America’s Mad Nuclear Weapons Surge

Trident-II-D5-Missile-Launches-from-the-USS-Nebraska
Trident II D5 Missile Launch.  No matter how “small” the warhead, you never want to see one of these launch under “real world” conditions

W.J. Astore

As a young captain in the Air Force, I visited Los Alamos National Lab in 1992. The mood there was grim. What use for a lab that develops and tests nuclear weapons when the Cold War with the Soviet Union was over and America was downsizing its nuclear forces? The people I talked to said the lab would have to reinvent itself; its nuclear physicists and engineers would have to adapt. Perhaps they might move to more commercial applications of technology. Better that than closing down the lab, they said.

Who knew that, 25+ years later, nuclear weapons would make their own “surge” and that the U.S. would plan to “invest” more than a trillion dollars in nuclear modernization, beginning with smaller, more “usable,” low-yield nuclear warheads for the Navy’s Trident missiles, as James Carroll wrote about yesterday at TomDispatch.com.  Even “small” warheads have genocidal implications, however, for once you start launching nuclear-tipped missiles, no matter how “small,” escalation is likely to follow.

That sunny day in New Mexico in 1992, I could not have imagined a new American surge in nuclear weapons, beginning with the Obama administration and now championed by men like Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton.  That day, it seemed the end of the era of MAD — mutually assured destruction — the end to fears of nuclear war.  Soon even conservatives like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz were calling for  the elimination of nuclear weapons.

But that was 2007-08, and this is now.  The madness is back, America.  I urge you to read and heed James Carroll’s warning at TomDispatch.com.  If we want to save ourselves as well as our planet’s biosphere, we need to eliminate nuclear weapons, not build more of them.

7 thoughts on “America’s Mad Nuclear Weapons Surge

  1. as a flaming pyrrhonist, it is w/ unapologetic dubiety that what you suggest will occur, certainly not in my lifetime [am 77]. though i agree nuclear weapons should be entirely eliminated, there is no precedent in the history of our war-mongering species that we have exercised the requisite self-restraint. are we fundamentally suicidal?

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  2. The Westphalian State, with its claim to the right to inflict violence, it going to get us all killed.

    Well, not all of us. The shift to Counterforce (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterforce) targeting has thankfully made city-busting a thing of the past (in the early stages of an exchange, at least). Both sides will start by shooting at one another’s nuclear infrastructure, probably tit-for-tat style to demonstrate resolve, while also communicating a desire to manage the destruction.

    It’ll start with a US use of a ‘tactical’ weapon – forgetting that the Russians never believed nukes to be anything other than a political tool – and escalation will ensue as Russia seeks to maintain deterrent parity with the US. Probably ending in military coups in both countries – after both sides try to knock out one another’s ICBM silos, and maybe the SSBN infrastructure.

    For fun, here’s a rough map I made using Alex Wellerstein’s excellent Nukemap simulation showing where the fallout goes if, someday, Russia dumps a couple hundred megatons of ICBM goodness on the US ICBM fields in North Dakota (Minot) and Wyoming/Colorado/Nebraska (FE Warren).

    (Note: this is from backstory for my fiction, hence the lack of a strike on the ICBMs around Great Falls, Montana (Malmstrom). In 2041, per my lore, the UN contracts with a private military force to guard those against Texan, Deseret, and Great Lakes Confederation seizure of those fields, which didn’t get attacked for plot reasons.)

    This of course assumes a particular weather pattern, and I’m not sure the maximum setting on the tool for detonation magnitude is appropriate for simulating a few hundred sub-megaton warheads ground-bursting in the same area, but given that even a little radioactive contamination basically requires complete replacement of the affected topsoil (if you want to export food grown there, anyway) I think the fallout pattern estimation is reasonable.

    Sorry, Corn Belt. And about 30 million Americans who would require evacuation.

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  3. “Bigger is better than smaller, more is better than less” is what it always seems to come down to.
    My question is, who would we use “low yield” (or any) nuclear weapons against? Where lies the (potential) threat so great that an “everybody loses” action is justified?
    A quick look at a chart I found online shows a total of nine countries with nuclear arsenals (Israel is listed as “suspected” but I’m going with “yes” on that). Until the arrival of the current Administration, three of those countries were regarded as “not exactly friendly” to the West in general, and the US in particular: Russia, China, and North Korea. But we’re told that’s no longer true. So … who, then, are we so worried about?
    As stated in a previous comment, I have been around awhile (about to turn 65), and have read quite a bit but have no military background, a fact which is no doubt reflected in the tone of my thoughts posted here at Bracing Views.
    No one knows with any certainty exactly what will happen after the first nuclear warhead strikes, but I think it’s incredibly naive to assume a “preemptive strike” – for that’s surely what it will be called – will cause anyone with the capability to respond in kind to back down. But that would seem to be what everyone figures will happen. It’s the Schoolyard Bully Mindset: hit them first and they’ll trouble you no more. Sorry, but that doesn’t even work in the schoolyard in this year of Grace.
    As for describing a nuclear device as being “a low-yield tactical weapon” … this comes across as yet another example of reducing possible actions/reactions to numbers, graphs, computer simulations and couching it in speech palatable to politicians and the general populace. Like drone attacks, it’s another way of attempting to sanitize warfare. But accuracy doesn’t change what something is.
    With a nuclear exchange – tactical or otherwise – we will all become “collateral damage,” sooner or later, one way or another.

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    1. Back in the days of the Nuclear Freeze movement, I remember a great comment by a European, speaking on American ideas about “limited” nuclear war:

      “When they talk of limited nuclear war, they mean limited to us.”

      Even then, however, the idea of a limited war was dubious. For once the atomic genie is out of the bottle again, there’ll be little hope of coaxing it back in.

      With respect to how we’d use these smaller, low-yield, nukes, my guess is that our military “experts” envision using them against “rogue” nations like Iran and North Korea, the idea being to neutralize underground facilities developing WMD that can’t be penetrated/blown up with conventional bombs. So we use WMD to neutralize WMD. That’s the only scenario I can think of. And since North Korea has nuclear weapons, attacking them would be very risky, so perhaps the main potential target at the moment is Iran, which Pompeo, Bolton, etc., seem to be spoiling to attack.

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      1. There’s the UK-strategy to consider too – they’ve long planned to use a single missile and warhead fired from one of their Trident subs as a demonstration. High-altitude burst leaves little residual radiation and may not even impact anything below, so you get your big firecracker, a message for your adversary, and nobody can complain that you did another Hiroshima.

        There’s a set among America’s imperialist crowd (Bolton is a card-carrying member of the wannabe-Churchill set) who looks forward to using America’s muscle openly. They’ve never believe in MAD, have adopted the Counterforce targeting ideology, and have aggressively provoked Russian development of next-gen weapons to be sure their deterrent is credible.

        Soon the weapons won’t even be fully under the control of national leaders – fears of decapitation strikes will lead to even more “usability” in the system, devolving launch control to local military commanders under certain circumstances.

        Any Progressive worth their words will embrace formal arms limitations talks (conventional and nuclear) and re-commit to our long-standing legal obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty to move towards total disarmament.

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        1. Seems people never learn anything from History so put in any likely doomsday scenarios you like, the more preposterous the better, and the more likely it will be given the 2 legged creatures abysmal record since recorded history began.When the S.H.T.F. next time I hope to be in New Zealand anyway, but whoever is left over be it India, China, maybe the European Union I wish them a lot of luck. When I was in the Air Forces Security Forces our worst case scenario was a Terrorist getting hold of one of our Nuclear Weapons Convoys. I guess maybe they think this might require a small Tactical Nuclear weapon to take out…? Whatever plan is a bad one because I hope their ready with the potassium Iodide to hand out so the Collateral Damage is minimized. Lets not forget biological, and chemical, or even cyber attacks as well. Don’t we have enough ways of killing each other yet? So much for the Peace Dividend after the Soviet Union collapsed back in the early nineties… We need to take care of our own house now economically and stop meddling, or we’ll be in for a rude shock when the wheels of fortune finally don’t flip our way…

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