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The Killing of History

In Politics, War on September 29, 2017 at 2:18 am

Posted By John Pilger, Counterpunch, September 22, 2017

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”.

In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam.

Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”. Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives.

I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”.

The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.

There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans — it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences.

In the series’ press release in Britain — the BBC will show it — there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern.

All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”.

In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.

To the north, in Quang Tri province, more bombs were dropped than in all of Germany during the Second World War. Since 1975, unexploded ordnance has caused more than 40,000 deaths in mostly “South Vietnam”, the country America claimed to “save” and, with France, conceived as a singularly imperial ruse.

The “meaning” of the Vietnam war is no different from the meaning of the genocidal campaign against the Native Americans, the colonial massacres in the Philippines, the atomic bombings of Japan, the levelling of every city in North Korea. The aim was described by Colonel Edward Lansdale, the famous CIA man on whom Graham Greene based his central character in The Quiet American.

Quoting Robert Taber’s The War of the Flea, Lansdale said, “There is only one means of defeating an insurgent people who will not surrender, and that is extermination. There is only one way to control a territory that harbours resistance, and that is to turn it into a desert.”

Nothing has changed. When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on 19 September – a body established to spare humanity the “scourge of war” – he declared he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His audience gasped, but Trump’s language was not unusual.

His rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, had boasted she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people. This is the American Way; only the euphemisms are missing now.

Returning to the US, I am struck by the silence and the absence of an opposition – on the streets, in journalism and the arts, as if dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground.

There is plenty of sound and fury at Trump the odious one, the “fascist”, but almost none at Trump the symptom and caricature of an enduring system of conquest and extremism.

Where are the ghosts of the great anti-war demonstrations that took over Washington in the 1970s? Where is the equivalent of the Freeze Movement that filled the streets of Manhattan in the 1980s, demanding that President Reagan withdraw battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe?

The sheer energy and moral persistence of these great movements largely succeeded; by 1987 Reagan had negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that effectively ended the Cold War.

Today, according to secret Nato documents obtained by the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zetung, this vital treaty is likely to be abandoned as “nuclear targeting planning is increased”. The German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned against “repeating the worst mistakes of the Cold War … All the good treaties on disarmament and arms control from Gorbachev and Reagan are in acute peril. Europe is threatened again with becoming a military training ground for nuclear weapons. We must raise our voice against this.”

But not in America. The thousands who turned out for Senator Bernie Sanders’ “revolution” in last year’s presidential campaign are collectively mute on these dangers. That most of America’s violence across the world has been perpetrated not by Republicans, or mutants like Trump, but by liberal Democrats, remains a taboo.

Barack Obama provided the apotheosis, with seven simultaneous wars, a presidential record, including the destruction of Libya as a modern state. Obama’s overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government has had the desired effect: the massing of American-led Nato forces on Russia’s western borderland through which the Nazis invaded in 1941.

Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 signalled the transfer of the majority of America’s naval and air forces to Asia and the Pacific for no purpose other than to confront and provoke China. The Nobel Peace Laureate’s worldwide campaign of assassinations is arguably the most extensive campaign of terrorism since 9/11.

What is known in the US as “the left” has effectively allied with the darkest recesses of institutional power, notably the Pentagon and the CIA, to see off a peace deal between Trump and Vladimir Putin and to reinstate Russia as an enemy, on the basis of no evidence of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The true scandal is the insidious assumption of power by sinister war-making vested interests for which no American voted. The rapid ascendancy of the Pentagon and the surveillance agencies under Obama represented an historic shift of power in Washington. Daniel Ellsberg rightly called it a coup. The three generals running Trump are its witness.

All of this fails to penetrate those “liberal brains pickled in the formaldehyde of identity politics”, as Luciana Bohne noted memorably. Commodified and market-tested, “diversity” is the new liberal brand, not the class people serve regardless of their gender and skin colour: not the responsibility of all to stop a barbaric war to end all wars.

“How did it fucking come to this?” says Michael Moore in his Broadway show, Terms of My Surrender, a vaudeville for the disaffected set against a backdrop of Trump as Big Brother.

I admired Moore’s film, Roger & Me, about the economic and social devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and Sicko, his investigation into the corruption of healthcare in America.

The night I saw his show, his happy-clappy audience cheered his reassurance that “we are the majority!” and calls to “impeach Trump, a liar and a fascist!” His message seemed to be that had you held your nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, life would be predictable again.

He may be right. Instead of merely abusing the world, as Trump does, the Great Obliterator might have attacked Iran and lobbed missiles at Putin, whom she likened to Hitler: a particular profanity given the 27 million Russians who died in Hitler’s invasion.

“Listen up,” said Moore, “putting aside what our governments do, Americans are really loved by the world!”

There was a silence.

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NO ONE CAN STOP TRUMP FROM WAGING NUCLEAR WAR WITH NORTH KOREA, NOT EVEN HIS GENERALS

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 29, 2017 at 1:05 am

BY JEFF STEIN, Newsweek,  9/27/17 AT 3:36 PM

One nightmare scenario goes like this: Donald Trump emerges from his White House bedroom in the middle of the night, cellphone in hand, enraged by the latest taunt from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He spots the military aide sitting in the corridor with a black valise in his lap. It’s called the nuclear football.

“I’m gonna take care of this son of a bitch once and for all,” Trump growls. “Big-time. Gimme the codes.”

The aide cracks open the valise and hands the president a loose-leaf binder with a colorful menu of Armageddon options. They range from all-out, total annihilation plans for Russia and China down to a variety of strikes tailored just for North Korea.

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“I’ll take that one,” Trump says. The aide hands him an envelope with a set of numbers and letters, the ones that verify it’s really him when he calls Defense Secretary James Mattis. It’s the same code that will go down to theater commanders, B-1 bombers, Wyoming missile silos and submarines lurking off North Korea.

“Do it,” he tells Mattis. “Wipe him the hell out.”

Related: What war with North Korea looks like

What was once just a nervous joke among Washington policymakers and military experts when Trump ran for the presidency has suddenly crept closer to a horrendous range of possibilities, judging from a Newsweek survey of former Pentagon officials and experts.

And no one knows where the confrontation is headed after weeks of increasingly personal insults and military provocations from both sides.

On Tuesday, four days after the Pentagon sent a flight of B-1 bombers and fighter escorts off North Korea in a display of military force, Pyongyang “moved a small number of fighter jets, external fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles to a base on its eastern coast,” according to multiple reports. Trump threatened Pyongyang once again, saying “we are totally prepared for” a military “option,” which would be “devastating.”

Analysts with long experience in the region say they fear an accident—a collision of jets, ships, a wayward artillery shell—could quickly cause the situation to spiral, especially with Trump and North Korean officials exchanging insults. In his United Nations speech on September 19, Trump called Kim “Rocket Man,” followed by “Little Rocket Man.” Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” a word long out of use that sent millions scurrying for their dictionaries. (It means someone decrepit and senile.) Trump then vowed that Kim and his foreign minister “won’t be around much longer.”

“I think this tit-for-tat Trump has ginned up is not only dangerous and unnecessary, but creating an escalation spiral that is increasing the odds of miscalculation,” says Robert A. Manning, a former senior U.S. intelligence expert on Korea and strategic weapons in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. “It’s not just a war of words,” he tells Newsweek. “We keep flying B-1s up their kazoo.” That, along with Trump calling Kim names, says Manning, now a senior fellow with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, “inflates” his ego. It’s “mind-bogglingly stupid.”

As if to make the point, on September 25, North Korea’s foreign minister buffed Trump’s crude threats into a formal declaration of war. “That’s absurd,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. The regime also vowed to “take countermeasures, including the right to shoot down bombers.”

But so far, there have been no signs that North Korea is preparing to attack Seoul, U.S. bases in the region or U.S. ally Japan, even as it threatens to explode a hydrogen bomb somewhere over the Pacific. With the acrimony deepening, however, an increasing number of Washington veterans now fear something less lethal but profoundly dangerous: a constitutional crisis, provoked by an impulsive Trump order in the middle of the night for a pre-emptive strike.

“Someone in the chain would say no,” declares a former senior Pentagon official, sharing his views with Newsweek on condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity. “That’s what I believe, having worked with these guys”—meaning military leaders from Mattis on down to the U.S. forces commander in South Korea, General Vincent Brooks.

“It would be really hard for Trump to be capricious about a spur-of-the-moment attack,” the former official continues. “He’d have to make it a major strategy thing that’s been long planned, in consultation with Mattis and Dunford.” General Joseph Dunford is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The former official adds that Brooks, especially, who has won a wide circle of admirers for his forthright yet nuanced views on the intersection of domestic politics and military strategy, would not follow such a midnight order. “My personal opinion is that if Brooks truly felt Trump was just saying, ‘Fuck it, I want to attack today’—that if there was not a truly imminent threat to U.S. forces and the homeland, he might refuse the order.” Brooks could not immediately be reached for comment.

It’s not likely a Trump order would get that far, analysts say. People who know Mattis tell Newsweek he would resign rather than carry out an impulsive order from Trump to attack North Korea, with nuclear weapons or not. Trump could fire Mattis, but the media and Congress would likely hear about it in a nanosecond, setting off “a political firestorm and even a constitutional crisis that could prevent prompt execution of the order,” says Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C.

All of which is prompting longtime Washingtonians to recall the crisis that President Richard Nixon sparked by ordering his attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to fire the special counsel overseeing investigations into the crimes that became known as Watergate. Richardson refused and resigned, as did his deputy. Nixon finally found somebody to carry out that deed, but the move backfired, inflaming the impeachment drive and forcing him from office 10 months later.

Even more relevant to Trump, says a growing chorus of commentators, is another incident from Nixon’s final days, when, according to various accounts, his chief of staff Alexander Haig, an army general, asked military commanders to check back if they received any unusual directives from the deeply depressed, heavily drinking president.

Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, tells Newsweek that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, “needs to take a page from that…and just be sure that he’s in the loop when it comes to the nuclear football.”

There’s no rule stopping Trump from firing Mattis and continuing down the chain of command until he finds someone to attack North Korea, analysts say. Any defense secretary, notes Kathleen Hicks, a former principal deputy undersecretary for policy at the Pentagon, is merely “a check in the system against overenthusiasm” on the president’s part for letting loose the nukes. Under the rules of the National Command Authority, the only weapon Mattis has to stop Trump’s launch order is persuasion. If he blocks it, “then the President may in his sole discretion fire” him, it says, and tap the next person in the chain of command to carry it out. If he wants, he can reach right down to a general heading a regional command. The Uniform Code of Military Justice requires sworn officers to carry out a bad but lawful order, setting up the kind of dilemma dramatized in the hit 1992 court martial drama A Few Good Men.

“To say that the Secretary of Defense and his subordinates have a legal duty to comply with presidential orders is not to say that they should do so,” Jack Goldsmith, who held high positions in the Justice and Defense departments, wrote recently. But “they have to be prepared to accept the consequences of defiance,” which include “resigning…resisting until fired, informing congressional leaders (in or out of public), or quietly coordinating with the Vice President and others for presidential removal under the 25th Amendment.”

“All of this uncharted territory,” says Reif.

Compounding the legal, military and political complexities of the situation, some analysts envision Kim hitting first with a limited strike, such as a barrage of rocket and artillery fire on Seoul, which would kill tens of thousands of people, prompting U.S. and South Korean counterfire. But then, Kim could sit back and let Trump make the next big move. “President Trump would then be faced with an unimaginable decision: continue the attack and see potentially millions more die, or give in to Kim’s demands and stop,” wrote retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis (who served under White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster in Iraq). Given North Korea’s hardened defenses, massive rocket supplies and nuclear weaponry, “the interests of the United States would be gravely harmed no matter what choice Trump makes at that point,” Davis says.

Judging by the erratic leadership he’s demonstrated so far, Trump doesn’t look prepared for that. No president really is, Whipple says. “Every White House chief of staff can probably tell you in chilling detail about the day the chairman of the joint chiefs came in and explained to the president and his chief the operation of the nuclear codes. It’s a gut-check moment for every chief and obviously, one would hope, every president.”

Even some of Trump’s most accomplished, sophisticated fans had little idea of the license a president has to unleash a civilization-ending nuclear war, Whipple tells Newsweek. On a trip with former George W. Bush chief of staff Andrew Card to give a talk, they encountered a corporate CEO who said he planned to vote for Trump. “And I said, ‘You know you’re giving this guy the nuclear codes, and there’s nothing to prevent him from using them?’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m not too worried about that.’”

Whipple turned to Card. “Andy, tell him,” he said. Card then told the CEO, “in chilling detail,” about the guidance Bush got on the eve of his 2001 inauguration, and how nobody had any authority to stop him from activating the football. “And Andy said to this guy, ‘There’s nothing—nothing—to prevent the president from doing this on his own.” Card did not respond to a request for comment.

California Representative Ted Lieu and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, both Democrats, want to take the freelance nuclear option out of Trump’s hands. In January, they introduced a bill that would prohibit a president from launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike without a congressional declaration of war. It’s not going anywhere in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“I would certainly not do first strike,” Trump declared a year ago during one of his presidential debates with Hillary Clinton. But moments later, he circled back with a contradictory response: “At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table.” Since then, with every North Korean provocation, he’s increasingly tilted more toward the “fire and fury” he pledged to rain down on Pyongyang if it endangers U.S. interests.

Nobody knows how he’ll feel when he wakes up to find Kim that has tested another H-bomb, flung a missile over Japan or needled him with another insult. All we know is that when he wanders out in his bathrobe and opens the nuclear football, he’s got the keys to Armageddon in his hands.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s New Bill is a Necessary Next Step in Addressing the Climate Change Crisis

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on September 27, 2017 at 12:35 am

MARK SCHLOSBERG, Sep 25 2017

The OFF Act takes aggressive action on climate and energy legislation.

This is an opinion piece by Mark Schlosberg, Organizing Co-Director, Food & Water Watch

Almost three weeks ago, as the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey still inundated Texas and Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, EPA chief Scott Pruitt commented that it was “insensitive” to talk about the relationship between climate change and the storms. But just two weeks later, as Hurricane Maria forges a path of destruction across Puerto Rico and beyond, as we continue to see the impacts from massive floods in Asia and Africa, and as wildfires in our own Western states burn nearly year-round, the real insensitivity is not talking about climate change. It is more critical than ever that we talk about it and do something to address it, before increased climate chaos dooms us all. Thankfully, a solution exists.

Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), the strongest, most aggressive climate change legislation we’ve got. But it’s up to us to build the pressure to help make the OFF Act a reality. And we must.

Representative Gabbard’s OFF Act responds to the urgency of our climate crisis with a clear roadmap of where we need to go to rapidly move off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent clean, renewable energy on a timeline that will give us a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate catastrophe. The bill requires a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, but also compels immediate reductions in a major way, requiring 80 percent renewable in the next ten years. It transitions the auto industry to zero-emissions by 2035, halts new fossil fuel projects, bans the profit-driven export of oil and gas overseas, ends foolish subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, promotes environmental justice, and provides a just transition for displaced oil and gas workers.

Introduced just a few weeks ago, the OFF Act already has the support of more than 350 organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the American Sustainable Business Council. This early support represents the vanguard of a growing consensus that we must act immediately and decisively.

Now we need our elected representatives to understand our demand for action and feel the urgency behind it.

This week, members of Congress are at home in their districts. Now is the time for them to hear from us with meeting requests, letter deliveries, phone calls, letters in local papers, calls to radio stations and more. The message is simple and clear: The future of our planet is at stake. We must move off dangerous, destructive fossil fuels now. Rep. Gabbard’s OFF Act is the best way to do it.

We know that with the current conservative makeup of Congress, the OFF Act won’t pass tomorrow. But just as we’ve seen with the significant recent progress made in the single-payer health care movement, building strong support for the OFF Act now will put us in a position to make this critical legislation the law sooner rather than later.

We need to act now. Let’s get to work.

@
Eric Weltman
Senior Organizer
Food & Water Watch
347-778-2743
eweltman@fwwatch.org
147 Prince Street, 4th Fl., No. 7
Brooklyn, NY 11201
http://www.FoodandWaterWatch.org

US rejects North Korea war allegations as ‘absurd’

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 27, 2017 at 12:13 am

As war of words heats up, regional leaders warn that war on Korean Peninsula will have ‘catastrophic consequences’.

The US has dismissed North Korea’s accusation that President Donald Trump has declared war against the country, calling it “absurd”.

The comments come as South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Pyongyang had moved to bolster its coastal defences by relocating its warplanes along the east coast.

Regional leaders on Tuesday warned that war on the Korean Peninsula would result in “catastrophic consequences”.

The warnings came after Pyongyang said on Monday that it was ready to defend itself by shooting down American bombers, and accusing Trump of declaring war on the country.

Speaking to reporters outside his New York hotel, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho responded to Trump tweeting at the weekend that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its threats.

Ri, who attended this year’s UN General Assembly session, said the international community had hoped that a “war of words” would “not turn into real actions”.

“However, last weekend, Trump claimed our leadership would not be around much longer,” Ri said. “He declared a war on our country.”

Later on Monday, the White House rejected Ri’s interpretation of Trump’s tweets.

“We have not declared war against North Korea and frankly the suggestion of that is absurd,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Alarm over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes dominated this year’s gathering of world leaders at the UN, amid fears the heated rhetoric could accidentally trigger a war.

Those fears were sharpened after US bombers flew off the coast of North Korea on Saturday – going the furthest north of the demilitarised zone that any US aircraft has flown this century.

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take counter-measures including the right to shoot down US strategic bombers even when they are not yet inside the airspace border of our country,” Ri said.

“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”

A Pentagon spokesman stressed on Monday that the bombers flew in international airspace and had every right to do so.

As the rhetoric heated up, South Korea appealed for an easing of tensions, with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha saying that further provocations can be expected from Pyongyang but must not be allowed to get out of control.

“It is imperative that we, Korea and the US together, manage the situation … in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes which can quickly go out of control,” Kang said in Washington.

South Korea has reacted with unease to Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea as its densely-populated capital Seoul is located just 56 kilometres from the demilitarised zone dividing the Korean Peninsula.

In his UN address last week, Trump delivered the blunt threat, deriding leader Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man” and declaring he was “on a suicide mission”.

Kim hit back with a personal attack on Trump, branding him “mentally deranged” and a “dotard” and warning he would “pay dearly” for his threat.

There have been repeated appeals for calm from the United Nations, Russia and China.

On Tuesday, China said that war on the Korean Peninsula will have no winner.

Lu Kang, the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said Beijing hopes that US and North Korean politicians can realise that resorting to military means would never be a viable way out.

Russia’s foreign ministry also said on Tuesday that a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula would lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

It added that it would work behind-the-scenes to find a political solution to the rising tensions with North Korea, and that the US approach is a “dead in”.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions on North Korea over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. In recent months, Pyongyang also test-fired intercontinental missiles – saying it needs to defend itself against the threat of a US invasion.

Asked about the North Korean minister’s latest remarks, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “When you have the rise of tension, the rise of rhetoric, so does the risk of miscalculation.”

In his UN address, Ri warned that Trump’s threat to destroy North Korea made “our rockets’ visit to the entire US mainland all the more inevitable”.

The rhetoric comes as international alarm mounts over Pyongyang’s weapons ambitions – including a suggestion by Ri last week that the country is considering detonating an H-bomb over the Pacific.

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has said such a move would be a “shocking display of irresponsibility.”

The Latest: Kim 1st NKorean ruler to directly address world

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 25, 2017 at 2:02 am

SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 11:01 PM

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
The Latest on North Korea’s nuclear program (all times local):

11:40 a.m.

South Korea says Kim Jong Un’s rebuke against U.S. President Donald Trump marked the first time a North Korean leader directly issued a statement to the international community under his name.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday neither of the two men who ruled North Korea before Kim Jong Un — his father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung — issued any similar statement.

 

Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun says North Korea should stop provocations that would “lead to its own isolation and demise.”

___

11:20 a.m.

South Korea calls North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s direct rebuke of President Donald Trump a “reckless provocation” that would deepen his country’s international isolation and lead to its demise.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters Friday that North Korea must immediately stop such a provocation and return to talks on its nuclear disarmament.

Earlier Friday, Kim issued a rare statement calling Trump “deranged” and said he will “pay dearly” for his threats to destroy North Korea.

During his speech before the U.N. General Assembly earlier this week, Trump vowed to “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked.

___

10:15 a.m.

South Korean media report North Korea’s top diplomat says his country may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean to fulfill leader Kim Jong Un’s vow to take the “highest-level” action against the United States.

Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho comments Thursday on the sidelines of a United Nations gathering followed an extraordinary direct statement by Kim in response to President Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports that Ri told reporters in New York that a response “could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific.”

Ri reportedly added that “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un.”

Such a test would be considered a major provocation by Washington and its allies.

Threats of Total Destruction Are Unlawful and Extremely Dangerous; Direct Diplomacy between the United States and North Korea Is Essential to Avert Disaster

In Democracy, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 23, 2017 at 9:45 am

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation
September 22, 2017

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
– President Donald Trump, speech at United Nations, September 19, 2017

President Trump’s threat of total destruction of North Korea is utterly unacceptable. Also unacceptable are similarly threatening statements made in pieces carried by North Korea’s state-owned news agency. Instead of making apocalyptic threats, the two governments should agree on a non-aggression pact as a step toward finally concluding a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean War and permanently denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and North Korean threats are wrong as a matter of morality and common sense. They are also completely contrary to bedrock requirements of international law – law which is part of the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution. Both countries, by engaging in a cycle of threats and military posturing, violate prohibitions on the threat of force to resolve disputes and on threats to use force outside the bounds of the law of armed conflict. Trump’s threats carry more weight because the armed forces of the United States, capped by its immense nuclear arsenal, could accomplish the destruction of North Korea in short order.

Threats of total destruction negate the fundamental principle that the right to choose methods and means of warfare is not unlimited:
Under the law of armed conflict, military operations must be necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of legitimate military objectives, and must not be indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering. Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits threatening an adversary that there will be no survivors or conducting hostilities on that basis. The Nuremberg Tribunal found the Nazi concept of “total war” to be unlawful because it runs contrary to all the rules of warfare and the moral principles underlying them, creating a climate in which “rules, regulations, assurances, and treaties all alike are of no moment” and “everything is made subordinate to the overmastering dictates of war.”
Conducting a war with the intention of destroying an entire country would contravene the Genocide Convention, which prohibits killing “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ….”
Limits on the conduct of warfare apply to both aggressor and defender states. Thus Trump’s statement that total destruction would be inflicted in defense of the United States and its allies is no justification. Moreover, the U.S. doctrine permitting preventive war, carried out in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, means that Trump’s reference to “defense” does not necessarily rule out U.S. military action in the absence of a North Korean attack or imminent attack.
North Korea has explicitly threatened use of nuclear weapons. While the United States likely would not use nuclear weapons first in the Korean setting, it remains true that Trump’s references to “fire and fury” and “total destruction” raise the specter of U.S. employment of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the law of armed conflict, above all the requirement of discrimination, as the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes. Threats of use of nuclear weapons are likewise unlawful. The illegal character of the threat or use of nuclear weapons is especially egregious where the express intent is to “totally destroy” an adversary, a purpose that from the outset rules out limiting use of force to the proportionate and necessary.
U.S. and North Korean threats of war are also unlawful because military action of any kind is not justified. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force except in self-defense against an armed attack or subject to UN Security Council authorization:
Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force as a matter of self-defense only in response to an armed attack. No armed attack by either side has occurred or is imminent.
The Security Council is addressing the matter and has not authorized use of force. Its most recent resolution imposing further sanctions on North Korea was adopted pursuant to UN Charter Article 41, which provides for measures not involving the use of force. There is no indication whatever in that and preceding resolutions of an authorization of use of force. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the need for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with North Korea. That approach is mandated by the UN Charter, whose Article 2(3) requires all members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”
It is urgent that diplomatic overtures replace threats. In the nuclear age, the first principle of diplomacy should be that adversaries talk to each other to the maximum possible extent, and in moments of crisis directly and unconditionally. We learned during the Cold War that even when the prospects for any tangible progress seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leaderships of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears. They build broader channels of communication between military and government bureaucracies that can be of tremendous value when tensions rise.

Accordingly, the United States should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks. To facilitate negotiations, the United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities. The immediate aim of negotiations should be a non-aggression pact, as a step toward a comprehensive peace treaty bringing permanent closure to the Korean War and providing for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula. Success in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula will be much more likely if the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states also engage, as they are obligated to do, in negotiations for a world free of nuclear weapons.

51 countries line up to sign UN treaty outlawing nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Drones, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 22, 2017 at 6:02 am

Channel News Asia, September 21, 2017

UNITED NATIONS: With the North Korean nuclear crisis looming large, 51 countries on Wednesday (Sep 20) lined up to sign a new treaty outlawing nuclear weapons that has been fiercely opposed by the United States and other nuclear powers.

The treaty was adopted by 122 countries at the United Nations in July following negotiations led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand.

None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons – the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – took part in the negotiations.

NATO condemned the treaty, saying that it may in fact be counter-productive by creating divisions.

As leaders formally signed on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed as historic the first multilateral disarmament treaty in more than two decades.

But Guterres acknowledged that much work was needed to rid the world of its stockpile of 15,000 atomic warheads.

“Today we rightfully celebrate a milestone. Now we must continue along the hard road towards the elimination of nuclear arsenals,” said Guterres.

The treaty will enter into force when 50 countries have signed and ratified it, a process that could take months or years.

“At a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, in particular the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme, the treaty fails to take into account these urgent security challenges,” the 29-nation Western alliance said.

It added: “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability.

REJECTING NEED FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria, one of the few Western European nations that is not in NATO, rejected the idea that nuclear weapons were indispensable for security.

“If you look at the world’s current challenges, this narrative is not only false, it is dangerous,” he told AFP.

“The new treaty on the prohibition on nuclear weapons provides a real alternative for security: a world without any nuclear weapons, where everyone is safer, where no one needs to possess these weapons,” he said.

Brazilian President Michel Temer was the first to sign the treaty. Others included South African President Jacob Zuma and representatives from Indonesia, Ireland and Malaysia as well as the Palestinian Authority and the Vatican.

But even Japan, the only nation to have suffered atomic attack and a longstanding advocate of abolishing nuclear weapons, boycotted the treaty negotiations.

Japan is a top target of North Korea, which has triggered global alarm over its rapidly progressing drive to develop nuclear weapons, following its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and the firing of two intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The signing ceremony came a day after President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies Japan and South Korea.

Nuclear powers argue their arsenals serve as a deterrent against a nuclear attack and say they remain committed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That decades-old treaty seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It recognises the right of five nations – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – to maintain them, while encouraging them to reduce their stockpiles.

Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/51-countries-line-up-to-sign-un-treaty-outlawing-nuclear-weapons-9234648

A new hope for a nuclear free world – but where is the UK?

In Democracy, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 21, 2017 at 10:43 pm

REBECCA JOHNSON 21 September 2017
A new UN treaty could make nuclear sabre-rattling and boasts of a willingness to incinerate cities, as unacceptable as threats to use chemical and biological weapons.

Yesterday the UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in New York. Heads of state and senior officials from over 40 countries lined up to sign the ground-breaking treaty on its first day. They represent billions of people from across the world, from Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, including large countries that have given up nuclear weapons programmes, such as Brazil and South Africa.

More are listed to sign in the coming days. But not the UK – at least not yet!

The 2017 Nuclear Prohibition Treaty is the product of years of campaigning by thousands of civil society activists, scientists, doctors, diplomats, parliamentarians, and most of all from the courageous Hibakusha who survived the use and testing of nuclear weapons and have spent their lives raising awareness of the horrors and dangers.

This was not an arms control measure with counting rules, but a disarmament treaty driven by the imperative to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons because they are inhumane, abhorrent and unacceptable.

This treaty is the collective – and effective – revolt of nuclear have-nots, who overturned diplomatic assumptions and brought it to conclusion despite boycotts and opposition from nine heavily armed nuclear haves.

With nuclear free governments in the driving seat, this was also a treaty dreamed up and significantly led by women, including Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, and Costa Rica’s Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, who steered the negotiations to fruition on 7 July.

As the governments began signing in New York, campaigners around the world organised celebrations of their own and called on their elected representatives to sign the Parliamentary Pledge for the Treaty, promoted by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), comprising over 460 organisations in 101 countries.

Theresa May didn’t put her name on the Treaty, but campaigners, MPs and MSPs in Edinburgh, London and Leeds met and read and put their own names and commitments to bring this UN disarmament Treaty into force.

Never say never

Every new disarmament treaty has been initially greeted with reluctance and opposition by the UK and others who possess, deploy and profit from the weapons that the majority of UN members have decided to ban.

Why? A combination of vested military-commercial interests and their tentacles in parliament and certain ministries, and – even more so – ‘business as usual’ establishment inertia.

Unsurprisingly, then, as soon as UN Member States concluded and adopted the treaty text on 7 July, the UK, France, and USA issued a joint declaration that they did “not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party” to it.

Once upon a time, such opposition from three permanent members of the UN Security Council might have deterred others from signing, but those days are gone. UN diplomats – who asked not to be named – called the “P-3” statement “pathetic”, pointing out that declaring a lifelong rejection of the UN’s multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty violates the legal commitment these three have made to pursue nuclear disarmament “in good faith”, as contained in Article 6 of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

To date no other nuclear-armed state has issued this kind of public rejection of the 2017 Treaty. Moreover, history teaches that most if not all the states that oppose negotiations at the start will sign once a treaty is on the books.

Britain is a case in point, having opposed and then backed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention.

Treaties like this stigmatise previously accepted weapons, removing any kind of legitimacy. Few nations want the pariah status that attaches to illegal and inhumane weapons and those who wield them.

So never say never in politics and diplomacy. Getting this treaty is the first step towards abolishing nuclear weapons. The challenge now is to make it work.

Time to stop holding the world to nuclear ransom

The treaty’s legitimacy is already established by the fact that it was multilaterally negotiated under UN rules that ensured equal rights of participation for all 193 Member states. It was the choice of Britain and a handful of nuclear armed states and their allies to boycott the process. Having wilfully stayed away, they haven’t got a leg to stand on now if they complain about the outcome.

The negotiating process was carefully considered. As with any treaty, this is a product of compromise, give and take. Overall, it has the potential to change the world and lift the nuclear sword of damocles from our heads.

This is a strong treaty, overwhelmingly adopted by 122 of those who negotiated, with only NATO member The Netherlands voting against. Singapore abstained. Judging from the list of leaders who have signed their countries up to the treaty his week, it should have no difficulty entering into force in the next few years.

It will carry on working for our security long after the UK, France and US have replaced their current leaders, signed the Treaty, and set themselves on the path to eliminating the dangerous and morally abhorrent arsenals of the nine remaining states holding the world to nuclear ransom.

What the 2017 Treaty says

The TPNW establishes prohibitions and obligations that are applicable to all. It outlaws the use, threat of use and possession of nuclear weapons. And it goes further, making it illegal for states parties to develop, test, manufacture, produce, stockpile and deploy nuclear weapons.

Member states are not permitted to station or install nuclear weapons on their territory, or to “assist, encourage or induce in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this treaty”.

Other provisions lay out basic principles and pathways for how states that currently possess nuclear weapons or engage in nuclear alliances, policies and practices can join and implement the treaty. Essentially there are two routes: join and then implement, or implement first and then join. The UK and most of NATO would probably take route (a), in which they can sign or indicate their intention to join and then get agreement from the Treaty parties on the steps and timetable for complying fully, including eliminating existing weapons and programmes. By contrast, Israel is likely to prefer Route (b) when the time comes, as this is what South Africa did before it signed the NPT in 1992.

The TPNW establishes obligations to help victims of weapons use or testing and to carry out environmental remediation. It breaks new ground in arms control and disarmament by recognising the disproportionate harm nuclear weapons and testing have caused to indigenous people, especially women and girls.

Concerns about costs meant that the negotiators left many aspects of implementing the treaty to be decided at future meetings once the treaty has been ratified by at least 50 states and has therefore entered into full legal force.

Why the TPNW makes us safer

Nuclear threats and sabre rattling by Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un continue to drive fear, instability and proliferation. This reversion to cold war ‘deterrence’ doctrines is reviving fears that nuclear weapons could be used again. Nuclear deterrence is not some magical property attached to nuclear weapons. It is an inherently dangerous and unstable theory that requires the military capability, political will and overt “signalling” (threats) of a readiness to use nuclear weapons.

If exercises or signals that are meant to ramp up the message “I’m prepared, so don’t mess with me” go wrong, the consequences could be devastating. History shows us the risks – from the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis to the 1983 Able Archer miscalculation, with at least 13 such incidents exposed in a recent Chatham House report.

These dangers are inherent in nuclear deterrence, and exacerbated by weak or unstable leaders. The idea that someone could incinerate a whole city is terrifying. But as long as we legitimise the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence, we sustain the production, possession, deployment, threats and boasts that could far too easily lead to nuclear bombs being detonated again.

No-one is suggesting that the TPNW will bring about nuclear disarmament overnight. But the Treaty’s clear prohibitions on both the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as production, deployment, testing, and assisting in such acts will, however, consign these to pariah status, robbing them of status, funding and legitimacy in the world.

Last year, during the 18 July parliamentary debate on Trident, Theresa May felt it necessary to present herself as the kind of leader who is willing to launch nuclear missiles in the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians would be killed. In a few years, thanks to our Treaty, that kind of declaration would be as unthinkable as a British leader threatening or using chemical or biological weapons.

For most of the rest of the world, deterrence is incorporated into defence policies without requiring the capability or pathology to incinerate cities full of people. By making such threats illegal as well as morally abhorrent, the Treaty will reinforce a long-standing taboo that seems to have weakened in recent years.

For many years Britain and others have got away with proclaiming their commitment to multilateral disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons while unilaterally modernising weapons in their arsenals. This treaty has called their bluff.

As many in the defence services already know, Trident is an expensive vanity project that has no credible role in British security or deterrence. But the politicians wanted it, so they went along with this expensive charade.

The Treaty makes nuclear weapons illegal. Even for states that don’t sign, this changes the legal and normative status of nuclear weapons and will make it harder for any government to get political and financial backing for their continued production, possession and deployment.

Lawyers will no doubt pore over every word, but it was clear from the negotiating record that relevant prohibitions in the treaty were intended to cover activities by people and institutions as well as governments. These will not only affect governments that give support through nuclear sharing and hosting arrangements among allies, but also companies that manufacture components for nuclear weapons. These prohibitions will undoubtedly make manufacturers and banks more nervous about continuing to invest in any aspect of nuclear weapons for fear of commercial and legal repercussions.

The 2017 Nuclear Prohibition Treaty now exists. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Whether the UK likes it or not, its impact on UK nuclear and defence policy is likely to be profound.

Cancelling Trident is now question of when, not if. The sooner our politicians recognise this reality the sooner they can stop squandering billions of our money on four unnecessary “Dreadnought” submarines.

Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday: “If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph.”

This was an unintended truth perhaps, but his words summed up how the 2017 Nuclear Prohibition Treaty was achieved – by the many nuclear free nations who confronted the nine governments that still want to retain the ability to threaten nuclear annihilation, and with this Treaty took responsibility to stop evil from triumphing.

About the author
Rebecca Johnson is director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, and a feminist peace activist. She is the Green Party spokesperson on security, peace and defence and serves with various nuclear and humanitarian organisations.

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer Who Helped Avert Nuclear War, Is Dead at 77

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on September 19, 2017 at 12:59 am

By Sewell Chan, New York Times, Sept. 18, 2017

Early on the morning of Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov helped prevent the outbreak of nuclear war.

A 44-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, he had begun his shift as the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command center outside Moscow where the Soviet military monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States, when alarms went off.

Computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base.

“For 15 seconds, we were in a state of shock,” he later recalled. “We needed to understand, ‘What’s next?’ ”

The alarm sounded during one of the tensest periods in the Cold War. Three weeks earlier, the Soviets had shot down a Korean Air Lines commercial flight after it crossed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a congressman from Georgia. President Ronald Reagan had rejected calls for freezing the arms race, declaring the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” The Soviet leader, Yuri V. Andropov, was obsessed by fears of an American attack.

Colonel Petrov was at a pivotal point in the decision-making chain. His superiors at the warning-system headquarters reported to the general staff of the Soviet military, which would consult with Mr. Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack.

After five nerve-racking minutes — electronic maps and screens were flashing as he held a phone in one hand and an intercom in the other, trying to absorb streams of incoming information — Colonel Petrov decided that the launch reports were probably a false alarm.

As he later explained, it was a gut decision, at best a “50-50” guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched.

Colonel Petrov died at 77 on May 19 in Fryazino, a Moscow suburb, where he lived alone on a pension. At the time, his death was not widely reported. It was confirmed by his son, Dmitri, according to Karl Schumacher, a political activist who, after learning in 1998 of Colonel Petrov’s Cold War role, traveled to Russia to meet him and remained a friend. A cause was not announced.

Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was born on Sept. 7, 1939, near Vladivostok, Russia. His father had been a fighter pilot during World War II. He studied at the Kiev Higher Engineering Radio-Technical College of the Soviet Air Force.

After joining the Air Defense Forces, he rose quickly through the ranks; he was assigned to the early-warning system at its inception in the early 1970s.

Historians who have analyzed the episode say that Colonel Petrov’s calm analysis helped avert catastrophe.

As the computer systems in front of him changed their alert from “launch” to “missile strike,” and insisted that the reliability of the information was at the “highest” level, Colonel Petrov had to figure out what to do.

The estimate was that only 25 minutes would elapse between launch and detonation.

“There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike,” he told the BBC. “But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time, that the Soviet Union’s military and political leadership needed to be informed without delay. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.”

A younger Mr. Petrov in an image from a family album. Credit Via Statement Film
As the tension in the command center rose — as many as 200 pairs of eyes were trained on Colonel Petrov — he made the decision to report the alert as a system malfunction.

“I had a funny feeling in my gut,” he told The Washington Post. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

Colonel Petrov attributed his judgment to both his training and his intuition. He had been told that a nuclear first strike by the Americans would come in the form of an overwhelming onslaught.

 

Moreover, Soviet ground-based radar installations — which search for missiles rising above the horizon — did not detect an attack, although they would not have done so for several minutes after launch.

Colonel Petrov was at first praised for his calm, but in an investigation that followed, he was asked why he had failed to record everything in his logbook. “Because I had a phone in one hand and the intercom in the other, and I don’t have a third hand,” he replied.

He received a reprimand.

The false alarm was apparently triggered when the satellite mistook the sun’s reflection off the tops of clouds for a missile launch. The computer program that was supposed to filter out such information had to be rewritten.

Colonel Petrov said the system had been rushed into service in response to the United States’ introduction of a similar system. He said he knew it was not 100 percent reliable.

“We are wiser than the computers,” he said in a 2010 interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. “We created them.”

Cold War tensions persisted. In November 1983, NATO carried out Able Archer 83, a big military exercise simulating a coordinated nuclear attack. The exercise, alongside the arrival in Europe of Pershing II nuclear missiles, led some in the Soviet leadership to believe that the United States was using it as a cover for war; the Soviets placed air units in East Germany and Poland on alert. (Able Archer is the backdrop for the recent television series “Deutschland ’83.”)

Colonel Petrov retired from the military in 1984. He got a job as a senior engineer at the research institute that had created the early-warning system, but retired to care for his wife, Raisa, who had cancer. She died in 1997. In addition to his son, Dmitri, Colonel Petrov is survived by a daughter, Yelena.

Colonel Petrov had largely faded into obscurity — at one point he had been reduced to growing potatoes to feed himself — when his role in averting nuclear Armageddon came to light in 1998 with the publication of the memoir of Gen. Yuriy V. Votintsev, the retired commander of Soviet missile defense.

The book brought Colonel Petrov a measure of prominence. In 2006, he traveled to the United States to receive an award from the Association of World Citizens, and in 2013 he was awarded the Dresden Peace Prize. He was the subject of a 2014 hybrid documentary-drama, “The Man Who Saved the World.”

Jakob Staberg, the producer of the film, said in a phone interview on Monday that he had tried to contact Colonel Petrov by phone and email for the last several weeks, hoping to discuss the film’s Russia release, scheduled for February. He said he had not thought much of the delay because Colonel Petrov often traveled.

Colonel Petrov’s role in the film brought him into contact with American celebrities like the actors Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro, but he did not embrace the spotlight. “I was just at the right place at the right time,” he says in the film.

The American Military: Out Everywhere and Winning Nowhere

In Democracy, Peace, Politics, War on September 13, 2017 at 8:50 am

The superpower that fought itself… and lost
by William Astore, TomDispatch, Sept. 12, 2017
Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy. I didn’t say that, James Madison did.
‘Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy.’ “I didn’t say that,” says Astore, “James Madison did.” (Credit: US Air Force by Master Sgt. Benjamin Bloker)
When it comes to the “world’s greatest military,” the news has been shocking. Two fast U.S. Navy ships colliding with slow-moving commercial vessels with tragic loss of life. An Air Force that has been in the air continuously for years and yet doesn’t have enough pilots to fly its combat jets. Ground troops who find themselves fighting “rebels” in Syria previously armed and trained by the CIA. Already overstretched Special Operations forces facing growing demands as their rates of mental distress and suicide rise. Proxy armies in Iraq and Afghanistan that are unreliable, often delivering American-provided weaponry to black markets and into the hands of various enemies. All of this and more coming at a time when defense spending is once again soaring and the national security state is awash in funds to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars a year.

What gives? Why are highly maneuverable and sophisticated naval ships colliding with lumbering cargo vessels? Why is an Air Force that exists to fly and fight short 1,200 pilots? Why are U.S. Special Operations forces deployed everywhere and winning nowhere? Why, in short, is the U.S. military fighting itself — and losing?

 

It’s the Ops Tempo, Stupid

After 16 years of a never-ending, ever-spreading global war on terror, alarms are going off in Asia from the Koreas and Afghanistan to the Philippines, while across the Greater Middle East and Africa the globe’s “last superpower” is in a never-ending set of conflicts with a range of minor enemies few can even keep straight. As a result, America’s can-do military, committed piecemeal to a bewildering array of missions, has increasingly become a can’t-do one.

Too few ships are being deployed for too long. Too few pilots are being worn out by incessant patrols and mushrooming drone and bombing missions. Special Operations forces (the “commandos of everywhere,” as Nick Turse calls them) are being deployed to far too many countries — more than two-thirds of the nations on the planet already this year — and are involved in conflicts that hold little promise of ending on terms favorable to Washington. Meanwhile, insiders like retired General David Petraeus speak calmly about “generational struggles” that will essentially never end. To paraphrase an old slogan from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” as the U.S. military spans the globe, it’s regularly experiencing the agony of defeat rather than the thrill of victory.

To President Donald Trump (and so many other politicians in Washington), this unsavory reality suggests an obvious solution: boost military funding; build more navy ships; train more pilots and give them more incentive pay to stay in the military; rely more on drones and other technological “force multipliers” to compensate for tired troops; cajole allies like the Germans and Japanese to spend more on their militaries; and pressure proxy armies like the Iraqi and Afghan security forces to cut corruption and improve combat performance.

One option — the most logical — is never seriously considered in Washington: to make deep cuts in the military’s operational tempo by decreasing defense spending and downsizing the global mission, by bringing troops home and keeping them there. This is not an isolationist plea. The United States certainly faces challenges, notably from Russia (still a major nuclear power) and China (a global economic power bolstering its regional militarily strength). North Korea is, as ever, posturing with missile and nuclear tests in provocative ways. Terrorist organizations strive to destabilize American allies and cause trouble even in “the homeland.”

Such challenges require vigilance. What they don’t require is more ships in the sea-lanes, pilots in the air, and boots on the ground. Indeed, 16 years after the 9/11 attacks it should be obvious that more of the same is likely to produce yet more of what we’ve grown all too accustomed to: increasing instability across significant swaths of the planet, as well as the rise of new terror groups or new iterations of older ones, which means yet more opportunities for failed U.S. military interventions.

Once upon a time, when there were still two superpowers on Planet Earth, Washington’s worldwide military posture had a clear rationale: the containment of communism. Soon after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 to much triumphalist self-congratulation in Washington, the scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson had an epiphany. What he would come to call “the American Raj,” a global imperial structure ostensibly built to corral the menace of communism, wasn’t going away just because that menace had evaporated, leaving not a superpower nor even a major power as an opponent anywhere on the horizon. Quite the opposite, Washington — and its globe-spanning “empire” of military bases — was only digging in deeper and for the long haul. At that moment, with a certain shock, Johnson realized that the U.S. was itself an empire and, with its mirror-image-enemy gone, risked turning on itself and becoming its own nemesis.

The U.S., it turned out, hadn’t just contained the Soviets; they had contained us, too. Once their empire collapsed, our leaders imbibed the old dream of Woodrow Wilson, even if in a newly militarized fashion: to remake the world in one’s own image (if need be at the point of a sword).

Since the early 1990s, largely unconstrained by peer rivals, America’s leaders have acted as if there were nothing to stop them from doing as they pleased on the planet, which, as it turned out, meant there was nothing to stop them from their own folly. We witness the results today. Prolonged and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Interventions throughout the Greater Middle East (Libya, Syria, Yemen, and beyond) that spread chaos and destruction. Attacks against terrorism that have given new impetus to jihadists everywhere. And recently calls to arm Ukraine against Russia. All of this is consistent with a hubristic strategic vision that, in these years, has spoken in an all-encompassing fashion and without irony of global reach, global power, and full-spectrum dominance.

In this context, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the full scope of America’s military power. All the world is a stage — or a staging area — for U.S. troops. There are still approximately 800 U.S. military bases in foreign lands. America’s commandos deploy to more than 130 countries yearly. And even the world is not enough for the Pentagon as it seeks to dominate not just land, sea, and air but outer space, cyberspace, and even inner space, if you count efforts to achieve “total information awareness” through 17 intelligence agencies dedicated — at a cost of $80 billion a year — to sweeping up all data on Planet Earth.

In short, America’s troops are out everywhere and winning nowhere, a problem America’s “winningest” president, Donald Trump, is only exacerbating. Surrounded by “his” generals, Trump has — against his own instincts, he claimed recently — recommitted American troops and prestige to the Afghan War. He’s also significantly expanded U.S. drone strikes and bombing throughout the Greater Middle East, and threatened to bring fire and fury to North Korea, while pushing a program to boost military spending.

At a Pentagon awash in money, with promises of more to come, missions are rarely downsized. Meanwhile, what passes for original thinking in the Trump White House is the suggestion of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, to privatize America’s war in Afghanistan (and possibly elsewhere). Mercenaries are the answer to Washington’s military problems, suggests Prince. And mercs, of course, have the added benefit of not being constrained by the rules of engagement that apply to America’s uniformed service members.

Indeed, Prince’s idea, though opposed by Trump’s generals, is compelling in one sense: If you accept the notion that America’s wars in these years have been fought largely for the corporate agendas of the military-industrial complex, why not turn warfighting itself over to the warrior corporations that now regularly accompany the military into battle, cutting out the middleman, that very military?

Hammering a Cloud of Gnats

Erik Prince’s mercenaries will, however, have to bide their time as the military high command continues to launch kinetic strikes against elusive foes around the globe. By its own admission, the force recent U.S. presidents have touted as the “finest” in history faces remarkably “asymmetrical” and protean enemies, including the roughly 20 terrorist organizations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations. In striking at such relatively puny foes, the U.S. reminds me of the mighty Thor of superhero fame swinging his hammer violently against a cloud of gnats. In the process, some of those gnats will naturally die, but the result will still be an exhausted superhero and ever more gnats attracted by the heat and commotion of battle.

I first came across the phrase “using a sledgehammer to kill gnats” while looking at the history of U.S. airpower during the Vietnam War. B-52 “Arc Light” raids dropped record tons of bombs on parts of South Vietnam and Laos in largely failed efforts to kill dispersed guerrillas and interdict supply routes from North Vietnam. Half a century later, with its laser- and GPS-guided bombs, the Air Force regularly touts the far greater precision of American airpower. Yet in one country after another, using just that weaponry, the U.S. has engaged in serial acts of overkill. In Afghanistan, it was the recent use of MOAB, the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon the U.S. has ever used in combat, against a small concentration of ISIS fighters. In similar fashion, the U.S. air war in Syria has outpaced the Russians and even the Assad regime in its murderous effects on civilians, especially around Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State. Such overkill is evident on the ground as well where special ops raids have, this year, left civilians dead from Yemen to Somalia. In other words, across the Greater Middle East, Washington’s profligate killing machine is also creating a desire for vengeance among civilian populations, staggering numbers of whom, when not killed, have been displaced or sent fleeing across borders asrefugees in these wars. It has played a significant role in unsettling whole regions, creating failed states, and providing yet more recruits for terror groups.

Leaving aside technological advances, little has changed since Vietnam. The U.S. military is still relying on enormous firepower to kill elusive enemies as a way of limiting (American) casualties. As an instrument of victory, it didn’t work in Vietnam, nor has it worked in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But never mind the history lessons. President Trump asserts that his “new” Afghan strategy — the details of which, according to a military spokesman, are “not there yet” — will lead to more terrorists (that is, gnats) being killed.

Since 9/11, America’s leaders, Trump included, have rarely sought ways to avoid those gnats, while efforts to “drain the swamp” in which the gnats thrive have served mainly to enlarge their breeding grounds. At the same time, efforts to enlist indigenous “gnats” — local proxy armies — to take over the fight have gone poorly indeed. As in Vietnam, the main U.S. focus has invariably been on developing better, more technologically advanced (which means more expensive) sledgehammers, while continuing to whale away at that cloud of gnats — a process as hopeless as it is counterproductive.

The Greatest Self-Defeating Force in History?

Incessant warfare represents the end of democracy. I didn’t say that, James Madison did.

I firmly believe, though, in words borrowed from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that “only Americans can hurt America.” So how can we lessen the hurt? By beginning to rein in the military. A standing military exists — or rather should exist — to support and defend the Constitution and our country against immediate threats to our survival. Endless attacks against inchoate foes in the backlands of the planet hardly promote that mission. Indeed, the more such attacks wear on the military, the more they imperil national security.

A friend of mine, a captain in the Air Force, once quipped to me: you study long, you study wrong. It’s a sentiment that’s especially cutting when applied to war: you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Yet as debilitating as they may be to militaries, long wars are even more devastating to democracies. The longer our military wages war, the more our country is militarized, shedding its democratic values and ideals.

Back in the Cold War era, the regions in which the U.S. military is now slogging it out were once largely considered “the shadows” where John le Carré-style secret agents from the two superpowers matched wits in a set of shadowy conflicts. Post-9/11, “taking the gloves off” and seeking knockout blows, the U.S. military entered those same shadows in a big way and there, not surprisingly, it often couldn’t sort friend from foe.

A new strategy for America should involve getting out of those shadowy regions of no-win war. Instead, an expanding U.S. military establishment continues to compound the strategic mistakes of the last 16 years. Seeking to dominate everywhere but winning decisively nowhere, it may yet go down as the greatest self-defeating force in history.

William Astore
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), who has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, and now teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He welcomes reader comments at wjastore@gmail.com.