Note on terminology used in discussing the launch of rocket-mounted nuclear weapons
In connection with “launch on warning” the terms used by different speakers, writers, and sources of information, have varied. At times they have been intentionally or unintentionally ambiguous. Different groups have used one term with various meanings, and few have made a serious attempt to achieve consistency.
In the launch of a nuclear rocket or salvo of rockets, the moment of the first launch relative to perceived actions by the enemy must be in one of three distinct time periods:
(i) Before any enemy missile has been launched;
(ii) During the flight of one or more enemy missiles, and before the detonation of any enemy warhead;
(iii) After the first detonation of an enemy warhead.
This paper (“No Launch on Warning”) concerns itself with period (ii), during which warning systems indicate enemy missiles or warheads in flight. Launch during period (ii) has been referred to in most anti-nuclear writings and speeches, and in discussion, as “Launch on Warning”. It is abbreviated to “L-o-W” in this paper.
The US military use the term “Launch under Attack”, or “LUA” to denote launch during the same time period (ii). Their spokespersons have sometimes denied a policy of ‘launch on warning’ while admitting “LUA”. The word attack may have been chosen in order to imply that enemy warheads have already detonated, or that perception of the attack was in some way more certain than it was in the context of “L-o-W” (which was used at an earlier date). However, “LUA” is defined in the dictionary of military terms at: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/doddict/ as “execution by National Command Authorities of Single Integrated Operational Plan Forces subsequent to tactical warning of strategic nuclear attack against the United States and prior to first impact.” This (if you have grasped the jargon) is identical with the peace movement use of the term “Launch on Warning”.
“Launch on Warning” is not defined in the web version of the dictionary of military terms, which contains some 100,000 definitions. However we have been told that L-o-W can have a very scary meaning in deterrence theory. It means, or includes, a launch in period (i), that is before any enemy missile has been launched, but when there is convincing evidence that a nuclear attack by the enemy is imminent. It would be a huge attack, aimed mainly at rocket launch sites and enemy command and communication systems.
A consistent system of terminology for launches could be this:
Launch during period (i): “Launch on Warning”
Launch during period (ii): “Launch under Attack”
Launch during period (iii): “Launch after Detonation”
However, that is not the terminology in use. In practice the term “Launch on Warning” as used by non-military writers usually means a launch during period (ii). “Launch after Detonation” or “No Launch Before Detonation” are new terms we are suggesting here for the posture we advocate to eliminate the danger of a launch due to a false alarm.
A policy or option of launching during period (ii) inevitably carries a risk (perhaps only a very small risk, but always a real one) of the ultimate and most absurd disaster that the human species could inflict on itself – a full-scale nuclear war due solely to a false warning. That is why this paper advocates a change of policy: giving up the option of launch in period (ii) (whether it is called L-o-W or LUA) and waiting those few minutes to “Detonation” before launching retaliation. This change would eliminate the risk of starting a war because of a false warning.
An option of launch during period (i) obviously carries a greater risk of disaster with quite different possibilities for misinterpretation of information received. It is, however, not the subject of this paper.