"Dr. Strangelove's New Passion: Precision-Guided Mayhem," American Purpose
Monday, in what is becoming a weekly occurrence, Houthi drones again struck two Saudi airports. Coming after previous precision drone and missile attacks conducted against Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Syrian targets, this latest spat of attacks suggests the not so brave world we are moving into — a precision-missiled planet in which weak actors use advanced weaponry not to reduce possible harm to civilians, but to increase it.
What might this future look like? I take a peek in the attached American Purpose piece and video interview, “Dr. Strangelove’s New Passion: Precision-Guided Mayhem.” In it, I spotlight the increasing number of threats weaker states and non-state actors are making with precision missiles and drones against “sympathetic targets” (e.g., dams, petrochemical plants, ammo depots, nuclear plants, natural gas depots, etc.) that release far more harm once hit than the amount of energy initially used to strike them.
I also focus on the difficulty of defending against such threats that states face and the specter of launching massive preemptive wars as a response. In a world with nuclear-armed states in East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East, this could spell real trouble.
When it comes to the macabre-bizarre, few movies beat Dr. Strangelove. In it, Soviet Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky, played by Peter Bull, announces that Moscow has a doomsday array of cobalt bombs automatically set to poison all of humanity if Russia is ever nuked (spoiler alert: U.S. Major T.J. “King” Kong, played by Slim Pickens, sparks the end of days, riding an American nuclear weapon rodeo-style to target). The year Dr. Strangelove was released—1964—the world’s smart money was on making deterrence as massively murderous as possible.
Fast forward fifty-seven years. Dr. Strangelove’s passion has changed. Today, precision munitions—“Ninja weapons” and lethal, loitering drones capable of taking out a terrorist in the back seat of an economy car without harming the front-seat driver—are the favored killer app. Now, we can hit who we want without harming who we don’t.
That’s the apologia for precision-guided munitions. Heralded by the U.S. Air Force’s laser-guided bomb destruction of the North Vietnamese Thanh Hóa bridge in 1972, using only eight weapons (after more than 871 previous imprecise, unsuccessful strikes), precision-guided weapons were supposed to dramatically reduce “collateral damage” (read: the unintended, massive slaying of innocents).
With America’s shock and awe wars in Iraq and the Balkans, they mostly did. Since then, the whole world has tracked this precision-guided path. Not just the major powers but Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan, India, South and North Korea, and Taiwan now all make precision missiles and drones that can hit whatever targets they’re aimed at. And they are spreading, both to states and to non-state proxies.
The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit,
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.