Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

What if nuclear war no longer resulted in nuclear winter?

Can nuclear weapons be justified if arsenals are kept small enough to prevent the threat of nuclear winter if used?

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear winter occurs when smoke from fires set by nuclear bombs rises to the upper atmosphere. (Photo: Josh Thoresen / Flickr Commons)

Nuclear war, like a nuclear warhead, is actually multiple threats in one. Of the three greatest, the first is instantaneous — death and destruction from the blast — the second two, time-released: radiation and, later, nuclear winter.

Nuclear winter, as you may know, occurs when smoke from fire set off by nuclear detonations (especially in cities, with their concentration of flammable material) rises to the upper atmosphere. The result, as American and Russian scientists learned in the early eighties, was that the atmosphere would heat up and the earth would cool. More specifically, the smoke burns nitrogen causing ozone depletion, which, even worse than causing skin cancer, interferes with photosynthesis, thus drastically lowers crop yields. Millions will starve (just another way that nuclear weapons give new meaning to the phrase “adding insult to injury”) — not to mention all those who may to a depression induced by the cold and the perpetual dirty gray clouds looming over them. Continue reading

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

The T word: Republican senators’ letter to Iran has some accusing them of treason

Many are aghast at the treasonous nature of the open letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators.

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

It’s astonishing that U.S. senators would try to pull the rug out from a presidency in the midst of sensitive negotiations with another state. (Photo: Mike Myers / Flickr Commons)

As you have no doubt heard by now, 47 Republican senators wrote an open letter directed at Iran’s leadership. Its main message:

We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. … The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of an agreement at any time. Continue reading

NuclearWarhead

Nuclear weapons are an aging society, too

Bet you never heard of nuclear gerontology.

NuclearWarheadIn 2004 anthropologist Joseph Masco wrote a seminal article for the August issue of American Ethnologist titled Nuclear technoaesthetics. He followed that up with a book titled The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006). In his article, which addresses, among other things, the effects on the mentality of nuclear scientists after nuclear testing was banned, he reproduces the thoughts of a former deputy director of nuclear weapons technologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Continue reading

Ronald Reagan

Was Reagan’s nuclear about-face at Reykjavik genuine?

Was Reagan’s conduct with Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit ― soon to be a major motion picture ― in fact, disingenuous?

Ronald ReaganOn May 13 Variety reported on a movie that’s been long in development, in part because it’s been in want of a director: “Baltasar Kormakur, an Icelandic helmer-producer who’s become one of Hollywood’s hottest film directors, is in discussions to direct “Reykjavik,” a historical drama chronicling the 1986 Reykjavik Summit which took place during the Cold War. Michael Douglas is attached to star as President Ronald Reagan.” Continue reading

NuclearWarhead

Nuclear weapons are like the wedding at Cana

The supply of nuclear weapons can seem endless.

NuclearWarheadRemember the story in the Gospel of John from the Bible’s New Testament about the first miracle of Jesus Christ? To refresh your memory, Jesus attended a wedding with his mother and disciples (what, he couldn’t get a date?), in a village called Cana, which may have been in Galilee in northern Israel. When the wine ran out, he converted containers of water into wine. John also told us about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, which entailed Jesus feeding thousands with five barley loaves and two small fish.  Continue reading

Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel

Israel projects its own nuclear behavior on to Iran

Israel and Iran: It takes one to know one ― or think it knows one.

Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel

Negev Nuclear Research Center in Israel

In a story that seems to have gone unremarked upon by other journalists, on March 31 at Inter Press Service, Gareth Porter reported:

The Barack Obama administration appears to have rejected a deal-breaking demand by Israel for an Iranian confession to having had a covert nuclear weapons programme as a condition for completing the comprehensive nuclear agreement. Continue reading

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

Five ways the myth that Iran was developing nuclear weapons was hyped

How an Iranian nuclear-weapons program became accepted wisdom.

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

Arak nuclear reactor in Iran

More and more men and women are either born with a talent for, or are developing skill in, technical matters, especially computer hardware and software. With those capabilities now widespread, it’s odd that more people don’t take the time to acquaint themselves with the technical issues surrounding Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program. While the issues may be somewhat daunting to non-technical types such as this author ― though certainly not beyond our capacity to understand with a little effort ― they’re easy for the technically gifted. True, they’re on the dry side, but it can’t be any more tedious than trying to figure out how to draw more clicks to an ad. Continue reading

NuclearWarhead

What nobody is saying about the cheating missileers

Their perception that they’ve been relegated to an armed-forces version of Siberia is only the tip of the iceberg.

NuclearWarheadRobert Burns of the Associated Press has been the point man on the ongoing story of the U.S. nuclear launch force’s shortcomings. In one recent development, “missileers” at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana are alleged to have cheated on a proficiency exam. Subsequently, reports Global Security Newswire, about half of them

… have had their launch certifications taken away and been pulled off alert duty.… Of the more than 90 launch officers currently implicated in the cheating scandal, 40 missileers were believed directly involved in the misconduct, which involved sharing exam answers by text message. Others allegedly tolerated or facilitated the incidents. Continue reading

Dimona Nuclear Reactor 1968

Ever wonder exactly why the U.S. keeps Israel’s nuclear secret?

Hint: it’s not just the Israel lobby.

Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons

In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway. Continue reading

NuclearWarhead

Secretary of the Air Force tries to show nuclear missile force some love

The United States nuclear missile force has been beset by a series of issues that Robert Burns of the Associated Press, who has been the lead dog on this ongoing story, describes as the “deliberate violations of safety rules, failures of inspections,” and “breakdowns in training.” The latest, as you may have heard, is cheating by the “missileers” on proficiency exams. There’s been much handwringing on the part of the command, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who wondered aloud: “Do they get bored?” he asked. No doubt; also, as Burns explains:

Nuclear missile duty has lost its luster in an era dominated by other security threats. It’s rarely the career path of first choice for young officers.

They can see the writing on the wall. Nuclear weapons may be a century away from being abolished. But in this year’s Omnibus Spending Bill, six percent of funding was cut from what the National Nuclear Security Administration asked for warhead research, development, production, and related activities. Continue reading

Arak

The Iran nuclear intelligence well was poisoned from the start

Gareth Porter reveals how Western intelligence believed the procurements of an Iranian university were proof of nuclear-weapons research.

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

Arak nuclear facility. Image Wikimedia Commons

The sources of enmity between Iran and the United States are legion. In 1953, when Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh (also spelled Mossadegh) sought to make Iran a democracy and nationalize the oil industry, which was owned by British corporations, the United States helped plan and execute a coup. Then, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter allowed the just-deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian revolutionaries took U.S. embassy staff hostage. But, after 9/11, in a gesture of good will, Iran collected hundreds of Arabs who crossed the border from Afghanistan, deported them, and supplied copies of their passports to the United States. Iran also provided assistance overthrowing the Taliban and establishing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. Continue reading

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

U.S. determined to re-freeze thaw in relations with Iran

Iran's Arak nuclear enrichment facility

Iran’s Arak nuclear enrichment facility

It was only supposed to be Iran’s uranium enrichment progress that was frozen after talks with Iran last month. But now, acting in bad faith by violating the spirit of the Geneva deal between the G5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran, the United States seems to be doing its level best to re-freeze the recent thaw in relations between the G5+1 and Iran. If you’ll bear with me for a final sub-Arctic-temperature metaphor, the United States has frozen the assets of (reports the Jerusalem Post) “companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions.” Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Republicans want it both ways with treaties

They alternately disdain and demand them.

In a new report for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Usha Sahay and Kingston Reif cite President Obama’s June 19 speech in Berlin. The President announced his intentions to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal an additional 1,000 or more warheads below the level required by the New START treaty. When he stated that these cuts could either be “pursued through formal agreements” ― treaties ― or “parallel voluntary measures,” 24 Republican senators immediately wrote him to the effect that “any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.” Continue reading

The fallacy of nuclear deterrence, chapter 238

A prominent psychiatrist and author unearthed yet another flaw in the principle of nuclear deterrence.

I posted recently about a 1985 article in Political Psychology titled “Toward a Collective Psychopathology of the Nuclear Arms Competition” by John E. Mack, the American psychiatrist and Harvard Medical professor.* Another insight of his runs something like this.

To make “the intention to kill off the bulk of the population” of the enemy in nuclear war morally able, the enemy that’s “created” (or demonized, as we might call it today) by the acceptable, the United States must be ― drum roll, please ― “monstrous to a degree virtually not experienced among the peoples of the human race.” Whether or not deterrence worked in preventing another world war, it’s apparent that many in the Soviet Union perceived the United States as ready and able to launch a first strike as it had in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Continue reading

Einstein Oppenheimer

One of the many ways Nazis shot themselves in the foot by persecuting Jews

Apparently Hitler seems to have forgotten that eliminating Jews would cause a crippling brain drain from Germany.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project.

There are many parallels between Hitler and Stalin. On the personal level, they both liked to conduct all-night meetings. On a more critical level, the purge of the Red Army command that Stalin carried out before World War II in order to consolidate his hold on power left the Red Army ill equipped to handle Hitler’s invasion.

While Hitler didn’t order his army command, aside from those who tried to assassinate him, executed, he regularly demoted generals (only later to often promote them again). Continue reading

Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

Nuclear weapons’ lofty safety standards often go unmet

 Courtesy DIA Historical Collection


Courtesy DIA Historical Collection

Nuclear war hawks forget to factor human error into their national-security equation.

In a blog post for his site Defusing the Nuclear Threat, Martin Hellman quoted from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent speech honoring Gen. Robert Kehler, the outgoing chief of STRATCOM, the military command in charge of nuclear weapons, and cyber- and space warfare. “Perfection must be the standard for our nuclear forces,” Hagel said at one point. At another: “there is no room for error.”

Hellman is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and one of the inventors of the technology that secures credit card transactions on the Internet. Continue reading

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

We forget that deterrence doesn’t need to be nuclear

As a principle and practice, deterrence existed long before nuclear weapons.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The logic of deterrence is irrefutable to most, especially when applied to nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is questioned by everyone from disarmament activists to revisionist historians ― some of whom maintain that other factors constrained the United States and the U.S.S.R. from attacking each other during the Cold War ― to nuclear-weapons advocates. Among the last are those who assert that deterrence is of little value against a state such as Iran in the event that it were to acquire nuclear weapons. Apocalyptic clerics, they allege, would supposedly martyr their country rather than back down from a nuclear standoff, thus necessitating, at some point, a preemptive strike. Continue reading

Three Stooges

When it comes to nuclear weapons, austerity has a silver lining

Three Stooges

Just because something is embedded doesn’t mean it can’t be excised.

“Omne trium perfectum” goes the Latin saying — “everything which comes in threes is perfect.” Let’s see: the spiritual perfection of the Holy Trinity, the cinematic perfection  of the Three Stooges, and … the nuclear triad. Those dubious that the Three Stooges help prove the rule are advised to reserve the bulk of their doubt for that third leg.

In September the Cato Institute (a year after wresting some measure of independence from key founders the Koch brothers) issued a report written by Benjamin H. Friedman, Christopher A. Preble and Matt Fay titled The End of Overkill? Reassessing U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy. Continue reading

Lifton, Robert Jay

Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels” ignores demons that lie dormant

Steven Pinker maintains the world is less violent than ever. Robert Jay Lifton? Not so much.

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Robert Jay Lifton. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In this month’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a paywall), esteemed atrocity authority Robert Jay Lifton addresses the “emerging school of thought” that “contends that the world is becoming increasingly safe.” For example he singles out Steven Pinker, who, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature (Viking, 2011), maintains that the world is considerably less violent than ever before.

Professor Lifton writes:

The peaceable-world claim is deeply misleading in its failure to confront a revolution in the technology of killing and the increasing capacity for detached slaughter or numbed technological violence.

This author was happy to have his own reservations about that school of thought seconded by someone as esteemed and knowledgeable as Professor Lifton. He elaborates by recalling an interview with a Hiroshima survivor.

I was left with a powerful image: “One plane, one bomb, one city.” That image has deeply influenced my perception of our vulnerability to products of technology that are called weapons, but can more accurately be termed instruments of genocide.”

The author of The Nazi Doctors (Basic Books, 1988) then writes about the numbing processes that are adopted by those who carry out mass killings and concludes:

Drones are the epitome of numbed technological violence, perhaps even a caricature of it in their increasing replacement of human beings.

Viewed from another angle, violence is kinetic energy: action, bodies in – no matter to what end – motion. Its incidence has declined in recent years. (Recall that during World War II, each day an average of over 50,000 people were killed or died from the effects of the war.) But that’s an illusion in an age when, from a remove, our civilian and military leadership are countenancing violence that’s in not a kinetic state, but its opposite: potential energy.

Nuclear weapons, for example, are like a drawn bow, especially when they’re on high alert. Their potential, once realized, would dwarf all the kinetic energy expended in the violence of the past.

BantheBomb

Has nuclear disarmament outlived its shelf life?

Between the end of the Cold War and a president perceived as an architect of disarmament, nuclear weapons have lost their status as an “existential threat.”

BantheBombFrom the Partial Test-Ban and nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties through Reykjavík in the eighties to START I in 1991, arms control was beginning to look like it might corral nuclear proliferation by other countries and on our own soil. Instead, institutional blockades have slowed its pace while the nuclear-industrial complex has found a rhythm that it’s capable of keeping up for the long haul.

Worse, those of us advocating for disarmament can’t help but be prone to thoughts that we’re fighting yesterday’s fight. Some of us who advocate disarmament feel as if we’re viewed like figures from others eras who fought for unions, and women’s and civil rights. Those are battles perceived as long since won, however much those three causes remain under assault via attacks, respectively, on collective bargaining, abortion, and voter identification.

Alternately, viewed in today’s context, it’s as if we’re trying to organize our workplace when most of our co-workers, though ill-paid, have bought into the prevailing mood of contempt for unions. Or it’s like we’re trying to introduce a defined benefit plan (pension) into our workplace, when the horse of the defined contribution plan (401[k]) has long since left the barn.

Other reasons beside the slow pace of both arms control and disarmament (for which their advocates can be forgiven if it sometimes makes them feel like relics) are:

1. Much of the public believes that nuclear weapons are under control. We think:

a. The end of the Cold War meant a significant downgrade in the threat level.

b. A disarmament-friendly president is on the case.

c. As existential issues go, it’s been surpassed by an economy that seems increasingly like a house of cards waiting for the first ill wind to blow it down ­­– ­­ which might well result from another issue that seems to be more pressing than nuclear weapons: global warming.

2. Nuclear weapons have been around for 70 years and, aside from their use in World War II for which they were ostensibly intended, none have been used since. Maybe the world is a more rational place than we thought and they’re working as intended in the service of…

3. Deterrence, whose sheer logic is irrefutable to most and thus almost impossible to root out.

Nevertheless, it’s ironic that the hottest weapon in the world (over 180 million degrees plus) can’t crack the “What’s Hot, What’s Not” list of issues. At its peak in the late sixties, the U.S. nuclear arsenal numbered over 30,000 warheads. Its numbers are much reduced, but as of July of this year, according to the Arms Control Center, it still comprises 1,950 deployed strategic (the big ones) weapons and 7,700 undeployed strategic, as well as tactical (so-called battlefield nukes), weapons. Russia’s numbers, meanwhile, stand at 1,800 and 8,500, respectively.

Worse, according to a Ploughshares Fund report in September 2012, over the next decade, “The United States Government is on track to spend approximately $640 billion … on nuclear weapons and related programs [which includes] all costs associated with nuclear weapons production, operation, maintenance, clean up, and defense, as well as the prevention of nuclear proliferation.”

One can be forgiven for suspecting that, like a company downsizing, the United States and Russia have used reducing the numbers as a way to retrench and fortify the industry in perpetuity.

Nukes Are Off Our Radar (Well, Not Literally)

The sketch that follows is bound to make disarmament activists feel even older than they are – and newcomers to the field even more like outliers than they already might. You’ll recall that in July 2012 three members of Transform Now Plowshares broke into the Y12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where they staged a demonstration. Convicted of damaging a national defense facility, they face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on September 23. One, Sister Megan Rice, was 82 at the time of the incident and her co-defendants, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, were 63 and 57, respectively.

To the surprise and delight of anti-nukes advocates, the Washington Post pulled out all the stops a week before the trial was concluded with a lushly illustrated feature article. At one point author Dan Zak reported on the three meeting with young members of a progressive Christian group. He describes Sister Megan (as she’s known) “chatting with music student Chris Hickman.”

“I know nothing about the anti-nuclear movement,” Hickman tells her. “I was born in ’92, and it’s kind of an afterthought for my generation.”

True, the nature of the Transform Now Plowshares three action may be representative of an earlier generation of activists. But disarmament activists today can’t help but experience the young man’s comment as a blow to the gut.

Paralleling how nuclear weapons have slid completely off the radar of much of the public today is how they appear to be losing favor in the military. At about the same time as the Transform Now Plowshares trial, Robert Burns of the Associated Press reported:

The Air Force stripped an unprecedented 17 officers of their authority to control — and, if necessary, launch — nuclear missiles after a string of unpublicized failings, including a remarkably dim review of their unit’s launch skills.

By way of explanation, Bruce Blair, the co-founder of Global Zero and one-time launch control officer, told Burns:

“The nuclear air force is suffering from a deep malaise caused by the declining relevance of their mission since the Cold War’s end over 20 years ago. … Minuteman launch crews have long been marginalized and demoralized by the fact that the Air Force’s culture and fast-track careers revolve around flying planes, not sitting in underground bunkers baby-sitting nuclear-armed missiles.”

In a follow-up article, Burns wrote:

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley … acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops. [And] Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

Blair, consulted for this article as well, elaborated on his remarks in the earlier article.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty. … Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

Or as Christopher Ford, now Republican Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, wrote in 2010:

Already, for instance, it would appear that the gradual [reduction] of the perceived importance of nuclear missions within the U.S. military — and the degree to which nuclear specialties have gone from being considered a badge of elite distinction to a career backwater relative to “real” warfighting or exotic emerging arenas such as outer space and cyberspace — has helped produce a more accident-prone culture in the nuclear components of the U.S. military.

This applies to civilian jobs in the national nuclear laboratories as well. For a Huffington Post piece I wrote in 2011 titled Nuclear Weapons Just Not Sexy Anymore, I quoted chemist Cheryl Rofer of Nuclear Diner about her experience working at Los Alamos National Laboratory:

Per nuclear weapons work… we saw that people in their 30’s were leaving and other people were not accepting positions when offered. From what I have heard — the reasons are: [Los Alamos] has moved from a place of high technology, pushing-edge science, creative thinking and engagement — to compliance [meeting regulatory requirements] and not on performance.

Another individual who worked there and who preferred to remain anonymous offered an additional reason.

When they moved the lab to private contractors they put in place a fee-based performance contract… based upon meeting environmental and safety and security [and] the way [they’re] paid is to have the least amount of mistakes and what is the best way to get the least amount of mistakes — to do the least amount of work.

Though it’s from 2003, this San Francisco Chronicle article brings us full circle back to the young man who spoke with Sister Megan.

Bruce Goodwin [the head of the weapons program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] admits he often meets with puzzled stares when he tells young people he designs nuclear bombs for a living and tries to recruit promising scientists, as though he had emerged from an outdated science fiction fantasy.

“People will say to us, ‘My God, you still work on nuclear weapons?'” said Goodwin. … “I would say, ‘Yes, we do.’ But it is still a surprise.”

“It has become more difficult over the past 10 years to attract the right people.”

But it’s not just that young officers and designers no longer see nuclear weapons as a promising career choice, the military command is becoming disaffected with their actual utility for “warfighting.” Earlier this year, in the New York Times, David Sanger wrote (emphasis added):

… White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. [The President] “believes that we can make pretty radical reductions — and save a lot of money — without compromising American security in the second term. And the Joint Chiefs have signed off on that concept.”

The Air Force is actually okay with reducing our nuclear arsenal? In a 2008 article for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled “The U.S. Air Force’s indifference toward nuclear weapons” (behind a pay wall), Lawrence Korb explained why he believes the U.S. military “sees this large nuclear stockpile as an albatross around its neck.”

From its creation as a separate service at the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force was first among equals amid the nation’s three military departments and four armed services [due] primarily to its leading role in developing and deploying strategic nuclear weapons. … But with the Soviet Union’s collapse. … Strategic nuclear deterrence was no longer seen as central to U.S. security and the attention and resources of … the air force began to flow toward traditional air missions. Rather than the Bomber Barons, the air force in the post-Cold War era was led by the Fighter Mafia.”

Nukes are just no fun anymore. Why, you can’t even set the damned things off in tests. Besides, now that fighters are, to some extent, being replaced by drones, it only makes sense for the Air Force to be drawn to acquiring weapons such as Prompt Global Strike of which it can make actual use instead of nuclear weapons, which just stand around looking scary. In 2012 at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman wrote:

Instances in which the White House might someday order a non-nuclear rapid [Prompt Global] strike could include a sudden move by China toward destroying a U.S. or allied communications satellite by rocket or laser; a North Korean ballistic missile being readied for launch against a neighboring U.S. ally; or a potential adversary’s nuclear warhead observed being mated with a delivery system.

… “For me, all of those are probably important; all of those have a scenario that go with them, that [make] you go, ‘Gee, I wish I had a tool like this,’” said [Gen. James Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff].

Swap “tool” for “toy” and you get a better idea.

Nuclear Weapons Are No Longer the Bogeyman of First Resort

Furthermore, nuclear weapons, seldom featured in films or books anymore as the agent of doom of choice, seem to have lost their power to shock. They were once the theme of a number of board games, from “Nuclear War” to “Nuclear Armageddon” to “First Strike.” But, near as I can tell, not since the British “DEFCON,” released in 2006, have they driven the plot of a video game. Especially telling, nuclear-weapons programs – once replete with terms such as vertical erector launchers, thrust-to-weight ratios, soft lay downs, deep penetration, and spasm attacks – no longer capture the imaginations of men and boys as expressions of macho and the warrior mentality, or as revenge fantasies.1

You could even make the case that the plague du jour – zombies (a preposterous monster if ever there was one) – have replaced them in the imagination of many of us as the threat du jour. In part, no doubt, that’s because, over the course of the almost 70 years that we’ve been living them, they’ve never been used. As with the little boy who cried wolf, we’ve heard one alarm too many and now tune those sounding them about nuclear weapons out. Also – aside from zombies – death by threats such as EMPs to autonomous drones have become more delicious to ponder.

In fact, what’s actually old are not only nuclear weapons, but the Cold War mentality critical to keeping them lodged in our defense budget where they continue to breed. Far from diverting attention from global warming and the ongoing financial crisis, both issues could be the beneficiaries of a new era of international cooperation that achieving disarmament could herald. Furthermore, we’d be free of fears that nuclear war could be the straw that broke the environment’s back. Also, while some of it will certainly by siphoned off for other defense programs, the rest of the funds saved by eliminating nuclear weapons could be applied to social programs and reducing the national debt.

In other words, rather than turn a deaf ear to disarmament advocates as if they’re old and in the way, recognize that nuclear weapons are for fighting yesterday’s battles with yesterday’s weapons.

1Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals, Carol Cohn, Within and Without: Women, Gender, and Theory. Summer, 1987 (Jstor, behind a paywall).

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.