Beyond Nuclear Denial

How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not (From) Our World – Published on ZNet (first on TomDispatch.com), July 09, 2012, by William D. Hartung, July 09, 2012.

There was a time when nuclear weapons were a significant part of our national conversation. Addressing the issue of potential atomic annihilation was once described by nuclear theorist Herman Kahn as “thinking about the unthinkable,” but that didn’t keep us from thinking, talking, fantasizing, worrying about it, or putting images of possible nuclear nightmares (often transmuted to invading aliens or outer space) endlessly on screen.  

Now, on a planet still overstocked with city-busting, world-ending weaponry, in which almost 67 years have passed since a nuclear weapon was last used, the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.

Today, nuclear destruction finds itself at the end of a long queue of anxieties about our planet and its fate. For some reason, we trust ourselves, our allies, and even our former enemies with nuclear arms — evidently so deeply that we don’t seem to think the staggering arsenals filled with weaponry that could put the devastation of Hiroshima to shame are worth covering or dealing with. Even the disaster at Fukushima last year didn’t revive an interest in the weaponry that goes with the “peaceful” atom in our world.

Attending to the Bomb in a MAD World: … //

… A MAD World That No One Cares to Notice

More than 20 years later, the only nuclear issue considered worth the bother is stopping the spread of the bomb to a couple of admittedly scary and problematic regimes: Iran and North Korea. Their nuclear efforts make the news regularly and garner attention (to the point of obsession) in media and government circles. But remind me: when was the last time you read about what should be the ultimate (and obvious) goal — getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether?

This has been our reality, despite President Obama’s pledge in Prague back in 2009 to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” and the passage of a modest but important New START arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia in 2010. It remains our reality, despite a dawning realization in budget-anxious Washington that we may no longer be able to afford to throw money (as presently planned) at nuclear projects ranging from new ballistic-missile submarines to new facilities for building nuclear warhead components — all of which are slated to keep the secret global nuclear arms race alive and well decades into the future.

If Iran is worth talking about — and it is, given the implications of an Iranian bomb for further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East — what about the arsenals of the actual nuclear states? What about Pakistan, a destabilizing country which has at least 110 nuclear warheads and counting, and continues to view India as its primary adversary despite U.S. efforts to get it to focus on al-Qaeda and the Taliban? What about India’s roughly 100 nuclear warheads, meant to send a message not just to Pakistan but to neighboring China as well? And will China hold pat at 240 or so nuclear weapons in the face of U.S. nuclear modernization efforts and plans to surround it with missile defense systems that could, in theory if not practice, blunt China’s nuclear deterrent force?

Will Israel continue to get a free pass on its officially unacknowledged possession of up to 200 nuclear warheads and its refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Who are France and the United Kingdom targeting with their forces of 300 and 225 nuclear warheads, respectively? How long will it take North Korea to develop miniaturized nuclear bombs and deploy them on workable, long-range missiles?  And is New START the beginning or the end of mutual U.S. and Russian arms reductions?

Many of these questions are far more important than whether Iran gets the bomb, but they get, at best, only a tiny fraction of the attention that Tehran’s nuclear program is receiving. Concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and a fear of loose nukes in a destabilizing country is certainly part of the subtext of U.S. policy towards Islamabad. Little effort has been made of late, however, to encourage Pakistan and India to engage in talks aimed at reconciling their differences and opening the way for discussions on reducing their nuclear arsenals.

The last serious effort — centered on the contentious issue of Kashmir — reached its high point in 2007 under the regime of Pakistani autocrat Pervez Musharraf, and it went awry in the wake of political changes within his country and Pakistani-backed terrorist attacks on India. If anything, the tensions now being generated by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands and other affronts, intended or not, to Pakistan’s sovereignty have undermined any possibility of Washington brokering a rapprochement between Pakistan and India.

In addition, starting in the Bush years, the U.S. has been selling India nuclear fuel and equipment. This has been part of a controversial agreement that violates prior U.S. commitments to forgo nuclear trade with any nation that has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a pact India has not signed). Although U.S. assistance is nominally directed towards India’s civilian nuclear program, it helps free up resources that India can use to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal.

The “tilt” towards India that began during the Bush administration has continued under Obama. Only recently, for instance, a State Department official bragged about U.S. progress in selling advanced weaponry to New Delhi. Meanwhile, F-16s that Washington supplied to the Pakistani military back in the heyday of the U.S.-Pakistan alliance may have already been adapted to serve as nuclear delivery vehicles in the event of a nuclear confrontation with India.

China has long adhered to a de facto policy of minimum deterrence — keeping just enough nuclear weapons to dissuade another nation from attacking it with nuclear arms. But this posture has not prevented Beijing from seeking to improve the quality of its long-range ballistic missiles. And if China feels threatened by continued targeting by the United States or by sea-based American interceptors deployed to the region, it could easily increase its arsenal to ensure the “safety” of its deterrent. Beijing will also be keeping a watchful eye on India as its nuclear stockpile continues to grow … (full long text).

Links:

Fukushima: A disaster produced by capitalism, on WSWS, by Peter Symonds, July 10, 2012;

Le parti Die Linke défend les services secrets allemands, dans WSWS, par Christoph Dreier, 10 juillet 2012;

Clash of Fundamentalism In Middle East, on CHOWK, by Khurshid ALAM, March 13, 2012: while Arab world is in turmoil, after Arab awakening process and has yet to put their houses in order to get the desired result, another political storm is in offing to hit the area …

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