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U.S. Prepares To Confront Nuclear Ban Treaty With Smart Bombs

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on May 25, 2017 at 2:48 am

Analysis by Rick Wayman*

WASHINGTON, D.C: (IDN) – On May 23, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a press release celebrating President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget. DOE specifically lauded the proposed “$10.2 billion for Weapons Activities to maintain and enhance the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear weapons enterprise.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica released a draft of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Ambassador Whyte is President of the United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. Over 130 nations have participated in the ban treaty negotiations thus far. A final treaty text is expected by early July.

The draft treaty would prohibit state parties from – among other things – developing, producing, manufacturing, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. The United States has aggressively boycotted the treaty negotiations, and has actively sought to undermine the good faith efforts of the majority of the world’s nations to prohibit these indiscriminate and catastrophically destructive weapons.

No one is surprised at President Trump’s proposed funding for nuclear weapons activities; in fact, it is largely a continuation of the U.S. nuclear “modernization” program that began under President Obama. What is alarming, however, is the tacit admission by the Department of Energy that it is not simply maintaining current U.S. nuclear warheads until such time as they are eliminated. Rather, it is enhancing the “effectiveness” of nuclear weapons by incorporating new military capabilities into new weapons expected to be active through the final decades of the 21st century.

The draft ban treaty makes clear “that the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and for the health of future generations.”

Whether or not the United States plans to join the majority of the world’s nations in a treaty banning nuclear weapons, its policies and programs must reflect the indisputable evidence of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use. There is simply no excuse for investing in new nuclear weapons instead of an all-out diplomatic push for true security in a world without nuclear weapons.

A Good Faith Obligation

Article VI of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) obligates all parties to negotiate in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race at an early date. That treaty entered into force over 47 years ago.

The draft ban treaty repeats the unanimous 1996 declaration of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which said, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

Judge Christopher Weeramantry was Vice President of the ICJ when it issued its 1996 Advisory Opinion. In a paper that he wrote for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in 2013, he examined in detail the concept of good faith in the context of nuclear disarmament.

He wrote, “There is no half-way house in the duty of compliance with good faith in international law.” He continued, “Disrespect for and breach of good faith grows exponentially if, far from even partial compliance, there is total non-compliance with the obligations it imposes.”

The U.S. and numerous other nuclear-armed countries argue that they are in compliance with their obligations because the total number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals has decreased. Quantitative reductions are important, and the progress on this front has been significant over the past couple of decades. However, a nuclear arms race need not simply be quantitative. Rather, what we see now among many of the nuclear-armed nations is a qualitative nuclear arms race, with enhancements of weapons’ “effectiveness” being a key component.

This qualitative nuclear arms race is a blatant breach of the good faith obligation and, according to Judge Weeramantry’s interpretation, likely even constitutes bad faith.

A Ban Is Coming

Regardless of how much money the United States and other nuclear-armed nations commit to their nuclear arsenals, the vast majority of the world’s nations plan to conclude a treaty banning nuclear weapons in July.

Even though such a treaty will not immediately halt nuclear weapons development or diminish the threat that current nuclear weapon arsenals pose to all humanity, it is an important step in the right direction.

The NPT and customary international law require all nations – not just those that possess nuclear weapons – to negotiate for nuclear disarmament. The ban treaty is the first of many steps needed to fulfill this obligation, and will lay a solid foundation for future multilateral action.

Non-nuclear-armed countries must continue to enhance the effectiveness of their diplomatic arsenals to ensure the successful entry into force of a ban treaty and subsequent measures to finally achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Author’s note: Generally speaking, the U.S. Department of Energy is in charge of the design, production and maintenance of nuclear warheads and bombs, while the Department of Defense deals with the delivery systems (ICBMs, submarines, and bomber aircraft) and deployment in additional multi-billion dollar budget lines not addressed in this article. For more information on the Department of Energy’s nuclear “modernization” plans, see the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s new report “Accountability Audit.”

*Rick Wayman is Director of Programs & Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and is Co-Chair of the “Amplify: Generation of Change” network for nuclear abolition.

THE RISK OF NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE UNDER TRUMP

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 24, 2017 at 11:33 pm

By REBECCA FRIEDMAN LISSNER, War on the Rocks, May 23, 2017

Growing tension on the Korean Peninsula has returned the unimaginable terror of nuclear war to the American public consciousness. The danger is a global one: Nine states possess nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons and the detonation of even one of these weapons could cause humanitarian and economic catastrophe. Although the use of a nuclear weapon by a state or non-state actor is unlikely, it is not impossible, and the risk may be growing. Indeed, such a rare event can be evaluated in terms of a simple risk-assessment formula: probability multiplied by consequences.

Given the enormous consequences of nuclear use, even small fluctuations in probability warrant attention. Some variation will arise from changes in the international environment, such as technological advances that make nuclear command and control systems more or less vulnerable to cyber-attack, or fluctuation in the level of tension between nuclear-armed rivals like India and Pakistan. But as the world’s most powerful state, with its own vast nuclear arsenal as well as a record of leadership in nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts, the United States plays an important role in moderating —– or enhancing —– the likelihood of nuclear use.

President Donald Trump’s comments during the campaign and transition prompted widespread concern about his cavalier attitude toward, and lack of knowledge about, the world’s deadliest weapons. Since taking office, he has tempered his rhetoric somewhat —– but more than 100 days into the Trump administration, there are early warning signs indicating the president’s policies could increase the risk of nuclear catastrophe.

Setting aside accidental launch or detonation, the most likely scenarios for the intentional or miscalculated use of a nuclear weapon are nuclear detonation by a state during crisis or wartime, and nuclear use by a non-state actor, such as a terrorist group. While this president is nothing if not unpredictable, it is both important and possible to sketch out how such a nuclear use might play out. The five risks described below are meant as a starting point for that discussion.

Risk #1: Nuclear First-Use by the United States

First, the president has the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons through the “nuclear triad” of land, sea, and air-launched systems. The horrific consequences, fear of retaliation, and extraordinary capabilities of U.S. conventional forces militate against nuclear use in all but the most extreme circumstances. Nonetheless, Trump’s impulsive temperament, obsession with projecting strength, and aversion to normative constraints may make him more prone to nuclear use than other recent presidents. Beyond these already-perceptible presidential proclivities, the Nuclear Posture Review —– which recently began under Pentagon leadership —– will elucidate the administration’s declaratory nuclear doctrine, providing the first concrete indication of scenarios in which the Trump administration would consider nuclear use.

Risk #2: Inadvertent Nuclear Escalation

Second, the Trump administration’s penchant for sending mixed signals increases the risk of misperception in the event of a crisis or war involving another nuclear state. Trump is famously mercurial, abruptly changing positions on issues ranging from NATO’s obsolescence to the desirability of nuclear proliferation. Rather than allowing the White House communications staff to clarify his positions, Trump often contradicts them. In December, for example, when aides sought to soften Trump’s call for the United States to “strengthen and expand” its nuclear arsenal, Trump went on the record a second time to threaten an arms race. Moreover, senior national security aides frequently stake out divergent policy positions – with the president’s apparent encouragement — as exhibited by the slew of incompatible explanations for Trump’s April decision to launch cruise missiles into Syria. The result is confusion surrounding whose statements represent administration policy —– a whiplash effect most recently on display in the back-and-forth on North Korea. Though the president seems to believe unpredictability creates bargaining leverage, it also prevents the administration from credibly telegraphing its intentions. This dynamic makes diplomacy difficult and privileges potentially escalatory military displays to demonstrate seriousness. If a crisis were to reach boiling point, the Trump administration would struggle to turn down the heat by credibly signaling restraint or limited aims. Moreover, amidst rising tensions, a weaker adversary would have little choice but to engage in worst-case-scenario planning, and a threatening tweet impulsively dispatched by the president could provoke a foreign leader to gamble on a first strike rather than risk U.S. preemption. Beyond contingencies that directly implicate the United States, Trump’s slippery reputation could also hinder his ability to arbitrate international disputes involving nuclear powers —– for example, if war were to break out between India and Pakistan.

Risk #3: A Lower Global Nuclear Threshold

Third, Trump has tempered his most incendiary campaign rhetoric on the subject of nuclear weapons —– but serious consequences would accompany a return to positions that promote nuclear proliferation and lower the normative threshold for nuclear use. Encouraging U.S. allies and partners like South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia to go nuclear —– whether explicitly or by stoking fears of abandonment —– could spark atomic arms races in already-unstable regions. In addition, the administration’s recent extension of sanction waivers suggests its intent to abide by the terms of the Iran nuclear deal —– but a presidential decision to abrogate the “worst deal ever,” whether through outright withdrawal or accumulated acts of subtle sabotage, would likely spark an acute crisis. Proliferation risks would be further compounded by threats to use nuclear weapons first in unnecessary contingencies, such as against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, eroding the non-use norm that has contributed to nuclear restraint since 1945.

How might the Trump administration’s policies affect the likelihood of nuclear use by non-state actors? Terrorist groups are liable to use whatever lethal material they can get their hands on —– as demonstrated by the Islamic State’s employment of rudimentary chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria —– so the critical limiting factors are access to nuclear weapons, material, and expertise, and the ability to move it across international borders. Two additional factors will impact the U.S. government’s ability, in concert with international partners, to thwart such threats.

Risk #4: Diminished Domestic Capacity to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

The United States’ capacity to counter nuclear terrorism will depend on the Trump administration’s resource decisions. Within the U.S. government, responsibility for the prevention of WMD terrorism is spread across numerous agencies with interlocking functions: From Department of Energy labs developing nuclear detection technology, to the Department of Homeland Security conducting radiological monitoring at U.S. ports, to intelligence and law enforcement agencies tracking threats, to the State Department coordinating with other countries to limit the spread of nuclear weapons globally, to Department of Defense training special operations forces to render safe nuclear weapons or material. Sustaining such capacity requires personnel and funding. The administration’s slow pace of political appointments creates risk by hobbling agency leadership, hindering inter-agency collaboration at the senior level, and creating a vacuum when it comes to defining affirmative policy priorities. The extent to which the Trump administration seeks funding for nuclear security-related programs in their proposed fiscal year 2018 budget —– expected to be released on May 23 —– will indicate the level of priority the administration assigns to mitigating WMD terrorism risk. (The Trump administration’s budget blueprint does not specifically address this issue.)

Risk #5: Weakened International Nuclear Security Cooperation

Finally, a withdrawal from international nonproliferation and nuclear material security cooperation could increase the risk of nuclear use by a non-state actor. If the Trump administration follows through on its avowed skepticism of multilateral institutions —– most notably the U.N. system —– critical cooperative mechanisms could be placed in jeopardy. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for example, is a U.N. agency that advances best practices in safeguarding nuclear material around the world. It maintains a global database for tracking lost or stolen nuclear materials, among other vital functions. The IAEA relies on U.S. contributions for roughly a quarter of its budget and withholding those funds would severely hinder its effectiveness. Similarly, an administration disdainful of U.N. bodies is unlikely to break the diplomatic logjam over restrictions on the production of nuclear material through the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, and may not insist upon stringent IAEA safeguards as a precondition for future agreements on civil nuclear cooperation. Beyond formal institutions, the Obama administration initiated a Nuclear Security Summit process, which convened global leaders to take concrete steps toward reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism. Whether the Trump administration maintains this focus and pushes for implementation of commitments made at past summits will further impact risk going forward.

Nuclear detonation, whether by a state or non-state actor, remains an extremely remote possibility, and the risk of such a rare event is difficult to quantify. Nonetheless, the catastrophic consequences of nuclear use demand attention —– not only from the White House, but also from Congress and the American people. Fortunately, the Trump administration is still in its early days and has ample opportunity for progress. “I hate nuclear more than any,” the president said during the 2016 campaign when asked about nuclear weapons. Action to address the five risks described above —– as part of a comprehensive nonproliferation and nuclear security agenda —– will signal the seriousness of the administration’s effort to reduce nuclear dangers.

Dr. Rebecca Friedman Lissner is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, she served as a Special Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Energy.

U.N. Panel Releases Draft of Treaty to Ban Nuclear Arms

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Politics on May 23, 2017 at 9:47 pm

by Rick Gladstone, New York Times, May 22, 2017

A United Nations disarmament panel presented the first draft on Monday of a proposed global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which advocates called an important step that could hasten completion of a final text by early July.

Nuclear powers including the United States have boycotted the negotiations for such a treaty, calling its goals naïve and unattainable — especially at a time when North Korea has threatened to launch nuclear-armed missiles at its enemies.

But those nations’ longstanding argument for deterrence — that the best way to keep nuclear arms from being used is to hold the ability to retaliate in kind — has failed to halt the momentum in the negotiations. The first round was held in March, and the effort is supported by more than 120 countries.

Treaty supporters have argued that if enough countries ratified an international agreement outlawing nuclear weapons, the political and moral coercive pressure would eventually persuade holdouts to reconsider.

Similar strategies were pursued in negotiations that led to global treaties banning other indiscriminate weapons, including chemical arms, cluster bombs and land mines. As more countries have joined those treaties, the shaming effect has grown on those that decline.
The nuclear draft text would commit treaty signers to “never use nuclear weapons” and never “develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Signers would also promise to never “carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion.”

Less clear from the draft text is precisely how nuclear-armed countries that renounce those weapons could join the treaty, and under what conditions.

But language in the draft specifies that the treaty is intended to strengthen — and not replace — the existing treaties meant to stop the spread and testing of nuclear weapons.

The draft’s preamble specifies that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the landmark agreement that entered into force in 1970, would remain “an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.”

The draft is now subject to revision at a three-week round of negotiations at the United Nations scheduled for mid-June.

Supporters of the negotiations said the draft’s existence by itself was significant.

“The draft language is strong and categorically prohibits nuclear weapons,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement.

The disarmament group called the draft “an essential milestone in the yearslong effort to ban these indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction and an important step toward their eventual elimination.”

Elayne G. Whyte Gómez, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and chairwoman of the conference that is overseeing the negotiations, said in a telephone interview that she expected revisions to the draft.

Ms. Gómez, who was responsible for writing the draft, said she had sought to “synthesize the many areas where the views of states converged.”

There was no comment from the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, who led a group of envoys from member states who had publicly rejected the negotiations when they began two months ago.

Aides to Ms. Haley said that she was traveling but that the American position had not changed.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a disarmament research and advocacy group in Washington, said he regarded the minimum number of ratifications to put the treaty into effect — 40 — to be relatively low, possibly limiting its coercive impact. Mr. Kimball also noted that the text of the treaty draft did not explicitly prohibit the financing of nuclear weapons or the issuing of nuclear threats. Nonetheless, he said he supported the negotiations and objective.

“The vast majority of world states say nuclear weapons are not essential for security, and that we want to reduce their salience by banning them,” he said. “That is a contribution to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Besides the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — four countries are known to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. None support the negotiations.

I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past. The president’s behavior, explained.

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Politics, War on May 18, 2017 at 8:57 am

By Tony Schwartz, May 16

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive officer of the Energy Project, which helps companies tap more of people’s capacity by better meeting their core needs so they can perform more sustainably. He is the author, most recently, of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

President Trump’s behavior hasn’t changed in decades. It probably never will. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Why does President Trump behave in the dangerous and seemingly self-destructive ways he does?

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. To me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past week — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision and disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials — is also entirely predictable.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

The Trump I first met in 1985 had lived nearly all his life in survival mode. By his own description, his father, Fred, was relentlessly demanding, difficult and driven. Here’s how I phrased it in “The Art of the Deal”: “My father is a wonderful man, but he is also very much a business guy and strong and tough as hell.” As Trump saw it, his older brother, Fred Jr., who became an alcoholic and died at age 42, was overwhelmed by his father. Or as I euphemized it in the book: “There were inevitably confrontations between the two of them. In most cases, Freddy came out on the short end.”

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” is the way I wrote it in the book. “I stood up to him, and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike.”

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive outlook took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now,” he told a recent biographer, “I’m basically the same.” His development essentially ended in early childhood.
Instead, Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration. Many of the deals in “The Art of the Deal” were massive failures — among them the casinos he owned and the launch of a league to rival the National Football League — but Trump had me describe each of them as a huge success.
With evident pride, Trump explained to me that he was “an assertive, aggressive” kid from an early age, and that he had once punched a music teacher in the eye and was nearly expelled from elementary school for his behavior.

Like so much about Trump, who knows whether that story is true? What’s clear is that he has spent his life seeking to dominate others, whatever that requires and whatever collateral damage it creates along the way. In “The Art of the Deal,” he speaks with street-fighting relish about competing in the world of New York real estate: They are “some of the sharpest, toughest, and most vicious people in the world. I happen to love to go up against these guys, and I love to beat them.” I never sensed from Trump any guilt or contrition about anything he’d done, and he certainly never shared any misgivings publicly. From his perspective, he operated in a jungle full of predators who were forever out to get him, and he did what he must to survive.
Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump sees no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and thereby undermining the statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.
The Trump I got to know had no deep ideological beliefs, nor any passionate feeling about anything but his immediate self-interest. He derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments. “Can you believe it, Tony?” he would often say at the start of late-night conversations with me, going on to describe some new example of his brilliance. But the reassurance he got from even his biggest achievements was always ephemeral and unreliable — and that appears to include being elected president. Any addiction has a predictable pattern: The addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. On the face of it, Trump has more opportunities now to feel significant and accomplished than almost any other human being on the planet. But that’s like saying a heroin addict has his problem licked once he has free and continuous access to the drug. Trump also now has a far bigger and more public stage on which to fail and to feel unworthy.

[I sold Donald Trump $100,000 worth of pianos. Then he stiffed me.]

From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

What Trump craves most deeply is the adulation he has found so fleeting. This goes a long way toward explaining his need for control and why he simply couldn’t abide Comey, who reportedly refused to accede to Trump’s demand for loyalty and whose continuing investigation into Russian interference in the election campaign last year threatens to bring down his presidency. Trump’s need for unquestioning praise and flattery also helps to explain his hostility to democracy and to a free press — both of which thrive on open dissent.
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As we have seen countless times during the campaign and since the election, Trump can devolve into survival mode on a moment’s notice. Look no further than the thousands of tweets he has written attacking his perceived enemies over the past year. In neurochemical terms, when he feels threatened or thwarted, Trump moves into a fight-or-flight state. His amygdala is triggered, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activates, and his prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that makes us capable of rationality and reflection — shuts down. He reacts rather than reflects, and damn the consequences. This is what makes his access to the nuclear codes so dangerous and frightening.

Over the past week, in the face of criticism from nearly every quarter, Trump’s distrust has almost palpably mushroomed. No importuning by his advisers stands a chance of constraining him when he is this deeply triggered. The more he feels at the mercy of forces he cannot control — and he is surely feeling that now — the more resentful, desperate and impulsive he becomes.

Even 30 years later, I vividly remember the ominous feeling when Trump got angry about some perceived slight. Everyone around him knew that you were best off keeping your distance at those times, or, if that wasn’t possible, that you should resist disagreeing with him in any way.

In the hundreds of Trump’s phone calls I listened in on with his consent, and the dozens of meetings I attended with him, I can never remember anyone disagreeing with him about anything. The same climate of fear and paranoia appears to have taken root in his White House.

The most recent time I spoke to Trump — and the first such occasion in nearly three decades — was July 14, 2016, shortly before the New Yorker published an article by Jane Mayer about my experience writing “The Art of the Deal.” Trump was just about to win the Republican nomination for president. I was driving in my car when my cellphone rang. It was Trump. He had just gotten off a call with a fact-checker for the New Yorker, and he didn’t mince words.
“I just want to tell you that I think you’re very disloyal,” he started in. Then he berated and threatened me for a few minutes. I pushed back, gently but firmly. And then suddenly, as abruptly as he began the call, he ended it. “Have a nice life,” he said, and hung up.

Harry S. Truman’s grandson speaks out against nuclear weapons

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 16, 2017 at 10:29 pm

By Christopher Woolf, PRI’s The World, May 15, 2017

Harry S. Truman was perhaps one of the most influential presidents of the 20th century. He oversaw the end of World War I and rose to the challenge of the Cold War. He was crucial to the creation of international organizations like the United Nations and NATO.
But for many people, Truman is remembered for one thing: his decision to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, in August 1945.

His eldest grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, is now an advocate against nuclear weapons.

He says his grandfather was consistent when it came to explaining the decision to use the bomb. “He made the decision [in order] to shorten the war, and save American lives, primarily, as well as Japanese lives had the war gone on, had there been a full-scale invasion.”

“The scholarship on that goes back and forth,” cautions Daniel. “But grandpa, having made the decision, nonetheless felt horrible about the destruction, about the loss of life.”

Daniel recounts the story of a US military photographer, Joe O’Donnell, who documented the aftermath of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. O’Donnell had an opportunity to meet Truman alone in 1950. According to Daniel, “O’Donnell just took a chance and asked my grandfather, ‘Did you ever have any regrets using those weapons?’ and my grandfather said ‘Hell yes.’ He didn’t want to have to do that.”

Truman never spoke with Daniel about the atomic bombings. “I learned about them like everybody else, in history class and from my books. And the books didn’t tell me much — you get casualty figures but it doesn’t really tell you what happened on the ground.”

Daniel’s big insight into the horrors of nuclear war didn’t come until he was in his 40s, when his son was 10. “He was in school here in Chicago, in fifth grade,” says Daniel, “and he came home with a book called ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.’ A fictionalized account of a true story.”

The true story belonged to Sadako Sasaki, who developed leukemia ten years after being exposed to radiation at Hiroshima. “In an effort to save her own life, she followed a Japanese tradition that says if you fold 1,000 origami paper cranes, you are granted a wish, or long life or health,” Daniel says.

Sadako folded 1,300 cranes, but unfortunately it did not save her life.

“That was the first human story I had ever seen of Hiroshima or Nagasaki,” says Daniel. A Japanese reporter picked up on the fact that Daniel had read it, and out of blue he got a call from Sadako Sasaki’s brother, Masahiro, himself a survivor.

They finally met, in New York, at the 9/11 Tribute Center. “Masahiro and his son Yuji were donating one of Sadako’s original cranes as a gesture of healing,” explains Daniel.

“At the end of our meeting, Yuji Sasaki took out a small plastic box and dropped a tiny paper crane into my palm and said, ‘That’s the last one Sadako folded before she died. Would you come to the ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?’ And I said yes.”

Daniel took his family and met with more than two dozen survivors.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to describe,” Daniel says when asked to explain how that felt, particularly as the grandson of the man who ordered the attacks.

“It’s heart-wrenching. It’s hard. It’s horrible to hear these stories,” he says. “But as hard as it is for the listener, it’s harder still for the survivor who relives that day over and over and over again, solely in an effort to let the listener know what it was like, so that we don’t do it again.”

Daniel says he did not feel any residual guilt, but he did feel responsibility. “Not responsibility for the bombings, but responsibility to do what I could to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

“All [that] the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki asked me, were to please help them tell their stories,” says Daniel. “So I’ve tried to do that.”

Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits?

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 15, 2017 at 3:02 am

Introduction: Trump and Nuclear Weapons — Rhetoric Versus Reality
In an interview with Reuters conducted a month after he took office, Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. had “fallen behind on nuclear capability” and that he wanted the United States to be at the “top of the pack” on nuclear weapons once again.
As usual, Trump had not done his homework before speaking out on a crucial, life-and-death question. The United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear capacity, with nearly 6,800 nuclear warheads, including 4,000 in the active stockpile. That’s a huge number when you consider that independent experts have determined that 300 or so nuclear weapons are a sufficient number to deter any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. We have thirteen times that in our active stockpile, and more than five times that amount deployed and ready to fire at any given moment.
So the United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear weapons — so high, in fact, that our huge arsenal is more likely to spur a nuclear arms race than it is to protect us from a nuclear war.
In the same Reuters interview, Trump described the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty as “just another bad deal the country made,” comparing it to the multilateral agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Trump has repeatedly disparaged despite the fact that he has shown no indication that he knows what the agreement entails.
This knee-jerk opposition to any agreement that Trump himself has not negotiated is dangerously short-sighted. New START cuts deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads by one-third, and it includes a detailed monitoring and inspections regime to make sure both sides keep their word.
The Iran nuclear deal has already resulted in a 98% reduction in Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the disabling of a plutonium factory that could have produced bomb-making materials, and a regime of regular international inspections.
Solid agreements like New START and the Iran nuclear deal take a great deal of time and effort to negotiate. Throwing them away on a whim would be the height of recklessness.
Trump’s Twisted Budget Priorities
The issue of whether to buy a whole new generation of nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery vehicles will be debated against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which calls for a $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending and comparable reductions in spending on diplomacy and domestic needs.
Even before Trump’s proposed increase, Pentagon spending is at historically high levels. At roughly $600 billion per year now, Pentagon and related spending is higher than the peak of the Reagan military buildup, and larger than the combined military budgets of the next eight largest spenders in the world combined, most of them U.S. allies. So the Pentagon may have problems, but a lack of funds isn’t one of them.
Trump’s proposed increase alone is a huge sum by global standards. At $54 billion, the Trump increase is almost as large as the entire military budget of France, and larger than the total military budgets of the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan. And it’s only $12 billion less than Russia’s whole military budget.
The Trump increase is also a huge sum compared to the domestic programs that are on the chopping block to pay for the $54 billion in increased Pentagon funding. When Trump’s budget blueprint was first taking form, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney announced a “hit list” of eight programs or agencies that would be zeroed out in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The list included the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Endowment for the Arts; Legal Services; Americorps; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the U.S. Institute for Peace; and Planned Parenthood. Gutting all of these agencies and programs combined would save $3 billion per year — that’s one-half of one percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget, before the proposed Trump add-ons. The $3 billion for all of those programs is also less than one-eighth of the $25 billion the Pentagon wastes on bureaucratic overhead every year.
And of course the budget director’s hit list is just a small part of the larger assault on spending for diplomacy and domestic needs that is part of the Trump budget blueprint. The Environmental Protection Agency is slated for a 31% cut; the State Department budget is proposed to be cut by 29%; and support for humanitarian aid through the United Nations — mostly refugee and food assistance at a time of massive refugee flows and near famine in parts of Africa and the Middle East — could be cut by up to 50%.
Three block grant programs that provide services like heating aid to low income households, homeless housing and services, ands support for Meals on Wheels programs are scheduled to be eliminated altogether, at a cost of $8 billion. The $8 billion cost of those programs is less than the cost of one new ballistic missile firing submarine — and the Pentagon wants us to pay for twelve of them.
The Pentagon’s $1 Trillion Nuclear Buildup: What Are We Buying?
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has done a report on the “trillion dollar triad” — the plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, complete with new warheads to go with them, at a cost of roughly $1 trillion over three decades.
Here are the major components of that proposed $1 trillion nuclear weapons buildup:
— New nuclear warhead facilities, and new nuclear warheads, $350 billion, spent through the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA);
— 12 new ballistic missile submarines at over $8 billion each, or roughly $100 billion in total
— 100 B-21 bombers for up to $1 billion each, or $100 billion total
— Hundreds of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), at a cost of up to $120 billion
— A new nuclear-armed cruise missile, at a cost of up to $20 billion for the whole program
Things could change — fewer systems could be bought, and the $1 trillion price tag could go down. Or, as usually happens, the original estimates could go up as a result of the cost overruns that are almost inevitable in any major weapons program.
Who Profits from Spending on Nuclear Weapons?
A handful of companies will be the main beneficiaries of the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons spending binge.
B-21 Bomber: Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor; the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies will build the engines; and BAE Systems, a global defense firm based primarily in the UK and the United States, is a major subcontractor.
Ballistic Missile Submarine: General Dynamics will be the prime contractor, with major assistance from Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.
ICBM and nuclear-armed cruise missile: Contracts have not been awarded yet for these systems, but bidders will include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Raytheon.
Nuclear warheads: The biggest beneficiaries of spending on nuclear warheads are the contractors that run major facilities for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), including Honeywell, which runs the Sandia nuclear weapons engineering laboratory in New Mexico, and a consortium that includes the University of California and Becthel, which run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories.
The best list of major nuclear weapons producers is maintained by Don’t Bank on the Bomb, a campaign that presses banks to withdraw support for companies involved in developing or producing nuclear weapons. Their web site profiles over two dozen major nuclear weapons supplying companies.
Opportunity Costs: What Can We Buy With $1 Trillion?
Not only is it unnecessary to embark on a three decade, $1 trillion effort to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, but it’s dangerous. As noted above, a tiny fraction of the existing U.S. stockpile is enough to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. Anything beyond that just encourages other countries to modernize and expand their own arsenals. And the more nuclear weapons there are the more likely one will be used. In fact, the only guaranteed protection against nuclear weapons is to get rid of them all. That’s a daunting challenge, but as a first step we have to stop building new nuclear weapons at a time when the United States and the other nuclear weapons states possess vast nuclear overkill.
The ultimate cost of the trillion dollar buildup is the risk it poses to the future of life on earth.
There are also huge opportunity costs associated with spending vast sums on nuclear weapons we don’t need. The Future of Life Institute has created an online tool that lets you choose alternative ways to spend that trillion dollars. I tried it, and I found out we could buy the following things instead of wasting a trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons:
— 100 Million School Lunches: $235 million
— 10,000 High School Science Teachers for one year: $553 million
— Salvage and Protect All Superfund Toxic Waste Sites for one year: $681 million
— Provide Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood for one year: $528 million
— Health Insurance for 1 Million Families for one year: $16.8 billion
— End Homelessness for one year: $20 billion
— Fix All Deficient Bridges in the U.S.: $71 billion
All of the above investments represent only about 10 percent of the $1 trillion the Pentagon wants to spend on nuclear weapons over the next three decades.
There is one option offered by the Future of Life Institute tool that would put a serious dent in the $1 trillion spending total:
— Burn a $1 Million Pile of Cash Every Hour for Thirty Years: $262 Billion
Burning piles of cash would be a waste of money, to be sure, but it would be a far better, and far safer, use of the funds than spending them on extending a nuclear arms race that puts us all at risk.
This article is adapted from a presentation made by William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, at a conference on “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War” that was held at MIT on May 6th, 2017.

World Beyond War

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on May 11, 2017 at 9:43 am

Please read the very informative article at http://worldbeyondwar.org/f-35-incinerating-ski-slope/  As my friend Bob Kinsey says, “Not the usual Greenwash stuff but real facts in context.”

Thanks, LeRoy

Why You Should Care About the Formation of the Nuclear Crisis Group

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on May 10, 2017 at 11:02 pm

In this column, Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, explores the formation of the Nuclear Crisis Group. May 9, 2017.

On Friday, an elite group of the world’s nuclear experts and advisers launched a Nuclear Crisis Group, to help manage the growing risk of nuclear conflict. The group includes leading diplomats with decades of experience, and retired military officers who were once responsible for launching nuclear weapons if given the order to do so. China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, all countries that have nuclear weapons, are represented. The group intends to create a “shadow security council,” or an expert group capable of providing advice to world leaders on nuclear matters.
The group is one of the better things to come out of a terrible spiral in nuclear security that we are currently witnessing. Their goal, to help reduce the “alarming rise of tensions involving nuclear-armed governments,” is worth our attention.
Over the past several years, nuclear security has gone from bad to worse. In 2015, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock from five to three minutes to midnight to acknowledge the deteriorating situation. The Doomsday Clock is a 70-year-old symbol that helps communicate what a group of leading science and security experts think about how close or far away we are from destroying civilization. It has been as close to 2 minutes to midnight, and as far as 17 minutes to midnight. This past January, the Board of the Bulletin moved the clock 30 seconds closer to 2.5 minutes to midnight.
In moving the hands of the clock, the Bulletin noted that world leaders have grown cavalier about nuclear weapons and their language has become reckless. For example, around Christmas the Pakistani defense minister tweeted a nuclear threat at Israel in response to a fake news story. Shortly before taking office, President Trump tweeted that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” without giving a convincing reason why.
Such loose talk mirrors other serious developments. Every nuclear state is investing significant national resources in upgrading their nuclear programs. The U.S. is on the cusp of investing a trillion dollars in its nuclear weapons over the next 30 years. In March, the Pentagon confirmed that Russia violated an important nuclear arms control agreement. And, as if on cue, the United States and North Korea are engaged today in a kind of nuclear brinkmanship that the world hasn’t seen since some of the worst days of the Cold War. The world seems to be on the cusp of a nuclear arms race that is spiraling downward.
The good news is that citizens are mobilizing to reverse this frightening situation.
Last Wednesday, a petition was delivered to Congress to block President Trump from being able to be the first to use nuclear weapons without congressional approval in a crisis. The petition had nearly a half-million signatures. And this June, a major women’s march to “ban the bomb” is being planned in New York City. In other words, the leaders’ group that met on Friday is backed by a newly engaged and motivated group of ordinary citizens.
Building on grass-roots support, the Nuclear Crisis Group could serve as a brake on nuclear escalation and be an early step in reversing the downward nuclear security spiral. Not only will they be able to offer expertise to inexperienced leaders who are dabbling in nuclear security, but they will be able to develop and endorse proposals that could make the world safer such as expanding the decision time that leaders have to respond to a nuclear threat, further protecting nuclear systems against cyber attacks and unintended escalations, reenergizing the appetite for arms control negotiations, and questioning global nuclear upgrade programs.
But it is important for all of us to keep the pressure on and to ask our local political representatives what they are doing to decrease nuclear tensions. We now have the beginnings of a movement that extends from Main Street straight into the halls of power. Let’s use it to advance peace and security.

Laugh, don’t fight

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on May 5, 2017 at 11:36 pm

By Dave Anderson, Boulder Weekly, May 4, 2017
On April 15, a distinctly disturbing event took place in Berkeley,
California. Several hundred proto-fascists gathered in a downtown
park. They were armed and itching for a fight. Most of them were from
out of town and many from all over the country. This was a pro-Trump
Patriots’ Day rally for “free speech” organized online by a far right
alliance of white supremacist/nationalist, alt-right, anti-feminist,
neo-Nazi and militia groups.

They wore motorcycle helmets, ski goggles, gloves and carried weapons.

Many wore masks. Quite a few performed the Nazi salute. Mother Jones
reporter Shane Bauer said it seemed like many had only known each
other on social media and were meeting in person for the first time.

He overheard discussion and debate of obscure far right positions. A
man carried a sign saying “Da Goyim Know” which refers to a popular
alt-right internet meme about how powerful Jews control everything and
silence the critics who expose them.

They wanted revenge for an earlier event on the University of
California campus. In February, a small group of rock-throwing masked
Black Bloc leftists had forced the cancellation of a speech by
Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

On April 15, the far rightists and the Black Bloc fought each other
for hours in the streets. At the end, 11 people were injured and six
hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a number of charges.

The organizers of the rally, the Proud Boys, said they had won an
“enormous victory.” On their Facebook page, the Proud Boys said they
are “founded on a system of beliefs and values of minimal government,
maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt,
pro-gun rights, anti-Drug War, closed borders, anti-masturbation,
venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives, and reinstating a
spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and
multiculturalism.”

The group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, claims that Proud Boy meetings
mainly consist of drinking, fighting and reading from Pat Buchanan’s
book, Death of the West.

McInnes was a Fox News commentator who left the network because it
wasn’t conservative enough. He’s also a contributor for the racist
website VDARE, where he belittled Muslims and called Asian Americans
“slopes” and “riceballs.” He once received an award for “hipster
racism.” Being a “hipster racist” involves engaging in behavior
commonly regarded as racist and defending your antics by claiming you
are just being ironic or satirical.

The Proud Boys have a frat boy three-degree initiation. You publicly
declare yourself a Proud Boy. Then you get beaten up until you cry out
the names of five breakfast cereals. Finally you get a tattoo. You
have to maintain a “#NoWanks masturbation regimen” at all times. That
is, you can only masturbate once a month. However, Proud Boys can
always masturbate within a yard of a woman if she consents.

Recently the Proud Boys added a fourth degree: fighting the
anti-fascists. They have also formed a “fight club” military arm
called the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights.

Most likely, the battle in Berkeley is only the beginning. The left
will make a mistake if we get into a war with the far right, argues
David Neiwert, an investigative journalist who has been reporting on
neo-Nazis and fascist types in the Pacific Northwest for over 30
years. From his observations and from his reading of history, he says
that fascists provoke violence by their enemies in order to portray
themselves as victims.

Consider what happened in the last days of Germany’s democratically
elected Weimar Republic in the 1930s. The country was in the middle of
a political and economic crisis that left the society on the brink of
civil war. Street violence by paramilitary organizations on the left
and the right increased discernibly. Shortly before the July 1932
parliamentary elections, Prussian authorities reported 300 acts of
politically motivated violence that left 24 people dead and almost 300
injured.

In Berlin, Nazi Party leader Joseph Goebbels deliberately provoked
Communist and Social Democratic actions by marching their storm
troopers into working-class neighborhoods where those parties had
strongholds. Nazi fighters who were injured or killed became martyrs
romanticized by Nazi newspapers, photographs, films and paintings.

“The Horst Wessel Song” became the Nazi anthem. It lionized a
23-year-old storm trooper who was killed in 1930.

Neiwert says, “Fascists… are the ultimate psychic vampires: They feed
off hate. They want to stoke it as much as possible. They want things
to become as violent as possible. They love it when you become violent
and give them martyrs.”

Neiwart says the most successful anti-fascist demonstration he ever
observed occurred in 2005 in Olympia, Washington. A neo-Nazi group
held a rally calling for a “race war.” The townspeople mocked them
with a loud and mostly good-natured musical celebration of diversity.

Their noise drowned out the fascists on the loudspeakers. There was a
troupe of clowns mimicking Nazis goose stepping around.

Don’t punch Nazis. Laugh at them.

Does Trump think America could win a nuclear war?

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 5, 2017 at 10:19 pm

By David, Faris, The Week, May 3, 2017

In between another failed congressional push for TrumpCare and President Trump musing inanely about why the Civil War happened, there’s been lots of loose talk about North Korea. The president, who was only recently issuing menacing threats from his Twitter account, now says he is willing to be the first president to meet with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, even as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus says he can’t see it happening. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley recently threatened a strike on the nuclear-armed dictatorship, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson contradicted Vice President Pence by saying that the U.S. might sit down for multiparty negotiations.

The policy and rhetorical incoherence from the White House is sadly typical for a group of amateur leaders that can’t seem to do something as simple as call a meeting and agree on a set of talking points. Far from projecting strength or throwing adversaries off balance with some kind of Nixonian “madman theory” of foreign policy, the failure to get America’s key decision-makers on the same page only makes the administration look feckless and adrift — and makes it more likely that a misunderstanding could lead to an even more serious crisis.

But the more important questions are whether the president and his advisers have an end game, and how they view nuclear weapons in general. From the moment he took office, President Trump has seemed weirdly determined to get the 24 million people of metropolitan Seoul incinerated in a pointless war, and his team is reacting to every provocation from Pyongyang as if this is the first time North Korea has ever tested a missile or released an unhinged statement.
It is not clear what the Trump administration hopes to achieve with its recent escalation of tensions. There are only two things that would represent an improvement over the status quo on the Korean Peninsula (assuming that reunification is a nonstarter). One is a negotiated agreement that leads North Korea to surrender the nuclear weapons it has already built and rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from which it withdrew in 2003, or to at least freeze its missile and weapons programs.

However, the U.S. is governed by people who don’t believe other countries can be trusted to adhere to international agreements and who keep threatening obliquely or overtly to blow apart the Iran deal. If Trump and his advisers are trying to get North Korea back to the table, they are also pursuing a gravely mistaken path by threatening the agreement with Iran. Not only would undermining the Iran deal convince the North Koreans that we can’t be trusted, it will also make North Korea’s neighbors less likely to cooperate in any sanctions effort that could squeeze Pyongyang hard enough to get them to change their behavior.

The second potential improvement on the Korean Peninsula would be if the odious regime of Kim Jong Un were replaced. Yet self-preservation is what drove Pyongyang to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place. The regime views its small nuclear deterrent as the only thing preventing the U.S. from leading an Iraq-style adventure straight to Pyongyang, and the aggressive and inconsistent messaging from Washington will do nothing to ease those concerns.

So what is the administration up to, exactly? One possibility might be that it doesn’t fear a nuclear exchange in the same way that most other U.S. presidents have since the dawn of the nuclear age.
The Cold War with the Soviet Union was governed by a nuclear strategy called MAD — Mutual Assured Destruction. Recognizing the awful nature of atomic bombs, MAD was designed to convince nuclear powers that any use of nuclear weapons would invite massive retaliation catastrophic enough to obliterate both societies. Many scholars argue credibly that the resulting “balance of terror” helped decrease the risk of warfare between the superpowers and prevented the outbreak of World War III. But even committed proponents of MAD were troubled by the prospect of killing hundreds of millions of Soviet civilians in an act of naked revenge. As Lawrence Freedman wrote in The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, the problem was that it “put the threat of unprecedented genocide at the center of American strategy.” In fact, it was deep moral discomfort with a blasé posture of mutual annihilation that led some thinkers to wonder whether a nuclear war could be fought without escalating to Armageddon.

The U.S. frequently made moves and decisions during the Cold War that suggested there was more to its posture than MAD. Military planners deployed all manner of “tactical” nuclear weapons designed to be used on the battlefield. Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter all developed variations on doctrines known loosely as “flexible response,” believing that policymakers should have more options in a nuclear conflict than simply murdering all of the hostages at once. To this day, the U.S. maintains in its nuclear posture the right to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in a conflict, and you can assume that the idea is not to start a large-scale nuclear war that would kill everyone on Earth.

Howard Margolis and Jack Ruina coined the term Nuclear Utilization Theory in an influential 1979 article to describe these ideas, but during the heyday of the Cold War it was also called NUTS — Nuclear Utilization and Target Selection. Proponents believed that a nuclear war could be fought and won without escalating to a full-scale, civilization-obliterating thermonuclear exchange. In particular, they believed in the tactical utility of using small numbers of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional war to gain and press advantages on the battlefield. NUTS proponents never had much luck convincing planners or the general public that nuclear weapons are just another gizmo in the great power toolbox.

How does this all fit into the North Korea crisis? During the campaign, Trump was credibly rumored to have asked a foreign policy adviser, during a conversation about nuclear weapons, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” In January, he told Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, “Let it be an arms race.” His December tweet that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes” is precisely the opposite of the process called for by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires states that possess nukes to work toward their elimination. And he recently approved the use of America’s most destructive non-nuclear bomb, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, in Afghanistan.

In other words, it is not that hard to imagine Trump believing some half-baked, inchoate, Fox News version of NUTS and then acting on it. North Korea has a very small number of nuclear weapons — probably about 10 — and Trump may believe either that North Korea won’t use them, or that South Korean and American forces could survive an exchange and then either retaliate or launch a conventional invasion of the North. This is, of course, completely bananas and could easily lead to a wider nuclear exchange that will prevent all of us from seeing the second season of Stranger Things. NUTS was always a fringe movement because no one could really envision a plausible scenario where policymakers calmly de-escalate a situation after a nuke has gone off. Can Defense Secretary Mattis — who was firm during his confirmation hearings that nuclear weapons must never be used — convince his boss that NUTS is, well, nuts?

The question is far from academic. The threat of planetary obliteration that hung over all citizens during the Cold War has largely receded from memory. Hollywood thrillers about nuclear war, like Testament and Miracle Mile, have largely been replaced in the public imagination by films about terrorist atrocities and zombies. Yet the threat of accidental nuclear annihilation remains quite real. The Russians allegedly maintain a mysterious system called Perimeter, which many analysts believe is a “dead hand” set to launch nuclear missiles in the event of any nuclear detonation in the country. With several more powers joining the nuclear club since the end of the Cold War, including North Korea, India, and Pakistan, the aggregate risk of nuclear war — even if still quite small — is probably higher than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The fact that the United States is now led by an erratic, ill-tempered novice makes the situation even more unstable. One of the genuinely terrifying things about Donald Trump is how little he appears to know about anything, and how he frequently discovers new facts about the world that would strike most people as self-evident. He’s like the imbecile son of a hereditary monarch who becomes king at age 13 when dad chokes to death on a tenderloin. He requires, at all times, a team of educated adults to tutor him on the the basics of diplomacy and history even as he makes momentous decisions about life and death. Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Vice President Pence are basically operating a regency for a president who is incapacitated by his own ignorance and stupidity.

This may all be bluster, and at the end of the day, war with North Korea remains unlikely. But one of these regents (and God bless them) needs to get our dude caught up on nuclear strategy, unless the few survivors of a nuclear exchange would like to hear him musing, post-apocalypse, about how nuclear weapons are so much deadlier than he thought before he accidentally became leader of the most powerful country in the world.