Monday, December 6, 2004

The Medium Lobster is proud to welcome another enlightened being, Richard Posner, into the world of internet discourse. Today Judge Posner favors readers with a discussion on preventive war, and how to justify such a war in the absence of any imminent threat:
But what if the danger of attack is remote rather than imminent? Should imminence be an absolute condition of going to war, and preventive war thus be deemed always and everywhere wrong? Analytically, the answer is no. A rational decision to go to war should be based on a comparison of the costs and benefits (in the largest sense of these terms) to the nation. The benefits are the costs that the enemy’s attack, the attack that going to war now will thwart, will impose on the nation. ...

Suppose there is a probability of .5 that the adversary will attack at some future time, when he has completed a military build up, that the attack will, if resisted with only the victim’s current strength, inflict a cost on the victim of 100, so that the expected cost of the attack is 50 (100 x .5), but that the expected cost can be reduced to 20 if the victim incurs additional defense costs of 15. Suppose further that at an additional cost of only 5, the victim can by a preventive strike today eliminate all possibility of the future attack. Since 5 is less than 35 (the sum of injury and defensive costs if the future enemy attack is not prevented), the preventive war is cost-justified.
Ah, but why keep things in the abstract, Judge Posner? The Medium Lobster has a more concrete example to illustrate your point: a preventive attack on the moon.

Once again, the probability of an attack from the moon is less than one - indeed, it is miniscule. However, the potential offensive capabilities of a possible moon man invasion could be theoretically staggering. Indeed, there is a distinct, if remarkably slim, chance that a hostile moon man civilization is currently in possession of a Death Star capable of destroying Planet Earth in a single shot. The Medium Lobster has calculated this probability to be 5x10-9. Nevertheless, should this weapon exist and be used against the earth, the resulting costs would include the end of civilization, the extinction of the human race, the eradication of all terrestrial life, the physical obliteration of the planet, and the widespread pollution of the solar system with a mass of potentially radioactive space debris. The Medium Lobster conservatively values these costs at 3x1012, bringing the expected cost of the moon man attack on earth to 1500 (5x10-9 x 3x1012), a truly massive sum. Even after factoring in the cost of exhausting earth's nuclear stockpile and the ensuing rain of moon wreckage upon the earth (200 and 800, respectively), the numbers simply don't lie: our one rational course of action is to preventively annihilate the moon.

In the coming days there will be many discussions about strategy and tactics, about how large a coalition is necessary. But for anyone truly serious about planetary security, the question is how, not if. In the meantime, the Medium Lobster must appear before the United Nations Security Council and inform the member nations of the tiny but distinct possibility that Iran has been secretly harboring Galactus, Devourer of Worlds.
posted by the Medium Lobster at 5:01 PM



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