Bombs Away

In 2015, “unchecked climate change, global weapons modernizations and
outsized nuclear weapons arsenals…pose extraordinary and undeniable threats
to the continued existence of humanity.
Statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

moving the Doomsday Clock forward 2 minutes to 3 minutes before midnight.

In 2016, “the global security landscape darkened as the international community
failed to come…to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats,
nuclear weapons and climate change.
—Statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

moving the Doomsday Clock forward 30 seconds to 2½ minutes before midnight.

“In 2017, world leaders failed to respond…to the looming threats of nuclear war
and climate change making the world security situation more dangerous
than it was a year ago and as dangerous as it has been since World War II”
—Statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

moving the Doomsday clock forward 30 seconds to 2 minutes before midnight.

It’s beginning to look a lot like —August 5, 1945, the day before the detonation of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima by the first and only country to ever use a weapon of mass destruction, the United States. The scientists and nuclear experts who make up the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Security Board (including 17 Nobel Laureates) have been sounding the alarm by moving the Doomsday Clock forward each year since 2015. Consider the commonalities in the last three years’ statements harping on the nuclear cat and mouse games the U.S. is playing all over the globe and the rapidly approaching climate catastrophe as the two major threats to the continued survival of humanity. Their pessimism is contagious. Look around you. The red flags are too numerous to miss. First on climate change — 2016 was the warmest year on record (2017 was the second or third warmest depending on which government agency’s metrics are used). Worse news —16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Where does that leave us? With a decaying planet where the reality of polluted landscapes, ocean waters too congested to support sea life, glaciers warming while polar bears die and spot shortages of food, water and medicines popping up all over the globe.

If global warming isn’t enough to scare a sane person straight, there’s always nukes. Nuclear weapons have slowly but surely crept into the national consciousness as a real, existential threat since the installation of President Trump prompting Noam Chomsky to declare that “We’re on the brink of a global catastrophe.”  The threat may have morphed into view only recently but despite what the media would have you believe, Trump can’t claim full credit for the likelihood of a nuclear disaster. It was Obama, following in the footsteps of a bevy of eager beaver presidents threatening to “push the nuclear trigger,” who took the first concrete steps toward beefing up the U.S. nuclear capacity as he made the case for “modernizing” the U.S. weapons stockpile at a cost to taxpayers of $1 trillion. Trump speaking from the same pew in the same church announced similar intentions, but thinking bigger as billionaires are wont to do raised the ante to around $1.5 trillion (and the price tag like a moveable feast keeps rising tweet by tweet).

Obama’s leap into the nuclear chasm happened slowly but surely. Judging by campaign promises (always a foolhardy thing to base your trust and your vote on) Obama was going to be the president who “made the world safe [nuclear-free] for democracy.”  This is what candidate Obama had to say on July 16, 2009 (six months into his presidency) — It’s time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons…” The fantasy, presented to the public, of a president bent on a serious nuclear pull-back continued into his second term. On June 19, 2013 in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, his hypocrisy knew no bounds I’ve strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons.  Facts speak louder than words. From 2009, Obamas first year in office, to his 2013 declaration the Obama administration cut only 309 warheads from its stockpile (about 5% of the total). He went on to proclaim — “Because of the new START Treaty, we’re on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.” The truth is a little more nuanced. In 2012, the U.S. and Russian negotiated a treaty, the one mentioned by Obama, to keep the long-range nuclear arsenals of both countries at their lowest levels since the beginning of the Cold War. Six years later [strange how military treaties can be consummated in the blink of an eye, nuclear pull-back treaties take 6 years] on February 12, 2018, that long-ago agreement goes into effect. In 2012, President Obama expressed the hope that this treaty would create a mandate for future reductions in both countries’ nuclear arsenals leading eventually to world-wide denuclearization.

Then the 2016 bombshell exploded. No, Bernie did not become the democratic presidential nominee and beat the republican Trump. To the “shock and awe” of most “experts,” Donald Trump went from loud mouthed buffoon and reality TV honcho to President. On February 4, a mere ten days before the implementation of the START treaty, the Trump administration issued its first Nuclear Posture Review replete with a draconian provision for first-use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks in “extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies and partners,” and the development of sea-launched cruise missiles to facilitate their delivery. Wait, what about that glorious dream of a non-nuclear world articulated by the START treaty? That treaty, along with the dream, expires in 2021 and the Trump administration has made clear it’s “good riddance to bad rubbish.” When it comes to making future progress down the road to nuclear disarmament, the NPR (Nuclear Posture Review) slams the door shut, locks it, and throws away the key describing future arms control agreements as “difficult to envision [in a world] that is characterized by nuclear-armed states seeking to change borders and overturn existing norms.” The vicious irony in all this palavering is that the chief purveyor of changing borders and overturning existing norms is none other than the administrations of the12 U.S. post-World War II presidents.

The handwriting on the wall is so alarming that even members of Congress are starting to take notice (as distinct from taking action). Here’s Chris Murphy, democratic senator from Connecticut with big dreams and few accomplishments, sounding the alarm “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear-weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national-security interests.” His solution. Presenting a bill to require a congressional buy in before launching a nuclear attack. Is there a single soul out there who thinks that a congressional mandate is the best safeguard against nuclear destruction? The unvarnished truth is that the 535 bought and paid for members of congress whose initial question is always “What’s in it for me?” have no more understanding of the zero- sum game that is nuclear war than the U.S. president. They no doubt have secured a comfy spot in the White House bunker to weather a nuclear holocaust.

All the indicators of fearful times ahead are blinking red— the imagery of a clock moving closer and closer to midnight as the probability of nuclear winter takes center stage, the spectacle of two leaders of nuclear armed countries bragging about their ability to destroy the other and the newest U.S Nuclear Posture Review that uses end-of-times rhetoric to legitimate the right of the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in a non-nuclear confrontation.

Sadly, a distracted public believing “It Can’t Happen Here” is part of the problem. It can happen here and very well may with a president who threatens “fire and fury like the world has never seen” aided by a defense secretary with dangerous out-of-date ideas justifying the military’s hunger to ramp up the U.S. nuclear weapons program as a “bargaining chip” with the Russians and defending the development of more and smaller nukes as a “deterrent” against North Korea.

The threat is real, the window for rolling back a new nuclear arms race is open only a sliver and the U.S. policy of negative inducements (i.e. economic sanctions, threat or use of military intervention) are calculated to close the window entirely. Now while you’re thinking about it and trying to figure out how safe you and your family are from a nuclear strike (or even a nuclear accident) take a few minutes to read SA’s “Who Controls Nuclear Weapons? The Answer May Alarm You

For those of you into more graphic depictions, The Day After, a disturbing made-for-TV movie about the effects of a nuclear detonation on the residents of a Kansas town, is compelling evidence of the no-winners logic of nuclear war. Made thirty-eight years ago, its relevance is undimmed by time.  Get the DVD from your local library.

In case you think nuclear proliferation is the sole precursor to the end of life as we know it, don’t miss “No Blade of Grass” a 1970s stunner.  Here is one critic summarizing the plot “No room to run! No place to hide!… an environmental catastrophe destroys civilization. Thousands are starving. Millions are dead. Resources are used up, poisoned and polluted…” Also available at most libraries.

The Trump administration is bringing us ever closer to the unimaginable with its itchy trigger finger, its reliance on the military for nuclear policy, its nod to the fossil fuel industry in the form of hundreds of billions in subsidies, and its regulatory roll-back giving polluters the high-sign that the time is now to make trillion dollar investments into the biggest polluters on earth— the fossil fuel industry.

Is this what the end of our world looks like? Take a second read of “Who Control Nuclear Weapons? The Answer May Alarm You” and decide for yourself.

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