In a previous life, not only was I trained in the theory of strategic nuclear warfare, I also spent time exercising the tactics of nuclear warfare on the North German Plain. NATO forces planned to put nuclear mines in rivers to create tidal waves to wash away the invading Red Army’s bridges downstream. We planned to use tactical nuclear weapons to flatten forests and make all roads through them impassable.
At the immediate human level, closed down, breathing only filtered air in a cramped armoured personnel carrier, with map in front, we were required to picture the detonation of one of our tactical nuclear warheads on this or that hapless German town. The aim was to block the roads with debris in an attempt to slow the advance of the Soviet tank armies. With a little plastic radiac calculator Click: Radiac calculator we would work out the dosage of radiation, which, according to the size of warhead we were informed had been deployed, would have been absorbed by the civilian inhabitants and any Red Army soldiers present: how long would remain to them before they become incapacitated and unable to defend themselves prior to their painful deaths.
The Cold War near accidents. With the end of the Cold War and the Russians declaring the end of ideological conflict now that they too would become capitalists, such European follies should have been put behind us. The fact that humanity had failed to destroy itself in all those fraught years is little short of miraculous. There were several frighteningly near misses. How close the world came to Armageddon during the Cuban Missile crisis is well known.
Click: Nuclear Mishaps A more graphic example of that sort of thing is contained in this tabloid front page Click: One Russian Officer It was hushed up at the time and, when finally released twenty–five years later, given that the Cold War dangers were assumed to be behind us, it gained little traction in the western consciousness.
The problem is that despite the onset of popular complacency, these follies were not put behind us. Though there were substantial reductions in nuclear stockpiles on both the US and Russian sides, both parties ensured that they retained ample capacity to assure the other party of nuclear annihilation should they attempt a first strike. The striving for technical improvement never ceased and though the launch vehicles were reduced in number, the accuracy and usability of the arsenals continued to be upgraded.
The end of the cold War and nuclear proliferation. When the Cold War ended, there were only six nuclear armed states, the USA, Russia, France, the UK and China (and deliberately overlooked, plucky little Israel.) Since the end of the Cold War, a great hullabaloo has been made about proliferation to other states. The minor and over-stated contenders, Iraq, Libya and Iran, received the full might of western disapprobation: the serious contenders, Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, were either put in the too difficult tray or, as useful allies in some other proxy war, quietly welcomed into the club.
Consequently, since the end of the Cold War, the number of locations, where nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are located, have multiplied and spread across a far wider geographic area. Rather than a decline in the threat of nuclear weapons being detonated, the dangers would appear to have increased quite significantly.
During the latter stages of the cold War, with the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) stand-off between two alliances, there was an almost zero possibility that either would risk any action that might force the other party to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. Over this period, the danger was almost entirely one of technical breakdown or accident.
Heightening dangers. Destabilising technical developments. Since the end of the Cold War, the possible triggers for a nuclear war have considerably increased – and this is not purely a factor of proliferation. Since the USA’s 2002, unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had been designed to leave the assurance of mutual destruction as a permanent factor in the nuclear stand-off, US technical developments in anti-missile technology have been in the process of undermining the MAD balance between the major powers. If it is not already the case, it could well soon be that the USA’s opponents no longer feel secure that their riposte to an American first strike would arrive on target. Thus they have to worry about a tipping point being reached in which the Pentagon becomes confident in its ability to deliver a first strike without fear of a riposte. Before such a situation arises the other side might well feel forced to initiate its own first strike.
Terrorism. During the Cold War much of geopolitical manoeuvring was frozen by virtue of the actors being firmly included within the alliance of one or other of the two competing ideologies, both bound by caution to avoid any direct confrontation. Though proxy wars were being waged in the peripheral world, the challengers to the status quo were firmly under the influence of one side or the other.
Since 9/11, the world has seen the rise of Islamist terrorism independent of great power control. Though a certain amount of confidence can be felt regarding the internal security of weapons in the hands of the North Korean and Indian governments, Pakistan’s arsenal would appear to be far less secure from a possible transfer to Armageddonist terrorist movements. Furthermore, Pakistan and North Korea’s grinding economic problems leave them both open to temptation in regard to proliferation to wealthy, currently non-nuclear powers, such as Saudi Arabia, in whose hands the weapons might once again, become vulnerable to terrorist take-over.
Incompetence. Nor does it have to be minor players with slack controls. The world survived a fearful period during the Soviet break-down that immediately followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, when there was a major breakdown in the security of the former USSR’s nuclear arsenal. Fortunately the non-state terrorist organisations were less well organised at the time and not as well positioned to take advantage of such a situation as they would be were such a situation to arise today.
However, even among the most advanced nuclear powers, there remains the potential for nuclear accident or for a breach in security sufficient to allow terrorists the opportunity to gain control of and detonate a nuclear weapon. At first sight, one would imagine that among the most secure nuclear weapons in the world today would be those under control of the British Royal Navy. However, as the UK’s armed forces struggle pathetically to keep up with the big-players, the UK’s defence budget has been cut to a danger point. If the reality exposed in this hyperlink is the case in regard to the Royal Navy, one has to assume that similar short-cuts will be being taken among other nuclear armed powers that might find themselves in financial difficulty. Click: UK Nuclear Submarines
The belief in survivability. There have long been elements within the USA elites who believe that they would survive a nuclear exchange in relative comfort. Click: USA Survival Condos! and Click: How to Survive Nuclear War! Though this is not a recent phenomenon, one can only hope that this illusion is not actually gaining ground among the relevant decision-makers in Washington.
Increasing risk-taking. There is an increasing recklessness apparent in US foreign policy. At the end of the Cold War, Washington considered that there was no obstacle remaining between it and global domination for the foreseeable future. PNAC was typical of its time. Click: PNAC Fukuyama’s best-selling book declaring the end of history was another sign of the times. Click: End of History In the following years, nations, such as Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria, which dared resist USA leadership were destroyed or neutered. The US instigated recession of 2008 led the EU, which might once have had ideas of independence, firmly back under a rapidly expanding NATO’s American control. China kept as low an international profile as it could manage but then, in 2007, Russia stuck its head over the parapet. Click: Putin’s Munich Speech In his Munich speech, Putin expelled any fantasy that might still have lingered in Washington circles that Russia would accept a role as an obedient satrap of American empire.
While the recession, in the year’s following Putin’s speech, greatly weakened the US economy, China’s continued to grow. By the end of the recession it was clear to the Americans that there was yet another challenger to its global dominance that had to be dealt with. With the American attempt to bring NATO up to the Ukraine’s Russian border and the public declaration of its ‘pivot to Asia’ and scarcely concealed aggressive moves to contain China by threatening the sea lanes on which its economy depended, it could be argued that the world had entered a new phase of its history.
America’s simultaneous militaristic adventures at both the western and eastern ends of the Eurasian landmass have forced Russia and China into each other’s arms. Together they form a critical mass, which, even though it is early days yet, has the potential to unseat the USA from its dominant role as printer of the global currency and sole arbiter of the political orientation of the nations on Eurasia’s’ periphery. While America struggles to come to terms with this change in the balance of power and the shrinkage, rather than expansion of its empire, its moves seem increasingly irrational. Worrying enough is the question of decision making overload for the Presidency and those other institutions responsible for simultaneously managing highly complex crises of their own manufacture in the Ukraine, the Middle East and the South China Sea.
More worrying is the mass anti-Russian and to a lesser extent, anti-Chinese hysteria that the corporate controllers of American and European media are generating and which cannot help but work to the detriment of prudent statesmanship. For the American foreign policy establishment the aim seems to be not only the isolation of Russia but also, the destabilisation, followed by the overthrow of its government leading to the break-up of its territorial integrity followed no doubt by a feeding frenzy of the global corporates. I referred above to the heightened dangers of Soviet era nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. Current American foreign policy seems intended to recklessly replicate that situation in a world now awash with hostile non-state actors, who would be more than eager to gain control over a nuclear weapon. An extract from Stratfor’s (see my previous blog https://khakispecs.com/?p=699 ) vision of the future of Russian nuclear weapons:
“The growing Polish military alliance will face, and seek to retake lost territories from a Russia in terminal decline. As Moscow’s ability to offer financial support to the peripheries declines “There will not be an uprising against Moscow, but Moscow’s withering ability to support and control the Russian Federation will leave a vacuum. What will exist in this vacuum will be the individual fragments of the Russian Federation.”…The greatest crisis of the coming decade will be over who controls the fragmenting Russian Federation’s massive nuclear arsenal. “Washington is the only power able to address the issue…it will either have to invent a military solution… or try to create a stable and economically viable government in the regions involved.”
The demonstration of ever increasing Western aggression against Russia, is having the opposite effect to that intended. Instead of Russia buckling to western pressure, Russia is moving to block the American attempt to circumvent the MAD equation on which peace has so far depended. Click: Sarmat Missile The Sarmat missile is clearly designed to be proof against the current US anti-ballistic missile capability.
As it dawns on the American establishment that its ambitions in regard to Russia are not going to be realised, there will be a heightened danger of deliberate provocations and false flag incidents. With the initial shooting of the hundred or so demonstrators and policemen at the Maidan which triggered the fascist led coup in Kiev Click: Kiev Snipers MH-17’s downing and the Boris Nemtsov assassination, we have already seen three possible such incidents, yet to be proven one way or the other. The next such event could be anything from an incident on the Transdniestrian border to a bomb in the Kiev cabinet office.
While composing this blog I was shown an email from Greg Mello, Executive Director of the Los Alamos Study group, Click: Los Alamos Study Group one of the foremost anti-nuclear weapons lobby group NGOs in the USA. In it he laments the inability of well-intentioned but disunited NGO’s to exercise any restraining influence over the runaway behemoth that the militarised USA has become. Here is an extract from Greg’s email:
…“In my experience, which is limited, I would estimate that most US NGOs, academics, and of course journalists fully support the demonization of Putin and the near-complete misreading of the current US proxy and hybrid assault on Russia. I was just in Washington DC for a week and demonization of Putin was universal among all the people with whom I spoke. This broad support for US propaganda will include people and organizations on this email list, one or two of whom I have talked to pleadingly about this subject, begging them to join the few of us who are fighting back against the demonization of Putin and the creation of a new Cold War mentality.”….
…“In your great care for the world you seem to imagine, and you are not alone, that the US is some sort of functioning democracy, the actions of which are very easily influenced by letters to senators and representatives for example, a democracy in which nuclear weapons are some sort of aberration. You and many others are much mistaken in this.”…
…“Last week I debated US-Russian relations with someone in the National Security Council. My requested subject was “how the administration has ruined US-Russian relations and what to do about it.” The conversation was shocking. This person, a liberal supposedly, was completed captivated by neoconservative themes and long-standing US propaganda memes. The narrative expressed was like a child’s Lego toy in which many different sentences could be put together, but they would all say “Lego.” A petulant child, I might add. In this case, “Lego” means increasing the pressure on Russia, i.e. war by another name, in the confidence (quite mistaken in my view) that Russia will “crack.” I believe, along with Steve and Robert Parry and Stephen Cohen and many others know more than I, that the Neocons are dominant in the administration, for the reasons they adduce. That’s also what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.” …
… “One of the conclusions of this and other similar studies is that under anything like present US policies, great-power war is increasingly likely. In fact, it is underway now in its new, often hidden domains. The present world order is changing and the Washington establishment is risking everything to stay on top. They can’t imagine not being on top of the world. The arrogance and ignorance are overwhelming. Don’t think the conflict in Ukraine is some little spat, easily solved. Now-dominant factions in the US “want” or “need” conflict with Russia, with “conflict” meaning what it means today — a host of ways to apply pressure, military and otherwise, although most of what you see and hear is just unconscious parroting. I and others heard this impulse from certain very influential Republican staff members in Washington long before the Maidan, by the way.”
I make no apology for quoting the above at length, as it confirms from a very well informed insider’s viewpoint, what I have deduced from my remote island viewpoint.
Easy-peasy: problem solved: The sad truth is that as the USA’s democratic constitution falls increasingly prey to a corporate plutocracy, the key to its government’s control over the nation is not only a smokescreen of deeply flawed democratic institutions and procedures, but also the mechanism by which identical thoughts are put into people’s heads to mobilise them in the cause of an elite’s folly. Just as in the case of Goebel’s Ministry of Propaganda, the meme of distorted history, national exceptionalism and falsified reality, has been put into the heads of the American people and their leaders by a media controlled by just a handful of corporates – all of whose owners have interests vested in corporatism. (Mussolini’s’ definition of Fascism was the merger of the state and of corporations. A future blog will deal with the impending TPPA and the alarming extent to which the US government and the interests of its corporates have merged.)
The American public’s misunderstanding of the reality of its situation is beyond redemption by a few doughty bloggers. If NGOs are to apply pressure anywhere, it has to be in the persuasion of the USA’s ‘allies’ of the acute dangers involved in their alliance with an American war-machine being driven to ever increasing desperation and recklessness as its assumption of global dominance is challenged by a new, Eurasian centre of power. America is currently losing the battle, but will not even begin to come to terms with the loss of empire, until its illusion of massive colonial fealty is withdrawn.
Looked at from the outside, I would say that the NGO’s should be concentrating their attention, not on an American heartland, now lost to reason, but on its satellites, such as the EU, Japan and Australasia. Europe still has a vague folk-memory of the dire consequences of continental war and of the seemingly irreversible structural slide into wars in which everyone (except the Americans) ended up either dead or impoverished. There is hope that such memories could be re-kindled. The Americans have no such memory and are that much more proof against the infiltration of cautious thoughts.
There is much highly favourable material for the NGO’s to work with. A concerted campaign could publicise the extent of the sacrifices European leaders are demanding of their electorates in following the USA’s command on matters such as partisan trade agreements, sanctions and rearmament. These hurt their struggling economies, while armament sales and capital flight boost the American economy. “Based on data from the IMF and OECD, total foreign ownership of U.S. assets rose from $16.6 trillion in 2009 to nearly $27 trillion in 2014. That’s a total of $10 trillion that has flowed into U.S. investments from abroad.” (I quote from a sober, American investment newsletter.) Yesterday we heard the news that Boeing had just clinched a $7 billion deal to sell transport aircraft to Russia – news which would make the French shipbuilding industry wonder what sanctions are all about!
Much too, could be made of the economic advantage to be gained by struggling European economies from the rapid development of Eurasian trade as the new silken track cuts the shipping time for high-value manufactured goods from China to Europe by 25 days – all provided no American and UK imposed artificial barrier is allowed to be erected along the Russian border. Finland and Austria, not Poland and the Baltic states, got it right when it comes to extrication from Russian domination – their prudent example of neutrality and the history of the knock-on effect of the 1914 fall of the Franz Josef domino in Sarajevo needs to be flaunted across the European continent.
Even the UK has a public opinion that in matters of European conflict should be readily separated from the abject behaviour of its self-interested leadership. The time is more than ripe: the EU bureaucracy, with its subjugation to NATO, is encountering increasing signs of restlessness within its national polities.
Rob Green, as already quoted above Click: UK’s Trident programme faults. argues for an abandonment of the UK’s programme for upgrading its capacity to launch ballistic nuclear missiles from submarines (for a start, it can hardly afford the necessary up-grade from Polaris to Trident) and expresses the hope that this decision will set a ball rolling that will lead other nuclear armed powers to divest. To have any hope of setting such a snowball on a roll, the UK would also have to declare all its territory free of all other nuclear weapons, both strategic and tactical. That would entail it following the example set by New Zealand (at a time when it still had an independent foreign policy) and the banning of all American nuclear weapons from its territory. With the UK’s current electoral system and the media grip of the population, it is almost impossible to imagine any British government initiating such a move. Even were the British parliament to offer the global community such a model of intelligent government decision making, there is no guarantee that other governments would follow suit.
The sad fact is that, given no significant change in the current anarchic system of global governance, and despite the best endeavours of the humanitarian lobby, it is probable that nuclear weapons will remain widely distributed around the globe. Humanity, unable to get its political house in order, will remain an interested spectator, watching the big match between climate change and nuclear weapons to see which of the two competitors is to be victorious in the struggle to bring about the collapse of 21st Century civilisation.
The only alternative is to deal with Nuclear weapons along the same principles I advocated in my previous blog for dealing with climate change: give a reconstituted United Nations the power to insist on their removal and destruction. https://khakispecs.com/?p=848 In any case, such a UN organisation could guarantee everyone’s security to the point where no nation had any reason to cling on to such weapons.
Footnote: Here are figures of what the Pentagon intends to spend on nuclear weapons in the coming decade extracted from a blog by Mel Gurtov: “Reporting on the “Pentagon slush fund,” the New York Times notes https://www.peacevoice.info/2015/06/22/the-pentagon-slush-fund/ that the next military budget, as voted in the House of Representatives, will have a dozen more nuclear submarines at $8 billion apiece, a $348 billion modernization program for nuclear weapons over the coming decade, billions more for missile defense and faulty jet fighters… “
For anyone who wants to go into more detail about the practicalities of nuclear disarmament, this recently published anthology from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) would make an excellent starting point:Security in a World without NW revised