Steven Den Beste writes in Three conjectures:
If a group such as al Qaeda managed to get its hands on a single nuclear weapon and either used it against us or attempted to do so but was prevented by intelligence and interception, the US response would be quite extreme. Put starkly, “With us or with the terrorists” would no longer be political rhetoric; it would become American doctrine.
This is something that I have grokked for a long time, but I think that a lot of the “No Blood for Hitler” crowd doesn’t even begin to fathom this. America has been treating the Arab world with kid gloves in this war, and I think that more people need to realize this reality. You don’t have to like it, but you absolutely need to plug it into your mental equations.
Would we actually obliterate the first nation which didn’t fully cooperate? I don’t think so; I think that we’d fire one warning shot, by setting off a nuke in their territory, close enough to a major city so it could be seen and felt and heard but far enough away to not destroy it. That might require one or more small towns to be destroyed, but we wouldn’t target a major city or metropolitan area the first time.
This is something that I see as inevitable. For years, MAD protected the American mainland. 9/11/01 invalidated that doctrine. The fact that Afghanistan didn’t become the Land of Glass Parking Lots put the American doctrine of nuclear deterrence into real question. I think that it is going to take the use of a nuclear weapon in anger to restore that doctrine — because it was Hiroshima and Nagasaki that established that doctrine to begin with. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), that will only happen after a few hundred thousand American casualties.