The Military-Industrial Complex Grows,
Finding more ways to use nuclear bombs, Part 3
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review: Background
Wikipedia provides some background on the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_Posture_Review).
The first NPR was released in 1994 while Clinton was president and in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union, when there was talk of a “peace dividend” and the military budget was reduced for a few years. NPRs are not done every year. The second was made public in 2002 during the Bush administration, and then another one in 2010 while Obama was president. The present NPR, for 2018, is only the fourth in this series.
Obama’s nuclear posture review: a mixed bag
The purpose of the NPRs is to identify plans for nuclear deterrence and nuclear weapons capabilities and to ensure “they are aligned to address today’s threats.” The emphasis is on improving the organization of the nuclear “command and control,” assessing the adequacy of the nuclear arsenal to maintain strategic stability and deterrence, proposing how to improve nuclear capabilities, extending assurance to U.S. allies and partners, identifying which nations or non-state groups pose threats, and describing the status of previous nuclear-arms agreements and goals of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear arms control. Wikipedia gives this short summary of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, issued by the Obama administration.
“President Barack Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was preceded by high expectations because of his 2009 speech in Prague, Czech Republic where he prominently outlined a vision of a world without nuclear weapons. His NPR was hoped by observers to make concrete moves toward this goal. The finished 2010 policy renounces development of any new nuclear weapons such as the bunker-busters proposed by the Bush administration, and for the first time rules out a nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states who are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This rule pointedly excludes Iran and North Korea.”
Robert Circincione is an author and president of the Ploughshares Fund who served as secretary of state’s International Security Advisory Board under Obama. His book, Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It is Too Late, offers a comprehensive analysis of the nuclear situation as of 2013. He writes at length at what the Obama administration attempted to achieve in its nuclear policy. The following quote from the book gives one a sense of what Obama and his administration were trying to do.
“It was not until April 2010…that the framework for the new approach was fully erected. After several delays in external and internal negotiations, the Obama administration ushered in its plan for a strengthened nonproliferation regime with three dramatic developments in eight days: the revamped Nuclear Posture Review on April 6, the New START agreement on April 8 [ratified by the Senate 71-26], and the Nuclear Security Summit on April 12-13. The Nuclear Posture Review explicitly reduced the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy. The new START treaty, signed by Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Prague, was the most important strategic arms reduction treaty in twenty years, restoring critical inspection and verification mechanisms and lowering the level of permitted strategic weapons by one-third. The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., gather fifty leaders, including thirty-seven heads of state and the heads of the United Nations and the European Union, for the largest- most senior-level conference ever held on nuclear policy. It produced an action plan to secure global stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium over the next four years, including immediate steps by many of the participating nations to reduce or eliminate their material stocks” (p. 39).
Where we stand now
The New START agreement, which is a legally binding, verifiable agreement, “limits each side to 1,550 strategic warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800….The Treaty limits take effect seven years after entry into force, and the treaty will be in effect for 10 years, or longer if agreed by both parties” (https://www.armscontrol.org/print/2556).
As of now, prior to the possible implementation of New Start, the total U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists, is 7,290, including 1,790 strategic warheads ready to be launched, 2,700 on “reserve,” and 2,800 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement (http://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces). The warheads on hair-trigger alert status and can be launched within minutes of a detected – or misidentified – nuclear attack.
There were other relevant developments on the nuclear-weapons front during the Obama years, including the agreement with Iran on ending its nuclear power program. Both the New Start Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal are under the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
The major point, though, is that Obama and his administration were pushing in the direction of nuclear arms control and reduction in some ways, though they faced a hostile, obstructionist, uncompromising Republican opposition in the U.S. Congress. But Obama also hedged his bets and succumbed in at least one major way to the military spending hawks and the Department of Defense, supporting a program for “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear bomb arsenal at a huge cost. Overall, in the years after Russia and the U.S. signed New Start, there has been “a return to Cold War-style military exercises and weapon productions, according to Janice Sinclaire writing for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (http://thebulletin.org/press-release/25-years-start9690). Sinclaire writes: “On the U.S. side, the nuclear arsenal reduction has plateaued around 4,700 [ready to be launched and on reserve] with no immediate signs of continued disarmament.” Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review augurs poorly for the future, as he and his administration have embraced a full-speed ahead approach to the development of new types of nuclear warheads and delivery systems as well as favoring and getting huge increases in the overall military budget. This latter point was developed in Part 2 of this post.
Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review – MORE
How does Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) define the issues? I’ll be drawing on the “executive summary” of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872877/-1/-1/1/EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY.PDF). In many ways, as I’ve indicated, it echoes the major themes of the 2018 National Defense Strategy discussed in Part 2 of this multi-part email.
The NPR advances the argument that “global threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent 2010 NPR, including increasingly explicit nuclear threats from potential adversaries” [i.e., North Korea]. It contends that Russia and China have “added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals.” Iran is identified (wrongly as long as there is an agreement) as a continuing potential nuclear power adversary. And, of course, there is the concern about terrorists, cropping up in more and more places in the Middle East, parts of Africa, Europe, etc. There is no attention paid to the causes of the rise of contemporary terrorism (e.g., Al Qaeda) and how the U.S. support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and the subsequent U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, spurred the growth of terrorist groups or indigenous-resistance. See Andrew J. Bacevich’s book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East.
A basic contention of the NPR is that the best way to deter adversaries and nuclear-capable states from attacking the U.S. or its allies or partners is to greatly expand and modernize the nuclear arsenal. This, the NPR argues, will also reassure “allies and partners” in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, that we are ready and prepared to protect them with the most advanced and effective nuclear weapons if deemed necessary by the President and the generals who advise him. As it now stands, by the way, the U.S. Congress has no say in this process.
The 2018 NPR maintains that these goals can only be achieved if the U.S. spends more on updating of the nuclear arsenal. This can be done by adding new low-yield warheads to the existing store of nuclear weakens and by strengthening the “strategic nuclear triad,” that is, by modernizing nuclear submarines and arming them with “submarine-launched ballistic missiles,” replacing land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles with new ones, and equipping strategic bombers with the most modern nuclear bombs and air-launched cruise missiles. The NPR provides details on just what specific new nuclear weapons will be produced for each leg of the triad. And, with great hubris and abandon, states “the United States will maintain and enhance as necessary, the capability to forward deploy nuclear bombers and DCA [dual-capable aircraft] around the world.”
Marjorie Cohn, writer and retired law professor who has written copiously on the legal implications of the conduct and policies of the U.S. military, is particularly concerned about how the NPR calls for the development of a new generation of “low-yield” nuclear weapons and how nuclear weapons may be used against non-nuclear attacks on our allies or the United States. Along with many others, she doesn’t see evidence that either China or Russia are threats militarily to U.S. national security (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).
Cohn quotes Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the UCS Global Security Program and author of a newly released white paper, who writes: “There is no evidence that nuclear weapons are becoming more prominent in China’s military strategy or that China has changed its longstanding no-first-use policy.” Similarly, both Beijing and Moscow have reaffirmed “that nuclear weapons are not ‘first strike’ weapons” but are only a “defensive deterrent.” [This was true as of February 2018.]
What then, Cohn asks, is the meaning of the NPR? It reflects a military-oriented mindset that says continuing American military dominance is the best way of dealing with international threats and conflict. On this point, Cohn quotes Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, who identified the NPR as “a radical plan written by extreme elements and nuclear ideologues in Trump’s inner circle who believe that nuclear weapons are a wonder drug that can solve our national security challenges. They aren’t, and they can’t.”
She makes two other points in building her case against the NPR’s emphasis on spending hundreds of billions on expanding and modernizing the nuclear arsenal. There is some opposition in the U.S. Congress (I’ll say more about this below.) The U.S. has signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that requires signatory nations with nuclear weapons to phase them out. This requires the phasing out of nuclear capacity, not the refurbishing of it. And, Cohn’s other point is that public opinion is on the side of the critics/opponents of the administration’s nuclear policy. She draws our attention to a recent NBC News/Washington Post poll that found sixty percent of Americans don’t trust Trump with nuclear weapons.” Unfortunately, the issue is for most Americans not high on their list of priorities.
Writing for The Guardian, Julian Borger reports that there is alarm being expressed at the NPR’s advocacy for the building of new types of nuclear weapons (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/09/us-to-loosen-nuclear-weapons-policy-and-develop-more-usable-warheads)
Critics are concerned, Borger discerns, that “smaller, more usable, nuclear weapons make nuclear war more likely, “especially in view of what they see as Donald Trump’s volatility and readiness to brandish the US arsenal in showdown with the nation’s adversaries.” Borger quotes Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, who said the NPR is an example of “dangerous, Cold War thinking.” Kimball continues: “The United States already possesses a diverse array of nuclear capabilities, and there is no evidence that more usable weapons will strengthen deterrence of adversaries or compel them to make different choices about their arsenals.”
Hans M. Kristensen, director, Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American Scientists, responds to the NPR by pointing out that the document “provides no evidence that existing capabilities are insufficient, but simply claims that the new capabilities are needed” (https://thebulletin.org/experts-new-nuclear-posture-review11480).
Robert Dodge, physician, peace advocate, and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, writes that the NPR ignores the extensive evidence documenting the extraordinary potential destructiveness of even smaller nuclear weapons (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/05/trumps-nuclear-doctrine-war-resumes). He makes the point as follows.
“Scientific studies have demonstrated the potential catastrophic global environmental effects following a limited regional nuclear war, using just 100 Hiroshima size weapons that would potentially kill 2 billion people. This new Doctrine [the NPR] proposes the development of two new generations of nuclear weapons including ‘low-yield nukes’, Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) and the long-term development of Submarine Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM). These ‘low-yield nukes’ are 20 kiloton or the larger Nagasaki size bombs that killed more than 70 thousand people” [because of the immediate explosion, and many more died subsequently from injuries and radiation sickness]. Seemingly ignoring the fact that nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons regardless of size with the same horrific initial devastation and long-lasting radioactive fallout and injuries, these weapons are proposed to demonstrate America’s resolve in deterring nuclear attack.”
The Nation magazine’s Katrina vanden Heuval expresses her opposition to the NPR in an article published in The Washington Post (February 13, 2018). She argues that the Trump administration’s NPR, with all its references to military dominance, new nuclear weapons, the blithe willingness to use nuclear weapons, the dismissal of the inevitable catastrophic consequences, will increase the chances of nuclear war. And this system that is on hair-trigger alert is vulnerable to stumbling into a nuclear war that would “end us all.” This existential danger is made worse by a president who often acts on reckless and thoughtless impulse, is confrontational, and who seems to crave for the opportunity to punish adversaries. And there will be opportunities for Trump and the military brass to start a nuclear war even when there is no real threat. Vanden Heuval refers to “the many accidents and close calls during the Cold War,” when flocks of birds were mistakenly identified as incoming nuclear bombs. And, to make matters worse, the document expands the circumstances in the most general and vague terms under which the U.S. would launch nuclear weapons. She writes:
“The United States reserves the right to unleash nuclear weapons first in ‘extreme circumstances’ to defend the ‘vital interests’ not only of the United States but also of its ‘allies and partners’ – a total of some 30 countries. ‘Extreme circumstances,’ the review states explicitly, include ‘significant non-nuclear attacks,’ including conventional attacks on ‘allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure.’”
Accidental nuclear war
More fingers on the nuclear-bomb button(s)
We all should bear in mind that our nuclear system is prone to misinformation, poor communities, and accidents that could result in the launching of nuclear warheads when there was no real threat. As Daniel Ellsberg reports in his new book, The Doomsday Machine Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, the authority to launch such weapons extend beyond the restless, meandering fingers of Trump. Let me quote Ellsberg at length on this vital point.
“As I discovered in my command and control research in the late 1950s, President Eisenhower had secretly delegated authority to initiate nuclear attacks to his theater commanders under various circumstances, including the outage of communications with Washington (a daily occurrence in the Pacific) or a presidential incapacitation (which Eisenhower suffered twice). And, with his authorization, they had in turn delegated this initiative, under comparable crisis conditions, to subordinate commanders.
“To my surprise, after I had alerted the Kennedy White House to this policy and its dangers, President Kennedy continued it (rather than reverse the decision of the ‘great commander’ who had preceded him). So did Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Carter. So, almost certainly, has every subsequent president to this day, even though in the past several decades there may have been at least nominal ‘devolution’ to some civilians outside Washington. This delegation has been one of our highest national secrets” (p. 15).
That is, the U.S. nuclear policy is based on a policy for “first use,” which means that the U.S. is prepared to launch nuclear warheads on Russia, China, or some other “enemy” if the President is led to believe that one of our adversaries is about to launch such bombs on the U.S. Ellsberg writes:
“The required U.S. strategic capabilities have always been for a first-strike force: not, under any president, for the U.S. surprise attack, unprovoked or a ‘bolt out of the blue,’ but not, either, with an aim of striking ‘second’ under any circumstances, if that can be avoided by preemption. Though officially denied, ‘launch on warming (LOW) – either on tactical warming of an incoming attack or strategic warning that nuclear escalation is probably impending – has always been at the heart of our strategic alert” (p. 13).
A history of accidental near launches
“The strategic nuclear system is more prone to false alarms, accidents, and unauthorized launches than the public (and even most high officials) has ever been aware. This was my special focus of classified investigations in 1958-61. Later studies have confirmed the persistence of these risks, with particularly serious false alarms in 1979, 1980, 1983, and 1995. The chance that this system could explode ‘by mistake’ or unauthorized action in a crisis – as well as by the deliberate executive of nuclear threats – taking much of the world with it, has always been an unconscionable risk imposed by the superpowers upon the population of the world” (p. 16).
Eric Schlosser has written perhaps the most comprehensive and exhaustive account of nuclear accidents in his magisterial book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, published in 2013. In a subsequent article on the subject, Schlosser writes on December 23, 2016, after the election of Trump:
“The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculation and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate these systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has first-hand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?” (http://www.newyorker.com/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake).
This is about an almost unimaginable and horrifying consequence of nuclear war that would lead perhaps to the extinction of humanity, or at least of the destruction of any resemblance of what we know as civilization. I turn again to Ellsberg.
“In 1961 I had learned as an insider that our secret nuclear decision-making, policy, plans, and practices for general nuclear war endangered, by the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] estimate, hundreds of millions of people, perhaps a third of the earth’s population. What none of us knew at the time – not the Joint Chiefs, not the president or his science advisers, not anyone else for the next two decades, until 1983 – where the phenomena of nuclear winter and nuclear famine, which meant that a large nuclear war of the kind we prepared for then or later would kill nearly every human on earth (along with most other species).”\
“It is the smoke, after all (not the fallout, which would remain mostly limited to the northern hemisphere), would do it worldwide: smoke and soot lofted by fierce firestorms in hundreds of burning cities into the stratosphere, where it would not rain out and would remain for a decade or more, enveloping the globe and blocking most sunlight, lowering annual global temperatures to the level of the last Ice Age, and killing all harvests worldwide, causing near-universal starvation within a year or two” (p. 17).
And what has our intellectually and morally challenged President Trump said: “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” (Ellsberg, p. 13)
Some concluding thoughts
We want to be hopeful, but also realistic. When we look for uplifting examples, we do find some. There has successful opposition to America’s nuclear policies in the past. There was a vigorous and successful movement that led the government to end nuclear-bomb testing not so long ago. And that alone gives us the hope that such a movement can be mounted again. Lawrence Wittner, professor of history at SUNY-Albany and author of Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement and other books, offers this recollection:
“The situation was very different in the 1980s, when organizations like the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (in the United States), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in Britain), and similar groups around the world were able to engage millions of people in protests against the nuclear recklessness of the US and Soviet governments – protest that played a key role in curbing the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war” (https://original.antiwar.com/lawrence-wittner/2017/04/24/why-is-there-so-little-popular-protests-against-todays-threats-of-nuclear-war).
There were in the 1980s and subsequently nuclear arms control agreements signed by the U.S. and Russia that significantly reduced their respective nuclear weapons stockpiles. The Arms Control Association provides a “glance” at this history, the culmination of which was to substantially reduce the number of warheads and delivery systems on both sides (https://www.armscontrol.org/print/2556).
In the early 1980s, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) was signed by President Reagan and “finally signed in July 1991.” The treaty “required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployable strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads.” The agreement “required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles which was verified using an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, the regular exchange of information, including telemetry and the use of technical means (i.e., satellites).” The treaty final went into force in December 2001 and then expired on Dec 5, 2009. After START II failed to get Senate ratification, Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to a framework of START III, including further reductions in strategic warheads to 2,000-2,500 and the destruction of delivery vehicles. On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), “under which the United States and Russia reduced their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each.” According to the Arms Control Association, “[t]he treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 2, 2003.” It was “replaced by New Start on February 5, 2011,” which, as referred to earlier in this email, is a “legally binding verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads [not yet achieved] deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems…, and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800.”
Aside from the history of government arms-reductions efforts, there are other positive developments. Here are some random examples.
First, worldwide, the number of nuclear warheads has declined from 70,300 in 1986 to 15,350 in early-2106 (http://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces).
Second, according to a report by Reuters correspondent Edith M. Lederer, published in the Washington Post, 122 countries at the United Nations (out of 193) “approved the first-ever treaty to ban nuclear weapons Friday [July 7, 2017] at a U.N. meeting. According to Lederer, “[t]he treaty requires of all ratifying countries ‘never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” The Netherlands opposed the ban, Singapore abstained, the nine countries known to have nuclear weapons chose not attend the meeting (i.e., the U.S., Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel), and the positions of 60 other countries were not identified. The treaty will be opened for signatures in September and come into force when 50 countries have ratified it, according to Whyte Gomez, Costa Rica’s U.N. ambassador. (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/first-treaty-banning-nuclear-weapons-expected-to-be-adopted/2017/07/07/a3a2a572-62c9-11e7-80a2-8c226031ac2f_story.html?utm_term=.0152c48b36ea)
Third, sixteen Democratic senators signed a letter to Trump expressing their opposition to the NPR (https://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Letter%20on%NPR.pdf). They maintained that it was unnecessary for the maintenance of deterrence and is destabilizing to “develop new, more usable low-yield nuclear weapons and reintroduce Cold War-ear weapon systems.” They also express concern that the cost pursuing these new nuclear weapons “will divert resources away from maintaining our conventional military superiority.” In addition, they argue that the NPR runs “counter to America’s obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), particularly Article VI which commits the U.S. “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” Finally, the senators are concerned that the NPR “pays only superficial attention to the substantial threat posed by nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation.” (Note: Sherrod Brown was not among the signatories.)
Fourth, Gar Smith compiles a list of dozens of organizations that are actively involved in a variety of peace/environmental initiatives in his book, The War and Environment: Reader, an indication that there continues to be a peace movement advocating for reductions in military spending and/or disarmament. They include, for example, U.S. Department of Peace, Plowshares initiatives “calling for the diversion of tax dollars from weapons production to environmental restoration, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Global Campaign on Military Spending, both of which work for reduced military budgets. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) “has repeatedly introduced a Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act (NDECA) requiring the United States to ‘dismantle its nuclear weapons’ and redirect the savings ‘to address human and infrastructure needs such as housing, health care, education, agriculture, and the environment.” And, one last example, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “is working toward multilateral negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons by engaging in humanitarian, environmental, human rights, peace, and development organizations in more than ninety countries.”
Fifth, the majority Americans surveyed on December 22-28, 2016 by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, agreed that the U.S. should not withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran. The survey found that “nearly two thirds of Americans oppose withdrawing from the Iran deal to negotiate a better one” and prefer continuing “with the deal as long as Iran continues to comply with the terms” (http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/jan/6/poll-most-americans-oppose-withdrawing-nuclear-deal).
The other side is so powerful
When we look at the national political situation in the U.S., the picture is grim. The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress strongly favors the military and nuclear policies of the Trump administration. They are supported by the big weapons makers, who stand to make enormous profits as military spending on conventional and nuclear weapons and supplies generally rise for the next decades, if the NPR is fully implemented. There are hundreds of communities that benefit from the military-industrial complex, wherever there is a military base or installation or a military weapons weapons/supplier contractor. In addition, there are millions of vets who belong to various veterans’ organizations, organizations that typically can be counted on to support whatever increases in the military budget the president requests. You can include the National Rifle Association to be among the boosters. Then there are the untold number of ordinary Americans who just follow the lead of “the commander in chief,” especially when they have family members who are in military service.
Most people don’t have a clue on how much we have been spending on wars
There is another aspect of this huge socio-political-economic-military force that, if not effectively countered, would move us toward nuclear war. Stephanie Savell works for the Costs of War Project, which is housed at Brown University(http://tomdispatch.org/blog/176386). The goal of the project is “to draw attention to the hidden and unacknowledged costs of our counterterror wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a number of other countries as well.” The project has come up with a figure of the “actual cost” of the war on terror since 2001: $5.6 trillion. It continues to go up under Trump. It has also estimated the number of war-related deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. As of 2016, “about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of these countries had been killed” directly. Savell adds: “To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by these wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation.” The project has found that today the “U.S. military is…taking some sort of action against terrorism – a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.”
The media have not covered the projects reports. But there is a deeper, more disturbing reality, that is, “the lack of connection between the American public…and the wars being fought in our names in distant lands.” This is also largely true, I think, of all aspects of the military-industrial complex and of U.S. policies regarding nuclear weapons and war. This disconnection from the government’s war machine is in part related to how much of it is done in secrecy. Most citizens don’t know that we have troops in so many countries or how much we are spending on these enterprises. But there are other factors. Savell writes “the government demands nothing of the pubic, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country’s growing debt from its war-making but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars.” And, in the absences of a draft, most citizens do not have family members who have served in the military and even fewer who have had family members who have fought in combat and don’t have to worry personally about being drafted.
Lawrence Wittner picks up on this issue and addresses the question germane to this email, “Why is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?” (https://original.antiwar.com/lawrence-wittner/2017/04/24/why-is-there-so-little-popular-protests-against-todays-threats-of-nuclear-war). He offers the following reasons:
“One factor is certainly the public’s preoccupation with other important issues, among them climate change, immigration, terrorism, criminal justice, civil liberties, and economic inequality.
“Another appears to be a sense of fatalism. Many people believe that Kim Jong Un [North Korea’s leader] and Trump are too irrational to respond to reason and too autocratic to give way to pubic pressure.
“Yet another factor is the belief of Americans and Europeans that their countries are safe from a North Korean [or other] attack. Yes, many people would die in a new Korean War, especially one fought with nuclear weapons, but they will be ‘only’ Koreans.
“In addition, many people credit the absence of nuclear war since 1945 to nuclear deterrence. Thus, they assume that nuclear-armed nations will not fight a nuclear war among themselves,” though the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review does identify Russia and China as adversaries.
“Finally – and perhaps most significantly – people are reluctant to think about nuclear war. After all, it means death and destruction at an unbearable level of horror. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply forget about it.”
So where does all this leave us?
We should recognize that we live in a highly militarized society that starts wars and continues expending vast resources on un-ending wars and that has a culture that celebrates them in inescapable and myriad displays of patriotism – holidays, sporting events, many other public events, and at schools, along with a media that often reinforces this culture. It also seems reasonable that U.S. foreign policy, war-making, military occupations, special-forces deployments, and weapons sales abroad have played a major role in creating the alienation and despair that, at least in part, create the conditions that feed the growth of terrorists groups and acts around the world.
The best we can do, I suppose, is to seek the truth, support groups that work for peaceful resolutions to conflict, vote for candidates who offer alternatives to the prevalent militaristic policies of the government, and hope these efforts gain momentum and have real effects in our life time.