Trump’s militarism: a dead end
Bob Sheak – February 25, 2019
Noam Chomsky, world renown theoretical linguist, writer, and critic of U.S. imperialism and political-economy, has warned us many times in his writing that the two greatest threats to humanity are the growing threat of nuclear war and the unfolding and increasingly disruptive climate change. One of his many books focuses entirely on these threats, namely, NuclearWar and Environmental Catastrophe. According to Chomsky, “there are now questions of decent survival that cannot be shunted aside: the persistent danger of nuclear war, and the threat of environmental disaster, already unfolding and likely to become far more severe if we persist on our present course of denial” (p. 79). Of course, his voice is just one of a growing multitude in this regard, but one that is extraordinary in analysis and documentation.
The scientific consensus is broad, involving 97 percent of all climate scientists and a growing, already vast, body of empirically-grounded, peer-reviewed research findings documenting massive climate disruption. Even the top officials at the Pentagon have long agreed that there is a worrisome link between climate “change” and national security. For example, Nicholas Kusnetz reports in an article for Inside Climate News on a new Department of Defense report that “lists climate change vulnerabilities at 79 key military facilities, including risks from wildfires and severe weather, like this 2018 storm that damaged buildings and caused flooding at an Air Force base in Texas,” and that “the Defense Department is taking protective measures against the looming threat” (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/18012019/military-bases-climate-change-risks-wildfires-flooding-defense-department-report-congress).
The DOD released a more expansive climate “vulnerability” report in early 2018. Daniel Ross reports on the highlights for Common Dreams. (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/10/2/us-defense-department-losing-battle-against-climate-change).
The report looks at the impact of climate change on more than 3,500 military installations. The conclusion: “That more than half of these installations are affected by flooding, drought, winds, wildfires, storm surges and extreme temperatures. Drought proved the single biggest challenge to the military, affecting nearly 800 bases. Next up was wind, which affected more than 750 bases, while non-storm surge-related flooding impacted a little more than 700 bases.” Ross quotes Michael Klare, professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, on how the military chiefs view “climate change as a threat to what they do on multiple levels.” Klare is further quoted: “It’s a threat to their bases. It’s a threat to their operations. It creates insurgencies. It creates problems for them. They’re aware of that, and they want to minimize those impediments.” And Ross makes another point, namely, that “climate change has long been on the military’s radar. It was the George W. Bush administration, for example, that required the Defense Department to procure 25 percent of its energy for its buildings from renewables by 2025. Even President Ronald Reagan received military memos warning of global warming. While in 2014, the department published a roadmap establishing an outline to deal with the threats from climate change within the military, as ordered by then-President Barack Obama.” Well, as we have come to know all too well, any acknowledgement of anthropogenic climate disruption ends with the Trump presidency, as we now suffer under the climate-denial policies of the Trump administration.
Trump’s climate-change denial and saber rattling take us to higher levels of danger
The militaristic and climate-denying policies pushed by president Donald Trump and his administration make nuclear war more likely and move humanity toward unstoppable cataclysmic climate disruption. I’ve recently sent out essays on the climate crisis, so here I focus on the military/nuclear issues and consider recent evidence that document that under Trump there is an ever-more ramped up U.S. military force, an increased emphasis on nuclear weapons as one part of this policy, and signs that we are now being led into a new, dangerous period of military antagonisms, if not conflicts, with Russia and China, antagonisms that could easily spill over into military encounters, accidental or intentional, and to outright war, in which case it would likely be nuclear war. Trump’s militaristic stance is premised on the notion that America’s interests are best advanced by maintaining the country’s military advantage, especially in a world in which U.S. power is challenged. (See, for example, Alfred W. McCoy’s book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.)
Now this goal of maintaining U.S. military dominance in the world did not begin with Trump, but he has embraced the idea as no other president before him. If you are interested in this history, check out John W. Dower’s short and readable book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II. For example, the cold war with the Soviet Union goes back to 1946 and ends in 1991 with the collapse of that federation, while the concept of a military-industrial complex goes back to the 1950s, when then President Eisenhower used the term.
An unstable president with awesome power
We now have a president who is reported to be unstable and maliciously narcissistic, who puts everything aside in his pursuit of political advantage and personal aggrandizement. He believes that he knows more than the generals and seems to love the idea of having a military force that is always growing and able to intimidate or defeat any adversary. He yearns to have big military parades in honor of himself. And, in all this, he is encouraged by compliant cabinet officials and presidential advisers., and if they are not acquiescent, he gets rid of them.
Trump is reported to make decisions on an emotional and uninformed whim. And be reminded he has the authority to start a nuclear war. Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright, two senior scientists at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, point out that the president has the authority to order the launch of nuclear warheads and how he would do it (https://thebulletin.org/how-nuclear-attack-order-carried-out-now11455). Here’s some of what they write.
“If the president is not at the White House or other location with secure communication, he or she would use the so-called nuclear football to order the use of nuclear weapons. The football, or Presidential Emergency Satchel, is a briefcase containing various items, including a book laying out various attack options, from striking a small number of military targets to launching an all-out attack against Russian nuclear forces, military installations, leadership facilities, military industry, and economic centers. This briefcase is carried by an aide who stays near the president at all times.
“The president carries a card—the ‘biscuit’—with a code that changes periodically and would be used to authenticate a launch order. To order the use of nuclear weapons, either first or in retaliation, the president would call the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center—known as the War Room—read the code on the biscuit to confirm that he or she is indeed the president, and specify what attack option to use….
“After confirming the president’s identity, the Command Center would send an encrypted launch order to aircraft pilots, the underground crews that launch land-based missiles, and/or the submarine crews that launch submarine-based missiles.
“For land-based missiles, it would be a matter of minutes from the presidential order to when missiles would leave their silos.
“If the War Room is unable to function during a crisis, the War Room’s role is taken over by Strategic Command.”
This presidential power to launch on command worries the psychiatrists and mental health experts whose views are compiled in the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Robert Jay Lifton, one of the contributors, includes a reference to a letter he co-authored with Judith Herman that was published in the New York Times in March 2017. The letter, here I quote, “stressed Trump’s dangerous individual psychological patterns: his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crises that face an American president.” Lifton continues: “He has also, in various ways, violated our American institutional requirements and threatened the viability of American democracy. Yet, because he is president and operates within broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process – that is, as politically and ethically normal. In this way, a dangerous president becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing (or one could say, our antigoverning) dynamic” (pp. xvi-xvii).
Adding credence to this assessment, fact checkers at the Washington Post continue to identify a continuous stream of Trump’s lies and misleading statements, totaling 8,459 from January 2017 through February 3, 2019 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims-database/?noredirect=on&utm=.e18c543d91c). Then there is the book titled Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump that evolved out of a conference on the “Presidential Mental Health and Nuclear Weapons” which was “hosted by Tom Steyer at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in February 2018.” All but two of the 25 authors, “writing from their diverse perspectives as psychologists, psychiatrists, foreign policy experts, politicians, former military, historians, and journalists, sound a note of extreme alarm” (p. 10). Here is a quote from the Introduction to the book:
“Some authors, like Steven Buser, David Reiss, and Willian Enyart argue that if Trump were not president, he would not be granted a security clearance or pass a fitness-for-duty evaluation to have handle nuclear weapons because of the disturbing behaviors he displays. While others like Lance Dodes, Gordon Humphrey, Jaqueline West, Philip Zimbarod, Rosemary Sword and I [John Gartner] argue that the president is not only unfit, but deeply, diagnosably, and dangerously psychologically disturbed” (p. 13).
Just one last example. Peter Baker and Michael Tackett pinned a story for The New York Times titled “Trump says his Nuclear Button is Much Bigger Than North Korea’s” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/politics/trump-tweet-north-korea.html). These jouralists capture the abnormal and superficial position of Trump on nuclear weapons, but also how the idea of launching nuclear weapons seems nothing out of the ordinary for Trump, who is well-known for saying “everything is on the table.” Here’s what Baker and Tackett write: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump has since had a friendly meeting with Kim Jong Un and came away with the feeling that the North Korean leader had agreed to a process that would eventually lead to denuclearization. Subsequent reports found this understanding of the meeting by Trump to be premature and wrong. Trump and Un will meet again this week in Vietnam to continue trying to come to an agreement that would focus on a process to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons and on the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. These seem to represent rational goals, though the hawks in Trump’s administration and Pentagon officials are assuredly going to keep Trump from giving up too much. It remains to see whether Trump will return to his “fire and fury” rhetoric or manage to reduce the chances of war on the Korean peninsula.
Trump is not alone politically
Much of what we know about Trump is deeply unsettling, but what makes it so extraordinarily troubling is that he has the support overall of the Republican Party, most of those in the top 1 percent of the wealth distribution, many or most mega-corporations along with the great majority of for-profit businesses, at least one-third of the voting population (25-30 percent of whom have incomes under the median income), the increasingly right-wing federal judiciary, and a compliant right-wing segments of the media. Some of this support is of the fellow-traveler variety, involving military contractors and a host of corporate lobbyists who want for their industries less regulation, more government subsidies, lower taxes, opportunities to privatize natural resources, and a supportive trade policy. There are also those, among ardent single-issue voters, who want maximum freedom to own weapons or an end to Roe v Wade. Some are white supremacists. Some want the “wall” Trump promised. Some are against same-sex marriage and tolerate only traditional marriage and heterosexual sexual practices. Perhaps the overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters are drawn to his slogan to “make America great again” and join him in the belief that we need to maintain U.S. military superiority.
One of Trump’s main bases of support comes from White Evangelicals. Consider their shift in moral standards, as documented by E. J. Dionne, Jr., Norman J. Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann in their book, One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported. Here is what they write. “An October 2016 survey by PRRI asked: ‘Do you think an elected official who commits an immoral act in their private lives can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional lives.’ In 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals answered affirmatively, while “in 2016, 72 percent said yes” (One Nation After Trump, p. 165). In the 2016 election, they voted overwhelmingly for Trump. According to Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
“Exit polls [from November 9] show white evangelical voters voted in high numbers for Donald Trump, 80-16 percent, according to exit poll results. That’s the most they have voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004, when they overwhelmingly chose President George W. Bush by a margin of 78-21 percent. Their support for Trump will likely be seen as part of the reason the GOP candidate performed unexpectedly well in Tuesday’s election, according to Five Thirty Eight” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.901bd6702c87).
Whatever their specific interests or patriotic sentiments, all segments of Trump’s multi-faceted base are emboldening Trump and giving him encouragement to do what his ego and impulses tell him to do.
Professor of Law Richard Painter and clinical psychologist Leanne Watt, contributors to the book cited earlier titled Rocket Man…offer a summary of how whacky and dangerous the political situation has become under Trump.
“As the balance of power shifts to the top executive branch, with few or no checks from Congress or, likely, from the Trump cabinet, we believe that the United States is on a path to war that goes beyond occasional strikes in Syria. When presidents decide whether to go to war, the number of people they consult is limited- usually just a few – including the secretary of state and national security adviser. As Donald Trump continues to psychologically dissolve, besieged by unbearable stress and humiliation, it is essential that his inner circle provides a steady and containing environment for the president. By elevating Bolton and Pompeo into his cadre of confidants, we are concerned that Trump is courting disaster, drawing men who exacerbate the darkest elements in his character, rather than containing them” (p. 98).
A militaristic administration in the White House, heightening the risk of war(s)
The Trump and his administration are militaristic. What’s that mean? According to Wikipedia’s conception of the term, it involves four conditions, including (1) the belief or the desire of a government or a people that a state should maintain a strong military capability,” (2) the aim of using “it aggressively to expand national interests and/or values,” (3) “the glorification of the military and of the ideals of a professional military class,” and (4) the “predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarism). The danger of militarism in today’s world is that some countries, including most importantly the United States, have the military capacity to start or engage in wars that are more devastating in their effects than ever in human history – and have leaders who lack the wisdom to identify and pursue non-war alternatives.
Here’s an example. The Whitehouse issued a statement on February 5, 2019 titled “President Donald J. Trump’s America First Vision for Keeping Our Nation Safe is a testament to the militaristic mentality (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trumps-america-first-vision-for-keeping-our-nation-safe.). The hallmark of the statement is that the U.S. will achieve “safety through strength.” It boasts how defense spending under Trump’s presidency has set records, including “a record $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year for funding to face new and evolving threats from hostile powers around the world.” These numbers do not include military-related spending in other parts of the federal budget. A “page” in Wikipedia on the “Military Budget of U.S.” points to expenditures that are not counted in the official military spending numbers.
“…many military-related items… are outside of the Defense Department budget, such as nuclear weapons research, maintenance, cleanup, and production, which are in the Atomic Energy Defense Activities section, Veterans Affairs, the Treasury Department’s payments in pensions to military retirees and widows and their families, interest on debt incurred in past wars, or State Department financing of foreign arms sales and militarily-related development assistance. Neither does it include defense spending that is not military in nature, such as the Department of Homeland Security, counter-terrorism spending by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and intelligence-gathering spending by NSA.”
Even without considering these military-related expenditures that bring “defense” spending above the trillion-dollar mark, the U.S. has outspent other nations of the world by a wide margin for years. According to Wikipedia, “As compared with other countries, the United States spends billions more than its closest competitor, China, and more than the next 5 countries, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and France put together. Military spending is important to the Trump administration and it is unlikely that he has any reason to curb it” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militarism).
The war on terrorism
The government’s dubious war on terrorism since 9/11, through FY 2019 (as of November 2018), has provided one of the main justification for the high levels of military spending. David Cole, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, provides an insightful analysis of the hawkish government officials who crafted the rationale for this “war” under the presidency of Georgy W. Bush in his book, Justice at War: The Men and Ideas that Shaped America’s War on Terror. According to another source, the Watson Institute on International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the America’s war on terror has cost the country $5,933 trillion dollars and brought with it little benefit or anything like peace (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar). And the five trillion spent on the war against terrorists is a low estimate, not considering fully the “future obligations for Veterans Medical and Disability FY2020-FY2059.” Here is a summary list of what the Watson Institute’s research has uncovered.
• Over 480,000 have died due to direct war violence, and several times as many indirectly
• Over 244,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
• 21 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
• The US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is over $5.9 trillion dollars
• The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad
• Over 6,950 US soldiers have died in the wars.
• We do not know the full extent of how many US service members returning from these wars became injured or ill while deployed.
• Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been reported as required by law, but it is likely that at least 7,800 have been killed.
• 21 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani, and Syrian people are living as war refugees and internally displaced persons, in grossly inadequate conditions.
• The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries [perhaps 80], vastly expanding the counterror war across the globe.
• The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad.
• The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades with some costs, such as the financial costs of US veterans’ care, not peaking until mid-century.
• US government funding of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has totaled over $170 billion. Most of those funds have gone towards arming security forces in both countries. Much of the money allocated to humanitarian relief and rebuilding civil society has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
• The cost of the Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria wars totals about $5.9 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars, which will add an estimated $8 trillion in the next 40 years.
• The ripple effects on the US economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases.
• Both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to rank extremely low in global studies of political freedom.
• Women in Iraq and Afghanistan are excluded from political power and experience high rates of unemployment and war widowhood.
• Compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the US.
Trump loves the U.S. war machine, as indicated by the increases in the military budget and his desire to see the U.S. military retain its global primacy. And, like previous administrations, Trump’s administration it is justifying the “defense buildup” by identifying alleged threats to U.S. national interests all over the place, but especially from Russia, China, Iran, and perhaps in North Korea, while he supports regime change in Venezuela and militarizing the border with Mexico. However, for the Trump administration and Pentagon chiefs, China is now viewed as the greatest threat to U.S. global hegemony. While the media focus on the trade “war,” and sometimes on the bases the Chinese are building in the South China Sea, “the global nature of the growing conflict between Washington and Beijing has yet to be fully taken in.” Michael Klare provides a concise summary of why this is the case (https://tomdispatch.com/post/176528/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_a_long_war_of_attrition).
“The media and many politicians continue to focus on U.S.-Russian relations, in large part because of revelations of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American presidential election and the ongoing Mueller investigation. Behind the scenes, however, most senior military and foreign policy officials in Washington view China, not Russia, as the country’s principal adversary. In eastern Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, cyberspace, and in the area of nuclear weaponry, Russia does indeed pose a variety of threats to Washington’s goals and desires. Still, as an economically hobbled petro-state, it lacks the kind of might that would allow it to truly challenge this country’s status as the world’s dominant power. China is another story altogether. With its vast economy, growing technological prowess, intercontinental “Belt and Road” infrastructure project, and rapidly modernizing military, an emboldened China could someday match or even exceed U.S. power on a global scale, an outcome American elites are determined to prevent at any cost.”
“Washington’s fears of a rising China were on full display in January with the release of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, a synthesis of the views of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of that ‘community.’ Its conclusion: ‘We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish U.S. influence.’”
There appears to be too little among American leaders of ways in which U.S. and China interests can be accommodated through peaceful diplomacy. In his national bestseller, Destined for War: Can American and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap, Graham Allison considers the historic and geopolitical conflicts that have given rise to the growing tensions between the U.S. and China, and offers “clues for peace,” but worries about whether American democracy has become dysfunctional, with Trump in the White House, “the decline of a public ethic, legalized and institutionalized corruption, a poorly educated and attention-deficit-driven electorate, and a ‘gotcha’ press – all exacerbated by digital devices and platforms that reward sensationalism and degrade deliberation” (p.238). Under these circumstances, the chance that the U.S. will be able to work out peaceful solution with China seem now remote.
The export of arms is booming for US weapons makers
The overseas sales by American arms producers has risen to heights not seen before. Peter Castagno informs us:
“The global arms trade is experiencing its greatest boom since the Cold War, fueled by horrific wars in the Middle East and revitalized power rivalries among China, Russia and the United States. In their most recent report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed a 44 percent increase in arms sales from 2002 to 2017. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter by far, holding 34 percent of total market share — a 58 percent lead on Russia, its closest competitor. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. arms sales to foreign governments increased 33 percent, in part due to the Trump administration’s diminished legal restraints on supplying foreign militias” (https://truthout.org/articles/the-arms-trade-is-intensifying-under-trump).
And some of the U.S. weapons deals are facitliated by former public officials in the Trump administration who have left public office to become lobbyists for defense contractors. This revolving door reveals another Trumpian contradiction. “Before entering the White House,” Costagno writes, “Trump asserted his belief in a ‘lifetime restriction’ on top defense officials working for private defense contractors after their public service.”
The militarization of outer space
On Tuesday, February 19, Trump “directed the Department of Defense to begin to form a U.S. Space Force,” as reported by Ledyard King for USA Today (https://www.usatoday.com/news/2019/02/19/space-force-directive/2913033002). The mission of this sixth military branch, separate from the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard, will be “to monitor the heavens and protect the USA from attack” by, as the president put it, the “bad players.” Ledyard notes Trump’s enthusiasm for the space force in one of his tweets: “Space Force all the way!” The initial budget for the program is said to be less than $100 million,” though Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson anticipates the “five-year cost of establishing the new branch at about $13 billion.” The Congress is divided on the idea and will ultimately decide “whether to authorize the creation of a military branch and whether to approve money for the plan.” At present, there seems to be little opposition in Trump’s circles.
And a substantial portion of the public seems to go along with it
There is also considerable support among the general public for the maintenance of a strong military. A recent Pew Research Center’s survey finds that a large majority of Republicans (83%) want a government that defends the country from future terrorist attacks, compared to about half of Democrats (53%). Even more to the point, 65% of Republicans “place top priority on strengthening the military,” fewer than half Democrats say the same (http://www.peoplepress.org/2019/01/24/publics-2019-priorities-economy-health-care-education-and-security-all-near-top-of-list).
Trump and the military on the nuclear weapons front
Trump’s position is that “everything is on the table” when it comes to protecting the United States, and that he, who “knows more than the generals,” will determine when and where the use of nuclear weapons is necessary. His actions as president show a commitment and a cavalier attitude to maintaining and expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. He wants to continue the 30-year nuclear-weapons modernization program started at an initially estimated cost of $1.2 trillion under Obama and rising to an estimated $2 trillion during Trump’s first year. Lawrence Wittner addresses this point and writes: “Thanks to the Trump administration’s plan to upgrade the three legs of the U.S. nuclear triad and build new cruise and ballistic missiles, the estimated cost of the U.S. nuclear buildup rose in February 2018 to $2 trillion” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/11/19/lurching-towards-catastrophe-trump-administration-and-nuclear-weapons).
New Usable Nukes – and more to come
James Carroll reports on one of the new nukes in the modernization process that, he writes, is “the most dangerous weapon ever” to roll “off the nuclear assembly line” (https://truthdig.com/articles/the-most-dangerous-weapon-ever-rolls-off-the-nuclear-assembly-line.).
In January, according to Carroll, “the National Nuclear Security Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) announced the first of a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons had rolled off the assembly line at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in the panhandle of Texas.” The name given to the warhead is W76-2 and “is designed to be fitted to a submarine-launched Trident missile…” More of the warheads will be produced in coming months.
What makes this weapon the most dangerous ever? It’s a relatively small nuke, carrying the equivalent of five kilotons rather than the 100 kilotons of the warheads it will replace. Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Carroll that “the W76-2 will yield “only” about one third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.” Carroll reminds us that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed as many 150,000 people and that the new W76-2 could will kill 50,000. The new warheads are referred to as tactical, suggesting that their damage will be limited and will not provoke a larger nuclear war that would be unlimited.
It is the “shrinkage of the power to devastate” that “makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured,” because it is more likely to be used rather than just being held as a deterrent. The justifying rationale is that such tactical weapons can be used to offset any disadvantage on the battle field or to intimidate with a tactical nuclear strike an enemy, say, China, from attacking U.S. ships in the South China Sea or from forcibly taking over Taiwan. And, to say again, military planners believe that the use of such tactical warheads will not lead to a larger nuclear war. But Carroll fears the production of the W76-2 will set off another nuclear arms race. It does seem to mark the end of a 70-year taboo against nuclear use. Scott Ritter makes this poignant observation: “On Feb. 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty, beginning a 180-day process that, once concluded, will lead to the abandonment of that agreement. Russia soon followed suit. The death of the INF Treaty represents far more than simply the end of an era. It is the end of a process—a mindset—that recognized nuclear weapons for their globe-killing reality and sought their reduction and eventual elimination” (https://truthdig.com/articles/one-minute-to-midnight).
There is opposition to this nuclear policy from a group called “Back from the Brink, as Trump’s military moves hellbent on having the option to intimidate enemies and win wars with tactical nuclear weapons and other military means. The group proposes a counter-policy that entails the following: (1) no first use of nukes, (2) an end to the unchecked launch-authority of the president, (3) no to nuclear hair-triggers, (4) no to endlessly renewing and replacing the nuclear arsenal, and (5) the goal of having nuclear-armed states top producing nuclear warheads on the way to abolishing them altogether. Of course, the Trump administration ignores such proposals.
More Trump on the nuclear front
At one point, Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” (implying the use of nuclear weapons). He has unilaterally withdrawn from the multilateral deal to ensure that Iran does not develop the capacity to build nuclear warheads, even though U.N inspectors have found again and again that Iran has adhered to the treaty’s terms. Other signatories from Europe, Russia, and China want the agreement to continue. The U.S. also continues to avow a “first strike” policy on nuclear weapons. Daniel Ellseberg reasons that “virtually any threat of first use of a nuclear weapon is a terrorist threat.” And: “Any nation making such threats is a terrorist nation. That means the United States and all its allies, including Israel, along with Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea.” Ellsberg proposes, unrealistically under Trump, the U.S. government “should announce decisively that there is no ‘nuclear first-use option on the bargaining table in our dealings with Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, or any other nation, because we as a people and our government recognize that nuclear first use would be a murderous, criminal action, not a ‘legitimate’ option for the United States, Russia, or for any other country under any circumstances” (The Doomsday Machine, pp. 333,334). Unfortunately, this is not going to happen. There is nothing in what Trump or his administration has said or done that indicates they take such a no-first-use option at all seriously.
U.S. withdrawal from an important treaty to limit nuclear warheads
Michael Klare analyzes some of what Trump is doing in an article titled “Trump is Launching a New Terrifying Arms Race” (https://www.thenation.com/article/nuclear-madness- inf).
Klare focuses on the implications of Trump’s decision on February 2, 2018, to withdraw from the International Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia in six months, a treaty that covers nuclear-capable ballistic or cruise missiles that has focused on European targets. As described by Klare, “[o]nce the treaty went into force in 1988, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed 2,692 nuclear delivery systems – the first time an entire class of such weapons had been eliminated.” The publicly-stated reason Trump gave for withdrawing from the treaty was that Russia had violated the accord by deploying a nuclear-capable ground-launched missile, the 9M729, “that Washington insists has a range in excess of 500 kilometers an accusation that Russia denies.” Moscow acknowledged that it had deployed the missile “but says it does not violate INF restrictions.” Russia also has complaints, insisting “that US MI 41 antimissile batteries deployed in Romania…could be used to launch an offensive ballistic-missile attack on Russia.”
Rather than withdrawing from the treaty, Klare submits that negotiations should have continued, coupled with inspections to determine “if both the 9M729 and MK41 do, in fact, violate the INF Treaty; if so, measures could be taken to bring both countries into compliance. This diplomatic route was not taken, Klare thinks, because “administration hawks, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton have no interest in preserving the arms-control agreement but rather seek to embark on an arms race with Russia and China – a dynamic that will take us into dangerous territory not visited since the Cold War.”
The future now becomes more uncertain and a nuclear arms race appears to be in the offing. Here is what Klare thinks.
“It is also vital to remember why such weapons were banned in the first place: They provide an easy bridge from conventional to nuclear war. Should the United States deploy hundreds of ballistic missiles in Europe and Asia aimed at Russian and Chinese territory, Moscow and Beijing would almost certainly expand their nuclear arsenals and could even adopt a launch-on-warming policy. By precipitating a new arms race in intermediate-range weapons, the Trump administration is returning us to the early 1980s, when any military clash between the major powers – intended or not – could rapidly escalate into a thermonuclear conflagration. The only adequate response to this peril, as in that earlier dangerous era [which led to the original INF treaty], is a massive antinuclear mobilization.”
Trump ignores the fact that most of the world’s nations want to ban nuclear weapons
Lawrence Wittner, whose article was cited above, writes that in July 2017, by a vote of 122 to 1, with nine abstention, nations from around the world attending a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York City voted to approve a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.” He continues: “Although this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received little coverage in the mass media, its passage was a momentous event, capping decades of international nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that, together, have reduced the world’s nuclear weapons arsenals by approximately 80 percent and have limited the danger of a catastrophic nuclear war. The treaty prohibited all ratifying countries from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.” The Trump administration officially supported the prohibition but abstained when it came time to vote on it, along with eight other nuclear powers. None of these countries have any attention of reducing their present nuclear arsenals. Indeed, they are modernizing them.
The challenge for those of us who oppose Trump and what he stands for requires the emergence of a coalition of progressive and radical movements and a transformation of the Democratic Party – all unified around a comprehensive agenda of structural change, one that espouses a foreign policy dedicated to finding ways to cooperate with other countries, that prioritizes diplomacy over war and military interventions, that implements faithfully the provisions of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, that joins the majority of the nations of the world in a commitment to banning nuclear weapons as well as to committing to the support of development aid to poor countries. For an analysis of such a foreign policy, you might try Jeffrey D. Sachs book, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.