This Fall in Nuclear Threat History

By |2020-09-28T16:41:45-07:00September 28, 2020|

October 5, 1991 – In response to President George H. W. Bush’s September 27th proposal to remove all land-based tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. overseas bases and all of its sea-based tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. ships, submarines, and aircraft, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, escalated nuclear disarmament despite the opposition of some prominent military officers in calling for:  a stand down of all strategic bombers then on day-to-day alert status and the storage of their nuclear weapons, a stand down of 503 ICBMs including 134 MIRVed (multiple warhead) missiles, a halt to the buildup of launch facilities for rail-based ICBMs while also terminating their modernization programs and returning them to their basing facilities, and a commitment to discontinue development of a small mobile ICBM and of short-range attack missiles for heavy bombers.  Furthermore, he also proposed broader nuclear disarmament proposals that both sides might agree to by calling for deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces, the withdrawal of airborne tactical nuclear weapons, along with ground-based and sea-based weapons, a moratorium on nuclear testing with a promise by both sides to ratify a comprehensive test ban, a moratorium on the production of fissionable materials and a global commitment to a mutual no first-use policy.  Comments: Just 12 weeks later, the Soviet Union disbanded and peoples of the world rejoiced that the Cold War was over and that a new Peace Dividend might usher in a new era in international relations, but despite high hopes this substantially did not happen.  Subsequent U.S. presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama renewed bilateral arms control treaties with the Russians (until Trump irrationally set out to scuttle bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms control) and President Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons, however the military-industrial complexes in America, Russia, and in other nuclear weapons states lobbied to convince their voting populations erroneously that nuclear deterrence had kept the peace, stabilized world relations, and would prevent any nuclear conflict.  Today the nine nuclear weapons states and their allies continue to waste trillions of dollars on conventional and nuclear weapons modernization amidst a new and more dangerous Cold War II arms race. (Sources: Burns H. Weston. “Towards Post-Cold War Global Security: A Legal Perspective” Booklet 32 Waging Peace Series: Annual Quentin-Baxter Memorial Lecture. Wellington, New Zealand, March 25, 1992. Nuclear Age Peace Foundation,  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 34-35, and National Security Archive. “Unilateral U.S. Nuclear Pullback in 1991 Matched by Soviet Cuts.” September 30, 2016, http://www.nsarchive.gwu.edu/briefing-book/nuclear-vault-russia-programs/2016-09-30/unilateral-us-nuclear accessed August 1, 2020.) 

October 8, 2018 – On this date an insider Congressional newspaper The Hill published an opinion piece by the founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, David Krieger, titled, “Hacking Nuclear Weapons is a Global Threat.”  The article pointed out that in addition to the four “m’s” – words that describe how a nuclear attack could be initiated, malice, madness, mistake, and miscalculation, another frightening possibility could be nuclear conflict caused or precipitated due to cyberattacks on an enemy’s nuclear command and control or launch systems.  This penetration by hackers of cyber security walls was referred to as “manipulation.” Dr. Krieger provided a terrifying real world example of the hacking of nuclear weapons by mentioning a Royal Institute of International Affairs research study that noted, “As an example of what is possible, the U.S. is reported to have infiltrated parts of North Korea’s missile systems and caused test failures. Recent cases of cyber attacks indicate that nuclear weapons systems could also be subject to interference, hacking, and sabotage through the use of malware or viruses which could inflict digital components of a system at any time.  Minuteman silos, for example, are believed to be particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks.”  The author hit the proverbial nail on the head by concluding that, “The problem with nuclear deterrence is that it cannot be made effective and the potential for breaching the cybersecurity of nuclear arsenals only adds to the vulnerabilities and dangers…(therefore)…The only meaningful response to nuclear weapons is to stigmatize, delegitimize, and ban them.”

October 15-16, 2004 – The preeminent medical expert on the nuclear threat, Dr. Helen Caldicott, President of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, joined prominent voices like David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Oscar Shirani, a nuclear industry whistleblower, Dr. Arjun Makijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and others who spoke at a Nuclear Policy Research Institute Symposium “Nuclear Power and Children’s Health: What You Can Do” at the St. Scholastica Academy in Chicago, Illinois. Specific and detailed evidence of harmful environmental and health effects, especially those impacting children, was presented at the symposium.  Presenters addressed critical topics such as the dangers of nuclear power plants and the threat of terrorist targeting of these facilities, the hidden economic, environmental, and health costs of nuclear energy, advice on how to protect people from exposure to nuclear materials, how to address the conundrum of nuclear waste removal and sequestration including the risks of the transport and permanent disposal of nuclear waste, the incredibly unwise practice of recycling nuclear materials into household goods and an investigation into non-nuclear alternative energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and other safer technologies.  Comments: Unfortunately, too many Americans and other populations living in the dozens of nations  that unwisely utilize nuclear energy for electricity and/or are building a new generation of more dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons (thanks in part to President Trump’s commitment to help build nuclear plants throughout the Middle East) don’t seem to care or are completely ignorant about the tremendous dangers of the resulting radioactive contamination of the air, land, water supplies, other species and our own frail bodies, especially the impact on the most vulnerable – infants, children, and the elderly. Even more objectionable is the fact that the wealthiest and most politically powerful leaders of these nations, including the United States, purposely avoid building nuclear power and weapons production plants in or near the sequestered, gated communities that they call home, preferring instead to impose the toxic legacies of nuclear technologies on the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and the politically disenfranchised or at least under enfranchised masses of their populations.  It’s way past time to end the nuclear threat and eliminate this unequal treatment of a large segment of the global population! 

November 3, 2020 – In the most critically important election in not only U.S. history but possibly in the future history of global civilization, Americans will decide for the first time ever whether to reelect a president who had been impeached.  But the reasons why Trump must be defeated rise infinitely above the fact he was impeached to matters that involve the survival of not only American democracy but of the human species – the threat he poses to the future.  In this calendar year alone, his tragic mishandling of the Corona virus COVID-19 pandemic, due in large part to his extremely dangerous anti-intellectual and anti-science mentality, was one of the worst series of mistakes a U.S. president has ever made.  He not only caused tens of thousands more Americans to die than would have died if he had acted swiftly two weeks or more before he actually did take significant but still error-filled action (accepting World Health Organization test kits instead of waiting longer for what turned out to be flawed American COVID19 test kits that previously Trump claimed were “the greatest”), but his misjudgments also triggered the worst economic downturn in the last 100 years and the first large-scale trade war since the 1930s!  His continued frivolous and reckless rhetoric during those months led hundreds if not thousands of Americans to try outlandishly unhealthy ways to combat the virus including recommending citizenry ingest disinfectants or take an antimalarial drug that hadn’t been cleared by the FDA. On May 24, 2020 the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the efforts of Trump and his Republican Congressional leaders to blame China for the Coronavirus Pandemic is pushing U.S.-Chinese relations to “the brink of a new Cold War.” Later during the mostly peaceful protests (although rioting and looting did occur in a number of U.S. cities) over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, he pulled a page from the autocratic handbook in utilizing the 1807 Insurrection Act to justify his illegal and unconstitutional use of active-duty military troops and even prison guards to respond to the protests with an extreme show of force and oftentimes unreasonable use of violence.  Also around this same time period, Trump, in search of any and every way to blowup bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms control, decided in May that the U.S. should withdraw from the 2002 Open Skies Treaty, signed by nearly three dozen nations, that allowed the nuclear powers to prevent “nuclear breakout’ by allowing aircraft to overfly any participating power’s nuclear weapons test and research facilities.  Combine his unstable mental state – he has been diagnosed by dozens of mental health professionals as manifesting malignant narcissism and experiencing frontal lobe dementia – with his unprecedented and frightening belief system (“Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”) and his history of lies, deception, and angry threatening rhetoric towards other leaders, nations, and ethnic groupings and the equation yields the greatest chance in American and world history of his triggering a nuclear conflict.  It could begin simply by this president utilizing a very low yield nuclear weapon to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure which could very well be the trip wire for other nations joining America’s precedence of utilizing nuclear weapons in combat for the first time since 1945 and thereby starting a slow chain of escalation that after weeks, months, or even years results in a larger scale nuclear war somewhere in the world, with the U.S. as a likely participant.  This would likely lead to a global nuclear winter caused by hundreds or thousands of warheads being detonated in a day or so precipitating the injection of horrendously large amounts of dust, debris, and firestorm remnants into the upper atmosphere blotting out the sun and triggering a global agricultural failure that will kill billions more than the hundreds of millions killed in the initial nuclear explosions of the war.  This could reasonably result in the end of civilization and even the eventual demise of the human species and countless other life forms on this planet.  In addition to this penultimate threat to the human race, if he somehow avoids nuclear war, he could nevertheless follow-through on his threats to wage a conventional war on either Iran or North Korea which could further destabilize the world economy and expand the ongoing perpetual war indefinitely.  And over the ensuing decades this would actually make nuclear or other WMD war more likely over the longer term.  In the short term, his unprecedented destruction of a number of nuclear and space arms control treaties, negotiated by past Republican and Democratic presidents and approved by bipartisan votes by Senators in both parties, especially his likely failure to renew the Moscow Treaty of 2011, also known as the New START Treaty by the deadline of February 5, 2021, make nuclear and even conventional war more likely (also, Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty of 1987 reintroduces into the world a race to build thousands of nonnuclear intermediate range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, some of which will carry nuclear warheads).  In 2016, Dr. Bruce G. Blair (1947-2020), a widely respected decades-long authority on nuclear command and control issues, argued that Donald Trump lacked the “responsibility, composure, competence, empathy, and diplomatic skill” to keep nuclear deterrence from failing “by intent, accident or miscalculation.” Yet another reason to defeat Trump is to circumvent a likely space war that again he helped set the stage for by his disregard for the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and his creation for the first time ever of a U.S. warfighting space force (as opposed to the existing U.S. Air Force focus on using space as a reconnaissance platform and early warning medium to help prevent nuclear war).  These actions have spurred Russia, China and other powerful nations to begin or greatly accelerate their own preparations for space warfare, which includes the building of “rods from God” or the reemergence of old Soviet FOBS – orbital weapons that could be used to strike with hyper speed at Earth targets.  Again this could also trigger a nuclear or WMD conflict that kills billions.  Even if humanity avoids nuclear conflict during future space wars, the penultimate result of such wars will be an exponential increase in the existing problem of creating many more millions of pieces of space debris.  This could likely result in a situation where launches of any space vehicles from satellites to manned craft might become impossible, causing humanity to lose its ability to live, work, and travel in outer space or even utilize space assets for the many benefits such technology has provided our species for many decades including weather forecasting.  This scenario might also make interception or deflection of an incoming asteroid or comet virtually impossible to achieve, dooming our species and countless others to a mass extinction event sometime in the next several decades.  Trump’s denial of global climate change and the growing impact of fossil fuel exploitation in accelerating global warming is another top reason why he must be defeated.  Climate change is obviously a longer term threat than nuclear war but just as important.  If it isn’t addressed and won’t be in Trump’s second term, violent weather, rising oceans, and growing geopolitical stability (that even Trump’s Pentagon admits will only get worse in the coming years) will result with many more millions suffering and thousands more dying over the next four years as a result of the president’s stubborn refusal to accept scientific consensus that something critical needs to be done to address this crisis.  A Green New Deal and a changed U.S. commitment to negotiate and follow through unilaterally on greenhouse gas reductions in this decade must be accomplished, something which the president unwisely considers as unnecessary and harmful to economic growth. There are many other paramount reasons why Donald Trump must be defeated in this 2020 election, but of course protection of our centuries old democratic values (specifically those in The Bill of Rights in particular and the U.S. Constitution in more general terms) and the rule of law including long-held U.S. recognition of the tenets of international law, are also worth mentioning.  Recently Trump began to lay the groundwork to create doubts about the upcoming November 3rd election result with his unproven attacks on voting-by-mail and his purposeful appointment of a Postmaster General that he has tasked to slow down mail delivery and make it less efficient in order to undermine confidence in American voting during this COVID-19 pandemic, making it perhaps more likely he will dispute the result of the election.  But the entire list of reasons why Trump must go is too long to address in this article. (Sources:  Gayle Spinazze. “Press Release: It is Now 100 Seconds to Midnight.” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. https://www.thebulletin.org/2020/01/press-release-it-is-now-100-seconds-to-midnight/ 

Dr. Bandy X. Lee. “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess A President.” New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2019, Anonymous (Senior Trump Administration Official) “A Warning.” New York: Twelve Books, 2019, Mary L. Trump. “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020, David Cay Johnston. “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018, “Bruce Blair, Crusader for Nuclear Arms Control, Dies at 72.” New York Times, July 24, 2020, http://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/us/bruce-blair-dead.html and other resources too numerous to cite.) 

November 13, 1974 – Karen Silkwood, a 28-year old laboratory analyst-technician and head of the steering committee of the Crescent, Oklahoma chapter of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, who worked at one of Kerr-McGee Corporation’s ten civilian plutonium production plants in that state, died mysteriously when her automobile skidded 270 feet off Highway 74 and hit a concrete culvert.  Initially ruled an accident by a local law enforcement agency, subsequently investigators discovered a significant dent in the rear bumper of her Honda automobile and other prima facie evidence of foul play – another automobile forcing her car off the road.  That night Silkwood, portrayed by Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep in the 1983 film directed by Mike Nichols, was carrying a thick manila folder with evidence of negligent and possibly intentional worksite abuses resulting in the unsafe management and operation of the plant that included criminal negligence in the manufacturing of fuel rods at the Kerr-McGee plant in Crescent.  Examples of the abuses include unreported spills and leaks of radioactive products that contaminated workers, employees sent into dangerous plutonium production cycle work without adequate safety training, and radioactive storage containers left open and unattended for several days.  After visiting her union’s headquarters in Washington, DC, she was tasked with gathering evidence in order to prosecute management officials involved in the abuses.  It seems probable though that management wanted to avoid prosecution and the possible shutdown of its firm’s entire production enterprise by at first trying to scare off Silkwood, then later by arranging an accident to shut her up.  When Kerr-McGee’s own inspectors allegedly found no contamination at the plant, Silkwood became suspicious and had them bring Geiger counters to her apartment. Significant quantities of highly toxic plutonium (a mere millionth of a gram of this substance can induce cancer in a laboratory animal) were found in her refrigerator as well as at many other locations at her residence.  The night she died, her union colleagues suspected that she was carrying a folder of evidence against Kerr-McGee to New York Times reporter David Burnham.  After the fatal accident, a state trooper who was at the crash site mentioned seeing dozens of loose papers scattered in the mud near Silkwood’s Honda which he said he put back in the car.  But no folders or papers were ever recovered.  Years later, a number of journalists and pro bono investigators interviewed other employees at the plant, despite threats of losing their jobs, and pieced together evidence found in the archives of the Atomic Energy Commission (since renamed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) in Washington, DC.  In 1979, after the longest trial in Oklahoma history, Kerr-McGee was ordered to pay Silkwood’s family punitive damages.  While that judgment would later be reversed upon appeal, the case was finally settled out of court.  Comments:  This incident and countless others not only in the U.S. civilian nuclear power industry but in many other nations, along with the Three Mile Island nuclear accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979, helped convince the American public that nuclear power, then and now, is but another dangerous short- and long-term nuclear threat (along with the production of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons) to our species and certainly not a safe, viable, or even economical alternative to coal and fossil fuel-caused climate change. (Source:  “The Death of Karen Silkwood: An Investigation Into the Fate of A Whistle-Blower Uncovered the Dangers of the Nuclear Power Industry.”  Fifty Years of Rolling Stone. New York: Harry N. Abrams, May 16, 2017 along with mainstream and other alternative media sources.) 

November 16, 22, 2015 – On these two dates and on many occasions in the last several decades, U.S. military forces used depleted uranium-tipped munitions against military, and most probably unintended civilian, targets in numerous military engagements America has been involved in.  On the specific dates mentioned above, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Major Josh Jacques informed the publication Foreign Policy that U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog fixed-wing aircraft shot 5,265 armor-piercing 30 millimeter rounds containing depleted uranium (DU) to destroy over 300 Islamic State vehicles in Syria’s eastern desert which were transporting illegal oil that the Islamic State (or ISIS) was attempting to profit from.  This admission contradicted a March 2015 statement by John Moore, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, that DU would not be used in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.  The use by U.S. military forces of depleted uranium munitions deployed on a number of ground and air platforms date back to the First Gulf War (1991), the U.S.-NATO bombing campaign in the Balkans and Kosovo in the 1990s and in the U.S. War in Iraq (2003 – ) and probably in other unconfirmed theatres of conflict as recently as this past year.  Since these weapons were first introduced in the 1970s, DU has been used at least hundreds of thousands of times by American military units.  Comments:  Despite long-time assurances by U.S. military and even some scientific authorities that DU has little or no radioactive toxic-related impact, many credible international medical and scientific establishments vigorously disagree.  One of many examples of this are statements made after scientific investigations were conducted by the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization which concluded that, “It (DU) has been suspected as the culprit in lung and kidney illnesses because it is soluble in water and can be ingested as a fine dust through inhalation.”  A United Nations report authored in 2014 said that the Iraqi government considers U.S. use of DU in the 2003 war and beyond, “a danger to human beings and the environment.”  The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons said that the areas in Syria contaminated by DU in 2015 (and February 2017 and possibly later) “pose a risk to civilian health and must be isolated and addressed as soon as conditions allow.” The obvious concern about contamination of civilian populations in these war zones should also be extended to the health and well-being of U.S. and allied ground forces stationed in war theatres where DU has been used in the past and present.  DU use is considered one of the confirmed reasons for the existence of the medical condition classified as ‘Gulf War Syndrome.’ Therefore, it is not surprising that a growing number of global scientific, medical civilian and even military authorities have pushed for and are continuing to lobby for the abolition of the use of such unconscionable weaponry as depleted uranium munitions. (Sources: A variety of mainstream and alternative news sites.) 

December 1-8, 1986 – According to a May 29, 2012 National Security Archive (located at the campus of George Washington University in Washington, DC) Electronic Briefing Book No. 380 titled, “Mighty Derringer,” the U.S. government’s concern that nuclear terrorism was a realistic possibility caused the Department of Energy to stage a secret exercise on these dates by its Nuclear Emergency Support Search Teams (NEST) with assistance from the U.S. Delta Force military secret operations unit. The exercise involved conducting an expedited search of the city of Indianapolis for a hypothetical improvised nuclear device (IND) constructed and deployed by a terrorist cell from the fictional nation of Montrev.  But, the realistic exercise concluded with an explosion of the IND which hypothetically destroyed 20 square blocks of the downtown center of Indianapolis.  Comments: The growing possibility of nuclear terrorism in a world where a renewed nuclear arms race has been embraced by the U.S. president and other leaders of the nuclear weapons states is yet another reason for global citizenry to demand an end to the incredibly dangerous game of Nuclear Roulette.  It’s time to stop and reverse this anachronistic nuclear war game before humanity suffers a fatal blow.  The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a good starting point along with other global components including a Fissile Materials Production Moratorium, a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified by all nations particularly the United States, and the planned elimination of all nuclear weapons by 2030. 

December 9-12, 2019The Washington Post published a potential blockbuster series of articles titled, “The Afghanistan Papers – A Secret History of the War” starting with the December 9th article by Craig Whitlock, “At War With The Truth.”  The authoritative series, which included quotes from key decision makers and U.S. military and political leaders, was described as a confidential trove of Pentagon and U.S. government documents revealing that senior officials failed to tell the truth about the eighteen year old endless war, and that these trusted strategists and politicians purposefully made overly optimistic assessments about U.S. progress in the war and the rebuilding of Afghanistan that they knew to be false while hiding overwhelming evidence that the conflict was unwinnable.  According to objective sources like the U.S. Congressional Research Service and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the results of the Afghan War have been very deadly as about 150,000 civilians, soldiers, aid workers, and contractors have died including over 6,300 Americans.  Also. although the mainstream news media has always harped on how to afford Medicare for All and progressive health care plans, it rarely mentions that the wars the U.S. has fought since 2001 have cost over six trillion dollars (according to The Cost of War Project).  Comments:  This series reminds us all of the words inscribed on the façade of the U.S. National Archives, “The Past is Prologue,” because nearly 50 years ago, Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, published in The New York Times, revealed similar findings about the Vietnam conflict.  Unfortunately while it appears the Pentagon Papers helped fuel further American popular opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, it seems unlikely that the Afghan Papers will have as powerful a role.  This relates to the fact that President Trump was at the same time as these revelations facing impeachment and before the mainstream and even alternative media could reiterate and follow-up on the article series, attention was diverted by Trump’s unprecedented, illegal, and unconstitutional breach of power in his assassination of a high Iranian military official Major General Qassem Soleimani in a January 3, 2020 drone strike near the Baghdad Airport. In retaliation, the Iranians launched two dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq, which fortunately did not result in loss of life. These events triggered an international war scare as both Trump and Iran’s leadership traded rhetoric threats including the U.S. president’s extremely horrific tweet indicating that he might attack 52 cultural and religious sites in Iran in retaliation for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in November of 1979.  The tension was possibly the worse since Trump took office but thankfully within days the threat of U.S.-Iran full-scale war was apparently reduced.  However, the Trump administration’s ratcheting up of the use of military force, which began on Day One of this presidency, in a number of theaters including a significant, mostly unpublicized number of drone strikes, has flown under the radar as mainstream media has focused increasingly on other issues, legitimately on the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the resulting U.S. deaths (which was worsened by Trump’s delayed response to the Coronavirus), the Black Lives Matter protests, the 2020 election, and impeachment, but also a number of insignificant “entertainment” news items rather than returning to the paramount issue of America’s endless war in Afghanistan and the counterproductive, ever-growing Global War on Terrorism. (Sources including mainstream and alternative news media sites and Sonali Kolhatkar. “Afghan Papers Confirm That The Longest War Is A Lie.” Dec. 13, 2019, Truthdig. http://www.commondreams.org/Views/2019/12/13/afghanistan-papers-confirm-longest-war-lie and Neta C. Crawford.  “Costs of War: Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency.” Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University. Nov. 2018 http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2018/Human%20Costs%2C%20Nov%202018%20CoW.pdf accessed January 15, 2020.)