear missile carrying submarine (or SSBN) is a gigantic MIRVed launching pad by definition).

In contrast to MIRVed missile, single warheads missiles are very bad targets to try to destroy using nuclear weapons: even if “my” missile destroys “yours” we both lost 1 missile each. What is the point? Worse, if I have to use 2 of “mine” to make really sure that “yours” is really destroyed, my strike will result in me using 2 warheads in exchange for only 1 of yours. This makes no sense at all.

Finally, in retaliatory countervalue strikes, MIRVed ICBM/SLBMs are a formidable threat: just one single R-30 Bulava (SS-N-30) SLBM or one single R-36 Voevoda (SS-18) ICBM can destroy ten American cities. Is that a risk worth taking? Say the USA failed to destroy one single Borei-class SSBN – in theory that could mean that this one SSBN could destroy up to 200 American cities (20 SLBMs with 10 MIRVs each). How is that for a risk?

Contrasting the US and Russian nuclear triad

Strategic nuclear weapons can be deployed on land, in the oceans or delivered by aircraft. This is called the “nuclear triad”. I won’t discuss the aircraft based part of the US and Russian triads here, as they don’t significantly impact the overall picture and because they are roughly comparable. The sea and land based systems and their underlying strategies could not be any more different. At sea, the USA has had HTK capabilities for many years now and the US decided to hold the most important part of the US nuclear arsenal in SSBNs. In contrast, the Russians chose to develop road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. The very first one was the RT-2PM Topol (SS-25) deployed in 1985, followed by the T-2PM2 «Topol-M» (SS-27) deployed in 1997 and the revolutionary RT-24 Yars or Topol’-MR (SS-29) deployed in 2010 (the US considered deployed road-mobile strategic missiles, but never succeeded in developing the technology).

The Russians are also deploying rail-mobile missiles called RT-23 Molodets (SS-24) and are about to deploy a newer version called RS-27 Barguzin (SS-31?). This is what they look like:

Russian road mobile and rail mobile ICBMs
Russian road mobile and rail mobile ICBMs

SSBNs and road and rail mobile missiles all have two things in common: they are mobile and they rely on concealment for survival as neither of them can hope to survive. The SSBN hides in the depths of the ocean, the road-mobile missile launcher drives around the immense Russian expanses and can hide, literally, in any forest. As for the rail-mobile missile train, it hides by being completely indistinguishable from any other train on the huge Russian railroad network (even from up close it is impossible to tell whether what you are seeing is a regular freight train or a missile launching special train). To destroy these systems, accuracy is absolutely not enough: you need to find them and you need to find them before they fire their missiles. And that is, by all accounts, quite impossible.

The Russian Navy likes to keep its SSBNs either under the polar ice-cap or in so-called “bastions” such as the Sea of Okhotsk. While these are not really “no-go” zones for US attack submarines (SSN), they are extremely dangerous areas where the Russian Navy has a huge advantage over the US (if only because the US attack submarine cannot count on the support of surface ships or aircraft). The US Navy has some of the best submarines on the planet and superbly trained crews, but I find the notion that US SSNs could find and destroy all Russian SSBNs before the latter can launch unlikely in the extreme.

As for the land-based rail-mobile and road-mobile missiles, they are protected by Russian Air Defenses which are the most advanced on the planet, not the kind of airspace the US would want to send B-53, B-1 or B-2 bombers in. But most importantly, these missiles are completely hidden so even if the USA could somehow destroy them, it would failed to find enough of them to make a first disarming strike a viable option. By the way, the RS-24 has four MIRVs (make that 4 US cities) while the RS-27 will have between 10 and 16 (make that another 10 to 16 US cities vaporized).

Looking at geography and cruise missiles

Finally, let’s take a look at geography and cruise missiles. Two Russian cruise missiles are especially important to us: the Kh-102 and the 3M-14K(?):

KH-102 3M-14K
Range: 5500km 2600km
Launcher: Strategic bomber Aircraft, ship, container
Warhead: Nuclear 450kt Nuclear (unknown)

What is important with these two cruise missiles is that the KH-102 has a huge range and that the KM-14K can be fired from aircraft, ships and even containers. Take a look at this video which shows the capabilities of this missile:

Now consider where the vast majority of US cities are located – right along the East and West coasts of the USA and the fact that the US has no air defenses of any kind protecting them. A Russian strategic bomber could hit any West Coast city from the middle of the Pacific ocean. As for a Russian submarine, it could hit any US city from the middle of the Atlantic. Finally, the Russians could conceal an unknown number of cruise missile in regular looking shipping container (flying a Russian flag or, for that matter, any other flag) and simply sail to the immediate proximity to the US coast and unleash a barrage of nuclear cruise missiles.

How much reaction time would such a barrage give the US government?

Understanding reaction time

It is true that the Soviet and Russian space-based early warning system is in bad shape. But did you know that China never bothered developing such a space based system in the first place? So what is wrong with the Chinese, are they stupid, technologically backward or do they know something we don’t?

GlobalWarheadInventoriesTo answer that question we need to look at the options facing a country under nuclear missile attack. The first option is called “launch on warning”: you see the incoming missiles and you press the “red button” (keys in reality) to launch your own missiles. That is sometimes referred to as “use them or lose them”. The next option is “launch on strike”: you launch all you got as soon as a nuclear strike on your territory is confirmed. And, finally, there is the “retaliation after ride-out“: you absorb whatever your enemy shot at you, then take a decision to strike back. What is obvious is that China has adopted, whether by political choice or due to limitation in space capabilities, either a “launch on strike” or a “retaliation after ride-out” option. This is especially interesting since China possesses relatively few nuclear warheads and even fewer real long range ICBMs .

Contrast that with the Russians who have recently confirmed that they have long had a “dead hand system” called “Perimetr” which automatically ascertains that a nuclear attack has taken place and then automatically launches a counterstrike. That would be a “launch on strike” posture, but it is also possible that Russia has a double-posture: she tries to have the capability to launch on warning, but double-secures herself with an automated “dead hand” “launch on strike” capability.

Take a look at this estimate of worldwide stocks of strategic nuclear warheads: While China is credited with only 260 warheads, Russia still has a whopping 7,000 warheads. And a “dead hand” capability. And yet China feels confident enough to announce a “no first use” policy. How can they say that with no space-based nuclear missile launch detection capability?

Many will say that the Chinese wished they had more nukes and a space-based based nuclear missile launch detection capability, but that their current financial and technological means simply do not allow that. Maybe. But my personal guess is that they realize that even their very minimal force represents a good enough deterrent for any potential aggressor. And they might have a point.

Let me ask you this: how many US generals and politicians would be willing to sacrifice just one major US city in order to disarm China or Russia? Some probably would. But I sure hope that the majority would realize that the risk will always remain huge.

For one thing, modern nuclear warfare has, so far, only been “practiced” only on paper and with computers (and thank God for that!)? So nobody *really* knows for sure how a nuclear war would play itself out. The only thing which is certain is that just the political and economic consequences of it would be catastrophic and totally unpredictable. Furthermore, it remains very unclear how such a war could be stopped short of totally destroying one side. The so-called “de-escalation” is a fascinating concept, but so far nobody has really figured this out. Finally, I am personally convinced that both the USA and Russia have more than enough survivable nuclear weapons to actually decide to ride out a full-scale enemy attack. That is the one big issue which many well-meaning pacifist never understood: it is a good thing that “the USA and Russia have the means to blow-up the world ten times over” simply because even one side succeeded in destroying, say, 95% of the US or Russian nuclear forces, the remaining 5% would be more than enough to wipe-out the attacking side in a devastating countervalue attack. If Russia and the USA each had, say, only 10 nuclear warheads then the temptation to try to take them out would be much higher.

This is scary and even sick, but having a lot of nuclear weapons is safer from a “first-strike stability” point of view than having few. Yes, we do live in a crazy world.

Consider that in times of crisis both the US and Russia would scramble their strategic bombers and keep them in the air, refueling them when needed, for as long as needed to avoid having them destroyed on the ground. So even if the USA destroyed ALL Russian ICBM/SLBMs, there would be quite a few strategic bombers in holding patterns in staging areas which could be given the order to strike. And here we reach one last crucial concept:

Counterforce strikes require a lot of HTK capable warheads. The estimates by both sides are kept secret, of course, but we are talking over 1000 targets on each side at least listed, if not actually targeted. But a countervalue strike would require much less. The US has only 10 cities with over one million people. Russia has only 12. And, remember, in theory one warhead is enough for one city (that is not true, but for all practical purposes it is). Just look what 9/11 did to the USA and imagine of, say, “only” Manhattan had been truly nuked. You can easily imagine the consequences.

Conclusion 1: super-fuses are not really that super at all

The super-fuses scare is so overblown that it is almost an urban legend. The fact is that even if all the US SLBMs are now HTK capable and even if Russia does not have a functional space-based missile launch detection capability (she is working on a new one, by the way), this in no way affects the fundamental fact that there is nothing, nothing at all, that the USA could come up with to prevent Russia from obliterating the USA in a retaliatory strike. The opposite is also true, the Russians have exactly zero hope of nuking the USA and survive the inevitable US retaliation.

The truth is that as far back as the early 1980s Soviet (Marshal Ogarkov) and US specialists had already come to the conclusion that a nuclear war was unwinnable. In the past 30 years two things have dramatically changed the nature of the game: first, an increasing number of conventional weapons have become comparable in their effects to small nuclear weapons and cruise missiles have become vastly more capable. The trend today is for low-RCS (stealth) long range hypersonic cruise missiles and maneuvering ICBM warheads which will make it even harder to detect and intercept them. Just think about it: if the Russians fired a cruise missile volley from a submarine say, 100km off the US coast, how much reaction time will the US have? Say that these low-RCS missile would begin flying at medium altitude being for all practical purpose invisible to radar, infra-red and even sound, then lower themselves down to 3-5 m over the Atlantic and then accelerate to a Mach 2 or Mach 3 speed. Sure, they will become visible to radars once they crosses the horizon, but the remaining reaction time would be measured in seconds, not minutes. Besides, what kind of weapon system could stop that missile type of anyway? Maybe the kind of defenses around a US aircraft carrier (maybe), but there is simply nothing like that along the US coast.

As for ballistic missile warheads, all the current and foreseeable anti-ballistic systems rely on calculations for a non-maneuvering warhead. Once the warheads begin to make turns and zig-zag, then the computation needed to intercept them become harder by several orders of magnitude. Some Russian missiles, like the R-30 Bulava, can even maneuver during their initial burn stage, making their trajectory even harder to estimate (and the missile itself harder to intercept).

The truth is that for the foreseeable future ABM systems will be much more expensive and difficult to build then ABM-defeating missiles. Also, keep in mind that an ABM missile itself is also far, far more expensive than a warhead. Frankly, I have always suspected that the American obsession with various types of ABM technologies is more about giving cash to the Military Industrial Complex and, at best, developing new technologies useful elsewhere.

Conclusion 2: the nuclear deterrence system remains stable, very stable

At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union’s allies, moved by the traditional western love for Russia, immediately proceeded to plan for a conventional and a nuclear war against the Soviet Union (see Operation Unthinkable and Operation Dropshot). Neither plan was executed, the western leaders were probably rational enough not to want to trigger a full-scale war against the armed forces which had destroyed roughly 80% of the Nazi war machine. What is certain, however, is that both sides fully understood that the presence of nuclear weapons profoundly changed the nature of warfare and that the world would never be the same again: for the first time in history all of mankind faced a truly existential threat. As a direct result of this awareness, immense sums of money were given to some of the brightest people on the planet to tackle the issue of nuclear warfare and deterrence. This huge effort resulted in an amazingly redundant, multi-dimensional and sophisticated system which cannot be subverted by any one technological breakthrough. There is SO much redundancy and security built into the Russian and American strategic nuclear forces that a disarming first strike is all but impossible, even if we make the most unlikely and far-fetched assumptions giving one side all the advantages and the other all the disadvantages. For most people it is very hard to wrap their heads around such a hyper-survivable system, but both the USA and Russia have run hundreds and even thousands of very advanced simulations of nuclear exchanges, spending countless hours and millions of dollars trying to find a weak spot in the other guy’s system, and each time the result was the same: there is always enough to inflict an absolutely cataclysmic retaliatory counter-strike.

Conclusion 3: the real danger to our common future

The real danger to our planet comes not from a sudden technological breakthrough which would make nuclear war safe, but from the demented filled minds of the US Neocons who believe that they can bring Russia to heel in a game of “nuclear chicken”. These Neocons have apparently convinced themselves that making conventional threats against Russia, such as unilaterally imposing no-fly zones over Syria, does not bring us closer to a nuclear confrontation. It does.

The Neocons love to bash the United Nations in general, and the veto power of the Permanent Five (P5) at the UN Security Council, but they apparently forgot the reason why this veto power was created in the first place: to outlaw any action which could trigger a nuclear war. Of course, this assumes that the P5 all care about international law. Now that the USA has clearly become a rogue state whose contempt for international law is total, there is no legal mechanism left to stop the US from committing actions which endanger the future of mankind. This is what is really scary, not “super-fuses”.

What we are facing today is a nuclear rogue state run by demented individuals who, steeped in a culture of racial superiority, total impunity and imperial hubris, are constantly trying to bring us closer to a nuclear war. These people are not constrained by anything, not morals, not international law, not even common sense or basic logic. In truth, we are dealing with a messianic cult every bit as insane as the one of Jim Jones or Adolf Hitler and like all self-worshiping crazies they profoundly believe in their invulnerability.

It is the immense sin of the so-called “Western world” that it let these demented individuals take control with little or no resistance and that now almost the entire western society lack the courage to even admit that it surrendered itself to what I can only call a satanic cult. Alexander Solzhenitsyn prophetic words spoken in 1978 have now fully materialized:

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life (Harvard Speech, 1978)

Five years later, Solzhenitsyn warned us again saying,

To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our hands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing. Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.

We have been warned, but will we heed that warning?

Korea und Trump

History and Hypocrisy: Why the Korean War Matters in the Age of Trump

The DPRK’s recent missile test is a “provocation” according to US state sources. A provocation indeed. Firing things into the air that go bang is clearly not a nice thing to do. People really should ease up on things that explode. I mean somebody could get hurt.

Unfortunately for the Americans, when it comes to making things explode they themselves are hardly innocent. Trump’s recent bombardment of Afghanistan and Syria is a case in point. Maintaining considerable armed forces on the Korean peninsula and making a lot of threatening noise about an “armada” is another. To thus accuse the North Koreans of “provocation” is akin to me objecting to foul language after donning a t-shirt with “I like violence” written across the front and brandishing a knife at complete strangers. It simply makes no sense.

You’ll be lucky to find much in US foreign policy that makes sense, however. The popular media doesn’t help. Spurning any semblance of objectivity at every turn, much of the western press would have you believe that the DPRK is populated by people who are simply insane, all marching in unison to the whims of their stereotypical Bond villain of a leader. The at times racist narrative, so eagerly lapped up by swathes of the freedom loving public, is simplistic to the point of being painful. All the same it persists.

Let’s get a few things out in the open. The DPRK is not the aggressor here. Their nuclear program is hardly in the final stages, and given the recent news of yet another failed test it seems unlikely Pyongyang will be able to develop a reliable mid-range ICBM for some time. Their conventional forces, although sizeable, are also generally in possession of somewhat antiquated technology. Aside from a few outbreaks along the border with the south, the DPRK has never actually engaged in open conflict with any power, at all, since the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War. All in all this is not a country that’s looking for a brawl for the pure sake of it.

The same cannot be said for others. Since the birth of the DPRK the US has attacked numerous countries across the globe, killing literally millions of people, including fighting a major conflict on Korean soil just five years after using WMDs on Japanese cities. Ever eager to safeguard democracy, the US currently has well over a hundred thousand troops stationed in myriad parts of the world, with over twenty thousand in South Korea itself. American nuclear weapons are able to decimate entire nations at will, with the “progressive” President Obama having pouring over a trillion dollars into their redevelopment and enhancement. All in all this is a nation well accustomed to violence.

The hard truth is that the DPRK has been under myriad sanctions by the US for the vast bulk of its existence, with the fixation on the recent nuclear issue being a sideshow to gloss over an ongoing policy to ostracise, isolate and generally defame the DPRK as a habitual, indeed pantomime, villain. The fact that Korea has been divided by an invading force is rarely scrutinised, nor are the frequent attempts to intimidate Koreans into obedience, from incessant military drills to proposals to withhold food aid and potentially starve millions of people. The current tensions can only be understood within the context of this very unequal, very predatory, context.

A Troubled Past

History matters. The standard narrative on the Korean War of 1950-53 is that the United Nations was forced to commit military forces only after the malevolent Kim Il Sung ordered an entirely unprovoked assault on the south. Like so much else when it comes to both politics and history, the mainstream perspective is convoluted, if not just entirely wrong. The truth of the matter is that, after initial division between north and south in the wake of the defeat of the Japanese occupation, skirmishes between Seoul and Pyongyang had been going on for some time, with the former having carried out several notable (and distinctly hostile) incursions.

For historians such as David Reynolds, some one hundred thousand Koreans had already been killed in border fighting and uprisings in the south prior to the outbreak of formal hostilities. Indeed, analysts have gone as far as to hypothesise that the situation in 1950 degraded so rapidly precisely due to the ROK assault on the north Korean town of Haeju, something that prompted the DPRK to consider redoubled measures against an increasingly aggressive neighbour.

The US were also not about to let a golden opportunity slip by. After losing influence across much of East Asia with the defeat of the pro-US Kuomintang in ’49 (itself a deeply corrupt and authoritarian entity with a propensity for massacring its own people) Washington found itself looking for opportunities to regain lost ground. A reunified Korea under western influence seemed like an eminently desirable scenario. Korea could not be allowed to unite on its own terms, given US fears of left-wing success in national elections. The outbreak of hostilities on the peninsula were too good an opportunity to pass up.

The Americans moved fast. Refusing to wait for authorisation from an already fractured UN Security Council, the US committed itself to an extensive and protracted campaign, ultimately overrunning much of northern Korea before being driven back by the intervention of substantial Chinese forces. In the process, the US inflicted numerous war crimes against the general population, with the air force targeting civilian and military centres with well over six hundred thousand tons worth of bombs and thirty thousand tons of napalm.

By the end of the war, General MacArthur’s order to “destroy every means of communication and every installation, and factories and cities and villages” had been carried out. Much of the DPRK, alongside swathes of the ROK, were in ruins, with US aerial bombardment ensuring the vast majority of urban areas were decimated and their populations either dead or displaced.

Pyongyang was effectively levelled, having gone from being home to some half a million citizens in 1950 to having just two structures left intact three years later. In the south, Seoul changed hands a total of four times in just nine months, with its “liberation” ensuring only the capital building and a railway station were left intact. Over twenty percent of the northern population is believe to have been killed, many of them civilians blown to pieces or immolated in napalm during the incessant pulverisation of their homes. Well over a million southerners also lost their lives.

“We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both,” claimed one young American officer, Curtis LeMay, “we killed off over a million Korean civilians and drove several million more from their homes”. This was no idle boast. In ’52, William Douglas, himself Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, visited the war-torn nation to see such sights first-hand, remarking “”I had seen the war-battered cities of Europe; but I had not seen devastation until I had seen Korea”.

Massacre at No Gun Ri

Death from above was only one side to the punishment inflicted upon the troubled nation. On the ground, American soldiers soon developed a sense of brazen contempt for the indigenous population, engaging in myriad acts of thuggery against civilians unlucky enough to get in the way.

Those suspected of harbouring political sentiments out of style with the southern authorities found themselves in hot water, with some one hundred thousand potential dissidents being murdered over the course of the conflict. Mass killings and the wholesale slaughter of entire prison populations by ROK security forces were not unknown.

The plight of war refugees was unsurprisingly harsh. In fact it was here that US ground forces carried out one of their most notorious actions of the entire war, slaughtering several hundred civilians being forcibly driven from their homes around the village of No Gun Ri.

Many of the inhabitants of this region had already found their homes set alight, with one particular group being “evacuated” by American troops also in the habit of beating up and occasionally shooting individual Koreans for presumed infractions. Aside from the casual murderousness of the GIs, the refugee’s journey south was uneventful until the middle of the next day when, finding themselves bereft of their gracious escorts, they were suddenly attacked by US aircraft.

The villagers, dazed and frightened, attempted to flee the bombs and bullets only to inadvertently approach positions manned by US soldiers. The response from the troops was to open fire, apparently being ordered to remain on alert for “civilian clad” infiltrators attempting to pass through American lines. Whatever their reasons, the soldiers hosed the panicked column with machine gun, rifle and mortar rounds, killing a sizeable amount of civilians and causing others to flee.

Seemingly not content, US soldiers then rounded up survivors and herded them under a nearby bridge, in the process shooting several deemed too badly hurt to be moved. After forcing some three hundred persons into confinement in this way, the Americans opened fire yet again, ripping in to the Koreans from both sides of the bridge with small arms and artillery.

“We was holding that rail-road bridge to keep them from coming across that,” claimed one Melvin Durham of F Company, 7th Cavalry, himself cited in the seminal text, The Bridge at No Gun Ri. “But those people – there was women, children, old people – we had to eliminate them…our orders was to start opening fire and when we did, there wasn’t nothing standing but a couple of cows. We fired for about an hour, an hour and a half.”

Durham and company weren’t messing around. Few of those trapped under the bridge survived the onslaught, with entire families, infants and elderly included, dying among the detritus of shattered masonry and pulverised flesh. One strapping young patriot, clearly with a mind for America’s glorious colonial roots, claimed “it was like an Indian raid, back in the old days. We just annihilated them”. Another, this time a staff sergeant, likened the action to a “feeding frenzy…guys were shooting because they hadn’t shot before, and they had permission to shoot…it’s like ‘Hey, shoot at anything that moves out there.’”

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Additional orders issued to other US army and air units were clear enough. One such memo, detailed in the 2002 documentary “Kill ‘Em All”, declared officers had “complete authority in your zone to stop all civilian traffic. Responsibility to place fire on them (and) to include bombing rests with you”. Another more direct order instructed units that  “all refugees are fair game. Refugees will be considered (the) enemy and dispersed by all available fire including artillery.”

One reluctant soldier, having the temerity to display something of a conscience when it came to such directives, recalled an unusual morale boosting technique from his commanding officer. Rather than grappling with the ethical complexities of murdering innocent people, the officer in question instead held a gun to the soldier’s head, demanding that he “kill ’em…or I will kill you myself” and begrudging him for “disobeying a direct order”.

Others were not so restrained. “There was a lieutenant screaming like a mad man to fire on everything,” recalled one Joe Jackman, himself a war vet present at No Gun Ri. “Kids, there was kids out there, it didn’t matter what it was. Eight to eighty, blind, crippled or crazy, they shot ’em.”

In addition to mass bombardment and repeat atrocities, the US had other joys in store for Korea. After the Chinese had crossed the border in late 1950 and defeated the US Eighth Army in open battle, the use of atomic weapons became a serious possibility. Clearly irked by the audacity of the Chinese, General MacArthur entertained an ambitious plan to target both Korean and Chinese cities with WMDs, in the process ideally creating a belt of irradiated wasteland between the two nations that would deter any further meddling from Beijing.

He wasn’t playing games. “I would have dropped thirty or so atomic bombs…strung across the neck of Manchuria,” claimed the General, in an interview published after his death. “(I’d) spread behind us, from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea, a belt of radioactive cobalt…it has an active life of between sixty and one twenty years. For at least sixty years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north. My plan was a cinch.”

He was probably right. Fortunately his scheme was never approved. Yet such heroics were not to be confined to east Asia. Just three years after the end of hostilities in Korea, the Cold War was still heating up, with the US preparing an extensive list of targets for nuclear bombardment in multiple countries. Ranging from locales as disparate as Warsaw and Beijing, the Americans cited major urban zones as priority targets for destruction, with the total elimination of their high civilian populations the desired outcome.

One small problem presented itself. Given the nature of the weapons to be deployed, the possibility of collateral damage in allied states was a sizeable possibility. Such a scenario doesn’t appear to have caused too much worry for US strategic planners, however, with East Berlin soon being targeted by over ninety atomic weapons as part of a policy of “systematic destruction” that would have also wiped out allied West Berlin and devastated swathes of Europe. The well-being of their own partners, not to mention the lives of millions of men, women and children in multiple nations, from Germany to China, were eminently expendable in the face of US interests.

A cheap shot would be to argue that this is all “ancient history”. Of course, those making such a claim are almost certainly safely ensconced within the US itself, always way out of the line of fire and comfortable in the precedent that catastrophic violence is something that Americans inflict on foreigners rather than the other way around.

Claims that such matters are “history” also make the crass assumption that there is a point of sudden disconnect between US policy then and now, itself a rather clumsy notion that ignores the reality of American aggression over the past several decades. Planning to murder (and in the case of Korea actually doing so) millions of people isn’t something that can be conveniently dismissed by uttering tired maxims such as “forgive and forget”. The current belligerence directed towards Korea highlight this.

Again, history matters. DPRK citizens today make frequent mention of the Korean War. In some instances many families will yet retain a living link to that conflict, with scenes of horrific suffering and sweeping destruction a yet present memory. Even those without relatives around to recall the 1950s will be reminded of the tender touch of US foreign policy every time they go outside, with the near total levelling of many urban centres ensuring that most buildings in modernity are merely decades rather than centuries old.

It would be a serious mistake to assume this finds no echo in Korean politics. Every time news hits of the latest US offensive abroad, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya and Syria, Koreans will be further reminded of their own painful past. The continued presence of sizeable American military forces on the Korean peninsula won’t help. Washington’s redoubled threats and moronic macho talk about “looking for trouble” won’t help either.

Declarations from Pyongyang as to sovereignty, retaliation, self-reliance and military prowess will, however, make sense to a people long accustomed to either being the underdog or facing outright annihilation. There is nothing “crazy” about this. Only the most deluded of western cynics could claim Koreans resent the western powers purely because of “state propaganda”. The reality is right there for them to experience. It’s been there for decades. It’s about time this was fully understood.

Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.