The Beyond War movement in the 80s used to cite several “illusions” that perpetuate our drift toward what Einstein called, unparalleled catastrophe – a nuclear war. The illusion I have in mind is the belief that we can continue to war and survive. If we in fact do continue to war we will, sooner or later, have a nuclear war. The nuclear winter, radiation poisoning, and physical damage that would follow such an event would make the survivors envy those tens of millions killed in the immediate explosions. At minimum our civilization would be destroyed and quite possibly our species would be brought to extinction. The earth might well be uninhabitable. There is ample data to support this contention. So what are we, as a species, doing about it? Focusing mainly on the U.S., a recent Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) webinar discussed the issue by looking at what was so promising in Obama’s early rhetoric compared to what was accomplished and what is planned for the future… not reassuring.
There are about 15,000 nuclear warheads on the planet, most in the hands of the U.S. and Russia. Israel, Pakistan, India, Britain, France, China and North Korea have the rest. Negotiations between the U.S. and Russia have led to significant dismantling but that program has slowed due to strained relations around Syria and the Ukraine. One virtually unmentionable but highly relevant aspect of that conflict is U.S. reneging on its promise to Russia that it would not extend NATO up to its boarders. One can sympathize with Russia’s concern when considering the terrible invasions the country has endured from the west – the one from Germany in World War II costing millions in lives.
The U.S. arsenal is configured as a triad of “delivery” vehicles: bombers, land-based ICBM missiles and submarines. The arguments for this system are akin to the NRA’s (National Rifle Association) fanciful arguments in support of arming every kindergartner in the country, and at root there is a similar incentive… money of course. The “triad” is put forth as if it were a 3-legged stool which cannot stand without all three legs. Even if you thought we needed the capacity to destroy the earth, one of our trident submarines would probably do the job. And we’ve got way more than one of these dangerous and expensive items. This arsenal, by the way, is on a launch-on-warning, hair trigger status. There are certainly many instances of folly in human history but it’d be hard to find one to match this insanity.
One of the numerous problems with nuclear energy is that if you have a reactor for energy you have a reactor for weapons. The agreement with Iran is a positive accomplishment that slows proliferation and gives us time to pursue a commitment to non-violent conflict resolution, necessary if we are to end war. There is very little indication that the time will be so used. Dennis Kucinich’s proposal for a department of peace has gone nowhere in the Trump/Tea Party/Hillary Hawk atmosphere pervading U.S. politics. To emphasize this point: if we fail to develop non-violent resolution skills we will sooner or later have an extinction-inducing nuclear war. When I say this to certain right-leaning types they scoff and ask, “How you gonna negotiate with terrorists?” Well, no one said it was easy but if the choice is extinction or learn to resolve conflict non-violently, which it is, ah, I’d choose conflict resolution. So, let’s get crackin! Is there really no way to talk with North Korea? With terrorists? Conflict resolution experts would be eager to take on this difficult challenge. The problem is the U.S., or any dominating power, would prefer to “win”, to have it all. And when it has overwhelming military power then it is tempting to use it. Why take the trouble to get to win-win when you can have it all? Or so the thinking goes… which supports Einstein’s statement, “With the splitting of the atom everything has changed except the way we think. And so we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
There’s a photograph of Obama addressing a gargantuan crowd in Prague, where he talked about ridding the earth of nuclear weapons. Maybe someone got to him for he has introduced plans for a trillion dollar nuclear weapons “modernization” program that utterly fails to acknowledge the previous paragraph’s contention. It also fails to align with public priorities and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Now, as Goring said, you can use fear to manipulate the public and justify war quite easily. I knew people who voted for George W because of fears of terrorism. How they thought they’d be safer under Bush mystifies me but their vote confirms Goring’s assertion.
WAND has done an interesting experiment at Earth Day and other kinds of gatherings. They ask people to put pennies in containers representing categories of government spending, expressing their preferences… so many of 100 for the military, so many for social needs etc; showing percentages each category should get. The results differ glaringly from actual spending priorities in a predictable direction. The military would not receive the gluttonous shares of the national treasury it currently gets if it were put to this kind of popular vote – without the usual fear mongering.
The Pentagon has taken the position that the U.S. arsenal could be safely reduced to 1/3 of its present size, down to about 1,000 warheads when factoring in retired and non-deployed status. It is not true that this is “safe” but it certainly would be safer. We can’t expect the military to lead the way on conflict resolution since their whole raison d’etre is violence. The Pentagon is also worried about servicing its conventional forces with this huge allocation going to nukes. Their choice is between nukes and other violent tools. Our choice is between guns and butter. If we put a significant portion of our energy, as Kucinich’s Department of Peace would have it, into resolving conflict instead of waging war we would have that much less need for military expenditures. No reason we couldn’t get it down to near zero. We don’t use armies to expedite relations between the states, no reason this model couldn’t be extended to the whole planet. It would require giving up the notion that we have to dominate. It requires a measure of maturity, that we see ourselves as in this together, a notion not compatible apparently with capitalism since the U.S. armed forces and international relations seem to be pretty much exclusively in the service of that planet-devouring ideology.
There are a few senators and representatives promoting alternatives to national suicide but on the whole, despite much of the congress hell-bent on denying Obama in every other way, they tend to be behind this monumental macho. A few cracks in the support are evident in some questioning of a new cruise missile and in meager recognition that monies spent on these projects mean other more worthy projects go begging. The MOX boondoggle has suffered some defunding and seems destined for cancellation (an unworkable project allegedly intended to keep plutonium out of the hands of terrorists), now vastly over budget and behind schedule. But there has been a slow-down in the dismantling of certain numbers of nukes agreed upon in the START treaty. And obviously a trillion dollars committed to nukes not only represents a disastrous turn away from Obama’s early tantalizing rhetoric but would be that much harder to stop when influential parties start getting their grimy hands on those kinds of lucrative contracts. I like that line of Dylan’s, “His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean.” We need a lot more of that if we’re to successfully address this one.