William Astore: How American Learned to Love, or at Least Not Hate, Its Nuclear Bombs

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Yves here. William Astore looks with considerable regret on how the US failed to harvest its “peace dividend” from the fall of the USSR by downsizing its nuclear arsenal. He insinuates it was the jobs as well as the love of the power that nukes confer.

By retired Air Force Lt. Col. and historian William Astore. Originally published at TomDispatch

I turn 60 this year. My health is generally good, though I have aches and pains from a form of arthritis. I’m not optimistic enough to believe that the best years of my life are ahead of me, nor so pessimistic as to assume that the best years are behind me. But I do know this, however sad it may be to say: the best years of my country are behind me.

Indeed, there are all too many signs of America’s decline, ranging from mass shootings to mass incarceration to mass hysteria about voter fraud and “stolen” elections to massive Pentagon and police budgets. But let me focus on just one sign of all-American madness that speaks to me in a particularly explosive fashion: this country’s embrace of the “modernization” of its nuclear arsenal at a price tag of at least $2 trillion over the next 30 years or so — and that staggering sum pales in comparison to the price the world would pay if those “modernized” weapons were ever used.

Just over 30 years ago in 1992, a younger, still somewhat naïve version of Bill Astore visited Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and the Trinity test site in Alamogordo where the first atomic device created at that lab, a plutonium “gadget,” was detonated in July 1945. At the time I took that trip, I was a captain in the U.S. Air Force, co-teaching a course at the Air Force Academy on — yes, would you believe it? — the making and use of the atomic bombs that devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. At the time of that visit, the Soviet Union had only recently collapsed, inaugurating what some believed to be a “new world order.” No longer would this country have to focus its energy on waging a costly, risky cold war against a dangerous nuclear-armed foe. Instead, we were clearly headed for an era in which the United States could both dominate the planet and become “a normal country in normal times.”

I was struck, however, by the anything-but-celebratory mood at Los Alamos then, though I really shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, budget cuts loomed. With the end of the Cold War, who needed LANL to design new nuclear weapons for an enemy that no longer existed? In addition, there was already an effective START treaty in place with Russia aimed at reducing strategic nuclear weapons instead of just limiting their growth.

At the time, it even seemed possible to imagine a gradual withering away of such great-power arsenals and the coming of a world liberated from apocalyptic nightmares. Bipartisan support for nuclear disarmament would, in fact, persist into the early 2000s, when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama joined old Cold War hawks like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn in calling for nothing less than a nuclear-weapons-free world.

An Even More Infernal Holocaust

It was, of course, not to be and today we once again find ourselves on an increasingly apocalyptic planet. To quote Pink Floyd, the child is grown and the dream is gone. All too sadly, Americans have become comfortably numb to the looming threat of a nuclear Armageddon. And yet the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday Clock continues to tick ever closer to midnight precisely because we persist in building and deploying ever more nuclear weapons with no significant thought to either the cost or the consequences.

Over the coming decades, in fact, the U.S. military plans to deploy hundreds — yes, hundreds! — of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in silos in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and elsewhere; a hundred or so nuclear-capable B-21 stealth bombers; and a brand new fleet of nuclear-missile-firing submarines, all, of course, built in the name of necessity, deterrence, and keeping up with the Russians and the Chinese. Never mind that this country already has thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to comfortably destroy more than one Earth. Never mind that just a few dozen of them could tip this world of ours into a “nuclear winter,” starving to death most creatures on it, great and small. Nothing to worry about, of course, when this country must — it goes without saying — remain the number one possessor of the newest and shiniest of nuclear toys.

And so those grim times at Los Alamos when I was a “child” of 30 have once again become boom times as I turn 60. The LANL budget is slated to expand like a mushroom cloud from $3.9 billion in 2021 to $4.1 billion in 2022, $4.9 billion in 2023, and likely to well over $5 billion in 2024. That jump in funding enables “upgrades” to the plutonium infrastructure at LANL. Meanwhile, some of America’s top physicists and engineers toil away there on new designs for nuclear warheads and bombs meant for one thing only: the genocidal slaughter of millions of their fellow human beings. (And that doesn’t even include all the other life forms that would be caught in the blast radii and radiation fallout patterns of those “gadgets.”)

The very idea of building more and “better” nuclear weapons should, of course, be anathema to us all. Once upon a time, I taught courses on the Holocaust after attending a teaching seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Now, the very idea of modernizing our nuclear arsenal strikes me as the equivalent of developing upgraded gas chambers and hotter furnaces for Auschwitz. After all, that’s the infernal nature of nuclear weapons: they transform human beings into matter, into ash, killing indiscriminately and reducing us all to nothingness.

I still recall talking to an employee of Los Alamos in 1992 who assured me that, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lab would undoubtedly have to repurpose itself and find an entirely new mission. Perhaps, he said, LANL scientists could turn their expertise toward consumer goods and so help make America more competitive vis-à-vis Japan, which, in those days, was handing this country its lunch in the world of electronics. (Remember the Sony Walkman, the Discman, and all those Japanese-made VCRs, laser disc players, and the like?)

I nodded and left Los Alamos hopeful, thinking that the lab could indeed become a life-affirming force. I couldn’t help imagining then what this country might achieve if some of its best scientists and engineers devoted themselves to improving our lives instead of destroying them. Today, it’s hard to believe that I was ever so naïve.

“Success” at Hiroshima

My next stop on that tour was Alamogordo and the Trinity test site, then a haunted, still mildly radioactive desert landscape thanks to the world’s first atomic explosion in 1945. Yes, before America nuked Japan that August at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we nuked ourselves. The Manhattan Project team, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, believed a test was needed because of the complex implosion device used in the plutonium bomb. (There was no test of the uranium bomb used at Hiroshima since it employed a simpler triggering device. Its first “test” was Hiroshima itself that August 6th and the bomb indeed “worked,” as predicted.)

So, our scientists nuked the desert near the Jornada del Muerto, the “dead man’s journey” as the Spanish conquistadors had once named it in their own febrile quest for power. While there, Oppenheimer famously reflected that he and his fellow scientists had become nothing short of “Death, the destroyer of worlds.” In the aftermath of Hiroshima, he would, in fact, turn against the military’s pursuit of vastly more powerful hydrogen or thermonuclear, bombs. For that, in the McCarthy era, he was accused of being a Soviet agent and stripped of his security clearance.

Oppenheimer’s punishment should be a reminder of the price principled people pay when they try to stand in the way of the military-industrial complex and its pursuit of power and profit.

But what really haunts me isn’t the “tragedy” of Opie, the American Prometheus, but the words of Hans Bethe, who worked alongside him on the Manhattan Project. Jon Else’s searing documentary film, The Day After Trinity, movingly catches Bethe’s responses on hearing about the bomb’s harrowing “success” at Hiroshima.

His first reaction was one of fulfillment. The crash program to develop the bomb that he and his colleagues had devoted their lives to for nearly three years was indeed a success. His second, he said, was one of shock and awe. What have we done, he asked himself. What have we done? His final reaction: that it should never be done again, that such weaponry should never, ever, be used against our fellow humans.

And yet here we are, nearly 80 years after Trinity and our country is still devoting staggering resources and human effort to developing yet more “advanced” nuclear weapons and accompanying war plans undoubtedly aimed at China, North Korea, Russia, and who knows how many other alleged evildoers across the globe.

Fire and Fury Like the World Has Never Seen?

Perhaps now you can see why I say that the best years of my country are behind me. Thirty years ago, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye (Pink Floyd again) of a better future, a better America, a better world. It was one where a sophisticated lab like Los Alamos would no longer be dedicated to developing new ways of exterminating us all. I could briefly imagine the promise of the post-Cold-War moment — that we would all get a “peace dividend” — having real meaning, but it was not to be.

And so, I face my sixtieth year on this planet with trepidation and considerable consternation. I marvel at the persuasive power of America’s military-industrial-congressional complex. In fact, consider it the ultimate Houdini act that its masters have somehow managed to turn nuclear missiles and bombs into stealth weapons — in the sense that they have largely disappeared from our collective societal radar screen. We go about our days, living and struggling as always, even as our overlords spend trillions of our tax dollars on ever more effective ways to exterminate us all. Indeed, at least some of our struggles could obviously be alleviated with an infusion of an extra $2 trillion over the coming decades from the federal government.

Instead, we face endless preparations for a planetary holocaust that would make even the Holocaust of World War II a footnote to a history that would cease to exist. The question is: What can we do to stop it?

The answer, I think, is simply to stop. Stop buying new nuclear stealth bombers, new ICBMs, and new ultra-expensive submarines. Reengage with the other nuclear powers to halt nuclear proliferation globally and reduce stockpiles of warheads. At the very least, commit to a no-first-use policy for those weapons, something our government has so far refused to do.

I’ve often heard the expression “the nuclear genie is out of the bottle,” implying that it can never be put back in again. Technology controls us, in other words.

That’s the reality we’re all supposed to accept, but don’t believe it. America’s elected leaders and its self-styled warrior-generals and admirals have chosen to build such genocidal weaponry. They seek budgetary authority and power, while the giant weapons-making corporations pursue profits galore. Congress and presidents, our civilian representatives, are corrupted or coerced by a system that ensnares their minds. Much like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the nuclear button becomes their “precious,” a totem of power. Consider President Trump’s boast to Kim Jong-un that “his” nuclear button was much bigger than theirs and his promise that, were the North Korean leader not to become more accommodating, his country would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The result: North Korea has vastly expanded its nuclear arsenal.

It wouldn’t have to be this way. To cite Dorothy Day, the Catholic peace activist, “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.” Don’t accept it, America. Reject it. Get out in the streets and protest as Americans did during the nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s. Challenge your local members of Congress. Write to the president. Raise your voice against the merchants of death, as Americans proudly did (joined by Congress!) in the 1930s.

If we were to reject nuclear weapons, to demand a measure of sanity and decency from our government, then maybe, just maybe, the best years of my country would still lie ahead of me, no matter my growing aches and pains on what’s left of my life’s journey.

Not to be morbid, but I suppose we all walk our own Jornada del Muerto. I’d like what’s left of mine to remain unlit by the incendiary glare of nuclear explosions. I’d prefer that my last days weren’t spent in a hardscrabble struggle for survival in a world cast into darkness and brutality by a nuclear winter. How about you?

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  1. timbers

    William Astore is sane and rational. So are the leaders of Russia, China, India, and many other nations not part of the West. Many are also corrupt which is not to say they are not rational or sane.

    As Captain Renault in Casablanca said of himself “I’m just a poor corrupt official.” Captain Renault could be dealt with not because he was a morally to be admired but because he was rational to the extend he valued his own interests and observed rules so long as he benefited from them. Erdoğan of Turkey in some ways reminds me of Renault.

    Corrupt actors can be reasoned with because they have their own interests in mind, and that fact – that they value their own self interests – allows for an intersection of mutual interests at some point (even if not ideal) that the leaders like those from Russia/China/India can converge with to their own benefit, too. But with The West, the leaders are ideologues and neocons. Negotiation and mutual interests and agreements and living together on equal or even compromised unequal terms are impossible.

    Because of this, the only way to deal with The West leaders, is 1). Destroy them, or 2). Hold them at bay and make them unable to conquer you.

    1. Stephen

      I think the western leaders are also corrupt. We just define it differently. In the Global South “corruption” or “graft” seem more honest concepts.

      We have simply replaced “honest corruption” with campaign donations, consultancy contracts, think tank jobs and directorships for retired generals. But this all amounts to the same thing: a way to get very rich by peddling a one sided ideological agenda.

      We then maintain all sorts of rules that are designed in theory to prevent corruption but ignore the elephant in the room: conflict of interest.

    2. hk

      I think there’s something more to Captain Renault: he had a sense of morality. He may have been doing questionable things, but he knew that what he was doing was wrong and, when they got to be too much, he did the “right thing.”

      Today’s political leaders seem different: they start from the premise that what they are doing is, by definition, fundamentally and ultimately right. Ergo whatever they do is justified, for they serve the “greater good.” So we come up with utter monstrosities like “bombs for peace,” “coups for democracy,” and “mass murder that’s worth it.” And these people seem to actually believe these.

      I think this comes down to the ultimate flaw in the basic premise of Liberalism, to borrow Aurelian’s logic: the primacy of the individual, and, ultimately, the sense that whatever the individual believes to be right (at least morally–but where the bounds of morality are is a bit questionable), he/she is right. But it quickly runs into a paradox when they acquire power to impose their notion of morality on others by force. Or, in other words, Acton was wrong: absolute power does not corrupt absolutely–power IS corruption, and absolute power absolute corruption itself. We are engaged in a fool’s errand when we think that we can empower political leaders without corruption. Rather, we can hope that power goes to people who are self aware enough that they are doing wrong whenever they use power and with enough sense of morality that they can curb themselves when they see themselves going too far. (and, of course, ensure that no one gets that much power in the first place.)

      1. AG

        re: corruption and the integrity of the West:

        nice German historic study on that:

        “Alles nur gekauft? Korruption in der BRD seit 1949”

        “Everything just bought? Corruption in the Federal Republic since 1949”
        by Jens Ivo Engels, 2019

        German review:

        What the study does: It shows how corruption seemed to diminish after WWII under the new Adenauer era not because it in fact became less, but merely because it was redefined.

        In reality there was massive corruption. But by alleging that “corruption” was a thing only kin to dictatorships, everything in the young FRG that looked exactly the same was not.

        It was instead part of a “democratic process” of finding the best solution.

        Or: It was simply muted and not reported on.

        So eventually the idea of corruption is of course as much a viable element of capitalist societies as in any other.

        It´s a bit like the current lies about international law. What it is and what it is not.

        p.s. the title of above study “Alles nur gekauft” – “Everything just bought” might be a play of words in reference to this German Classic pop song by former GDR pop band “Die Prinzen”:

        “Es ist alles nur geklaut” (“It´s all just stolen”) from 1993 (of course in reference to stealing ideas in the world of music, what we today call IP)


      2. JBird4049

        Classical liberalism is an imperfect attempt not to, among other things, ave the Divine Rule of Kings or Wars of Religion; American political philosophy, government, and both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution arise directly from the Enlightenment and the classical liberalism it created.

        The Modernity that of the past roughly two centuries, with its apotheosis into Neoliberalism and Post-Modernism is the result of stripping away everything from society that makes a society. It might be incorrect to label all this as a god, but much like science has been perverted into the religion of Scientism from a way of studying existence, so has what was originally the separate parts of Modernity.

        Because of the destruction of the different parts of society like laws, religion, the economy, family, friends, social conventions, habits, even supposedly irrelevant philosophy, our Western Civilization is not only not so slowly collapsing, we are back to the last argument of kings, cannons. Rule by brutal means with rights and laws being ignored.

        Kings and popes to oligarchy all backed by the armed forces of the state; from a political system that was too ridged and totalitarian that treated the average person as unimportant, to be used as needed to three centuries later, an increasingly corrupt, control mad authoritarian-totalitarian oligarchy that is discarding even the limited rights and importance accorded to the individual before the Enlightenment. Logic, reason, morality, ethics, certainly religion all disregarded even destroyed.

        Although, I think that most of the blame for this evolving catastrophe that endangers not just the West, but the World, are those who want power, wealth, fame, status and chopping away at the roots of our society and civilization made digging up the tasty bits for personal consumption easier. This enabled the narrow minded or the shallow people to start chopping for themselves.

  2. John R Moffett

    The US desperately wants to keep the nuclear breeder reactors going and also wants the ongoing nuclear weapon production capacity to be maintained. It doesn’t matter that the weapons can’t be used, in fact, that may be a big plus because it means they don’t even have to work. Like the F-35, they just need to be produced because the endpoint is not security, it is profits. The anti-Russia anti-China hysteria is necessary to justify the unjustifiable spending. No need for weapons if you don’t have a boogeyman. This is perhaps the most criminal thing that The Blob is currently undertaking, and there will be mountains of nuclear waste left over after they are done making bombs they can’t use.

  3. Roland

    The sine qua non of all nuclear arms limitation was the ABM Treaty. Once the USA abrogated that treaty, arms limitation was doomed.

    It must be understood that strategic nuclear defenses are not intended for a defensive purpose. As a pure defense, ABM systems are very inadequate. However, in combination with one’s own first strike, ABM might well be able to defend against the retaliation of a crippled adversary.

    Therefore, the true purpose of ABM systems is to enable the pursuit of an aggressive policy. Aggressors want to free themselves from the shackles of nuclear deterrence. ABM systems are far more dangerous to world peace than any of the nuclear weapons they ostensibly “defend” against.

    I find it curious that the above author wrote nothing concerning the most ominous development in nuclear affairs that has taken place in our time. Not a word about ABM.

    On the other hand, the nuclear weapons themselves frighten me less. Put it this way: I’ve never met a career military officer who didn’t detest nuclear weapons. These guys will extol at length the capabilities of their rifles, tanks, ships, planes–but only mention nukes, and it really “harshes their mellow.” What better weapons could there be, than the ones that warriors hate?

    The size of the nuclear arsenals, and the multiplicity of delivery systems, costly as they were, nevertheless were stabilizing factors in world affairs during the Cold War. Attack, even with complete surprise, and no matter how brilliantly conducted, was undeniably futile. As a result, neither of the superpowers adopted a “launch on warning” posture, except during brief periods of crisis. The lavish arsenals gave governments the luxury of a “second strike” posture, i.e. let the enemy go first, then hit back. The large nuclear arsenals, in other words, dramatically reduced the chance of an unintentional nuclear war.

    Nuclear arms limitation made sense, although reduction made less sense. SALT was a good treaty, because it was based on the mutual recognition of each power’s strength. That being acknowledged, it became possible to recognize mutual interests, improve communication, and build trust.

    In the 21st cent., the USA adopted a radical, extremist, doctrine of tolerating “no peer competitor.” It’s the opposite of detente, because it refuses to acknowledge any power other than their own. Unfortunately, this Bush/Cheney policy has been fully embraced by their successors.

    It’s the aggressive imperial intent which is most dangerous to the world, not the H-bomb itself. I regard the legacy arsenal of Russia as being the last, faltering, check upon US rulers and their ambition to dominate the whole world.

    If anything, I would prefer to see the rampant spread of nuclear weapons, so that, once again, the world’s mightiest would be tormented by their own vulnerability.

    1. John Steinbach

      I wrote Nuclear Nightmare about 15 years ago

      Here are two short excerpts about the dangers of the START treaties:

      “Reagan also negotiated the Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty(START), which significantly reduced the nuclear arsenals by enabling the elimination of obsolete weapons while continuing to produce and deploy counterforce weapons; in essence, pruning the deadly nuclear tree to the U.S. advantage.”


      “The recent much ballyhooed nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia(START 2) is a PR sham designed only for public consumption. The treaty calls for unspecified reductions in nuclear warheads to a total of between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. The lower limit of 1,700 warheads is entirely voluntary and the treaty does nothing to restrain the proliferation of tactical nukes, a key element in Bush’s nuclear plans. The real purpose is “to create a diplomatic illusion of nuclear arms restraint to accelerate Russia’s integration into the U.S. led free market system, ensuring Russia’s role as a natural resource supplier.” This treaty allows the U.S. to increase its arsenal at any time, so long as the numbers are at 2,200 in 2012, at which point the treaty expires and the limits would balloon to the 6,000 mandated under START 1.(Theoretically, the U.S. could comply with the treaty by removing warheads from missiles for one day in 2012 and reinstalling them a day later!) Each side is required to give only 90 days notice of intent to withdraw. “‘What we have now agreed to do under the treaty is what we wanted to do anyway,’ a senior administration official said today. ‘That’s our kind of treaty.’”

  4. The Rev Kev

    Whatever chance there was to cut back nuclear weapons died back in 2011. It died in Libya. The whole world saw how the government of that country got rid of anything to do with nuclear weapons and when that had been accomplished, they were invaded and destroyed. What was once a prosperous country was reduced to civil wars and slave markets. The lesson was clear and probably helped China decide to up their number of nuclear weapons. North Korea also saw that the only path for safety was in having nuclear weapons and a means to deliver them. When there was some talk of negotiations under Trump, John Bolton helped torpedo this by saying that they were going to give the North Koreans the Libyan model. So in the years to come the world will be spending trillions of dollars on weapons that it can never use.

  5. upstater

    The antiwar/anti-imperialism movement of the late 60s and early 70s ceased to be a major factor with the end of the draft and the US defeat in Vietnam. It limped along into the 80s with opposition to nuclear weapons (SANE/Freeze, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators!) and the wars in Central America. But there were new, updated bogeymen with Iran and supporting Bin Laden types to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan. The US responses had wide public support. Hollywood went on a huge pro-militarism kick in the 80s which continues. Then we had the first Iraq War, which had tremendous support. George HW Bush was right when he said “It’s a proud day for America. And, by God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” The media and most of the public never looked back… Defeats no longer matter, even when Kabul mirrors Saigon.

    The intellectual rot has been supercharged with the internet and then social media. Young people have mostly become snowflakes. The propaganda was engineered to and extent that Edward Bernays could only have dreamed about. Misinformation rules MSM and social media to insure outright support of militarism or foster resignation, acquiescence or ambivalence. All according to plan. There should be outrage spending well over a trillion on the military and security state, but aside from a fringe peace movement the best the public can muster is a shrug.

    My local representative was a Trident weapons officer. I got a very nice letter back politely dismissing my request he support dialing back the military and nuclear weapons.

    …we cannot surrender our most powerful weapons during this time of geopolitical upheaval. With thugs like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jingping, and Ali Khamenei running amok around the world, we cannot unilaterally disarm. Our most powerful weapons are our most powerful deterrents, and although it is my sincere wish they are never used, I firmly believe nuclear weapons are a key element to our defense strategy.

    …you can be assured of my desire to cooperate with our international partners to ensure that these weapons are never used, are properly maintained, and dialogue remains open to reduce misunderstandings and miscalculations.

    So it is all about “thugs” and “partners”. How on earth was there ANY arms control possible decades ago with such mentality? Ditto for Gillibrand and Schumer. Militarism (and bailouts) are wholly bipartisan. Obviously writing letters isn’tmoving the needle. Only a 60s-70s antiwar movement could.

    For retired Lt Col. Astore and myself, we’re probably better off being in our 60s than 20s, arthritis notwithstanding.

    1. Alex Cox

      I don’t think that the problem with young people, and their lack of interest in the subject of nuclear annihilation, is that they are snowflakes.

      As you observe, over the last three decades Hollywood has embraced war, as have politicians and the MSM. Young people protest climate change because the MSM and middle class approve of and permit their symbolic actions. Nukes are no longer part of their general discourse. Even if they were, young people have more pressing concerns. If you’re living in a van, with no hope of ever owning a home or starting a family, why would nuclear war be on your worry list? The problem is not snowflakery. It’s despair.

    2. Laura

      we cannot unilaterally disarm

      Theoretically, any nation can unilaterally disarm. In the real world, unless one wants to be a vassal state…

  6. Frank

    Hope dies last, I suppose, but I see zero chance of any peace movement, either grassroots or top down, from making any real headway. Counterintuitively, perhaps the best chance we have of avoiding nuclear catastrophe would be a limited exchange, after which the world would be reminded of their immensely destructive power, get scared, and demand some type of security framework that would preclude their use on a mass scale. More realistically, this is probably the most clear and present existential risk we currently face, not least because people are so generally unaware of it. Let’s face it, we’ve always been much closer to the big one going off than most people ever realized, now more than ever.

  7. Aurelien

    It’s a well-known fact that the military are the last people to understand nuclear weapons, still less nuclear strategy, and here’s another demonstration. In many ways this incomprehension is not surprising, because for them weapons are things to be used in fighting an enemy. The fact is that weapons and military forces have lot of other purposes, some of them entirely political, and this is especially true of nuclear weapons. American officers, especially, seem to have great difficulty with this idea, since US military doctrine essentially features blowing things up, and I’ve never met a US officer who really understood nuclear strategy. (This is not true of the French by the way, for whom nuclear weapons are doctrinally “weapons of non-use,” and whose existential function is to preserve the security and independence of a medium-sized state. As I heard one Admiral say “if these weapons are ever used, they will have failed in their purpose.”)

    So what’s being suggested:

    “The answer, I think, is simply to stop. Stop buying new nuclear stealth bombers, new ICBMs, and new ultra-expensive submarines. Reengage with the other nuclear powers to halt nuclear proliferation globally and reduce stockpiles of warheads. At the very least, commit to a no-first-use policy for those weapons, something our government has so far refused to do.”

    I have no idea which of many conflicting things this is supposed to mean. For a start it seems to mean unilateral nuclear disarmament by stealth, by letting existing systems decay, become older, less effective and more dangerous, presumably because the alternative – deliberate and overt disarmament- is too politically controversial.But since this would not substantially affect nuclear arsenals for perhaps 10-20 years, it’s hard to see what the point is. This has nothing to do with non-proliferation, which is handled through the NNPT and various agreements such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, all of which the US strongly supports, and have been fairly effective. He may be confusing the NNPT, which is aimed at preventing non-nuclear states acquiring nuclear weapons, with arms control agreements among nuclear weapon states, which can involve stockpile reductions, but also reductions in numbers of launch vehicles and limitations on warhead types. None of this has anything to do with “no first use” declarations. This is a hold-over from the Cold War, when NATO had an explicit doctrine of first use of battlefield nuclear weapons, because it was economically and politically unthinkable to have standing forces the size of those of the Warsaw Pact. First use of strategic nuclear weapons (maybe the author is thinking of “first strike”) has never been part of the strategic doctrine of any nuclear state, apart possibly North Korea. But the US, like every other nuclear power I know of, is reluctant to specify exactly under which conditions it would use nuclear weapons, and prefers the same ambiguity that everyone else practices, even if, in principle, no-one can imagine a scenario in which first use would actually happen.

    Reductions in nuclear arsenals are certainly worth pursuing and, up to a certain point at least, can increase stability. But nuclear strategy has little if anything to do with fighting wars, and a great deal to do with high-level mega-strategic international politics, and the military as a whole have always had problems with that.

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      Your ‘s (as the big picture) and The Rev Kev (as an example) of the reasons for nuclear weapons are an excellent summary of the state of understanding by the powers to be.

      I could quibble about your questioning Astore’s solution – just say no – but he’s a Boomer like me and are already washing his hands; and your’s “is reluctant to specify exactly under which conditions it would use nuclear weapons” – Russia has repeatedly stated its two conditions for nuclear use – all thro trying to clearly state when you (a country) will wipe out your’s and another’s civilization is a hair splitting exercise, especially with a bad-faith opponent as the US.

  8. tevhatch

    Scott Ritter is currently is doing a book tour in Russia for his book Disarmament in the time of Perestroika, Arms Control and the End of the Soviet Union. One of the things he’s most concerned about now is that the USA, perhaps purposefully, had not only let go and atrophied all expertise in arms negotiations and put it back under the Pentagon instead of having it under the State Department. The Russians have kept some of their experts in service, but their skills in such negotiations has atrophied from lack of practice.

  9. Dave

    Good Sir

    You’re extremely harsh on the American people.

    Most of them don’t know much if anything about what is really happening in America

    This sorry state of affairs was crafted designed by the elites / political establishment

    The media is illuminated by gaslight.

    It speaks ‘truth to power’ and disseminates (‘disinfo’ | lies) to the public

    Words widely attributed to one of the founding fathers of modern media in America, Mr ABC – “America Bill Casey”

    “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false”


    Holding U.S. Treasurys? Beware: Uncle Sam Can’t Account For $21 Trillion

    Cynthia McKinney Grills Donald Rumsfeld on Missing Trillions & Sex Slaves

    Gaddafi ‘supplies troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape’, claims diplomat – US ambassador Susan Rice

    U.K. Parliament report details how NATO’s 2011 war in Libya was based on lies


    British investigation: Gaddafi was not going to massacre civilians; Western bombing made Islamist extremism worse

    Gaddafi ‘supplies troops with Viagra to encourage mass rape’, claims diplomat – US ambassador Susan Rice

    I suspect that if the American people knew what their government was really getting up to things would be somewhat different.

    You can’t build a viable democracy on lies.

    However, lies are a fantastic foundation for a national security state.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      “Under the influence of politicians, masses of people tend to ascribe the responsibility for wars to those who wield power at any given time. In World War I it was the munitions industrialists; in World War II it was the psychopathic generals who were said to be guilty. This is passing the buck.

      The responsibility for wars falls solely upon the shoulders of these same masses of people, for they have all the necessary means to avert war in their own hands. In part by their apathy, in part by their passivity, and in part actively, these same masses of people make possible the catastrophes under which they themselves suffer more than anyone else.

      To stress this guilt on the part of the masses of people, to hold them solely responsible, means to take them seriously. On the other hand, to commiserate masses of people as victims, means to treat them as small, helpless children. The former is the attitude held by genuine freedom fighters; the latter that attitude held by power-thirsty politicians.”

      Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

  10. everydayjoe

    What principles does Oppenheimer have? His legacy has nothing to with principles or values.
    Mankind will destroy and be destroyed by his inventions. It is only a matter of time.

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