Essay: Two Nuclear Incidents During the Yom Kippur War

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Lessons Learned on Yom Kippur

The Soviet Union violated a treaty with the United States when it attacked Israel on October 6, which is the Jewish holy day of Yom Kipper and the conflict in the Middle East nearly became a conflict between the two Superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union at a very precarious time in history and in the time known as 'The Cold War'. The United States had assumed that the Cold War policy of deterrence would effectively avoid such an event however, as history relates, the policy of deterrence was constructed upon instable assumptions of the rationality of those in positions of leadership.

The Cold War

For those who grew up during the period commonly known as 'The Cold War' then the ominous threat of nuclear destruction might seem in the nature of something that is over-dramatized in its severity however, for school children during that period of time in U.S. history the threat of nuclear destruction was real and permeated each day at home, in school, and across the radio and television channels as the Civil Defense, now the County Emergency Management Associations (EMA) and nationally FEMA worked diligently to educate the U.S. population of how to prepare and survive should a nuclear assault be launched against the American people in the nation's homeland. Politicians worked gruelingly to negotiate the complicated and diverse actors and nations across the globe toward the goal of avoiding of a nuclear war occurring which would assuredly mean mass death, contamination and destruction.

The two main players in the Cold War were the world's two superpowers and specifically the United States and the Soviet Union who were severely adverse to one another both in theory and application of government and the rule of law. The United States, a democracy, was often threatened, although those threats were veiled, by the Soviet Union which is a communist nation so the United States stayed on heightened alert during this period of time as to the actions of the Soviet Union and this was true of all global aspects of the Soviet Unions interaction with and against the rest of the world.

The work of Van Den Bergh (2009) entitled: "The Taming of the Great Nuclear Powers" published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace states that the development of states began first in Europe "as the outcome of drawn-out struggles for hegemony between different power centers, with one state eventually winning. The hegemonic position of each state then enabled it to establish a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence in the territory it ruled." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.3) The monopoly is stated to have, following the elimination of struggles in other territories...because the most importance characteristic of individual states. It made pacification of their territories possible." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.3) In addition, the elimination of robbers and pirates resulted in safe transport and trade and ultimately paved the way for industrialization. (Van Den Bergh, 2009, paraphrased)

Van Den Bergh writes that the monopoly on atomic power of the Americans "made it imperative for the Soviet Union to follow suit, and it enter the race in 1949" with Great Britain, France and China following close behind. These five states were the five nuclear powers recognized by the Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT) and are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council." (2009, p.4) The states of Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, the states newer to nuclear capability are stated to have been "regarded as outsiders." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p. 4) Israel, India and Pakistan did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty however North Korea initially signed but withdrew from the treaty later on. Van Den Bergh states that the prolonged debate on the role of nuclear weapons resulted in a gradually developing split "between actual political conduct and arms acquisition policies, the latter being justified by strategies for 'winning' a nuclear war." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.5)

Prior to the Cuban missile crisis it is related that the idea, described as an "increasingly dangerous" one "of limited nuclear war was discussed as if America were still invulnerable." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.5) This attitude was dropped after the Cuban Missile crisis and returned against in the 1970s in "the equally dangerous form of 'limited nuclear options' however, there was no serious consideration actually given to these. Van Den Bergh relates that it was uncertainty concerning the intentions of opposing forces that frequently led to "scare scenarios" and as well that when the Korean war came to an end President Eisenhower, normally described as cautious "made a veiled nuclear threat directed at North Korea and China which were called by some to be a display of 'brinkmanship' in his implications that the United States "could safety hint at the possibility of nuclear war if it could convince an opponent of its own greater stake and commitment." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.5)

In the period between 1947 and 1962 the Cold War was characterized by "intense political-ideological and military competition" as well as nuclear testing of the H. Bomb and the fact that the Soviet Union was gaining ground in its development of nuclear capabilities and a "growing nuclear arsenal." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p. 6) By 1960 the Soviet Union is stated to have "acquired a retaliatory capability. A nuclear war would already then have meant terrible, mutually unacceptable destruction for both countries." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.6) Stated as the "supreme task" for both U.S. And Soviet leaders was "not how to get the upper hand" but instead "how to avoid escalation to a nuclear war, while finding a compromise acceptable to both." (Van Den Bergh, 2009, p.3, p.6)

II. Deterrence Policy

The theory behind the rationale of leaders in the United States during the Cold War was based upon what is termed as a policy of deterrence or the belief "...that a foe will be rational" or reasonable and that they will be "...ultimately predictable and controllable" however as noted in the work of Payne (2003) entitled: "The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction" the idea that leaders can be assumed to be rational and willing to "engage in cost-benefit calculations when making policy decisions" is a "potentially dangerous assumption..." (Payne, 2003, p.411) Payne writes that the policy of 'mutual deterrence' was believed generally to be a policy that was stable and that the "underlying assumption was that neither side, being rational and reasonable would intentionally initiative a war if the end result could be widespread mutual destruction." (Payne, 2003, p.414)

Payne (2003) states that the basis of the policy of deterrence was the assumption that "any Soviet leadership, indeed 'any sane political authority' would share in the basic features and logic underlying U.S. deterrence policy. This assumption overpowered suggestions that the unique characteristics of Soviet leadership and ideology could decisively shape the Soviet approach to nuclear weapons and deterrence possibly moving Soviet leaders quite rationally in significant heretical directions." (Payne, 2003, p.414)

Payne (2003) addresses the inadequate framework upon which the Cold War policy of deterrence was formed and states that history is replete with examples of those in leadership positions whose "personal and political beliefs -- ranging from the grossly criminal to the sublime -- shaping decision-making in unreasonable and thus surprising ways" has served to defy those assumptions upon which the Cold War policy of deterrence has been constructed.

III. Violation of Detente Policy

In the work entitled: "The October War and U.S. Policy" it is related that on the sixth day of October 1973 at 2:00 P.M. Cairo time, military forces from Egypt and Syria "launched coordinated attacks on Israeli forces in the Sinai and Golan Heights." (Burr, 2003, p.1) This event is known as the October War or the Yom Kippur War and was a conflict that "lasted from late October when Washington and Moscow, working through the United Nations forced a cease-fire on the warring parties. The October war had a fundamental impact on international relations not only by testing the durability of U.S.-Soviet detente but also by compelling the United States to put the Arab-Israeli conflict on the top of its foreign policy agenda. The threat of regional instability, energy crises, and superpower confrontation, made a U.S. hands-on role in the region inescapable." (Burr, 2003, p.1)

III. Memorandum from National Security Council (NSC) Staff, "Indications of Arab Intentions to Initiative Hostilities" n.d. [early May 1973]

In early May 1973 it was reported in a Memorandum from the National Security staff that certain indicators had been noted in the activities and statements of the Egyptians in the weeks immediately preceding that time and specifically the following serious indicators:

(1) Movement of SA-6 surface-to-air missiles to firing sites within 20 miles of the Suez Canal; a program to convert SA-2 missile systems to more advanced models has also been reported;

(2) Transfer within the past month of about 30 Mirage V jet fighters, which have a ground attack… [END OF PREVIEW]

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