Nuclear Madness: Pretending Not to See Brazen Lies

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The latest brazen lie is the “rule of law” upheld by Biden at G7 and NATO summits, especially lies about  lawlessness surrounding nuclear weapons. During Trump time,  the power of one person to launch nuclear war was on full display. In 1983 one Soviet person, Sgt. Petrov, “the man who saved the world”,  was in the position to decide against launching. This ability of one person to push or not push the button is a nightmare failure of the rule of law and of governing structures.

There is at this time much more widespread public knowledge, rage, and political action about racism and rampant injustices. It is hard to know how much the public knows about nuclear weapons. Laws put in place to control or eliminate these weapons are officially ignored, abrogated, or signed but not ratified or enforced:  Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the  Open Skies Treaty (cancelled by Biden), the  Outer Space Treaty.  The last remaining arms control agreement, New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), was reprieved by Biden until 2026. No nuclear-armed or NATO nations have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), now in force.  The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have nuclear weapons, have signed but violate the NPT, and are the only nations with a veto. Obama committed over $1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize nuclear weapons, and Biden announced an additional $750b. In February Biden increased spending for the U.S. space force , violating the Outer Space Treaty.

Officials get away with nuclear lies:  through plausible deniability, through concealing or minimizing nuclear lethality, by representing  5G satellites’ benign civilian uses rather than the satellites’ full spectrum surveillance uses, by conjuring an external existential threat (Iran, Russia, China), psychologically by Trump/Netanyahu-style bullying or G.W. Bush’s disarming boyishness, by exploiting general fears that any mandatory regulations are undemocratic infringements of freedom.

There is also over one-half century evidence that nations get away with murder, that there are rarely consequences for violating conventions on just war, genocide, or crimes against humanity.  There is the recent legalistic principle of the “least detrimental alternative” to defend torture and wars if they prevent worse harms. [1]

When White House Press Corps longest-serving member Helen Thomas asked newly elected (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Obama whether there was a Middle East country with nuclear weapons, Obama, knowing full well about Israel’s arsenal, said “I don’t want to speculate.”   Was the press corps pretending not to see that Obama was pretending not to see? Or was there a knowing wink that transparent lies don’t matter because the old boys’ club does whatever it wants and that any law can be twisted or unenforced?  Women win the Nobel Peace Prize for their informed, years’ long work on formulating and negotiating the Treaty on the Prohibition of  Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) but big men hold the “nuclear football”, drop “Little Boy” (Hiroshima) and “Fat Man” (Nagasaki) and proliferate all they want. Ray Acheson, Director of Reaching Critical Will, who represented Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN),  just published  Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy.

Some people should be obligated to know and to inform.  How many elected officials can even locate on an unmarked map the countries they bomb to smithereens, and what do journalists and educators know and disseminate about nuclear weapons? It is my impression that during the Cold War there was a latent, constant sense of anxiety  about nuclear weapons and that this has evaporated.  Yet authoritative voices warn of greater danger than during the Cold War. Daniel Ellsberg speaks of the Big Five weapons companies “pushing the idea of a $1.7 trillion modernization, revitalization, as they say, of a doomsday machine that can destroy not all life on Earth, not even all human life, probably, almost surely, but 90 percent of it, seven billion people, if we exercised our current war plans in a war against Russia.….  And yet there’s hardly any discussion of this.”

The public needs to know that today’s weapons are much more lethal than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.  Today’s bombs are in the range of 100 Kt (over 6 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb) to 500 Kt.  “Scientists have calculated that even a small-scale nuclear war involving one hundred Hiroshima-type nuclear bombs between two countries, such as India and Pakistan, would have a devastating effect on Earth’s climate.” The black smoke would rise into the stratosphere, blocking out sunlight for years, and plunge the planet into temperatures too cold to support agriculture, leading to mass death and possible human extinction. “This limited war would involve only 0.3% of the world’s nuclear explosive power.” [2]

During the Cold War, one restraint against launching a first strike against the Soviet Union was the realistic fear of a potent retaliatory nuclear strike.  The crucial deterrent was  Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). However, G.W. Bush’s cancellation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2003 permitted the use of missile defense (offense), a technology for detecting and destroying enemy missiles within one minute of launch and hence a US belief that a nuclear war was winnable.  In 1977, Donald Rumsfeld outlined strategies for a first strike, and in 2021  these conditions are in operation: precise strategic weapons to destroy enemy land-based missiles, anti-submarine warfare, missile defense, and space warfare to eliminate early warning, communications, and navigation satellites. [3]

At this time, Israel significantly contributes to obstructing measures aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons. Chomsky, Pappe, and Henry Siegman all provide details about Israel’s successful strategy of covert provocations leading to reactions justifying Israeli retaliation. [4, p 114]. It has served Israel’s leaders to represent Iran as an existential threat with a nuclear weapons program. Israel is a prime mover against Iran nuclear weapons agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).  Robert  Fisk:  “Yet we reporters do not mention that Shimon Peres, as Israeli Prime Minister, said exactly the same thing in 1996. That was 16 years ago. And we do not recall that the current Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999. That would be 13 years ago. Same old story.” Israel’s recent provocations against Iran include the assassination of General Soleimani, Israel’s targeted assassination of four Iranian nuclear scientists, the most recent in November 2020, the  Natanz cyber attack in April 2021, possible Israeli involvement in the fire on Iran’s largest naval ship  in the Gulf of Oman on June 2, 2021 and on the state-owned oil refinery a few hours later. The UN meetings to establish a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East do not include the only Middle East country with nuclear weapons – Israel.

“Lawful” nuclear-armed powers up-the-ante of nuclear confrontation by provoking Iran, Russia, and China.  On June 23, Al Jazeera reports  [Iran] a“’Sabotage attack’ on Iranian nuclear building”, [Russia] suspicion that Britain is firing shots in the Black Sea on the border of Russia, [China] and on June 15 the USS Reagan entered the South China Sea on “routine operations”.  Russian-born York University professor Sergei Plekhanov: “There is enough evidence that the destroyer’s venture into Russian territorial waters was not an accidental ‘innocent passage’, but rather a planned move, approved at the top level of the British government. Sailing a nuclear-capable destroyer into an adversary state’s territorial waters near that state’s key military base, and doing it in the runup to a massive NATO naval exercise in the Black Sea was an extraordinary and exceedingly dangerous provocation. Provocation is a tool of policy, and every provocation has a political purpose.”

What, and whom, does law rule? Jasmin Zine, writes that the “rule of law” is a breeding ground for violence and hypocrisy: in Canada, this “…rhetoric includes the liberal washing of white nationalism that politically camouflages xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist ideologies under the guise of ‘protecting democracy,’ ‘freedom’ and the ‘rule of law’ from what are regarded as illiberal, anti-modern and anti-democratic Muslims.”

This discrepancy between words, actions, and feelings is frightening: the first commandment is “thou shalt not kill” but God ordered Abraham to kill his son, and God had forsaken his own son dying on the cross; the UN became effective in 1945 and its first commandment was to “end the scourge of war”, but in 1950 the UN launched the Korean war, a forgotten, hidden war. The US several times considered using nuclear weapons against this largely impoverished civilian population. On the ground, “the documented violence was so extreme, so gratuitous, as to suggest a peculiar pathology.”(p 124) In the north, all cities were “annihilation zones”(p. 150). “Operation Chastise” destroyed dams, creating tidal waves that inundated towns and country, and people were reduced to living in caves.[5]

What is the rule of law?  Because of  US pressure, the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction over the supreme crime of starting an illegal war. Astonishingly, only the five original nuclear-armed nations are allowed to veto in the UN.  The UN Charter states that international disputes must be settled by peaceful means and refrain from the threat or use of force.  The means must include negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements. As a last resort the Security Council decides about the use of armed force, but it can decide on measures not including the use of armed force such as demonstrations, blockade, interruption of economic relations. [6, p 7-12). There have been innumerable wars since 1945.

In the lawless world, humans are abstractions represented as numbers and statistics. Experts quibble about the percentage of people who would die in nuclear war. Canadian poet El Jones speaks of the discrepancy between being nice and polite people, while official actions are of utmost brutality. Oppressed people globally are the ones who are rising up to show and stop the holocausts.

[1] Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian violence from Arendt to Gaza, Verso: London, 2011.

[2] Dale Dewar and Florian Oelck, Florian. From Hiroshima to Fukushima to You. Between the Lines: Toronto (2014). P. 142-150.

[3] Robert Aldridge,  First Strike: The Pentagon’s Strategy for Nuclear War. South End Press: Boston (1983). P. 36.

[4] Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe, Gaza in Crisis: reflections on Israel’s war against the Palestinians, Haymarket, Chicago, 2010. See especially p. 114ff.

[5] Bruce Cumings, The Korean War: a history, Modern Library, New York, 2010.

[Header Image:  “US nuclear weapons test at Bikini in 1946” by International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0]

Judith Deutsch is a psychoanalyst in Toronto. She is a member of Independent Jewish Voices and is former president of Science for Peace.. She can be reached at: judithdeutsch0@gmail.com.

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