Excerpt from A Past Outside of Time Reflections on the Failure of Dark Forest Deterrence
The most important factor in the failure of deterrence was, of course, electing the wrong Swordholder. This is a topic that will be addressed elsewhere in a dedicated chapter. For now, let’s focus on the technical weaknesses in the system design that contributed to the failure.
After the failure, most people immediately pointed to the small number of gravitational wave transmitters as a cause, and blamed people from the early Deterrence Era for dismantling nineteen of the twenty-three completed transmitters. But this reaction represented a failure to grasp the substance of the problem. From data gathered during the droplet attack, a droplet needed slightly more than ten seconds on average to penetrate the crust and destroy a transmitter. Even if the planned one hundred transmitters had been completed and deployed, it wouldn’t have taken long for droplets to destroy the entire system.
The key was that the system could be destroyed. Humankind had had a chance to build an indestructible gravitational wave universal broadcast system, but hadn’t taken it.
The problem wasn’t the number of transmitters, but where they were deployed.
Imagine if the twenty-three transmitters had not been built on or below the surface, but in space—that is, twenty-three spaceships like Gravity. Normally, the ships would be scattered around the Solar System. Even if the droplets had conducted a surprise attack, it would be difficult for them to destroy all of them. One or more of the ships would have time to escape into deep space.
This would have greatly increased the degree of deterrence for the whole system, in a way that would not have been dependent on the Swordholder. The Trisolarans would have known that they controlled insufficient forces within the Solar System to completely destroy the deterrence system, and would have behaved with far more restraint.
Regrettably, there was only one Gravity.
There were two reasons that more ships with transmitters weren’t built: First, there was the “Sons of the Earth” attack on the transmitter in Antarctica. Spaceships were deemed even more vulnerable to threats from extremist humans than underground stations. Second, it was a matter of economics. Since gravitational wave antennas were immense, they had to serve as the hull of the ship itself. Thus, the antenna had to be constructed out of materials that met the requirements of spaceflight, which increased costs many times. Gravity itself cost almost the equivalent of the twenty-three ground-based transmitters added together. Moreover, the hull of the ship itself could not be refreshed; when the vibrating string made of degenerate matter that ran the length of the ship reached its fifty-year half-life limit, a completely new gravitational wave
ship had to be built.
But the deeper root cause could only be found in the minds of humankind. Never explicitly stated, and perhaps not even consciously understood, a gravitational wave ship was too powerful—so powerful that it terrified its creator. If something—a droplet attack or something else—forced such ships to depart for deep space, and they could never return to the Solar System due to the presence of enemy threats, they would turn into copies of Blue Space and Bronze Age, or something even more horrific. Each gravitational wave ship, with its no-longer-human crew, would also possess the power to broadcast to the universe (though limited by the half-life of the vibrating string), thus controlling the fate of humanity. A frightful instability would be permanently scattered among the stars.
At its root, this fear was a fear of dark forest deterrence itself. This was characteristic of ultimate deterrence: The deterrer and the deteree shared the same terror of deterrence itself.
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