Friday, January 27, 2017

Nukes prove their usefulness once again: excellent for partisan fear-mongering



The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the hands of its famous clock forward, immediately after Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the USA. In doing so they have proved that they are, as I have suspected previously, a part of the Washington establishment groupthink on foreign policy, biased, unconsciously perhaps, toward advancing American interests (previous post on this topic).
As much as one might despise Trump’s policies in other areas, or conclude that he lacks the experience and temperament to be a head of state, there is an argument to be made that his statements about nuclear policy are not much of a departure from standard nuclear doctrine. He has spoken carelessly about nuclear weapons, but most of his words have been interpreted with extreme bias. A more generous interpretation could be made. For example, he asked, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” but his follow-up question was “Well, if we can’t use them, why do we have them?” but only the first question was widely reported. Like all American presidents, he expects all other nations to disarm first, which is why he came out in favor of renewing the deterrent. America must go down in history as the first and last nation to possess nuclear weapons. That’s a standard assumption in the US, not a Trumpism.
In addition, many years ago Trump spoke often about his fears of nuclear destruction, so much so that he appeared to be much more obsessed with the topic than the average citizen. In other words, he is like many of the anti-nuclear activists and scholars I know: obsessed with the fact that such a dread has been allowed to exist, worried about the world his children will inherit, trying to enjoy life regardless.
In The Bulletin’s 2017 Clock Statement, Trump’s worrying statements about nuclear policy were credited as the reason for moving the minute hand closer to midnight. He was described as having “made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.” The report even lends credence to the ridiculous fear-mongering that Russia influenced America’s sacred democratic processes. It notes:

...events surrounding the US presidential campaign—including cyber offensives and deception campaigns apparently directed by the Russian government and aimed at disrupting the US election—have brought American democracy and Russian intentions into question and thereby made the world more dangerous than was the case a year ago.

Trump was blamed for wanting to upgrade the nuclear arsenal, but it is a well-known fact to the disarmament experts at The Bulletin that this upgrade has been in the works for years. The Bulletin makes no mention of the destabilizing influence of American meddling in Ukraine’s sacred democratic processes, and no mention of NATO expansion to Russia’s borders and the deployment of ABM missiles in Romania and Poland. During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and the neo-con hawks backing her were on the war path to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, a step that would have led to an air war with Russia. Surely the disarmament specialists who work for The Bulletin could have concluded that the danger of nuclear war had been recklessly increased by these words and deeds of Obama and Clinton. But instead it was a bit of thinking and tweeting out loud by Trump, before he was in power, that moved the hands of the clock forward. His "disturbing comments" about wanting to get along with Russia were not considered worthy of moving the hands of the clock backward. In the report there is a tangential mention of the need to reduce tensions over Syria and Ukraine, but the issue was not personalized the way it was for Trump. American policy, or statements and actions by Obama and Clinton were never mentioned. The partisan bias of this report leaks off of every page.
If all this is not enough to make my familiars in the anti-nuclear movement suspicious, I urge them to read page five of the Clock Statement. They will find there a rather strong endorsement, with some standard caveats, of nuclear energy as a solution to global warming. It seems that in this vision for a nuclear weapons-free world, the US will still have its network of 800 or so overseas military bases and the largest defense budget in the world—larger than the total spent by the nations ranked 2 to 10 on the list. They will still have offensive anti-ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and inter-continental ballistic missiles, loaded with conventional warheads, capable of accurately targeting and destroying any city on the globe (Belgrade in 1999 was the first demonstration of that power). Thus there will still be a great military threat aimed at nations with nuclear power plants, aimed also at their infrastructure and power grids (needed for cooling reactors in shut-down and cooling spent nuclear fuel pools). We could avoid nuclear war, but conventional war would still have the potential to create hundreds of Chernobyl catastrophes.
These non-conventional military threats and this tremendous imbalance are, of course, the well-known objections of Russia, China and other nuclear powers to moving forward in nuclear disarmament. It’s a curious thing that they consistently rate no mention in most Western nuclear disarmament think tanks and NGOs. This year’s nuclear ban treaty negotiations at the UN could have been turned into a much more comprehensive discussion. Why not have an agreement on limiting national defense spending, or curtailing the permanent stationing of military forces in foreign nations? Is it time to question the danger of large, outdated alliances that risk world war starting over, for example, a border skirmish in Estonia? The supposedly radical solution of banning nuclear weapons is actually not very radical at all. It consistently avoids engagement with the root causes of war and enmity between nations, which are rooted themselves in domination and control of the world’s resources.


Other recent views on the 2017 Clock report:

Chris Busby, “Real Doomsday clock passed midnight long ago,” Russia Today, January 29, 2017.

Gwynne Dyer, “Doomsday Clock and Talk Do More to Blow Up Fears,” London Free Press, February 1, 2017.

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