U.S. militarism and nuclear weapons in an increasingly dangerous world

Bob Sheak, February 15, 2023


There are two interrelated parts to this post. One focuses on U.S. militarism, while the other on nuclear weapons. The aim of this analysis is to draw attention to the disproportionate power of those who favor a strong military and related policies to advance U.S. interests domestically and internationally. At the same time, this militarism provides a framework and structure for the continued development of nuclear weapons. The world is a more dangerous place as a result. In joining those who want less militarism and a process that will end nuclear weapons, the goal here is to help inform readers about the existential threat posed by such military power. The post draws on recent articles and excerpts from earlier posts.

PART 1: The militaristic slant of U.S. domestic and foreign policies 

The Cambridge dictionary defines “militarism” as “the belief that it is necessary to have strong armed forces and that they should be used in order to win political or economic advantages”


According to this definition, there is little question that the U.S. has a militaristically-oriented foreign policy. The implication is that foreign policy revolves significantly around the threat, implied or explicit, if not the actual use, of military force in relations with other countries. But it also draws attention to the domestic structures and effects of military policy and expenditures.

In a previous post (“U.S. militarism: some evidence,” Oct 13, 2021), I compiled evidence to support this viewpoint. There, I posited that U.S. militarism is reflected in:

(1) the enormous power of the military-industrial complex;

(2) the authority of the president to initiate war or launch nuclear weapons without congressional approval or without the support of the U.N.’s Security Council;

(3) the large Pentagon budgets passed typically on a bipartisan basis by majority votes the U.S. Congress;

(4) the absence of independent audits of the budgets and failure to control the cost overruns of government military contracts;

(5) the 750 or 800 hundred U.S. military bases around the globe (https://democracynow.org/2023/02/14/david_vine_us_bases_china_phillipines);

(6) the revolving door between the military and big weapons makers that creates an implicit if not explicit conflict of interests;

(7) the creation by Trump of a fourth military branch, namely, “the space force.”’

Additionally, many tens of thousands of U.S. troops have suffered the physical, mental, and moral injuries of ill-fated wars initiated by political and military leaders (see, for example, David Wood, What We Have Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, or Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops). With some pauses and despite anti-war movements, militarism and its damaging effects have grown since WWII and especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991.

Despite the support of enormous taxpayer money, land, and other resources, the military has not achieved its objective in any of the major conflicts in which it has engaged since WWII. Historian Andrew Bacevich has documented this unfortunate reality in a series of books (e.g., “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”). In his recently published book, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, Bacevich offers this less-than praiseworthy view of the country’s foreign policy.

“For decades, the United States has exerted itself to uphold and enhance the advantageous position it gained in 1945. Its tacit goal was not only to hold the communist world in check but to achieve ideological, economic, political, and military primacy on a global scale, with all but the most cynical American leaders genuinely persuaded that US supremacy served the interests of mankind.”

In these terms, American leaders believed that the country’s foreign policies proved that the country was exceptional and non-imperialistic in wanting the world to prosper and do so peacefully. The reality is different, as outlined above. And, presently, there are many parts of what used to be called ‘the Third Word” that are ruled by autocrats/oligarchs, in which the majority of people are poor, where societies that are highly indebted to “rich” countries through U.S. dominated international aid organizations, and that are often racked by civil war and violence. Sociologist William I. Robinson offers some insights of the sources of such conditions in his books, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity and The Global Police State.

At the same time, the U.S. role is not uniformly negative. The U.S. has often provided economic assistance in, for example, food aid to countries in distress, although it comes nowhere close to U.S. military spending and global military operations. Still, it’s worth noting that, as one example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put out a press release on April 27, 2022, announcing the following:

“that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are taking the extraordinary step to draw down the full balance of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust (BEHT) as part of an effort to provide $670 million in food assistance to countries in need as a result of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The world is suffering from historic levels of global food insecurity, which is being exacerbated by the impact Russia’s war on Ukraine is having on global food supplies. Available estimates suggest an additional 40 million people could be pushed into poverty and food security as a result of Russia’s aggression.

“USAID will use the BEHT’s $282 million to procure U.S. food commodities to bolster existing emergency food operations in six countries facing severe food insecurity: Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen. USDA will provide $388 million in additional funding through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to cover ocean freight transportation, inland transport, internal transport, shipping and handling, and other associated costs” (https://usda.gov/media/press-releases/2022/04/27/biden-administration-announces-hundreds-millions-dollars-global).

Possible reforms to reduce US militarism

The analysis developed here calls for a reduction in U.S. militarism, which can be achieved by: reducing military spending; instituting independent audits of the military budget and spending; advancing more effective congressional oversight; doing a reevaluation of whether the U.S. really needs over 750 or 800 or so foreign bases in 70 countries to “ensure” the safety and security of the U.S.; stopping the revolving door between the weapons makers and military officers; giving more focus to building up the State Department with the goal of enhancing U.S. diplomatic assets; ending the space force; joining with other countries to phase out nuclear weapons; and finding ways to better educate American citizens about the history of the country’s wars, the options to war, and generally about the limits of military power. By recognizing such limits and rethinking the country’s priorities, resources could perhaps be made available to address the non-military crises like accelerating global warming and the inequities that beset U.S. society and many societies around the globe.

Meanwhile, military spending soars

Lara Seligman examines Biden’s support of the largest Pentagon budget in history (https://politico.com/news/2023/02/10/biden-pentagon-budget-debt-ceiling-00082302).

“In December, lawmakers appropriated $858 billion in national defense funding — $45 billion more than Biden sought. That included $817 billion for the Pentagon, and billions more for nuclear weapons development through the Energy Department and other national security programs.

“At the time, it was the most the U.S. had ever spent on the Defense Department, reflecting the Pentagon’s efforts to simultaneously counter the threat from Russia, keep pace with China’s growing technological advantage, modernize aging arsenals and fight inflation.”

PART 2: The looming danger of nuclear war

The forces that have led to support of U.S. militarism also endorse having nuclear weapons as a standby in cases where U.S. interests – or the interests of allies – are threatened or are the victims of nuclear attacks. In the post I sent out on February 6, 2020, “The looming danger of nuclear war,” I considered the historical and contemporary background on nuclear weapons and the threat to human existence. Here is some of what I wrote.


Nuclear weapons are the deadliest of weapons ever created by humans, in this case by scientists with financing by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayers). Along with anthropogenic climate disruption, or “climate change,” nuclear weapons have the potential to destroy all human societies and much of life on the earth.

The Manhattan Project – letting the genie out of the bottle

The project to create nuclear weapons (then called atomic bombs) was initiated by the government and paid for by taxpayers during WWII. The story of the project, called the Manhattan Project, is captured in detail by Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Project).

Nuclear weapons – some facts

In hindsight, the creation of atomic bombs appears to have been an expression of the height of human folly by many knowledgeable people and scientists. Whatever, these terribly destructive weapons are a part of present-day reality and most civilian and military leaders in the US and Russia, which alone have 93% of the warheads, view them as vital and necessary components of their military arsenals, while basing their views on a hollow and ultimately counter-productive conceptions of “national security” and the assumption that nuclear arsenals can be managed in ways that deter the use of these weapons.

While the issue does not attract much mainstream media attention, it continues to be of utmost importance with 15,500 nuclear weapons stockpiled in the world, according to the Arms Control Association. That includes nuclear warheads that are on delivery vehicles and ready to be launched and warheads that are in storage (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

And some are ready to be launched in just minutes. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes that “the United States still keeps its 450 silo-based nuclear weapons, and hundreds of submarine-based weapons, on hair-trigger alert….around 3,500 total—are deployed on other submarines or bombers, or kept in reserve” (http://www.ucs.usa.org/nuclear-weapons/hair-trigger-alert#.WGbjjeQzXIU). In the meantime, the US military is planning to introduce “‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons on submarine-launched ballistic missiles – weapons that could cause as much damage as the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The relatively lower-yield of such warheads makes them more likely to be used in a wider range of situations considered to be threatening by the US military command (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43460-pentagon-to-allow-nuclear-responses-to-non-nuclear-attacks).

Perhaps the gravest hotspot, or potential nuclear war situation, is in the highly rancorous and hostile relations between Pakistan (130 nuclear weapons) and India (120 nuclear weapons), particularly over the disputed control of Kashmir. These are two nuclear powers whose troops are within miles of one another. Any slight, accidental, or misunderstood provocation could be the spark that leads to the use of nuclear weapons. [Murtanza Hussain analyzes the current dangers of the growing instability in Pakistan: https://theintercept.com/2023/02/12/pakistan-economy-crisis-imf.%5D

There are other nuclear powers, including England, France, China, Israel, and North Korea. At the same time, dozens of countries have the capacity to build nuclear warheads and the means to use them. At one time, six other countries had nuclear weapons but agreed to give them up (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Iraq, and Libya). There were four other countries on their way to having nuclear weapons and then “shelved their nuclear weapons’ programs” (Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan) (https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat).

What about other countries. According to the Nuclear Weapons Archive:     

“Virtually any industrialized nation today has the technical capability to develop nuclear weapons within several years if the decision to do so were made. Nations already possessing substantial nuclear technology and arms industries could do so in no more than a year or two. The larger industrial nations (Japan and Germany for example) could, within several years of deciding to do so, build arsenals rivaling those planned by Russia and the U.S. for the turn of the millennium….” (http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Nwfaq/Nfaq7-5.html).

The point is that the human world is already in a situation in which any one of the nuclear states could use their weapons for any one of a number of reasons – to extend power, preserve a perceived credibility, destroy an “enemy,” avoid a military defeat, or by accident. They need to be abolished.


The danger of nuclear war increases

John Mecklin, editor of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, reports on the most recent assessment of the organization on the growing threat of nuclear war, announced on January 24, 2023. The scientists moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, or when such war is expected to erupt (https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time).

Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 10 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to global catastrophe caused by manmade technologies.

In the Bulletin’s January 2023 report, “the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward, largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine. The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.” The report continues:

“The war in Ukraine may enter a second horrifying year, with both sides convinced they can win. Ukraine’s sovereignty and broader European security arrangements that have largely held since the end of World War II are at stake. Also, Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks.

“And worst of all, Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict—by accident, intention, or miscalculation—is a terrible risk. The possibility that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high.”

Treaties to monitor and control the development, production, and use of nuclear weapons are being ended or are on a path to do so

I wrote the following overview of nuclear arms agreements in the February 6, 2020 post to which I earlier referred, “The looming danger of nuclear war.”


The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) commenced in November, 1969 and led to Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, limiting strategic missile defense to 200, later 100, interceptors each, and the Interim Agreement, “an executive agreement that capped US and Soviet ICBM and SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines.” There were gaps. “The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs.” There was a follow-up agreement, SALT II, signed in June 1979, that “limited US and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube, or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces.” However, when the Soviet’s invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, President Jimmy Carter “asked the Senate not to consider SALT II, and that ended these agreements.

In July 1991, President Ronald Reagan signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start I), which “required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads….required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles.” The implementation of this agreement was “delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and Start agreements.”

In January 1993, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin signed a follow-on agreement, called SALT II, which “called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles.” However, “START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 US withdrawal from the ABM treaty.” In between 1991 and 2002, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin “agreed to a framework for START III negotiations… ‘to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” But when START II was abandoned, the negotiations over START II never happened.

Later in 2002, on May 24, 2002, “Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow treaty) under which the United States and Russia reduced their arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each.” This was to take effect on December 31, 2002. One of the limitations of the treaty was that the US limited reductions to warheads “deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., operationally deployed’ warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. Nonetheless, the Senate and Duma approved the treaty and it entered into force on June 1, 2003.

The process of nuclear arms control agreements got another boost on April 8, 2010, when “the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800.” This lowered the warhead limited of SORT and there are tighter verification requirements, including “on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical mans for treaty monitoring.” Additionally, the treaty “provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities.” The Treaty was finalized on December 22, 2010, after the approval of the Russian parliament and the US Senate.

[but now even this last treaty is threatened]

Non-strategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

This involves “ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers,” or 311 miles and 3,418 miles. The US and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on December 8, 1987, including ‘intrusive on-site inspections.” The two sides “completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles, and later extended after the breakup of the Soviet Union to include “the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.” The US became concerned in 2014 that Russia was violating the agreement and deploying ground-launched missiles that were prohibited. This would later give Trump a reason to withdraw from the agreement – rather than to seek a negotiated resolution.

The fraying of nuclear arms control agreements

Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn provides an informative analysis of the breakdown of US-Russian nuclear weapons treaties in an article titled “US Refusal to Negotiate with Russia Increases likelihood of Nuclear War” (https://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43811-us-refusal-to-negotiate-with-russia-increases-likelihood-of-nuclear-war). She reminds us that George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia, agreeing to reducing and limiting anti-ballistic missile defenses in both countries. Cohn quotes David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: “The fuel for a new nuclear arms race was already on fire, and a Russian strategic response was predictable, when the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty and began developing a replacing missile defense systems globally. The US withdrawal and abrogation of the ABM Treaty may prove to be the greatest strategic blunder of the nuclear age.”

Obama also contributed to the undermining of the nuclear détente with Russia when he signed off on the policy to “modernize” the US nuclear bomb arsenal. The official US nuclear arms position as stated in the US Nuclear Posture Review has also, Cohn notes, reduced “the threshold for using nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks, including cyberattacks, in ‘extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners.”

Enter Donald Trump

With Trump ascension to the White House, there was increased concern about US nuclear weapons and control and command over these weapons. President-elect Trump has twittered and blustered in his ill-informed and braggadocio, maliciously narcissistic manner, that it may be better for the world if even more countries possessed their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea), implied that he might use nuclear weapons in the Middle East to “wipe out ISIS,” suggested that the US could win an escalated nuclear arms race, wanted to undo the multilateral agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, is totally and unconditionally in support of Israel (which is in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation international treaty and whose policies intensify the repression of Palestinians and the expropriation of their land), and is committed to continuing the “modernization” of the US nuclear weapons system. Trump recently tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” From Trump’s shallow knowledge of the subject and bully-boy temperament, there is no place for a policy of nuclear weapons reductions or nuclear weapons free zones, such has been proposed for the Middle East (including Israel).  From what we know, Trump may well behave impulsively in a crisis – and give an order within a few minutes to lunch nuclear weapons against Russia or some other perceived adversary. That would cause unimaginatively catastrophic and irreversible war. Indeed, a war to end all wars.

History professor and author Lawrence Wittner writes on how arms control and disarmament agreements have been [were] “rapidly unraveling” under Trump’s administration (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/29/dear-moderates-presidential-debates-how-raising-issues-how-avert-nuclear-war). He gives the following examples.

On May 2018, “the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the laboriously-constructed Iran nuclear agreement that had closed off the possibility of that nation developing nuclear weapons.” Then on February of 2019, “the Trump announced that, in August, the US government will withdraw from the Reagan era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – the historical agreement that had banned US and Russian ground-launched cruise missiles – and would proceed to develop such weapons.” Russian President Vladimir Putin responded in kind. The 2010 New Start Treaty is also on the chopping block, that is the treaty that “reduces US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, limits US and Russian nuclear delivery vehicles, and provides for extensive inspection.” Wittner notes that if the treaty is allowed to expire, “it would be the first time since 1972 that there would be no nuclear arms control agreement between Russia and the United States.” Then there are other ominous message from the White House and Pentagon. some in Trump’s administration who are pressing for a US resumption of nuclear weapons testing. The push for “modernizing the nuclear arsenal, with the introduction of new types of nuclear warheads, is gaining support in the White House, a violation of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And the US Joints Chiefs of Staff are expressing “new interest in nuclear warfare,” declaring in a June 2019 planning document that “using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability.” 

A history of nuclear weapons accidents

There is a long history of accidents at nuclear weapons’ launching missile sites, both in the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), that came within minutes of starting a nuclear war. This history is brilliantly documented by Eric Schlosser in his book Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, and in a recent article for The New Yorker, titled “World War Three, by Mistake (Dec 23, 2016). You can find the article at: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/world-war-three-by-mistake.

Schlosser’s main argument is that “harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.” He concludes his long article with the following ominous words.

“My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, someday, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.”

Fred Pearce devotes an entire book to how accidents, mis-judgements, out-right lies have almost triggered nuclear war. See his book Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and The Legacy of the Nuclear Age. In his book, The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg writes: “every president from Truman to Clinton has felt compelled at some point in time in office – usually in great secrecy – to threaten and/or discuss with the Joint Chiefs of Staff plans and preparation for possible imminent US initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing non-nuclear conflict or crisis” (pp .319-322). There were also such instances during the Bush Jr administration and, much more blatantly under Trump, who has talked about bombing North Korea and Afghanistan with nuclear weapons (see Mark Green and Ralph Nader’s book, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General Bullsh*t, the chapter on “War and Peace”). 

There are more fingers on the nuclear launch button that the president’s

Ellsberg explains:

“For decades, Americans have been told that there is “exclusive presidential control of the decision to go to nuclear war and how it is to be conducted.” This officially propounded view is “embodied by the iconic ‘football,’ the briefcase carried by a presidential military aide that is to accompany the president ‘at all times,’ containing codes and electronic equipment by which the president, on receiving warning of a nuclear attack, can convey to the military his choice of a response ‘option’ to be executed” (p. 67-68). Ellsberg argues this is not true: “It was not only the president who could make the decision and issue the orders, and not even…the secretary of defense or the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, but commanders in the field thousands of miles from Washington who thought their forces might be about to be destroyed…. In some circumstances, commanders of four-star rank could issue in their own name an authorized directive to undertake nuclear attack without the immediate prior involvement of the president” (p. 68).

This “hidden” decentralized command structure is necessary because of the threat of decapitation, that is, that the president and other high government officials could be wiped out by a surprise nuclear attack. Ellsberg puts it this way. “A single nuclear warhead on the capital could kill not only the president but all of his legally designated successors in the cabinet and Congress (and the JCS along with the secretary of defense, the only civilian aside from the president in the military chain of command) – all of them who were in town at that moment. If nuclear deterrence were to have any substantial backing at all – if it were to be more than an empty bluff – it could not be the case that one such explosion would definitively block any authorized, coordinated nuclear response to that or any subsequent attack” (p. 69).

US nuclear war policy includes the “First Use” of nuclear weapons

Ellsberg makes this point.

“Preparation for preemption or for carrying out threats of first use or first strike remains the essence of the ‘modernization’ program for strategic weapons for the last seventy years – prospectively being extended by Presidents Obama and Trump to one hundred years – that has continuously benefited our military-industrial-complex” (p. 324)….“The felt political need to profess, at least, to believe that the ability to make and carry out nuclear threats is essential to US national security and to our leadership in our alliances is why every single president has refused to make a formal ‘no-first-use’ (NFU) commitment” (p. 324)

“…the United States has tenaciously resisted the pleas of most other nations in the world to make a NFU pledge as an essential basis for stopping proliferation, including at the Nonproliferation Treaty Extension Conference in 1995 and the Review Conference since 2000. Moreover, the United States has demanded that NATO continue to legitimize first-use threat by basing its own strategy on them, even after the USSR and the Warsaw Pact had dissolved (and most of the former Pact members had joined NATO. Yet this stubborn stance – along with actual threats of possible US nuclear first use in more recent confrontations with Iraq, North Korea, and Iran – virtually precludes effective leadership by the United States (and perhaps anyone else) in delegitimizing and averting further proliferation and even imitation of US use of nuclear weapons” (324-325)

“UN Resolution 36/100, the Declaration on the Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe, “was adopted on December 9, 1981, in the wake of Reagan’s endorsement of the Carter Doctrine – openly extending US first-use threats to the Persian Gulf – which this resolution directly contradicted and implicitly condemned. It declares in its preamble: ‘Any doctrine allowing the first use of nuclear weapons and any actions pushing the world toward a catastrophe are incompatible with human moral standards and the lofty ideals of the UN” (p. 325) – 82 nations voted in favor of it, 41 abstained (under pressure from US), 19 opposed it (including the US, Israel and most NATO member nations).”

Nuclear Winter

No nation, no people can survive an even limited, regional nuclear war. Even a first-use attack by a nuclear power that destroyed the nuclear-launching capacity of, say Russia, would produce a worldwide catastrophe. The smoke from nuclear bomb blasts would rise into the atmosphere and remain there for an extended period, enough to cripple food production around the world. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter). There are no winners in nuclear war.


Mecklin (referred to earlier) points out, “As Russia’s war on Ukraine continues, the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the United States, New START, stands in jeopardy. Unless the two parties resume negotiations and find a basis for further reductions, the treaty will expire in February 2026. This would eliminate mutual inspections, deepen mistrust, spur a nuclear arms race, and heighten the possibility of a nuclear exchange.” He refers to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who has warned the world has entered “a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.” And “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the risk of nuclear weapons use, raised the specter of biological and chemical weapons use, hamstrung the world’s response to climate change, and hampered international efforts to deal with other global concerns.”

Mecklin adds:

“There is no clear pathway for forging a just peace that discourages future aggression under the shadow of nuclear weapons. But at a minimum, the United States must keep the door open to principled engagement with Moscow that reduces the dangerous increase in nuclear risk the war has fostered. One element of risk reduction could involve sustained, high-level US military-to-military contacts with Russia to reduce the likelihood of miscalculation. The US government, its NATO allies, and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue; they all should be explored. Finding a path to serious peace negotiations could go a long way toward reducing the risk of escalation. In this time of unprecedented global danger, concerted action is required, and every second counts.”

Is Withdrawing from Nuclear weapons treaties the Nuclear Weapons Industry’s Business Plan?

Jonathan Alan King, the  chair of the Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter, maintains in an article published on Feb. 6, 2023 that there is such a plan (https://truthout.org/articles/is-withdrawing-from-treaties-the-nuclear-weapons-industrys-business-plan). This is so because the “manufacture and maintenance of nuclear weapons is a uniquely profitable business monopoly with a guaranteed market.” And, as he points out, there are continuing opportunities for weapons producers to benefit from such a plan and such opportunities would be even more enhanced by the ending of nuclear weapons’ treaties. King writes:

“The most effective lever nations have to prevent a nuclear holocaust has been the series of treaties that limited deployment of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, after decades of very difficult but successful negotiations in multiple treaties limiting the use of nuclear weapons, our leaders are abandoning these safeguards. This puts Americans and the world at increased risk of nuclear catastrophe.” King makes the following points.

#1 – Big weapons makers made 147 donations “as Congress was debating for roughly $40 billion of aid to Ukraine.”

#2 – “Much of the manufacture and maintenance of nuclear weapons is carried out by a small number of private corporations. This is a unique and uniquely profitable business: It is a true monopoly since the contracts cannot be outsourced to Chinese, Mexican, Indonesian or other foreign corporations; the market is guaranteed with no competition, since all the products will be purchased by the U.S. government.”

#3 – The corporate leaders of the largest contractors earn more than $20,000,000 annually, thanks to U.S. taxpayers and congressional appropriators.”

#4 – “In response to President Obama’s call for pursuing nuclear disarmament, the defense industry and Pentagon put forward a program for upgrading and modernizing all three legs of the so-called ‘Nuclear triad,’ as noted by the MIT Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter: fixed land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched missiles, and bombs and missiles carried on long-range aircraft. The overall budget is estimated to be in the range of two trillion dollars. The new weapons delivery system the Government is pursuing will result in contracts with price tags in the tens of billions of dollars. The initial contracts already approach $50 billion this year.”

$5 – “This business depends on continuation of the nuclear arms race. Treaties which reduce the arsenals reduce the sales and maintenance of these weapons. That is, they cut the excessive profits of the nuclear weapons industry.

#6 – “The industry is awash in cash, since payments from the U.S. government don’t bounce and include a variety of overhead funds for “communications” and “public relations.” As a result, the industry is able to spend tens of millions to influence Congress, as documented by William Hartung and colleagues at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Members of the Armed Services Committee are among leaders who routinely receive defense contractor funds; the chairs take in contributions totaling many hundreds of thousands of dollars each.”

#7 – “Similarly, think tanks and university programs devoted to the ‘study’ of détente, foreign relations and military strategy are supported by the industry. In Massachusetts, industry members such as Raytheon generously support the Girl ScoutsWalk for Hunger, and other programs calculated to win public support and insulate them from public criticism.”

#8 – “A sharp example of a tiny fraction of our population setting polices that put the entire nation at risk is the ‘ICBM lobby’ which includes U.S. representatives from the states hosting ICBM sites — Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. The ICBM force of 400 giant Minuteman III missiles is the most dangerous of the three legs of the nuclear triad. The missiles are in known, fixed positions. If an attack is detected, they can’t be moved. U.S. policy is to fire rather than lose them. Once launched, they can’t be reversed. They serve no national security purpose but rather actively decrease national security.”

#9 – “Of course, the profits from their manufacture were made years back. Thus, the industry and its extensive lobbying apparatus actively support replacing them with a new generation of ICBMs, just as vulnerable, just as destabilizing. The Air Force has been awarding contracts which will total close to $100 billion for a new generation of land-based missiles. Many of these taxpayer-funded contracts will go to a few corporations, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other nuclear weapons contractors.”

#10 – “The upgraded nuclear weapons — whether fixed in silos, on submarines or carried by bombers — are all described as more reliable, more accurate and more lethal than their predecessors. From the point of view of Russia or China, they resemble weapons designed for a first strike — to eliminate the opponent’s deterrent force. One consequence is that U.S. “adversaries” then decide that their nuclear forces need upgrading too. A new nuclear arms race can only increase the chance of an inadvertent or intended nuclear exchange.”

#11 – “It will be a great human tragedy if our society allows a tiny number of greedy individuals to put our entire population at grave risk of catastrophic damage and suffering. The first step is to start voting out those elected officials who support these suicidal policies.”

Concluding thoughts

The domestic forces that reinforce U.S. militarism and nuclear weapons policies have no positive end result, except perhaps to postpone, but hardly eliminate, an ever-present descent toward nuclear holocaust. In the meantime, such policies contribute to enhancing the anti-democratic power of weapons makers, undermining support for domestic programs that benefit the majority of U.S. citizens, distracting from the pressing need to address accelerating “climate change,” entering into “proxy” wars involving the countries (including the U.S.) that compete for domination of the world, and generally make all but impossible the achievement of a peaceful and democratic country and world.

On a positive note, Jack Werner and William D. Hartung make the argument that the current tensions and conflicts with China, one of the two countries of most concern to Washington decisionmakers, need not lead to war (https://thenation.com/article/world/war-china-military-biden). They argue in a Feb. 9, 2023 article for the Nation magazine is that what is needed is a “policy of constructive coexistence.” They have some hope that President Biden may contribute to such a path.

“The harsh—one might even say hysterical—reaction to the Chinese balloon that crossed the continental United States last weekend was just the latest indication of rising tensions between the US and China. But the rhetorical tempest that ensued obscured and impeded what should be the most urgent issue on the agenda—preventing a war between the US and China.”

They continue.

“The only way to rebuild trust is to devote at least as much effort to working with China on issues of mutual concern as is currently being devoted to confrontation. These issues—including climate change, nuclear proliferation, and stabilizing the global economy—would not only reduce the risk of a disastrous war; they would also help resolve some of the most threatening problems facing the world today, increasing the security of both the American and Chinese peoples.”

“None of the above should preclude the United States from speaking out against negative Chinese behavior, from its stamping out of the democracy movement in Hong Kong to its harsh repression of its Uyghur population. But war or threats of war do not improve human rights—they strengthen nationalists and militarists, on all sides, who are the greatest enemies of human rights.”

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