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Risk of ‘catastrophic’ nuclear accident as world relations worsen, UN warns

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on April 21, 2017 at 9:31 pm

By Will Worley, Independent. April 21,  2017

There will be “catastrophic” consequences when “luck runs out” on nuclear deterrence, the United Nations (UN) has warned in a major report which highlights the massive risk of an accidental or deliberate use of the world’s most deadly weapons.

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” said the report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups, it added.

“Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work,” it said. “The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.
“The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

It comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals.

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, it said .
North Korea has continued with its nuclear weapons development programme, despite heavy sanctions being imposed against it by various countries and international bodies.

While the secretive Communist state has conducted several tests with nuclear bombs, in order to launch a nuclear attack on its neighbours, it needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile.

There is no consensus on exactly where North Korea is in terms of miniaturising a nuclear device so that it can be delivered via a missile.

President Trump has said he will “deal with” the country and has not ruled out military action against it.

The report also cited a string of recent attacks and threats between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan raised the stakes in January, when it fired its first submarine-launched nuclear capable cruise missile.

In addition, the report expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.
Denuclearisation would require “visionary leadership”, the report said, but added this was “sadly rare” as many powerful states “increasingly turn inward”.

It added that new technology and spending on nuclear weapons had “enhanced” the risk of a detonation. However, it acknowledged the secrecy surrounding the programmes made it difficult to accurately assess their true scope.

Increased reliance technology has also introduced new problems, the report said. In the past, accidental nuclear detonations have been averted by a human decision. Replacing military officers with computers could therefore rule out a potential safety check on the weapons, and open the possibility of hacking a nuclear weapon.

The report also referenced the January 2017 decision of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science to move the publication’s Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight over nuclear fears – the most risky it had been since 1953.

The UN maintained risk was inherent to nuclear weapons and the only way to truly eliminate it was to get rid of the bombs.

The twin goals behind North Korea’s resolve on nuclear weapons

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 20, 2017 at 7:31 am

Michael Holtz, Christian Science Monitor

APRIL 19, 2017 BEIJING—The Trump administration has portrayed the US missile strike on a Syrian air field earlier this month as a sign its willingness to make tough decisions.

In other words, North Korea better watch out.

But to North Korean leaders, analysts say, the attack reaffirmed a different lesson: the importance of having a credible nuclear deterrent.

“The logic is pretty simple,” says Wenran Jiang, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, in Canada. “The North Koreans see what happened in Syria and say, ‘If we give up nuclear weapons, that’s what will happen to us.’”

As a small, impoverished nation focused on its own survival, North Korea is deeply committed to holding on to its nuclear arms. To shut its program down would be to risk the regime’s annihilation, but to keep it going runs the risk of triggering a devastating war that could lead to millions of casualties.
But ultimately, nuclear weapons are also a means, not just an end: the government hopes a powerful-enough nuclear deterrent will provide the security it needs to pursue economic reforms without the threat of outside interference – a trajectory not so different from China’s.

So goes the strategic calculus at the center of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions – a paradox that leaves Washington with no good options as tensions continue to rise.

‘Storm clouds gathering’

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned of “storm clouds gathering,” and criticized the United States, South Korea, and North Korea for dangerous “tit for tat” engagement, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Observers say North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test any day. Meanwhile, a US carrier group is on its way to waters off the coast of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s expanded arsenal was on full display Saturday at an annual military parade in Pyongyang, commemorating the birthday of founder Kim Il-sung. It included intercontinental ballistic missiles that could one day be capable of reaching the US mainland, and solid-fuel missiles that could be fired from land and submarines.

On Sunday, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that exploded seconds after liftoff, a high-profile failure that occurred hours before US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea.

Still, the weekend’s displays of strength served as reminders of Washington’s long history of unsuccessful attempts at negotiations with Pyongyang that stretch back more than two decades. North Korea launched a long-range rocket and conducted two nuclear tests last year, including its most powerful to date.

North Korean resolve

Vice President Pence warned of an “overwhelming and effective American response” to any provocation from the North. But North Korea appears unwilling to back down. It has remained in a state of near-war since the fall of the Soviet Union, when the country lost its largest defender and became vulnerable to the US and its allies. Communist regimes around the world were crumbling, but North Korea dug itself in.

In the spirit of “juche,” Kim Il-sung’s philosophy of “self-reliance” that has become a kind of state-sanctioned ideology, the country established its military-first policy that continues to today. It maintained that footing even through widespread famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands. Pyongyang justifies huge investments in nuclear weapons by perpetuating a narrative of imminent threat from foreign forces.

But John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, says that establishing a nuclear deterrent is only part of supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s vision for his country.

Mr. Kim’s ultimate goal to ensure that North Koreans will never again have to “tighten their belts,” says Professor Delury, a promise he made as soon as he took power in 2012. Nuclear deterrence provides the young leader the security he needs to more fully focus on economic development.

Kim has already carried out a series of economic reforms, including an overhaul of the agriculture sector that has led to record-level harvests and the opening of new special economic zones. In a speech last year, Kim said future economic development would focus on the mechanization of agriculture, automation of factories, and increased coal production.

“I would not say the economy is booming, but it has seen steady growth under Kim,” says Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul who studied at a North Korean university. “He has no illusions about the command economy. He knows the only game in town is what China did 30 years ago through market reforms.”

The China Model

Few nations understand North Korea’s logic better than China, which followed a similar path in the second half of the 20th century. Delury says that China’s development of a nuclear weapon in the 1960s gave it a strong sense of external security, and helped spur the Chinese Communist Party to turn its attention to liberalizing the economy in the late 1970s.

With their shared history in mind, it comes as little surprise that China has been so reluctant to put more economic pressure on North Korea – and not only because it doesn’t want to push the regime to the point of collapse, a worst-case scenario for Beijing.

“The bottom line is the Chinese don’t think pressure is going to work,” Delury says. “They well understand that this is a stubborn, prideful, independent neighbor, but that twisting their arm makes the problem worse.”

The North Korean regime has effectively forced the world into an elaborate game of chicken to ensure its survival. The more pressure the country faces – whether economically or militarily – the more it’s pushed to develop new asymmetrical threats and accept even higher levels of risk to intimidate its rivals. Its goal is to make any potential war too costly to consider, which is why it’s so keen to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

Not even China, the North’s main political ally and its economic lifeline, is immune to its provocations. The latest snub occurred last week, when Pyongyang didn’t respond to a meeting request from China’s top nuclear envoy, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The diplomatic slight highlights ongoing questions about Beijing’s influence over the North Korean regime, as Trump pushes China to do more to rein in its erratic neighbor.

China has spoken out against the North’s weapons tests and has agreed to stiffer United Nations sanctions. In February, Beijing banned imports of North Korean coal, cutting off Pyongyang’s most important export.

But as North Korea’s dominant trade partner, China has also maintained robust economic ties with it. Data released last week showed that trade between the two countries grew 37.4 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2016.
For its part, China argues that negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are the only way to resolve the simmering crisis and avoid a conflict on its border. Such talks could require the US to make significant concessions it has so far been unwilling to accept.

“The Chinese look at North Korea and think, ‘We’ve been there before,’” Professor Jiang says, referring to China’s own path over the last half-century. “At the end of the day, they may decide its behavior isn’t as out of hand as people in the West suggest.”

 

Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 18, 2017 at 11:09 pm

By Paul Mason, The Guardian, April 18, 2017

Last week, Donald Trump deployed his superweapon Moab, the “mother of all bombs” – 10 tonnes of high explosive detonated in mid-air in such a way as to kill, it is claimed, 94 Isis militants. The Russian media immediately reminded us that their own thermobaric bomb – the “father of all bombs” – was four times as powerful: “Kids, meet Daddy,” was how the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today put it. But these are child’s play compared with nuclear weapons. The generation waking up to today’s Daily Mail strapline – “World holds its breath” – may need reminding what a nuclear weapon does.

The one dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons; it destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. The warhead carried by a Trident missile delivers a reported 455 kilotons of explosive power. Drop one on Bristol and the fireball is 1km wide; third-degree burns affect everybody from Portishead to Keynsham, and everything in a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is contaminated with radiation. In this scenario, 169,000 people die immediately and 180,000 need emergency treatment. Given that there are only 101,000 beds in the entire English NHS, you can begin to imagine the apocalyptic scenes for those who survive. (You can model your own scenario here.)

But a Trident missile carries up to eight of these warheads, and military planners might drop them in a pattern around one target, creating a firestorm along the lines that conventional Allied bombing created in Hamburg and Tokyo during the second world war.

I don’t wish to alarm you, but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable.

For Kim Jong-un, it’s thinkable; for Vladimir Putin, it’s so thinkable that every major Russian wargame ends with a “nuclear de-escalation” phase: that is, drop one and offer peace. On 22 December last year, Trump and Putin announced, almost simultaneously, that they were going to expand their nuclear arsenals and update the technology.

Right now, a US aircraft carrier strike force is steaming towards North Korea (the DPRK) to menace Kim’s rogue regime. We don’t know what secret diplomacy went on between Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the US is sounding confident that China will rein the North Koreans in.

What we do know is that Trump has been obsessed since the 80s with nuclear weapons, that he refuses to take advice from military professionals and that he seems not to understand the core Nato concept of nukes as a political deterrent, as opposed to a military superweapon.

This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news, and the No 1 concern of democratic and peace-loving politicians.

The video fireworks on US cable news channels have progressed in the space of 10 days from cruise missile launches to bunker-busting airburst porn. One US news host referred to the former as “beautiful”.

I will always remember the Botoxed faces of the US news anchors when they arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was as if they had been woken up from a dream, and the best of them realised how they had been sleepwalking towards the disaster.

Katrina shows what happens when a disaster hits a fragile, poverty-stricken and socially fragmented city. In New Orleans, for a few days, civilisation fell apart. Policemen, suddenly called on to haul their overweight frames into self-sacrificing and arduous work, quit on the spot. The modern equivalent of lynchings happened. Central government and unified military command of the situation broke down. My experience there convinced me that, in the event of mass fatalities being inflicted on a developed world city, the real problem would be social chaos, not mass radiation sickness.

Trump is ramping up the military rhetoric for a horribly simple reason: two weeks ago, the isolationist wing of his team got outflanked by generals; they tried some war to see how it went down and it went down well.

We may get lucky. It may be that the Chinese leadership is prepared to put serious pressure on North Korea to prevent Kim’s regime staging some kind of provocation against the US navy. Or we may get unlucky: the DPRK has a nuclear weapon, even if the missiles needed to deliver it are unstable.
It has been human nature, given the scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring, to blank the possibility from our minds, to worry about small risks because the big one is incalculable. But from the 50s to the 00s, we had – in all nuclear powers – military/industrial complex politicians who understood the value of multilateralism. All around us high politics is becoming emotion driven, unilateral, crowd-pleasing and falling under the control of erratic family groups and mafias, rather than technocrats representing ruling elites.

For the warmongers, true multilateralism is a serious annoyance; that’s why so many of the world’s autocrats are busy forcing NGOs to register, cutting off foreign funds to them and decrying the presence of international observers or sabotaging their work.

If Theresa May wanted to send a useful message at Easter it could have been: in compliance with the non-proliferation treaties, we will never use our nuclear weapons first; we will stick to diplomatic and economic pressure to get the DPRK to comply; and we will use our own, independent diplomatic clout to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation.

That is what a responsible nuclear-armed power would do. The UK’s silence as Trump toys with military escalation and nuclear rearmament is criminal.

Russia, West Moving Towards New Cold War, Gorbachev Warns

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-west-moving-toward-new-cold-war-gorbachev-warns/28431864.html
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, called on the West to “restore trust” with Russia and warned that the two old adversaries are moving toward a renewed state of Cold War.

“All the indications of a Cold War are there,” he said in an interview with the German Bild newspaper on April 14. “The language of politicians and the top-level military personnel is becoming increasingly militant. Military doctrines are formulated increasingly harshly The mass media pick up on all of this and add fuel to the fire. The relationship between the big powers continues to worsen.”

A new arms race between Russia and the West is already under way, Gorbachev said.

“It is not merely imminent. In some places, it is already in full swing. Troops are being moved into Europe, including heavy equipment such as tanks and armored cars. It was not so long ago that NATO troops and Russian troops were stationed quite far away from each other. They now stand nose-to-nose.”

Gorbachev said the new Cold War could turn into a hot one if both sides do nothing to prevent it. “Anything is possible” if the current deterioration of relations continues, he said.

Gorbachev cautioned the West against trying to force change in Russia through economic sanctions, saying the sanctions only galvanize public opinion against the West in Russia and bolster support for the Kremlin.

“Don’t have any false hope in this respect! We are a people willing to make whatever sacrifices we need to,” he said, noting that during World War II, Russian endured the deaths of nearly 30 million of their countrymen to win the war.

Instead, Gorbachev said Russia and the West need to find a way to restore trust, respect, and the willingness to working together. He said both sides can draw from a reservoir of good will that remains toward each other among ordinary citizens.

Russia and Germany, in particular “must re-establish contact, solidify, and develop our relationship, and find a way to trust each other again,” he said.

To repair the damage and renew understanding, the West “must take Russia seriously as a nation that deserves respect,” he said.

Instead of constantly criticizing Russia for not meeting Western standards of democracy, he said. the West should recognize that “Russia is on the path to democracy. It’s halfway between. There are approximately 30 emerging nations that are in transition, and we are one of them.”

Gorbachev traces the deterioration of relations to the West’s loss of respect for Russia and exploitation of its weakness after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

That led the West — and particularly the United States — to break promises that were made to Russia at the end of the Cold War that NATO forces would “not move one centimeter further East,” he said.

THE U.S.-RUSSIA NUCLEAR ARMS RACE IS OVER, AND RUSSIA HAS WON

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 9:53 pm

By Scott Ritter, Newsweek, 4-12-17

This article first appeared on The Washington Spectator.

In October 26, 2016, amid the hubbub of a rancorous American presidential election that dominated the headlines, an event took place in Russia that escaped the attention of those not otherwise involved in monitoring the esoteric world of strategic weapons research and development.

This event, a test of a ballistic missile carrying a payload known as “Object 4202,” fundamentally changed the landscape of arms control, built as it is on the dual pillars of nuclear deterrence and missile defense.

“Object 4202” was a new kind of weapon, a hypersonic warhead capable of speeds 15 times the speed of sound, and capable of evading any anti-missile system the United States has today, or may develop and deploy for decades to come. While the October 26 test used an older RS-26 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as the launch vehicle, “Object 4202” will ultimately be carried on a newer ICBM, the RS-28.

The RS-28 is itself a wonder of modern technology, capable of flying in excess of five times the speed of sound, altering its trajectory to confuse anti-missile radars, and delivering 15 independently targetable nuclear warheads (each one 10 times as powerful as the bombs the United States dropped on Japan at the end of World War II) or three “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, which destroy their targets through kinetic energy (i.e., through impact).

A nuclear warhead-armed RS-28 would take about 30 minutes to reach the United States from a silo in central Russia; its warheads would be capable of destroying an area about the size of Texas.

Armed with the “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, each of which is capable of destroying an American missile silo, the time would be cut down to 12 minutes or less. The RS-28 ICBM, scheduled to become operational in 2018, assures Russia the ability to annihilate the United States in retaliation for any American first strike, while providing Russia a silo-killing first-strike capability of its own.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has relied on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation as the foundation of its nuclear deterrence strategy, grounded in the notion of “mutually assured destruction,” where any nuclear strike by one side would result in a devastating response by the other, thereby reducing the chance of nuclear war.

The glue that held this theory of mutual nuclear suicide together was the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, where the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to limitations on the deployment of anti-missile defenses. An effective ABM capability gave a nation the theoretical ability to “win” a nuclear war by launching a debilitating first strike, and then destroying in-flight any missiles that survived. Limiting ABM defenses curtailed an arms race by reducing the impetus to develop new weapons capable of breaching an opponent’s defenses.

The ABM treaty provided a foundation of strategic stability, built on the precepts of “mutually assured destruction,” that enabled both the United States and the Soviet Union to enter into meaningful arms reduction agreements, including the ground-breaking Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991. (Ironically, it was President Ronald Reagan’s insistence in 1986 on continuing the research on the “Star Wars” anti-missile system that precluded the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.)

This trend toward nuclear disarmament continued in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with President Bill Clinton signing a new START 2 treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. START 2 eliminated the deployment of multiple warheads on ICBMs, further stabilizing the strategic balance between the two nations.

The START 2 treaty never entered into force. In 2002, George W. Bush’s administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty, citing the need to develop defenses against missile launches from so-called “rogue states,” like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In doing so Bush unhinged the foundation upon which U.S.-Russian strategic arms control was built.

A new arms reduction treaty, signed in 2003, stripped away on-site, inspection-based verification, and did nothing to limit the deployment of ICBMs armed with multiple warheads. While the “New START Treaty,” signed by the Obama administration in 2010, brought back limited on-site inspections, there was no prohibition against ICBMs with multiple warheads.

Moreover, the Obama administration continued to develop and deploy anti-missile defenses, both in the United States and in Europe, resurrecting in Russia Cold War-era concerns that the Americans would leverage this new ABM capability to subject Russia to nuclear blackmail, threatening a nuclear strike for which Russia would have no response. The RS-28 missile system, inclusive of “Object 4202,” can trace its origin to American deployment of ABMs.

These concerns were on display on December 22, 2016, when President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech that made the recent Russian developments public. “We need to strengthen the military potential of [Russia’s] strategic nuclear forces,” Putin said, “especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.”

This speech would have more than likely been buried by the American media save for one person—President-elect Donald Trump, who on the same day as Putin’s speech tweeted a reply: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The president-in-waiting then doubled down on this line of thinking, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program the following morning, “Let it be an arms race! We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The Russian response was surprisingly muted. Russia, Putin said the following day, was not seeking a new arms race, but only to improve its capabilities in the face of American deployments of anti-missile defenses. Russia was now strong enough to repulse any aggressor, Putin said.

“As for Donald Trump, there is nothing new about it; during his election campaign he said the U.S. needs to bolster its nuclear capabilities and its armed forces in general,” the Russian president noted.

During the campaign, candidate Trump had been infamously unfamiliar with the basics of American nuclear strategy. At a primary debate, after the moderator underscored the age of America’s nuclear arsenal (“The B-52s [a nuclear-capable bomber] are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out”), Trump was asked, “What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” The best the future president could come up with was, “I think…I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

There is no doubt that Trump received a more detailed briefing on America’s nuclear capability upon being elected. The aging American nuclear arsenal, he would have learned, is a critical national security issue. A new stealth bomber is in development, as is a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. And the Obama administration had initiated a process for producing and deploying a new ground-launched ICBM that would cost the American public $1 trillion over the course of the next decade.

This perceived weakness, combined with Putin’s public pronouncement of Russian strength, apparently was enough to set the president-elect off on his tweeting and morning talk show rant.

A few days shy of his inauguration, Trump seemed to have a change of heart. In a wide-ranging interview with British journalists, Trump noted that, “They have sanctions on Russia—let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia.” What deal was Trump suggesting? “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit.”

(The Times of London speculated that the first foreign policy trip President Trump would embark on would be a nuclear disarmament summit with President Putin; a Trump spokesperson rejected this as “false news.”)

While President Putin, in a January 28 phone call with President Trump, was warm to the idea of nuclear disarmament talks with a Trump administration, the Russians overall were dismissive of a deal that traded disarmament for the lifting of sanctions.

An offer to engage in nuclear arms control talks, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov noted, would be furthered by first reviewing the issue of U.S. sanctions against Russia. But there could not be any direct linkage between the two.

The Russian foreign minister also noted that the agenda for any such negotiations should include hypersonic weapons, U.S. missile defenses, space weapons and nuclear testing—in short, a broad range of interconnected issues that the new Trump administration appears ill-equipped to handle at this juncture.

Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, has been silent on U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament. And James Mattis, the new secretary of defense and the one Trump Cabinet official who has opined publicly about disarmament issues, appears supportive of fielding a new land-based ICBM, thereby closing the door on the possibility of trading those weapons in exchange for similarly deep cuts by Russia. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis noted that these missiles would be “a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary,” noting that “any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out.”

James Mattis would do well to speak to the men and women who operate America’s land-based ICBM force today. The Cold War is over, and these missiles no longer stand on the frontline of American defense. If the best reasoning for the continued deployment of land-based ICBMs is that they serve as a sump for a potential enemy attack, then there is no real justification for their existence, now or in the future.

President Trump reportedly told President Putin, during their January 28 conversation, that the current arms control treaty, up for renegotiation in 2018, was one-sided in favor of the Russians. With all due respect to Trump, his American-centric view of the Obama-era arms agreement is moot; the U.S.-Russian arms race is over, and Russia has won.

The RS-28 missile will be operational next year; the new American land-based ICBM won’t be operational for another decade. Russia is on the verge of deploying a hypersonic, missile silo-killing weapon that undermines the secretary of defense’s thin justification for a new land-based ICBM.

Every missile system Russia deploys, or will deploy, is capable of defeating America’s missile defense systems, including what is currently deployed and what is envisioned for the future. And Russia is on the verge of completing the deployment of its own anti-missile shield, one that will seal off its air space to bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, negating in totality America’s nuclear triad.

There is a deal to be made with Russia, and it doesn’t involve trading the lifting of sanctions for nuclear arms cuts. President Trump would do well to accept Sergei Lavrov’s proposed disarmament agenda, and expand it to include a new ABM treaty and a new disarmament treaty that not only reduces the numbers of weapons on both sides, but also would include the elimination of multiple warheads on all missiles, land-based and submarine launched.
Effective arms control negotiations must include an appreciation of history, a realistic assessment of the present and the ability to project into the future. At this juncture, the Trump administration has not demonstrated the level of competence needed to successfully conclude such a complex negotiation.

The first step, however, is to embrace disarmament as a positive goal. While President Trump has shown a limited understanding of the nuclear triad, his recognition that nuclear weapons should be “way down and reduced very substantially” is a step in the right direction.

Former Marine intelligence officer Scott Ritter served on the staff of General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.

Thoughts about what the Syrian airstrike might mean for our work

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The following was written April 6, 2017, by my colleague and good friend Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — also very active with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
There was little warning. That is the nature of a surprise attack. Still, the reality that our country had carried out an act of war against another country was shocking. Knowing that our historic nuclear-armed nemesis is on the other side, on the ground in that country quickly turned my shock into a heavy dread.

There are many reasons for Russia to stand aside in response to the US attack on a Syrian airbase after Donald Trump was affected by scenes of children who had been murdered by chemical weapons.
There are also reasons for Russia to express concerns about a US President deciding to become the global enforcer of UN conventions without waiting for a greenlight from the security council or anyone else—what seems swift and decisive to President Trump could seem abrupt and impetuous to someone else.
And there could be reasons for Russia to take it personally—if Russian personnel were on the ground at the airbase and were killed in the attack, for instance.
The US President will receive accolades or condemnations from members of Congress and others who agree or disagree with his action. He declared his order to strike the airbase was based on the US’s “vital national security interest” in preventing the spread of chemical weapons. Pundits did not blink an eye; we have grown accustomed to defending any action we deign to take by invoking our vital national interest. In this case, no US citizens or military personnel were harmed by Assad’s horrific attack; no US corporate or government properties were at risk. If the US at this moment now holds UN conventions sacred, one can only hope we apply that same solemn obeisance to the Land Mines Convention and, when it enters into force, the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons.

But the hard looming question of this night is this: What if Russia decides to test the mettle of Donald Trump and the divided United States by countering with firepower in a limited strike? What if Russian personnel were killed in the attack, and Vladimir Putin’s pride requires a concomitant response?
That What If has numbed me this night. That What If is unspeakable on Talk-TV tonight.
How quickly could this spiral out of control—two deeply offended egos, puffing themselves up for the honor of their country, acting decisively, precipitously, provocatively to face down the enemy—
Could one or the other, feeling tested, decide to put any questions to rest by reaching for the nuclear codes?

We pray that would never happen, of course. We pray for our lives, and the lives of future generations. We pray whether or not we believe in God or a god or goddess.
But we cannot pray that it could never happen, and therein lies our deepest problem and the unmasking of the fundamental, fatal flaw in the concept of nuclear deterrence. It could happen.
And the fact that all we can do about it at this moment is pray should motivate every woman, man and child in the country to take up the cause of nuclear disarmament. We don’t all have to be on the same page, we don’t all have to agree on the nuts and bolts or the schedule.
We also don’t all have to sit back and say it can’t be done, because it can. Hundreds of millions of people around the world believe it can. One hundred twenty-three nations that convened last week at the United Nations to discuss a treaty to ban nuclear weapons believe that it can. History says that it can—several countries that once possessed nuclear weapons no longer have stockpiles or manufacturing capabilities. Other countries that could produce their own nuclear weapons have chosen not to.
Only three things are lacking, and they are connected.
One is political will translated into political power—the people, when asked directly, express by large majorities the desire to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second thing lacking is courage to embrace a power greater than our fears.
And the third thing is the liberation of our governing officials in the House and Senate from the golden chains of the nuclear weapons institutions—the corporations and weapons communities and federal agencies that drain the national coffers to build weapons of mass destruction.

Tonight, as we wait to see how Russia might respond and what will happen as this chess game plays out with pieces bathed in blood, we must confront the terrible truth of the times we live in: decisions made by these few men could end us all in one afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon, or the one after that, before we can even reach our children to hug them to our chests.
If that is not acceptable to you, find a group working for the abolition of nuclear weapons—not talking about it, but working for it—and throw yourself behind them. If you belong to such a group already, double down. If you can’t find a group, start one. Nothing is more important.

Report on the UN negotiations to ban nuclear weapons

In Democracy, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 5, 2017 at 8:53 am

Nuclear Ban Daily, Vol. 1, No. 6

Courage and collaboration
Ray Acheson
4 April 2017

Last week was transformative. Not just in terms of banning nuclear weapons, but in terms of international relations and the United Nations more broadly.

The majority of states—more than 130—came together at the UN to start negotiating a treaty that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (aka the P5)—and the other nuclear-armed states—do not want. This alone is transformative. It is extremely rare, if not unheard of, for anything to get done at the UN if the P5 collectively oppose it. We were told it was impossible to get traction on any issue if faced with a united front of opposition from the “powers that be,” yet we not only have traction but momentum.

In addition, throughout the week states, civil society, and international organisations engaged in interactive dialogue together, highlighting the uniquely collaborative nature of these negotiations. Civil society organisations accredited to the conference were able to give interventions on each of topics discussed by states, and on Thursday experts were invited by the President to engage informally with states to discuss some of the most critical issues under consideration.

The courage that brought states to the room to negotiate this treaty and the collaborative spirit of engaging with non-state actors have both been instrumental to the success of this initiative to ban nuclear weapons. Both courage and collaboration will remain essential ingredients to achieving success in July—which the President of the conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, has said is “an achievable goal”.

Based on the debates last week, Ambassador Whyte will prepare a draft text for the treaty, to be circulated to participating states in the latter half of May or early June. Negotiations will resume at the UN for three weeks starting on 15 June, during which time governments will work their way through the draft text with the aim of concluding the treaty by 7 July.

This is an ambitious agenda, but with the good faith participation of states and others, it is certainly possible. There is broad agreement on most of the core prohibitions as well as the principles and objectives of the treaty. Outstanding issues include whether or not the treaty should prohibit threat of use, testing, and financing; how to best address victim and survivor rights and environmental remediation; and how to deal with stockpiling and verification. In the weeks ahead, it will be important for governments and civil society groups to work together to solve these remaining issues.

In the meantime, opposition and pressure will undoubtedly be felt from those governments that have chosen to (or been instructed to) boycott these negotiations. The stigmatisation of nuclear weapons resulting from the process to ban them is already affecting the perceived legitimacy of these states’ positions. A final treaty will present an incredible obstacle to the continued retention of these weapons of mass destruction. But states opposing this treaty and the change it represents cannot block this treaty’s adoption or its entry into force. Courage and collaboration will be key to resisting the pressure to come.

As we have said many times, the treaty to ban nuclear weapons is not an end in itself. It will be a catalyst for change, just as the process to negotiate it has been already. There is much work to be done ahead, and once the treaty is secured, there will be even more work to achieve its entry into force, its implementation, and of course, to achieve the overarching goal of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon free world. But we have seen so far should give us great hope that this is possible, and that the process of banning nuclear weapons is bringing broader change to how things can be and will be done in international relations.

Noam Chomsky: Why Donald Trump is pushing the doomsday clock to the brink of midnight

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 4, 2017 at 10:13 pm

David Gibbs, Alternet, April 3, 2017

The following is an transcript of a recent public interview at the University of Arizona with linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky by Dr. David N. Gibbs.

David Gibbs: The main issue on everyone’s minds is the inauguration of Donald Trump as president. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has emphasized the extreme danger that Trump poses, due to the augmented risk of nuclear war and uncontrolled climate change. After inauguration, the Bulletin’s metaphoric clock has been repositioned at two and a half minutes to midnight, with “midnight” signifying catastrophe. Do you agree with the Bulletin regarding the alleged dangers posed by the Trump presidency?

Noam Chomsky: One of the dangers is unquestionable. Of the two existential threats — the threats to the termination of the species basically and most other species – one of them, climate change, on that I think there’s no basis for discussion. Trump has been very inconsistent on many things; on Twitter he’s been all over the place, but some of it is very consistent. That is: Do nothing about climate change except make it worse. And he’s not just speaking for himself, but for the whole Republican Party, the whole leadership. It’s already had impact, it will have worse impact. We’ll talk about this next week, but if there are ways out of this, it’s going to be not easy.

With regard to nuclear weapons, it’s kind of hard to say. He’s said lots of things. As you mentioned, the national security experts are terrified. But they’re more terrified by his personality than by his statements. So if you read people like say Bruce Blair[i]1 one of the leading, most sober, knowledgeable specialists, he says, look, his statements are all over the map, but his personality is frightening, he’s a complete megalomaniac. You never know how he’s going to react. When he learned for example that he’d lost the election by about three million votes, his instant reaction was insanity; you know, three to five million illegal immigrants somehow were organized in some incredible fashion to vote. On any little issue — Miss Universe, or whatever it may be — he’s completely unpredictable, he’ll go off into outer space. His guru Steve Bannon is worse, he’s much scarier. He probably knows what he’s doing.

Over the years, there’s been case after case when there were very narrow decisions that had to be made about whether to launch nuclear weapons in serious cases. What is this guy going to do if his vaunted negotiating skills fail, if somebody doesn’t do what he says? Is he going to say, “Okay we’ll nuke them? We’re done?” Remember that in any major nuclear war, the first strike destroys the country that attacks; it’s been known for years. The first strike of a major power is very likely to cause what’s called nuclear winter, leads to global famine for years and everything’s basically gone. Some survivors straggling around. Could he do it? Who knows.

Some of his comments can be interpreted as potentially reducing the threat of nuclear war. The major threat right now is right on the Russian border. Notice, not the Mexican border, the Russian border. And it’s serious. He has made various statements moving towards reducing the tensions, accommodating Russian concerns and so on. On the other hand, you have to balance that against expanding our nuclear forces, add to our so-called depleted military, which is already more powerful than the rest of the world combined; attack in Syria, send forces to Syria, start bombing. Who knows what could be next? Michael Flynn, national security advisor,[ii] [his reaction] to the Iranian missile test the other day was very frightening. Now the missile test is ill-advised, they shouldn’t have done it. But it’s not in violation of international law or international agreements. They shouldn’t have done it. His reaction suggested maybe we’re going to go to war in retaliation. Would they do it? If they did, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Everything could blow up.

This crazy ban on the seven states, where we can’t accept immigrants, almost every analyst points out the obvious: It just increases the threat of terror. It lays the basis for terror. It’s just like the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo. They’re the most fabulous recruiting techniques for Al Qaeda and ISIS. Everyone knows it. Now, you ban not the whole Muslim world. You ban seven states, seven states that have not been responsible for a single terrorist act. Those are the seven he banned. But, you leave the ones that really are responsible, like Saudi Arabia, which is the center for propaganda and funding and so on for radical Islamic Jihadism, well you can’t touch them because of business interests, also they have oil and so on and so forth. There’s actually an article in the Washington Post, I don’t know whether it’s tongue in cheek or not, which said the criterion for being on the list of banned states is that Trump doesn’t have business interests there. Maybe. But it’s this kind of wild unpredictability, megalomania, thin-skinned craziness that really has me worried, more than his statements. Now, on the climate change there’s just nothing to say, he’s perfectly straightforward.

Gibbs: Let us turn to the role of the media in reporting alleged Russian interference in the US electoral process. Mainstream journalists have called Trump a puppet of Russia, a modern version of the Manchurian Candidate. Others have criticized the media for accepting unsubstantiated claims about Russian influence, and reporting such claims as facts. Norman Solomon and Serge Halimi, for example, stated that press reporting on this issue amounts to a mass hysteria reminiscent of the McCarthy era, while Seymour Hersh called the media reporting on Russia “outrageous.”[iii] What is your view of this situation?

Chomsky: My guess is that most of the world is just collapsing in laughter. Suppose all the charges are true, I mean every single one, it is so amateurish by US standards that you can hardly even laugh. What the US does is the kind of thing I described in Italy in 1948. Case after case like that, not hacking or spreading rumors in the media; but saying look, we’re going to starve you to death or kill you or destroy you unless you vote the way we want. I mean that’s what we do.

Take the famous 9/11, let’s think about it for a minute. It was a pretty awful terrorist act. It could have been a lot worse. Now let’s suppose that instead of the plane being downed in Pennsylvania by passengers, suppose it had hit its target, which was probably the White House. Now suppose it had killed the president. Suppose that plans had been set for a military coup to take over the government. And right away, immediately 50,000 people were killed, 700,000 tortured. A bunch of economists were brought in from Afghanistan, let’s call them the “Kandahar Boys,” who very quickly destroyed the economy, and established a dictatorship which devastated the country. That would have been a lot worse than 9/11. It happened: the first 9/11, it happened on September 11, 1973, in Chile. We did it. Was that interfering or hacking a party? This record is all over the world, constantly overthrowing governments, invading, forcing people to follow what we call democracy, as in the cases I mentioned. As I say, if every charge is accurate, it’s a joke, and I’m sure half the world is collapsing in laughter about this, because people outside the United States know it. You don’t have to tell people in Chile about the first 9/11.

Gibbs: One of the surprises of the post-Cold War era is the persistence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other US-led alliances. These alliances were created during the Cold War mainly or exclusively for containing the claimed Soviet threat. In 1991, the USSR disappeared from the map, but the anti-Soviet alliance systems persisted and in fact expanded. How do we account for the persistence and expansion of NATO? What in your view is the purpose of NATO after the Cold War?

Chomsky: We have official answers to that. It’s a very interesting question, which I was planning to talk about but didn’t have time. So thanks. It’s a very interesting question. For fifty years, we heard NATO is necessary to save Western Europe from the Russian hordes, you know the slave state, stuff I was taking about. In 1990-91, no Russian hordes. Okay, what happens? Well there are actually visions of the future system that were presented. One was Gorbachev. He called for a Eurasian security system, with no military blocs. He called it a Common European Home. No military blocs, no Warsaw Pact, no NATO, with centers of power in Brussels, Moscow, Ankara, maybe Vladivostok, other places. Just an integrated security system with no conflicts.

That was one. Now the other vision was presented by George Bush, this is the “statesman,” Bush I and James Baker his secretary of state. There’s very good scholarship on this incidentally. We really know a lot about what happened, now that all the documents are out. Gorbachev said that he would agree to the unification of Germany, and even adherence of Germany to NATO, which was quite a concession, if NATO didn’t move to East Germany. And Bush and Baker promised verbally, that’s critical, verbally that NATO would not expand “one inch to the east,” which meant East Germany. Nobody was talking about anything farther at the time. They would not expand one inch to the east. Now that was a verbal promise. It was never written. NATO immediately expanded to East Germany. Gorbachev complained. He was told look, there’s nothing on paper. People didn’t actually say it but the implication was look, if you are dumb enough to take faith in a gentleman’s agreement with us, that’s your problem. NATO expanded to East Germany.

There’s very interesting work, if you want to look into it by a young scholar in Texas named Joshua Shifrinson, it appeared in International Security, which is one of the prestige journals, published by MIT.[iv] He goes through the documentary record very carefully and he makes a pretty convincing case that Bush and Baker were purposely deceiving Gorbachev. The scholarship has been divided on that, maybe they just weren’t clear or something. But if you read it, I think it’s quite a convincing case, that they were purposely setting it up to deceive Gorbachev.

Okay, NATO expanded to East Berlin and East Germany. Under Clinton NATO expanded further, to the former Russian satellites. In 2008 NATO formally made an offer to Ukraine to join NATO. That’s unbelievable. I mean, Ukraine is the geopolitical heartland of Russian concern, quite aside from historical connections, population and so on. Right at the beginning of all of this, serious senior statesmen, people like Kennan for example and others warned that the expansion of NATO to the east is going to cause a disaster.[v] I mean, it’s like having the Warsaw Pact on the Mexican border. It’s inconceivable. And others, senior people warned about this, but policymakers didn’t care. Just go ahead.

Right now, where do we stand? Well right at the Russian border, both sides have been taking provocative actions, both sides are building up military forces. NATO forces are carrying out maneuvers hundreds of yards from the Russian border, the Russian jets are buzzing American jets. Anything could blow up in a minute. In a minute, you know. Any incident could instantly blow up. Both sides are modernizing and increasing their military systems, including nuclear systems.

So what’s the purpose of NATO? Well actually we have an official answer. It isn’t publicized much, but a couple of years ago, the secretary-general of NATO made a formal statement explaining the purpose of NATO in the post-Cold War world is to control global energy systems, pipelines, and sea lanes. That means it’s a global system and of course he didn’t say it, it’s an intervention force under US command, as we’ve seen in case after case. So that’s NATO. So what happened to the years of defending Europe from the Russian hordes? Well, you can go back to NSC-68,[vi] and see how serious that was. So that’s what we’re living with.

Right now the threat to our existence is Muslim terrorists from seven states, who have never had a single terrorist act. About half the population believes that. I mean you look back at American history and American culture, it’s pretty striking. I mean this has been the safest country in the world forever, and the most frightened country in the world. That’s a large part of the source of the gun culture. You have to have a gun when you go into Starbucks, because who knows what’s going to happen. It just doesn’t happen in other countries.

There’s something deeply rooted in American culture. You can pretty much identify what it was. You take a look at the history. Remember, the US is not a global power until pretty recently. It was internal conquest. You had to defend yourself against what the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, an enlightened figure, called the attacks of the “merciless Indian savages,” whose known way of warfare was torture and destruction. Jefferson wasn’t a fool. He knew that it was the merciless English savages who were carrying out these acts. That is in the Declaration of Independence, recited piously every July Fourth, the merciless Indian savages with no reason at all were suddenly attacking us. I mean, you can imagine the reasons. That’s one. Also you had a slave population, you had to protect yourself against them. You needed guns. One consequence of that was in southern culture, possession of a gun became kind of a sign of manhood, not just because of slaves but other white men. If you had a gun, you’re not going to push me around. You know, I’m not one of those guys you can kick in the face.

There was another element, which was kind of interesting. In the mid to late nineteenth century, the gun manufacturers recognized that they had a limited market. Remember that this is a capitalist society, you’ve got to expand your market. They were selling guns to the military. That’s a pretty limited market. What about all the rest of the people? So what started was all kinds of fantastic stories about Wyatt Earp and the gunmen and the Wild West, how exciting it was to have these guys with guns defending themselves against all sorts of things.

I grew up in that, when I was a kid. My friends and I used to play cowboys and Indians. We were cowboys killing the Indians, following the Wild West stories. All of this combined into a very strange culture, which is frightened. You look at the polls today, I think half the population supports this ban on these dangerous immigrants who are going to come in and do something, who knows what. And meanwhile the countries that really have been involved in terrorism, they’re out. It’s kind of like I think it was Oklahoma banning Sharia law. Now there’s probably fifty Muslims in Oklahoma, and they have to ban Sharia law, you know. This terror which is all over the country is constantly incited. The Russians were part of NSC-68, is a dramatic case. And that case, like most propaganda wasn’t totally fabricated. The Russians were doing a lot of rotten things, you can point to them. But the idea that if you consider what Hans Morgenthau called “I called abuse ofe reality,” the picture of the world was almost the opposite of what they presented. But somehow this sells and is continually repeated, at least in this kind of situation.
Gibbs: During the Cold War, the political left generally opposed military intervention. After 1991, however, the anti-interventionist movement collapsed and in its place has emerged the idea of humanitarian interventionism, which celebrates intervention as a defense of human rights. Military actions in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya have all been presented as acts of humanitarianism, which aimed to liberate oppressed peoples, and these interventions were at least initially popular among political liberals. Proposals for augmented US intervention in Syria often invoke the humanitarian principle. What is your view of humanitarian intervention?

Chomsky: Well, I don’t quite see it like that. Now, if you look back to the anti-intervention movements, what were they? Let’s take the Vietnam War – the biggest crime since the Second World War. Those of you who are old enough will remember what happened. You couldn’t be opposed to the war for years. The mainstream liberal intellectuals were enthusiastically in support of the war. In Boston, a liberal city where I was, we literally couldn’t have a public demonstration without it being violently broken up, with the liberal press applauding, until late 1966. By that time there were hundreds of thousands of American troops rampaging in South Vietnam. South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. The leading, the most respected Vietnam historian, military historian Bernard Fall[vii] – he was a hawk incidentally, but he cared for the Vietnamese – he said it wasn’t clear to him whether Vietnam could survive as a historical and cultural entity under the most massive attack that any region that size had ever suffered. He was talking about South Vietnam, incidentally. By that time, we did begin to get some protests. But not from liberal intellectuals; they never opposed the war.

In fact, it’s pretty dramatic when you get to 1975, very revealing, the war ends. Everybody had to write something about the war, what it meant. And you also had polls of public opinion, and they’re dramatically different. So if you look at the writings of intellectuals, there are two kinds. One said, l“Look, if we fought harder we could have won.” You know, the stab in the back. But the others, who were way at the left, people like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, way out in left stream, his view in 1975 was the Vietnam war began with blundering efforts to do good. But by 1969, it was clear that it was a disaster, that was too costly to us. We could not bring democracy to South Vietnam at a cost that we were willing to accept. So it was a disaster. That’ is the left extreme.

Take a look at public opinion. About 70 percent of the population, in the polls, said the war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. And that attitude lasted as long as polls were taken in the early ‘80s. The pollsters don’t ask reasons, they just give numbers. So why did the people think it was fundamentally wrong and immoral? The guys who ran the polls, John E. Rielly, a professor at the University of Chicago, a liberal professor, he said what that means is that people thought too many Americans had beenwere being killed. Maybe. Another possibility is they didn’t like the fact that we were carrying out the worst crime since the Second World War. But that’s so inconceivable that wasn’t even offered as a possible reason.

Now what happened in the following years? Well, I think that among the educated classes it stayed the same. You talk about humanitarian intervention, it’s like Vietnam was a humanitarian intervention. Among the public, it’s quite different. Take the Iraq War, , it’s the second worst crime after the Second World War. It’s the first time in history, in the history of imperialism, there were huge demonstrations, before the war was officially launched. Actually it was already under way. But before it was officially launched, there were huge demonstrations everywhere. I think it had an effect. The public still was split.

And [after Vietnam] the type of interventions that are carried out are designed so as not to elicit public reactions. In fact, it was stated early in the first Bush [presidency], Bush I, in one of their documents they pointed out in the future, US wars are going to be against much weaker enemies. And they have to be won quickly and decisively before a popular reaction develops. And Iif you take a look, that’s what’s done. Look at Panama, for instance, over a couple of days; and Kosovo, no American troops. You wrote a great book about it.[viii] But I’m not convinced that it’s different from what it was.

Gibbs: With the end of the Cold War, there has been a decline of activism in the US and elsewhere around the issue of nuclear disarmament. Once again, this state of affairs differs from the period of the Cold War, when there was a mass movement that opposed nuclear weapons – recall the Freeze movement from the 1980s — but this movement largely disappeared after 1991. The danger of nuclear war remains as high as ever, but there is little public engagement on this issue, it would seem. How would you explain the disappearance of the anti-nuclear movement?

Chomsky: Well that’s absolutely right. The peak of anti-nuclear popular activism was in the early ‘80s, when there was a huge movement. And the Reagan administration attempted decided to defuse it and partially succeeded, by presenting the illusion of Star Wars, SDI, that somehow we’re going to eliminate nuclear weapons. The Reagan administration picked up the rhetoric of the anti-nuclear movement; they said “Yyeah, you’re right.” We have to eliminate nuclear weapons. And the way we’re going to do it is by having SDI, TStar Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which prevent nuclear weapons from impacting. Well, that did defuse the movement.

And whthen the Russians collapsed, and it looked like as if maybe we can reduce the nuclear tensions. And for a while they actually were reduced. There was a reduction of nuclear weaponsreally were reduced on both sides. Various steps were taken. Nowhere near enough, but some of them were taken.

On the other hand, it’s very important to understand the official position of the United States. You should read it. So in 1995, this is Clinton, a very important document came out, still classified, but large parts of it were declassified. It’s called “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.”[ix] What does post-Cold War deterrence mean? Deterrence means use of nuclear weapons. This was released by the Strategic Command, which was in charge of nuclear weapons planning and running nuclear weapons. I wrote about it when it came out and have been writing about it since. . Since then, I’ve never seen a reference to it. But it is an amazing document. Here’s what it says basically: It says we have to maintain the right of first strike, the right of the first use of nuclear weapons, even against nonnuclear powers. Nuclear weapons, they point out, are really constantly used, because they cast a shadow over other military actions. In other words, when people know we are ready to use nuclear weapons, they’re going to back off if we do something aggressive. So basically, nuclear weapons are always being used.
Now that’s a point that Dan Ellsberg has made for years. He said it’s kind of like if you and I go into a grocery store to rob it, and I have a gun. The guy may give you the money in the cash register. I’m using the gun even if I don’t shoot. Well that’s nuclear weapons — essential to post-war deterrence — they cast a shadow over everything. Then, it goes on to say that we must present a national persona of being irrational and vindictive, because that’s going to terrify people. And then, they’ll back off. And this is not Trump, this is Clinton. It’s not Nixon, you know. We have to be irrational and vindictive, because that’s going to frighten people. And we have to maintain this for years. And then we’ll be able to carry out the actions that we want to carry out.

That’s our nuclear weapons strategy, as of the early post-Cold War years. And I think this is a real failure of the intellectual community, including scholarship and the media. It’s not like you had headlines all over the place. And it’s not secret, the documents are there. And I think that’s probably the right picture. You know, people talk about Nixon’s “madman theory.” We don’t really know much about that. It was in memoirs, by somebody else.[x] But this is real. This is the real mad man theory. We have to be irrational and vindictive, so people don’t know what we’re up to. This is not Trump and Bannon, it’s from the Clinton era.

Gibbs: I think we have time for one more question. In popular discussion, the phrase “national security” has come to mean security against military threats almost exclusively. This narrative downgrades the significance of nonmilitary threats, such as climate change, antibiotic resistant bacteria, or viral epidemics. It would seem that there is an imbalance between perceived military threats, which receive overwhelming governmental funding and press attention on the one hand, and nonmilitary threats, which receive relatively little on the other hand. How do we account for the apparent overemphasis on military threats?

Chomsky: Well [with] military threats, you can see them actually, you can imagine it. People don’t think about it enough. But if you think about it for a minute, you can see that a nuclear attack could be the end of everything. These other threats are kind of slow, maybe we won’t see them next year. Maybe the science is uncertain, maybe we don’t have to worry about it. Climate change is the worst, but there’s others.

Take pandemics. There could easily be a severe pandemic. A lot of that comes from something we don’t pay much attention to: Eating meat. The meat production industry, the industrial production of meat, uses an immense amount of antibiotics. I don’t remember the exact figure, it’s probably like half the antibiotics. Well antibiotics have an effect: They lead to mutations that make them ineffective. We’re now running out of antibiotics that deal with the threat of rapidly mutating bacteria. A lot of that just comes from the meat production industry. Well, do we worry about it? Well, we ought to be. You go into a hospital now, it’s dangerous. We can get diseases that can’t be dealt with, that are moving around the hospital. A lot of that traces back to industrial meat production. These are really serious threats, all over the place.

Take something you really don’t think about: Plastics in the ocean. I mean plastics in the ocean have an enormous ecological effect. When geologists announced the beginning of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, humans destroying the environment, one of the main things they pointed to is the use of plastics in the earth. We don’t think about it, but it has a tremendous effect. But these are things you don’t see right in front of your eyes. You need to think about them a little, to see what the consequences are. It’s easy to put them aside, and the media don’t talk about them. Other things are more important. How am I going to put food on the table tomorrow? That’s what I’ve got to worry about, and so on. It’s very serious, but it’s hard to bring out the enormity of these issues, when they do not have the dramatic character of something you can show in the movies, with a nuclear weapons falling and everything disappears.

Professor Chomsky approved this transcript for publication. The interview is presented in full, with only very slight editing for style.

[i] For the recent opinions of Princeton University nuclear weapons specialist Bruce G. Blair, see Blair, “Trump and the Nuclear Keys,” New York Times, October 12, 2016.

[ii] Note that Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security advisor on February 13, 2017, several days after this interview took place[iii] See Solomon, “Urgent to Progressives: Stop Fueling Anti-Russia Frenzy,” Antiwar.com, December 21, 2016, http://original.antiwar.com/solomon/2016/12/20/urgent-progressives-stop-fueling-anti-russia-frenzy/ ; Halimi, January, 2017, ; Jeremy , “Seymour Hersh Blasts Media for Uncritically Reporting Russian Hacking Story,”

[iv] The End of the Cold War and the US Offer to Limit NATO Expansion,” International Security 40, no. 4, 2016.

[v] On George F. Kennan’s warning about the dangers of NATO expansion, see Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Affairs: Now a Word from X,” New York Times, May 2, 1998.

[vi] 6 Here, Chomsky references the National Security Council memorandum NSC-68, one of the key documents of the Cold War. This document was the topic of Chomsky’s lecture, which preceded the interview. The document text is now fully declassified and available online. See “A Report to the National Security Council – NSC 68,” April 14, 1950, made available through the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/documents/pdf/10-1.pdf.%5Bvii%5D Regarding Bernard Fall’s writings on Vietnam, see Fall, Last Reflections on a War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967.

[viii] The book Chomsky references with regard to the Kosovo intervention is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2009.

[ix] This e full text of this declassified document is now available online. See US Department of Defense, Strategic Command, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence,” 1995 [no exact date indicated], made available through provided by the Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Information Project, http://www.nukestrat.com/us/stratcom/SAGessentials.PDF.

[x] The idea that President Richard Nixon subscribed to a “madman” theory of international relations first appeared in the memoir by former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power. New York: Times Books, 1978, p. 98.

New START 2017: Russia Decreasing, US Increasing Deployed Warheads

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on April 4, 2017 at 11:38 am

By Hans M. Kristensen, Federation pf American Scientists

Posted on Apr.03, 2017 in Arms Control, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, United States

The latest set of New START aggregate data released by the US State Department shows that Russia is decreasing its number of deployed strategic warheads while the United States is increasing the number of warheads it deploys on its strategic forces.

The Russian reduction, which was counted as of March 1, 2017, is a welcoming development following its near-continuous increase of deployed strategic warheads compared with 2013. Bus as I previously concluded, the increase was a fluctuation caused by introduction of new launchers, particularly the Borei-class SSBN.

The US increase, similarly, does not represent a buildup – a mischaracterization used by some to describe the earlier Russian increase – but a fluctuation caused by the force loading on the Ohio-class SSBNs.

Strategic Warheads

The data shows that Russia as of March 1, 2017 deployed 1,765 strategic warheads, down by 31 warheads compared with October 2016. That means Russia is counted as deploying 228 strategic warheads more than when New START went into force in February 2011. It will have to offload an additional 215 warheads before February 2018 to meet the treaty limit. That will not be a problem.

The number of Russian warheads counted by the New START treaty is only a small portion of its total inventory of warheads. We estimate that Russia has a military stockpile of 4,300 warheads with more retired warheads in reserve for a total inventory of 7,000 warheads.

The United States was counted as deploying 1,411 strategic warheads as of March 1, 2017, an increase of 44 warheads compared with the 1,367 strategic deployed warheads counted in October 2016. The United States is currently below the treaty limit and can add another 139 warheads before the treaty enters into effect in February 2018.

The number of US warheads counted by the New START treaty is only a small portion of its total inventory of warheads. We estimate that the United States has a military stockpile of 4,000 warheads with more retired warheads in reserve for a total inventory of 6,800 warheads.

Strategic Launchers

The New START data shows that Russia as of March 1, 2017 deployed 523 strategic launchers, an increase of 15 launchers compared with October 2016. That means Russia has two (2) more launched deployed today than when New START entered into force in February 2011.

Russia could hypothetically increase its force structure by another 177 launchers over the next ten months and still be in compliance with New START. But its current nuclear modernization program is not capable of doing so.

Under the treaty, Russia is allowed to have a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed strategic launchers. The data shows that it currently has 816, only 16 above the treaty limit. That means Russia overall has scrapped 49 total launchers (deployed and non-deployed) since New START was signed in February 2011.

The United States is counted as deploying 673 strategic launchers as of March 1, 2017, a decrease of eight (8) launchers compared with October 2016. That means the United States has reduced its force structure by 209 deployed strategic launchers since February 2011.

The US reduction has been achieved by stripping essentially all excess bombers of nuclear equipment, reducing the ICBM force to roughly 400, and making significant progress on reducing the number of launch tubes on each SSBN from 24 to 20.

The United States is below the limit for strategic launchers and could hypothetically add another 27 launchers, a capability it currently has. Overall, the United States has scrapped 304 total launchers (deployed and non-deployed) since the treaty entered into force in February 2011, most of which were so-called phantom launchers that were retired but still contained equipment that made them accountable under the treaty.

The United States currently is counted as having 820 deployed and non-deployed strategic launchers. It will need to destroy another 20 to be in compliance with New START by February 2018.

Conclusions and Outlook

Both Russia and the United States are on track to meet the limits of the New START treaty by February 2018. The latest aggregate data shows that Russia is again reducing its deployed strategic warheads and both countries are already below the treaty’s limit for deployed strategic launchers.

In a notorious phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, the Russian president reportedly raised the possibility of extending the New START treaty by another five years beyond 2021. But Trump apparently brushed aside the offer saying New START was a bad deal. After the call, Trump said the United States had “fallen behind on nuclear weapons capacity.”

In reality, the United States has not fallen behind but has 150 strategic launchers more than Russia. The New START treaty is not a “bad deal” but an essential tool to provide transparency of strategic nuclear forces and keeping a lid on the size of the arsenals. Russia and the United States should move forward without hesitation to extend the treaty by another five years.

Additional resources:

New START Aggregate Data (as of March 1, 2017)
Status of World Nuclear Forces
This publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Stratcom Chief Says $1 Trillion for Nukes Is ‘Affordable’: Says Nukes Are the Most Critical Thing the Pentagon Does

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, War on April 4, 2017 at 9:15 am

by Jason Ditz, April 02, 2017

US Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten continues to argue in favor of massive spending on nuclear weapons upgrades, insisting that despite the $1 trillion estimates the cost is “affordable,” and that “deterrence will always be cheaper than war.”

Hyten also faulted the idea of getting an estimate before starting the spending at all, saying getting the estimate first is “just a crazy way to build things,” and that he thinks the US should be able to build this massive arsenal “for an affordable price,” insisting it is “the most critical thing that we do in the military.”

Though early estimates on the nuclear weapons upgrade started at several hundred billion dollars, more recent estimates have shown that it was likely to be much larger than that, with most recent figures in excess of a trillion dollars over the next 30 years.

While in Hyten’s estimation that’s “affordable,” it’s not at all clear where it would fit in President Trump’s budget, which is already planning large military spending increases to buy more warships and planes, and is struggling to cut domestic spending to pay for that without having to find more for the nuclear program.