Last February, the United States announced its withdrawal as of August of this year from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In March, Russia reciprocated and said it would suspend its participation in the treaty. Of course, both sides blame each other. This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law suspending the treaty.
There are good arguments bolstering the United States’ position, but it is a dangerous mistake to blame the Russians exclusively, as the United States mainstream media tend to do.
William J Perry, Secretary of War during Bill Clinton‘s first term, is a Cold Warrior who attributes the increasing tension with Russia to the expansion of NATO that took place over his objections at the time. A further increase in the United States-Russian tension is the result of the installation of ballistic missile so-called defense systems in Eastern Europe, which started during the Obama administration. These systems were certified operational in Romania in 2016. Originally scheduled for 2018, Aegis Ashore in Poland won’t be in place until 2020.
Ted Postol, a recognized, but not always popular expert on armament issues, refers to the Obama administration’s installation of Aegis Ashore as an epic blunder with negative consequences for global nuclear (in)stability, such as the current suspension of the INF treaty, a blunder surpassed only by the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.
Now, the only remaining ratified nuclear armaments treaty is New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). It will expire in 2021 unless the parties agree to extend it. That will be an up-hill battle with China’s likely refusal to be a party, the new hypersonic weapons flying at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), killer robots, and artificial intelligence. As to the latter, recent developments form a considerable hurdle, as discussed in a publication last month of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) a report entitled The impact of Artificial Intelligence on Strategic Stability and Nuclear Risk, the first volume in a series.
There are numerous geopolitical considerations, but they tend to obscure a simple observation contained in Richard Rhodes‘ epilogue to Dark Sun, an authoritative history of the making of the hydrogen bomb. Rhodes’ conclusion is that the “high claptrap of arms strategy is essentially decorative.” This confirms an observation by John Manley, one of Robert Oppenheimer‘s principal aids during the Manhattan Project, namely that, “You don’t do staff work and then make a decision. You make a decision and then do the staff work.” Stated more concisely: just follow the money.
Sygmunt Bauman in a provocative study, Modernity and the Holocaust, argued decades ago:
The Holocaust was born and executed in our modern and rational society, at the high stage of our civilization and at the peak of human cultural achievement, and for this reason it is a problem of that society, civilization and culture.
This problem is clearly on display at the United States border with Mexico, where refugees from Central America are fleeing the instability created to a large extent by past United States foreign policy. The climate crisis is generally recognized as a “threat multiplier.” This reality is understood by the current federal administration, but to protect the corporate bottom line it obscures the obvious with climate lies and centuries-old racism harking back to the Spanish racial classifications known as Las Castas. The terminology may have changed but the distribution of the taxes and economic burdens has remained the same over the centuries.
True as this may be, it is hard to think of a more harrowing example of the problems of modernity than the expected body count Daniel Ellsberg found for the nuclear war plan known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), which was in place from 1961 to 2003. As Ellsberg writes in his The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner:
The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed at the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact satellites, and China, would be roughly six hundred million dead. A hundred Holocausts.
Ellsberg quotes extensively from a memoir by John H Rubel who attended a presentation about the plan. There was an exchange about the possibility of taking China out of the mix if it wasn’t China’s war. Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command, General Power replied, “we can, but I hope nobody thinks of it, because it would really screw up the plan.” Rubel’s reaction was exactly the same as Ellsberg’s months later when he learned the expected number of fatalities. Rubel wrote in his memoir:
That exchange did it. Already oppressed by the briefings up to that point, I shrank within, horrified. I thought of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, when an assemblage of German bureaucrats swiftly agreed on a program to exterminate every last Jew they could find anywhere in Europe, using methods of mass extermination more technologically efficient than the vans filled with exhaust gases, the mass shootings, or incineration in barns and synagogues used until then. I felt as if I were witnessing a comparable descent into the deep heart of darkness, a twilight underworld governed by disciplined, meticulous and energetically mindless groupthink aimed at wiping out half the people living on nearly one third of the earth’s surface. Those feelings have not entirely abated, even though more than forty years have passed since that dark moment.
As to removing omnicidal stupidity from the gene pool, natural selection clearly fails dramatically. Evolution cannot deal with the longterm existential threats posed by the climate crisis and blundering into nuclear Armageddon. Modernity has long since obliterated the images of The Day After. Very few people ever paid much attention to the years after, years of nuclear fall or winter.
Those who have been closely involved in geopolitics, seasoned statesmen such as Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and Colin Powell, all argue for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Does anyone else still care? Have we decided that nuclear cooling is exactly what it takes to combat carbon climate heating? Have we collectively lost our mind?