The United States' Peacekeeper missile was a M...
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One of the big arguments this year is to change the status of US nuclear weapon launch posture to Retaliate Only After A Detonation (RLOAD) as opposed to the current Launch on Warning (LOW) posture.  Once the early warning system detects a launch then commanders are authorized to launch.  The theory is that if we waited for the enemy attack to arrive then our arsenal might not survive making retaliation impossible.  Many argue, however, that the survivability of our arsenal is no longer in doubt because it is either much larger than other arsenals or other arsenals are not accurate/dependable or our arsenal is well defended/hardened to a first strike.

If it is true that our arsenal will survive a first strike then it makes sense to downgrade alert levels from LOW.  The enemy attack is getting through regardless of when our retaliation occurs.  The benefit to this downgraded hostility is the concern that our early warning system is fallible.  If we were to launch in response to warning detection and that detection ends up being a false positive then millions of people have died needlessly.  However, waiting for an actual detonation would guarantee those people would not have died needlessly.  I will leave the needless question for other venues as I want to deal, instead, with the lack of actual change RLOAD would bring.

There are a few reasons a needless launch might occur under LOW.  If there is an accidental launch on either our or someone else’s part then the change to RLOAD does not solve that problem.  Advocates will answer this argument claiming that RLOAD affords us more time than LOW so we can phone the Chinese, the Russians or whomever and figure out what happened.  However, LOW allows us this ability as well.  LOW does not require an immediate retaliation, but rather a retaliation before the first strike can arrive and decapitate the arsenal.  If a first strike provides a warning (not a nearby submarine launch, not a backpacked nuclear weapon, not a cruise missile attack, etc…) then it provides enough warning to make contact with the supposed aggressor.

A second cause of a warning comes from a faulty warning system.  This is supposed to be the area of largest gain for the change to an RLOAD posture, however, it is really the exact same system dressed up to make us feel better.  A warning of a launch serves as authorization for a field commander to issue the launch command.  Field commanders have the physical ability to order the launch, LOW is just a condition under which they are authorized to do so.  RLOAD merely reconfigures this authorization, but does not impede the physical ability to do so.  That is important to keep in mind.

The supposed benefit of RLOAD is that we ‘know’ a first strike has occurred because there is a detonation.  But, the field commander contemplating launching does not ‘know’.  This is Agamben’s insight on the witness problem.  If someone knew a nuclear detonation had occurred then the odds are they are dead.  Even if they survived they are not inside a secured military base lording over nuclear weapons.  The field commander ‘knows’ there was a detonation because some device relays that knowledge back to her.  However, that is precisely what the warning system does, and the premise why LOW fails is because there are mechanical malfunctions casting doubt on the accuracy of those knowledge relaying systems.  Why RLOAD is then immune from the problem its advocates is not dealt with.

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It’s not that I am bored, there is no shortage of stuff I need to be doing.  I can afford to do those things to-morrow and ESPN Classic may not be showing a marathon of Ali and Tyson fights under the heading Ali vs. Tyson.  While interesting to watch, it’s amazing to see how much we have changed in 20 years, I think ESPN Classic has the wrong marathon going on.  We should not be watching a bunch of Ali and Tyson fights, we should be watching fights of their opponents and then their fights with Ali and Tyson.

We can spend a lot of time seeing how Ali was able to duck and dodge and wear out his opponents.  We can spend a lot of time watching Tyson walk into the opponents and lay them out with a single hit.  That does little to provide good arguments for the ultimate hypothetical matchup.  What would help however is to see how they would have affected the other in the matchup.

What most people don’t see about Tyson was how he forced opponents into a weak game.  He wasn’t particularly fast.  He wasn’t particularly tough.  What he had was an abnormal strength and the fear of being hit by the punch forced his opponents to close up ranks and assume a defensive posture from the get go.  Ali just beat his opponents without forcing them into an uncomfortable position.  ESPN Classics contest is too limited, looking at the wrong transcripts for evaluation.

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The Chosen One
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Derrida cites an interesting passage from Levinas that begs a question about the practices of contemporary police debate.  Approaching the other in discourse

is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it.  It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity.  But this also means: to be taught.  The relation with the Other, or Discourse, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this discourse is a teaching.  But teaching does not come down to maieutics; it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain.  (Adieu to Emannuel Levinas, p. 18)

How then does this relate to contemporary policy debate?  Debate is plagued by a non-rigorous, not the same as valueless, exercise where the activity is assailed by one of the teams as being exclusionary because it privileges certain forms and/or contents.  Usually these debates focus upon the link of the criticism, but that is not the heart of the debate because the criticisms are usually correct, there is a privilege in debate.  The location of the privilege shifts from round to round and team to team and these criticism need to become more particular instead of the universal ‘Debate is Bad, juhudge.’

The Levinas passage though begs the remedy of these arguments.  I have often wanted to see a traditional affirmative tell the negative that their criticism is with merit but it is not a winning argument because merit/a link is a necessary but not sufficient reason to win the debate.  Does the above passage make this very argument, that simply by hearing the argument and criticism we have been changed and altered and we opened ourselves up for that alteration?  If so, then what function does winning the round serve?  Derrida includes this passage in an essay about welcoming and should the more welcoming team, the one advocating the more inclusive form of debate, be therefore truly welcoming and self-effacing?

The easy response to this argument is that approaching the other in discourse is not satisfied by debate because it is not genuine.  Supposedly the traditional team does not really care and hence is not approaching but merely standing within.  I am not persuaded by this argument because I always find claims of (in)sincerity suspect due to their immeasurability.  I also find this argument wrong because even an orientation of ‘standing within’ discourse is an opening.  The traditional team has to understand the rejoinder in order to respond to it.  However, if my argument above is accurate then maybe I have actually empowered a standing within orientation because the answer is generic and universal in its approaching, denying the need to really understand the rejoinder.

We can take this argument out of policy debate and apply it to presidential debates or any other debate in our worlds.  In the movie Primary Colors there is a scene where Governor Clinton is invited to a debate and the frontrunner is furious because that is a granting of legitimacy.  If ever there was potential for an insincere approach to discourse this would be it and yet the frontrunner has to approach the debate genuinely because people are watching and evaluating.  The mere presence of Governor Clinton is also an opening by the front-runner because the front-runner did not refuse the debate, as has happened, even recently, see McCain in last ear’s election.  Being at that debate is an acceptance of Clinton and the differences Clinton represented.

The old axiom “negative attention is better than no attention” is a run-off of this welcoming theory.

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