Do you ever get the feeling that our collective destiny or well-being is in the hands of madmen?
Something very worrying has been suggesting itself for a while now – a notable change in language that I was beginning to notice over the last two years or so: but which has very much come more sharply into focus in recent weeks.
Specifically, I’m referring to the strange way that it suddenly has become acceptable for officials or strategists to talk about nuclear strikes in terms of ‘first use’ or preemptive strikes.
The accepted language or dynamics surrounding nuclear weapons or policy seem to have shifted at some point in the last two years – and it seems like something we should be very concerned about. Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets seem to be entirely uninterested.
Why it has particularly come into focus right now is because of the new ‘US Nuclear Posture Review’, which emerged about two weeks ago, and which one observer has described as ‘the world’s most dangerous document’.
This seems to have been a very, very serious document with big implications – but it also appears to have been broadly ignored by the media: despite concerns that the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) essentially paves the way for a nuclear-weapons-based mass murder of civilians on a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The NPR essentially seems to justify the idea of nuclear first use or preemptive strike by the United States. In a world in which no country but the United States has previously carried out a nuclear attack, it is rather unsettling that the notion of preemptive nuclear attack is now being openly discussed or envisioned.
Two weeks ago, Jan Oberg, writing at The Transnational, aptly noted the overwhelming media silence on the subject: ‘The mainstream media are totally irresponsible in their priorities. At the moment of writing, five hours after the world’s most dangerous document was presented, no major Western media has featured it prominently. This means it won’t be. No chance it would go viral. The increasing risk of nuclear war isn’t important. What threats to humanity end up at the bottom of page 38 after 10 pages of sports, entertainment and celebrity stories…?’
Indeed, the mainstream media coverage of this subject has been non-existent, as far as I can tell. Most people probably never heard about the NPR at all.
This seems to be a serious shift in the mindset regarding nuclear weapons, with the prevailing view having previously been that the WMDs were meant as a deterrant only: the threat of mutually-assured destruction ensuring that such weapons were never actually intended to be used.
But even more worrying than this shift in language or policy is the implication of the ‘first use’ or preemptive option being applied even in a scenario that doesn’t involve the mutual threat of nuclear weapons. So, for example, in January (a couple of weeks before the NPR was rolled out), the Pentagon had even proposed using nuclear weapons in response to a cyber attack.
What? A nuclear response to a cyber attack? What world are we living in?
Again, do you ever get the feeling our fate rests in the hands of madmen?
I published a long article here a few years ago on the 70th anniverary of the attack on Hiroshima, exploring the horrific effects of it, the events leading to that act, the moral conflict among key figures in the US, the psychology of it, the propagandising for it, and the ongoing question of whether it was in any way a justified act. Arguably, that question remains divisive, with permanent arguments and counter-arguments (even if most people are morally horrified by the dropping of the atomic bomb).
But what’s extraordinary is that, in 2018, there isn’t even the debate – or the hint of moral conflict. Just a casual roll-out of an official nuclear posture that seems to indicate a first-strike policy being justified. And a media that doesn’t seem to care.
I have also been concerned lately with the increased talk by political figures in the UK (including Michael Fallon and Theresa May) about nuclear strikes, including ‘first strike’ options. It had struck me, a year or so ago, when I heard British politicians talking about first-strike possiblities, that this was new language being casually used where it wouldn’t have been in the past.
Be clear that the UK seems to be a part of this equation as well: or at least part of the new language or posturing.
Paul Rogers, of the Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group, warns that ‘Current revision of the United States’ declared nuclear posture is only the most visible manifestation of adjustments to all the main nuclear arsenals, with the UK at the vanguard of deploying technologies potentially calibrated for pre-emptive rather than retaliatory strike.’
I was also worried by the fact that President Trump’s military decided to drop the biggest non-nuclear bomb (MOAB) since World War II on a cave complex in Afghanistan instead of using a more conventional weapon – as if they were very much trying to send out a broader signal.
As I’ve said here before, at some other time or in some other circumstances, we might rely on cooler heads prevailing.
But we’re in the President Trump era now; in which provocations and a glorying in military firepower seems to be the order of the day. With a military-industrial complex that has its saviour in the form of Donald Trump (and a Donald Trump who says things like “if we have nukes, why can’t we use them?”), you might fear that the omens aren’t great.
And that’s before you even think about the spectacled megalomaniac in Pyonyang.
About a year ago, in an article about the nuclear-strike drill/exercise that was then being conducted in New York (‘Operation Gotham Shield’), I was speculating that the reason for the large-scale drill was to practise for a potential retalliatory strike by North Korea, Russia or China in response to what would be a future first strike by the US.
I wrote then that ‘it should probably be considered that the drill/exercise might have the hypothetical scenario be a *retaliatory* attack by one of those foreign powers…’
I was only speculating then: but this NPR announcement seems to strongly suggest the Pentagon is seriously considering future nuclear attacks. Or, perhaps more confusingly, that they simply want to terrify or intimidate rival powers with the idea that the US would strike first.
But even that latter scenario seems to be incredibly dangerous.
Paul Craig Roberts was hinting a year ago at ‘changes in US war doctrine that indicate that Washington is preparing a preemptive nuclear attack on Russia and China…’. And he warned, ‘It is extremely dangerous to all of mankind for Washington to convince two nuclear powers that Washington is preparing a preemptive nuclear strike against them. It is impossible to imagine a more reckless and irresponsible act.’
But, again, what’s also really curious is the mass media silence on the subject.