Still making things go boom dangerously

Written By: - Date published: 5:27 pm, March 15th, 2015 - 26 comments
Categories: International - Tags: , , , ,

Over the last few days I have been reading Neil Sheenan‘s “A fiery peace in a cold war“. It looks at the politics and infighting of the development of the US ICBM forces in the 50s and probably later (still reading). At the same time I’ve been reading last week’s Economist, including a feature on the current developing arms race in nuclear weapon systems. From the Economist leader

After the end of the cold war the world clutched at the idea that nuclear annihilation was off the table. When Barack Obama, speaking in Prague in 2009, backed the aim to rid the world of nuclear weapons, he was treated not as a peacenik but as a statesman. Today his ambition seems a fantasy. Although the world continues to comfort itself with the thought that mutually assured destruction is unlikely, the risk that somebody somewhere will use a nuclear weapon is growing apace.

Every nuclear power is spending lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal (see article). Russia’s defence budget has grown by over 50% since 2007, and fully a third of it is devoted to nuclear weapons: twice the share of, say, France. China, long a nuclear minnow, is adding to its stocks and investing heavily in submarines and mobile missile batteries. Pakistan is amassing dozens of battlefield nukes to make up for its inferiority to India in conventional forces. North Korea is thought to be capable of adding a warhead a year to its stock of around ten, and is working on missiles that can strike the west coast of the United States. Even the Nobel peace laureate in the White House has asked Congress for almost $350 billion to undertake a decade-long programme of modernisation of America’s arsenal.

The motivations are different.

Worst of all is the instability. During much of the cold war the two superpowers, anxious to avoid Armageddon, were willing to tolerate the status quo. Today the ground is shifting under everyone’s feet.

Inherently unstable states (for various reasons) like Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and Iran appear to be using nuclear weapons or the threat of developing them to avoid change in their circumstances. They aren’t exactly states noted for their moderate internal and external politics. These are all states that are most notable for their populations of complete nutters, many of the more cynical ones in charge of those weapons.

Others want to shift the status quo.

Russia is increasingly using nuclear scenarios in their military exercises. Many of those scenarios postulate attacks on cities in neighbouring states like Warsaw or Stockholm. Bearing in mind their “plausible deniability” of special forces attacks on neighbouring states in recent years, neighbouring states either with or without Russian population enclaves have to be worried.

Resentful, nationalistic and violent, it wants to rewrite the Western norms that underpin the status quo. First in Georgia and now in Ukraine, Russia has shown it will escalate to extremes to assert its hold over its neighbours and convince the West that intervention is pointless. Even if Mr Putin is bluffing about nuclear weapons (and there is no reason to think he is), any nationalist leader who comes after him could be even more dangerous.

China is somewhat less ambiguous. They are developing a mobile second strike capability in the unfortunate traditional logic of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Nuclear expansion is designed to give China a chance to retaliate using a “second strike”, should America attempt to destroy its arsenal. Yet the two barely talk about nuclear contingencies—and a crisis over, say, Taiwan could escalate alarmingly. In addition Japan, seeing China’s conventional military strength, may feel it can no longer rely on America for protection. If so, Japan and South Korea could go for the bomb—creating, with North Korea, another petrifying regional stand-off.

All of this is eerily like the crazed nuclear and delivery systems build up in the 1950s that Neil Sheenan documents. As then, the partizian fools in the US congress play their part at putting us all at risk

 

KAL’s cartoon looking at the republican ‘help’ in tricky nuclear standoffs.

The turning point came between the US and the USSR during the Cuba crisis when the leaders at the time found that they had to talk to each other or mutually die. The decades of diplomacy following were important

What to do? The most urgent need is to revitalise nuclear diplomacy. One priority is to defend the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which slows the spread of weapons by reassuring countries that their neighbours are not developing nukes. It was essential that Iran stayed in the treaty (unlike North Korea, which left). The danger is that, like Iran, signatories will see enrichment and reprocessing as preparation for a bomb of their own—leading their neighbours to enrich in turn. That calls for a collective effort to discourage enrichment and reprocessing, and for America to shore up its allies’ confidence.

You don’t have to like the other side to get things done. Arms control became a vital part of Soviet-American relations. So it could between China and America, and between America and Putin’s Russia. Foes such as India and Pakistan can foster stability simply by talking. The worst time to get to know your adversary is during a stand-off.

Of course this is the obvious. But of course we have to look at the sterling example being set by the UN security council permanent members.

The chilling of relations between America and Russia over Ukraine has resulted in cooperation on nuclear security measures being suspended, while promised follow-on measures relating to New START have been quietly abandoned. Vladimir Putin, Mr Medvedev’s predecessor and successor, takes every opportunity to laud his country’s nuclear prowess, and is committing a third of Russia’s booming military budget to bolstering it.

It is not the only power investing in its nukes (see table). America is embarking on a $348-billion decade-long modernisation programme. Britain is about to commit to modernising its forces, as well, while France is halfway through the process. China is investing heavily in a second-strike capability. In short, there has been no attempt to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the military and security doctrines of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, despite their commitments under the NPT. An initiative aimed at making nuclear weapons illegal under international humanitarian law, backed by over 150 NPT signatory countries, has attracted little to no support from the weapons states and only lip service from countries which welcome America’s nuclear protection.

Perhaps having NZ on the security council might be useful. Perhaps we could once again tell those idiot states, especially the US,  to lead by example.

Cannon fired nuke test 1953

Cannon fired nuke test 1953

 

26 comments on “Still making things go boom dangerously”

  1. Murray Rawshark 1

    “Perhaps having NZ on the security council might be useful. Perhaps we could once again tell those idiot states, especially the US, to lead by example.”

    I can’t see our having a government in power in the near future that would do that. National thinks the US already leads by example and Labour has been very happy to be back in the 5 eyed club.

    • Anne 1.1

      I can’t see our having a government in power in the near future that would do that.

      Actually I can. Andrew Little is strong and morally principled. I’ve had the good fortune to hear him make a speech twice now in a semi-private setting with no media present. He is more than capable of… telling those idiot states, especially the US, to lead by example.

      • Murray Rawshark 1.1.1

        It would be good if you’re right, but how does this mesh with his voting for increased participation in the 5 eyes club? That’s what giving our squirrels more power means – more involvement in the seppo gang.

  2. mickysavage 2

    Dang I was hoping we had left this insanity in the 1980s. Risking mutually assured destruction and squandering resources on nuclear weapons when we could make major inroads into poverty is rather silly.

    • lprent 2.1

      Nope. It looks to me like we’re just getting a slow tooling up amongst quite a number of nations. Technically it is getting cheaper, and there aren’t too many political constraints on doing it.

      • mickysavage 2.1.1

        Yep and the profit margins are huge …

        Behind climate change this is the biggest threat to humanity …

  3. GregJ 3

    It seems this from Flanders and Swann is still as apposite as it was in the sixties. 😥

    • Murray Simmonds 3.1

      Absolutely delightful link – thank you GregJ.

      Perhaps instead of wasting all that money on a new flag we could put some of it towards a new National Anthem.

      I’d vote for the Flanders and Swann offering as an alternative to what we presently put up with, any day.

  4. les 4

    the western nations should be the only ones allowed to have nuclear weapons because they are responsible,have high morals,ethics and are doing Gods work.

  5. These are all states that are most notable for their populations of complete nutters, many of the more cynical ones in charge of those weapons.

    I see that you included Israel in that lot, which is sensible, given the crazies currently in charge of the place. However, what disturbs me, and what is different from the 1950s, is that the same kind of crazies are ascendant in the US and Canada, and to a lesser extent the UK and Australia. For all the faults of the Key government, they aren’t mental like Abbott or Harper (and I don’t care what people say: Harper is mental).

    • lprent 5.1

      However, what disturbs me, and what is different from the 1950s, is that the same kind of crazies are ascendant in the US…

      Are you kidding? LeMay, Teller, von Neumann, Truman, Eisenhower, damn the list is endless. I swear that that entire generation of traumatised refugees and military paranoids were completely nuts, and in charge of the programmes for atomic weapons.

      And I haven’t gotten on to the congresses of the 50s. The material in some of the books I have read could be used to show the nuts that ran things.

      Those just happen to be a few of the people who have appeared in this book so far. The completely wired theories that they had and their complete inability to believe what intelligence that they had. I think that many in control of that post-two wars and depression generation in power in the US and UK were just nuts

      • Tom Jackson 5.1.1

        Eisenhower? What did he do? I have a hard time thinking he was barmier than the tea baggers. And at least some of the others on the list believed in the scientific method – such heresy would not be tolerated in today’s Republican party.

    • Colonial Rawshark 5.2

      They aren’t exactly states noted for their moderate internal and external politics. These are all states that are most notable for their populations of complete nutters, many of the more cynical ones in charge of those weapons.

      Iran is a very rational, technologically, industrially and scientifically advanced, modern Islamic society that is very keen to engage with the USA, Russia and China in both diplomatic and economic terms.

      They have signed the IAEA ‘additional protocols’ ensuring a very high level of transparency over their nuclear programme – something that Pakistan, North Korea and Israel refuse to do.

      They have also been attacked multiple times by foreign powers in their modern history but have invaded no other country in all that time. It is an old, proud civilisation widely tolerant of many religions within its own young and highly educated population.

      And its literacy rate for women today is over 95% – exactly the same as the male rate. As I understand it during the US backed Shah’s time, the figure was around 50%. Within that same time frame the birth rate in Iran has dropped from about 6 to just over 2. That’s evidence of a nation which is progressing in leaps and bounds.

      • lprent 5.2.1

        Iran is a very rational, technologically, industrially and scientifically advanced, modern Islamic society that is very keen to engage with the USA, Russia and China in both diplomatic and economic terms.

        Parts are. Parts are not. It is also not a homogenous society and has some “interesting” features in its political system – like the armed militias. Which I notice you didn’t point to their governing systems, but was the key to my point.

        They are also noticeable for the style of attacks internally on dissidents using local militias, externally using those same militias to dragoon citizens as cannon fodder during the Iran-Iraq war, and having a way of changing power that is has been pretty damn opaque to its citizens as well as to external observers but has a lot to do with using those militia to push around voters.

        The last election was rather different because it appears to have at least partially pushed out the overbearing effect of the militias for the first time in 3 decades. But the internal power structures still appear to be relatively unstable.

        • Colonial Rawshark 5.2.1.1

          Parts are. Parts are not. It is also not a homogenous society and has some “interesting” features in its political system – like the armed militias. Which I notice you didn’t point to their governing systems, but was the key to my point.

          Now that is also true. However I’d say that in D.C. the very powerful pro Israel neocon faction adds ‘spice’ and ‘non-homogeneity’ to the US political system. And they have been shown to cause actual wars, big ones. So I hesitate to conclude where the biggest danger to the Middle East is actually coming from.

          The other thing to note is that the Iranian cabinet is full of US alumni, including half a dozen or more PhDs. Their government understands the west far more than the west currently understands them.

          I found this by a former US Middle East civilian intelligence contractor who had top secret clearance quite informative:

    • Murray Rawshark 5.3

      Abbott is mental and some of his cabinet, like Pyne and Morrison, are even worse.

  6. Quote from a well known scientist.

    Humans are an advanced bred of Monkeys living on a insignificant rock floating in the middle of nowhere.

    Well, I reckon the advanced bred of monkey is about right, a few are hell bent on ending the human race, or at least there are those who can’t seem to help themselves.

    We can only despair at their idiotic mentality.
    Politicians, Who would have them ?

  7. Clemgeopin 7

    I think the world is %#@* ed.

    Is there a way to really un%#@*it?

  8. Macro 8

    Mind you lprent we are currently heating the Earth at the rate of 4-5 Hiroshimas per second. This energy far out ways the energy of all the atomic weapons we have amassed . If all the weapons were exploded at once they would be only a fraction of the energy that the Earth accumulates every year. Not to say that it wouldn’t be devastation and complete annihilation, just making the point that thanks to the massive heat sink of the oceans, if that energy were all released into the atmosphere at once we would be toast.

    • lprent 8.1

      Sure and it will cause major problems over centuries starting about now.

      But the problem with using nukes, especially ground strike, is that they act like volcanoes and pass a pall over the earth

      Human societies societies are incredibly dependent on agriculture, agrticuiture is very sensitive to weather and climate effects and either the slow effects of greenhouse gases or stratospheric debris disrupts it quite effectively. As our population continues to build well past the carrying limits we get more affected by even minor shifts in food production

  9. Wonderpup 9

    The discussion has been about the consciously planned use of nukes. What about an accident? It has only been through pure luck that a weapon hasn’t detonated accidentally. Schlosser’s book on the history of nuclear weapon ‘safety’ isn’t perfect, but it is a good read.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/25/command-control-eric-schlosser-review

    • greywarshark 9.1

      Bill did a piece on the Japanese nuclear plants and the fact that they are in a perilous state which can’t be contained completely.

  10. The arms race never really stopped, so much as it slowed down until the Russian economy started improving. Rather than go for wholesale nuclear arms reductions, the Russians and the Americans started upgrading existing devices where possible instead of manufacturing new ones. With the absence of any new really ground breaking treaties like Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty was when it was conceived and little effort being made to communicate concerns, the diplomatic situation is probably no better than the state of nuclear weapons on the whole.

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    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    1 week ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    1 week ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • Government says it will now build just one really nice home
    Following publication of this article, the Ministry has requested it to be noted that this supplied image is not necessarily representative of what the final house will look like, and it “probably won’t be that nice.” As part of today’s long-anticipated reset of the Government’s flagship KiwiBuild policy, Housing Minister ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Imperialism and your cup of coffee
    Over the next week or two we will be running three synopses of parts of the opening chapter of John Smith’s Imperialism in the 21st Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 2016).  The synopsis and commentary below is written by Phil Duncan. Marx began Capital not with a sweeping historical ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Still juking the stats
    The State Services Commission and Ombudsman have released another batch of OIA statistics, covering the last six months. Request volumes are up, and the core public service is generally handling them within the legal timeframe, though this may be because they've learned to extend rather than just ignore things. And ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Hard News: Time for a New Deal: 25 years on
    In 1994, I was editing an ambitious street mag called Planet, from a fabled office at at 309 Karangahape Road. The thirteenth issue of the magazine was published in the winter of that year and its cover embodied a particularly ambitious goal: the end of cannabis prohibition.I wanted to do ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Not impressed
    KiwiBuild was one of the Ardern government's core policies. The government would end the housing crisis and make housing affordable again by building 100,000 new homes. Of course, it didn't work out like that: targets weren't met, the houses they did build were in the wrong place, and the whole ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Solar beats coal
    As the climate crisis escalates, it is now obvious that we need to radically decarbonise our economy. The good news is that its looking easy and profitable for the energy sector. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and now solar is too:The levellised cost of solar PV has fallen ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • A Step Too Far.
    A Crown Asset? For reasons relating to its own political convenience, the Crown pretends to believe that “No one owns the water.” To say otherwise would re-vivify the promises contained in the Treaty of Waitangi – most particularly those pertaining to the power of the chiefs and their proprietary rights ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where Money Comes From
    Most people would say, no doubt, that they have a pretty good idea of what money is. They live with the reality of money every day. It is what is needed to buy the necessities of life and to maintain a decent standard of living. You get money, they would ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago
  • Banned by the Green Party leadership: Jill Abigail on women’s rights and trans rights
    The article below was an opinion piece that appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Te Awa (the NZ Green Party’s newsletter) and on the Greens website.  In keeping with their policy of hostility to women defending women’s right to female-only spaces, Green bureaucrats have since removed the opinion piece.  ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • The fallacy of the proximity argument.
    Longer term readers may remember my complaining that, as a political scientist, it is burdensome to have non-political scientists wanting to engage me about politics. No layperson would think to approach an astrophysicist and lecture him/her on the finer details of quarks and black holes, but everybody with an opinion ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    2 weeks ago
  • Where We Stood: Chris Trotter Replies To Stevan Eldred-Grigg.
    Joining The Fight: Stevan Eldred-Grigg's argument for New Zealand staying out of the Second World War fails not only on the hard-headed grounds of preserving the country’s strategic and economic interests; and not just on the soft-hearted grounds of duty and loyalty to the nation that had given New Zealand ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Universities back the climate strike
    On September 27, School Strike 4 Climate will be striking for a future to pressure the government for meaningful climate action. This time, they've asked adults to join them. And now, Lincoln University and Victoria University of Wellington have signed on:Victoria University of Wellington has joined Lincoln University in endorsing ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Another constitutional outrage
    Another day, another constitutional outrage in the UK. This time, the government is saying that if parliament passes a law to stop Brexit before being prorogued, they may just ignore it:A senior cabinet minister has suggested Boris Johnson could defy legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit if it is forced ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ending dairy in Canterbury
    Environment Canterbury has finally proposed nitrogen limits to stop dairy farmers from poisoning Christchurch's water supply. And naturally, farmers are whining about it:A proposed move by Environment Canterbury (ECan) to protect Christchurch's drinking water by setting tough – some would say, draconian – nitrate reductions in the decades ahead and ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Is National the party of climate arson?
    The Zero Carbon Bill is currently before select committee. While its targets are weak, its a generally sensible bill that promises to establish a long-term framework to guide emissions reductions. But National hasn't made up its mind on whether it will support it - and according to Andrea Vance in ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Experts warn Harold the Giraffe “well past” typical giraffe life expectancy, may not have long
    Dum-de-doo. Children across New Zealand have known him for generations as the lovable giraffe who tells them to exercise, hydrate and not to shove lit cigarettes up their nostrils. But a world renowned giraffe expert says we shouldn’t be getting attached to Life Education’s Harold the Giraffe, as he is ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • August ’19 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking
    Image credit: 22 BLOGGERS WITH ADVICE FOR RESEARCHERS AND EVALUATORS, ILLUSTRATED I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Bye, bye to the collusion lie
    Sums it up, really. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Opinion: Treat your car by buying extra petrol to snack on while you aren’t driving
    By Mike Hosking. Yesterday morning, I waltzed into work, and as I walked past the drones aggressively typing out news on the computers I’ve repeatedly asked to be moved further away from, I caught a glimpse of the words “climate change”, and noticed that suspiciously they weren’t in condescending quotation ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago

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