For the sake of argument, imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers. That infinitely strengthens deterrence by radically degrading the possibility of a successful first strike. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might refrain from launching an arsenal of, say, 20 nukes if his scientific advisers showed him that there was only an 18.2 percent chance of any getting through-- and a 100 percent chance that a retaliatory counterattack of hundreds of Israeli (and/or American) nukes would reduce the world's first Islamic republic to a cinder.One of the favorite tactics of politicians and their spokescreatures is to dismiss "hypotheticals." "I'm not going to answer hypotheticals." In most instances, the question preceding the brush-off is not in fact hypothetical, but rather goes to some matter of broader principle, the outright statement of which would make the contingent behavior necessary for political survival and prosperity impossible, besides which most of them haven't got any principles to espouse in the first place. On the other hand, when arguing in favor of some kooky program or other, politicians and their mouthpieces have an almost uncanny ability to speak in the cosmic subjunctive, and thus do we have Krauthammer asking us "for the sake of argument, [to] imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers." Well, I can imagine a lot of things, as my grandfather used to say, but hoping doesn't make wishing so. The last time the government tested its antimissile technology, it actually dispatched a couple of guys with a wheelbarrow to push the kill vehicle across a paved lot to an unfueled mock-up of an ICBM, and they still missed. I suppose it's gracious of Krauthammer to grant 10% inaccuracy within the context of his fantasism, though. For the sake of argument, imagine that I have just won the Powerball, and each of you is entitled to a couple thousand bucks of it, except that I haven't, so you're not, suckers.
Of course, one can get around missile defense by using terrorists. But anything short of a hermetically secret, perfectly executed, multiple-site attack would cause terrible, but not existential, destruction. The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential.
We are, of course, dealing here with probabilities. Total safety comes only from regime change. During the Cold War, we worried about Soviet nukes, but never French or British nukes. Weapons don't kill people; people kill people. Regime change will surely come to both North Korea and Iran. That is the ultimate salvation.
"The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential." I used to write sentences like this for my Theory and Postcolonialism seminar, just to see if I could get away with something so transparently nonsensical. (I could.) "Existential" is one of those words that doesn't really mean what its current fanbase thinks it means. All those Gauloises-smoking, Stalin-sympathizing, god-hating French bastards over on la rive gauche back in the day were talking about the nature of existence, the qualities of existence--in other words, as the dauphin likes to say, topics in philosophy. Being and Nothingness, it turns out, is not the same as The Omega Man. All the current talk of "existential threats" has, unintentionally, the tone of an undergraduate prank. "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits," wrote Camus. Amen, brother.
"Weapons don't kill people; people kill people," is a repackaged gun-lobby slogan, and what's amusing about it is that it removes from consideration the principle means that humans have of interacting with and altering their environment, namely through the use of tools. You would never hear a person argue that "skillets don't cook eggs; people cook eggs." Obviously human intention lies proximately behind the use of devices. Skillets don't decide to make you breakfast (yet), and missiles don't decide to launch themselves (yet). Yet skillets do effectuate the cooking of eggs, and weapons are in fact a major means by which "people kill people." Krauthammer's is a pretty low casuistry. He's trying to draw a distinction between the French having nukes and the Iranians, since we know that the French won't ever use their nukes . . . unless, of course, they do, unlike the Iranians, who will certainly use theirs . . . unless, of course, they don't. But since we cannot depend on the Iranians to refrain from doing whatever it is that they're not going to refrain from doing, we must hope for new people, who don't kill people, under the neologistic guise of regime change. This, friends, is the Ultimate Salvation. Don't tell the Pope.