‘Nuclear war would kill everyone’


This film trailer video from the USA says about itself:

Psychotic Air Force general unleashes ingenious foolproof and irrevocable scheme sending bombers to attack Russia. U.S. President works with Soviet premier in a desperate effort to save the world. (Original Title – Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) © 1963, renewed 1991 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Would the present United States President Trump be as eager as the fictional US president in that old movie to save the world from nuclear annihilation?

By Bryan Dyne and Barry Grey:

“In a nuclear war between the US and Russia, everybody in the world would die”

Nuclear experts speak on the dangers of war between the US and Russia

15 April 2017

Since the April 6 cruise missile strike by the Trump administration against a Syrian airbase, tensions between the United States and the European powers and Russia are at their highest level since the cold war. The rhetoric from the US and its allies has centered on defending the unprovoked attack while Russia has responded by increasing its military support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The most recent escalation of these tensions is the dropping of a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) by the US military in Afghanistan. A MOAB is a 21,600 pound bomb, the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the US military’s arsenal. It had never before been used in combat.

While the official target was an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in Nangarhar Province, the real aim was to demonstrate to Iran, Russia, Syria, North Korea, China and any other nation that gets in the way of American imperialism’s global interests that there are no limits to the violence the US military is prepared to unleash on those it considers its enemies.

What is striking about the media coverage of the increasingly acute geopolitical crisis is the lack of discussion–whether it be the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN–of the consequences of a nuclear exchange. The next step up from a MOAB is a low-yield tactical thermonuclear warhead, a weapon that is at least an order of magnitude more destructive. Yet no one in the corporate media has asked: What would happen if such weapons were used in Syria, Iran or North Korea, let alone Russia or China?

This raises two further questions: How close is the current situation to one in which there is a clash and military escalation between the US and Russia that leads to nuclear war? How many people would die in such a conflict?

To shed light on these question, the World Socialist Web Site spoke separately with two experts on the dangers of nuclear war, Steven Starr and Greg Mello.

Steven Starr

Steven Starr is a senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility and an associate with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His articles on the environmental dangers of nuclear war have appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the publication of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies.

World Socialist Web Site: In your opinion, how real is the danger of a military conflict between the US and Russia over Syria or with China over North Korea?

Steven Starr: I think there is a very significant danger of that happening. The Russians are allied with [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and have been beating ISIS. They’ve won back Aleppo and it’s made the US media and political establishment hysterical, because that’s not how they wanted the war to end. Trump campaigned for a detente with Russia, for a non-interventionist policy. When [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson was in Turkey, he said that Assad could stay. But five days after that, the US launched cruise missiles at Syria.

As a result of the attack of 59 cruise missiles by the US on a Syrian airbase, we’ve basically destroyed relations with Russia. We’ve crossed the Rubicon. Russia has suspended the 2015 aviation safety memorandum that had provided 24/7 communication channels aimed at preventing dangerous encounters between US and Russian aircraft. This will give the Russians in Syria the right to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot at US planes. The Russians already own the Syrian airspace and they have stated that they are going to increase Syrian air defense capacity. What happens when US planes start getting shot down by the Russians?

WSWS: One thing worth contrasting is the completely dishonest and false reporting by the corporate media and the scale of the consequences of the policies being pursued. As bad as it is to pump out propaganda on behalf of the American political establishment, when you are pursuing a policy that will result in the destruction of the planet, it assumes a new dimension.

SS: From my perspective, the international “news” published by the papers of record has mostly become propaganda, especially after the events in Ukraine and Crimea in 2014. While you always expect bias in each country’s news reporting, Western media no longer seems constrained by the need to provide hard evidence to support their arguments and allegations. There has been no investigation about the chemical attack in Syria–Trump launched the missile strike before any investigation could be carried out.

The CIA is deeply involved in this process. There are only six megacorporations that control 90 percent of US and Western media, and they do not publish stories that are contrary to Washington’s official party line. Censorship by omission with no dissent permitted is the defining characteristic of what we hear today. The use of “official sources” without supporting factual evidence creates a false narrative that is used to support US military actions.

As a result, there has been a deafening silence in the media about what the consequences of what a war with Russia might mean. When have you heard mainstream media have any discussion about the consequences of a nuclear war with Russia?

WSWS: What would happen if there was another US attack on Syria, perhaps following another manufactured chemical weapons attack?

SS: The situation could escalate very quickly, especially since relations between the US and Moscow have deteriorated to their worst state in history. One report I’ve read is that there are plans to deploy 150,000 US troops to Syria. Given that there are Russian and Iranian troops in Syria (at the request of the Syrian government), it would be an incredibly stupid decision for the US to send large military forces to Syria. It would be very hard to avoid WWIII.

If the US and Russia get into a direct military conflict, eventually one side or the other will start to lose. They either then admit defeat or they escalate. And when that happens, the possibility of using nuclear weapons becomes higher. Once nukes start going off, escalation to full-scale nuclear war could happen very quickly.

WSWS: How catastrophic would that be?

SS: The US and Russia each have about 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons of at least 100 kilotons, all ready to launch within two to 15 minutes. Since it takes about nine minutes for a missile from a US submarine to hit Moscow, this means that the Russian government could retaliate. And these are only the missiles that are on a hair trigger alert.

The US and Russia have 3,500 deployed and operational strategic nuclear weapons (each with a minimum explosive power of 100,000 tons of TNT) that they can detonate within an hour. They have another 4,600 nuclear weapons in reserve, ready for use. There are about 300 cities in the US and about 200 cities in Russia with populations greater than 100,000 people. Given how many nuclear weapons there are, it’s a large chance that most large cities would be hit.

Probably 30 percent of US and Russian populations would be killed in the first hour. A few weeks after the attack, radioactive fallout would kill another 50 percent or more.

Nuclear winter, one of the long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, would probably cause most people on the planet to die of starvation within a couple years of a large US-Russian nuclear war. The global stratospheric smoke layer produced by nuclear firestorms would block most sunlight from reaching the surface of earth, producing Ice Age weather conditions that would last for at least 10 years.

Another rarely discussed consequence of nuclear war is high altitude electromagnetic pulse, or EMP. A large nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude (100-200 miles high) will produce an enormous pulse of electrical energy, which will destroy electronic circuits in an area of tens of thousands of square miles below the blast. A single detonation over the US East Coast would destroy the grid and cause every nuclear power plant affected by EMP to melt down. Imagine 60 Fukushimas happening at the same time in the US.

Greg Mello

Greg Mello is the secretary and executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, an organization that has researched the dangers of nuclear war and advocated for disarmament since 1989. His research and analysis have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and Issues in Science and Technology.

WSWS: What role have the Democrats played in the increased tensions between the US and Russia over Syria?

Gregg Mello: Even as recently as 2013, when there was a fake chemical weapon attack in Syria, I don’t think the Democrats were as “on board” with war as they are today. But now, as a result of the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, the Russia-baiting and the neo-McCarthyite hyperbole has really ratcheted up, marginalizing even those within the party who express any amount of skepticism about the official story, such as Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And this is someone who went to Syria to find out what was really going on. She found that the majority of people in Syria want the US to stop funding the rebels and are happy with the Assad government’s efforts to oust Al Qaeda and ISIS. But she’s being silenced.

WSWS: Could you speak on some of the corporate interests involved in this?

GM: Fifty-nine cruise missiles cost a lot of money. Each missile used costs, I guess, between $1 and $1.6 million, so the strike as a whole cost between $60 to $100 million. That doesn’t include the cost of the deployment of the ships and the other elements that make up a strike. It’s probably twice as much, if you include those elements. In terms of the missiles, if they are replaced, that’s income for whatever company replaces them.

Companies also get free advertising from such a strike. I saw the clip from MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who praised the missiles using the Leonard Cohen line, “I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons.” That’s a priceless advertising clip, especially when the same images and videos of the missiles are on primetime news and across the Internet. I’m sure their stock values, literally and figuratively, went up.

But even this is peanuts compared to the really high dollar amounts that come from continued tensions with Russia and the US government’s need to dominate the world. We’re talking not about millions of dollars, but billions–really, trillions. To maintain the idea that we should be in every part of the world, the US spends on all components of national defense about $1 trillion a year. So it really adds up quickly.

And the US military just got an increase to its base budget that is comparable to Russia’s entire defense budget. In the US, we spend way more money on the military than all of our potential adversaries combined. That’s where the real money is.

We get NATO to buy the latest versions of military equipment, compatible with ours. All of those arms sales plus our own national purchases are worth trillions. That’s what this strike upholds. A military spending pattern on a colossal scale.

This goes along with the geopolitical questions you mentioned.

WSWS: Could you elaborate on the geopolitical questions?

GM: Well, Trump has said that we won’t go into Syria, but there’s no consistent policy on this. Let’s assume there is another strike, will it involve Russia? Will it kill Russians? What will Putin or any other Russian leader feel he needs to do then?

Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton and New York University, noted that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called American and Russian relations “ruined.” And Medvedev is not a hardliner against the West. For him to say that, you can only imagine what the generals and other hardliners are whispering in Putin’s other ear.

If we make another strike, either with a US airplane or a “coalition” airplane, it could easily be shot down by the high end anti-aircraft weapons that Syria and Russia have deployed. This would lead to an outcry from the US political establishment to do more, to double down on our mistake. All in all, it’s difficult to see how an air campaign could have a decisive effect on the war in Syria without creating an extreme risk of escalation between the US and Russia.

Geopolitically, the situation in Syria has gone so far towards Assad remaining in power and the terrorists being pushed out that a serious US attack on Syria would either fail, or else it would really damage Russian interests, humiliate Russia and kill her soldiers along with Assad’s, and therefore tilt the balance toward WWIII.

The idea that the poisonings in Khan Sheikhoun occurred because of chemical weapons or precursors released by a conventional munitions attack on an Al Qaeda weapons warehouse or workshop, which is the report of the Russian government, makes the most sense given everything we know. The notion that Assad or some rogue element in his army dropped chemical weapons on his own people, just when he is winning militarily and politically, is ridiculous.

Now we see that the US does not want the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons involved in an investigation of the attack. Really?

The OPCW is the world’s policeman for chemical weapons, something the US helped create. They got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for verifying that all of Syria’s chemical weapons had been destroyed. They destroyed them on a US ship. In this case and in every case, the OPCW would carefully study evidence gathered with chain of custody procedures at an accredited laboratory, all of which are essential when matters of war and peace are at stake. It’s the same way you’d collect evidence in a high-profile murder case.

This hasn’t happened for the most recent chemical weapon attack–and the US doesn’t want it to happen. Instead, the US has recently issued a statement of the “facts,” a piece of paper claiming to be from all 17 intelligence agencies, but without letterheads or signatures, which uses weasel words like “we have confidence.” There is no indication what agencies have signed off on this or what actual evidence has been collected. Moreover, an attack like this takes a few weeks to investigate, not a few days.

This all is happening because Syria is one of the more important crossroads between the hydrocarbons of the Middle East and European customers. If you’re going to get oil and natural gas from Qatar to Europe without going through Iran, you have to have pipelines that go through Syria. This is especially important if you don’t want Europe to be dependent on natural gas from Russia, if you want to prevent Germany and Russia and the rest of Asia from further integration economically. The US government does not want Europe dependent on hydrocarbons supplied by Russia or Iran.

So, really, Syria is a proxy war between the US and other regional powers–Iran, allied with Russia–for control over Europe’s gas and oil. In addition, Israel wants control of the Golan Heights in order to drill in that region.

It’s also worth considering that China’s oil production seems to have peaked. The world’s net exports of oil–that is, the oil that can be bought on the international market–are starting to very slowly decline.

Since a barrel of oil will produce more value in countries such as China and India because the workers are paid so much less, China can always outbid the US and Europe for oil. Given a free market, they will. Alongside this problem, the oil-producing countries are using more oil internally as their populations and economies grow, which will inevitably produce a crisis in the availability and affordability of oil. That crisis will be upon us in the 2020s and it implies the potential for great power conflicts over these resources.

You didn’t have this during the Cold War because the US and Russia each had enough resources, as did our allies. But now, the cheap oil is running out and there are no cheap replacements. The potential for conflict, including between nuclear-armed powers, is rising.

WSWS: How many people would die during the first day of such a war?

GM: To a first approximation, in a nuclear war between the US and Russia, everybody in the world would die. Some people in the southern hemisphere might survive, but probably not even them.

Even a couple of nuclear weapons could end the United States as a government and an economy. It wouldn’t take a great deal to destroy the “just in time” supply chains, the financial markets and the Internet. The whole system is very fragile, especially with respect to nuclear weapons. Even in a somewhat limited nuclear war, say a war where only ICBM silos and airfields were targeted, there would be so much fallout from the ICBM fields alone that much of the Midwest would be wiped out, including places like Chicago.

Then there is the problem of the nuclear power plants, which have stored within them and their spent fuel pools and storage areas truly vast amounts of radioactivity. If their electricity supply is interrupted, these plants are quite susceptible to fires and meltdowns, as we saw at Fukushima.

Keep in mind that nuclear war is not one or two Hiroshima-sized bombs. The imagination cannot encompass nuclear war. Nuclear war means nuclear winter. It means the collapse of very fragile electronic, financial, governmental, administrative systems that keep everyone alive. We’d be lucky to reboot in the early 19th century. And if enough weapons are detonated, the collapse of the Earth’s ozone layer would mean that every form of life that has eyes could be blinded. The combined effects of a US-Russian nuclear war would mean that pretty much every terrestrial mammal, and many plants, would become extinct. There would be a dramatic biological thinning.

I think many parts of the US military just don’t get it. I’ve talked to people on the National Security Council and they have the idea that Russia will back down. I begged them, about 18 months ago, to bring in some Cold War era veteran diplomats from the realist school, people like former ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, to try and convince them that Russia won’t just do what we want, that they have their own legitimate interests that we would do well to understand and take into consideration.

WSWS: What are your thoughts on how to deal with the problem of nuclear war?

I would say that the effort to decrease inequality in the world is at the core of dealing with the threat of nuclear war. We have to get the military-industrial-financial complex off people’s backs. If you have so much power concentrated in so few hands, and have such high levels of inequality, the people in power are blinded by their position. They are insulated from society’s problems. So gross inequality–economic and especially political–leads to sort of political stupidity. It could lead to annihilation. The ignorant masses are not the problem. It’s the ignorance and hubris at the top. It always is.

John Pilger’s The Coming War on China, which was shown last year in Britain and recently screened in several Australian and New Zealand cinemas, is about the US military encirclement of China and the danger of a catastrophic war between the two nuclear-armed powers. The feature-length documentary will be broadcast on Australia’s state-funded SBS network on April 16: here.

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivors tour Britain for a global ban


Hiroshima survivors

Hiroshima bomb survivors tour Britain for a global ban: here.

CIA against British pro-peace women


This video from Britain is called 1980s Greenham Common, Women Protest for Peace, CND, Police.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain:

The ‘punks and crazies’ of Greenham

Friday 3rd March 2017

SOLOMON HUGHES trawls through recently released secret CIA ‘intelligence’ documents which reveal how the 1980s Greenham Common peace camp terrified the US spooks

WHAT did the CIA think about the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common?

This January the CIA made thousands of formerly secret papers available via its website. Some answer this question.

In short, the CIA knew the Greenham protesters had a big effect but they also thought they were “punks and crazies” who freaked out the intelligence men. The CIA documents are generally “secret” analysis reports rather than records of actual CIA operations.

The ones we’re concerned with here cover the “new cold war” of the 1980s. In 1983 president Ronald Reagan’s US started putting cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe, aimming them at Russia.

In the documents, the CIA refers these intermediate range nuclear forces as INF, which becomes the codename for cruise and Pershing throughout the documents.

Big peace movements arose across Europe among people who didn’t want the US’s new cold war being fought on European soil. Those living in the “intermediate range” didn’t want it nuked.

As I noted in January, the US government’s spymasters didn’t like the peace movements but they did understand these movements were powerful enough to make profound changes.

In a 1984 paper, the CIA writes: “We believe that increased democratisation of defence policymaking in western European countries will be the peace movement’s lasting legacy. Western European governments can no longer make defence policy primarily on the basis of expert advice.

“They feel compelled to take account of public concern about the escalating arms race and to refute accusations from opposition and peace movement spokesmen that they are subservient to the United States. They have already been putting more emphasis on arms control and less emphasis on defence programmes than Washington would prefer.”

In the end, the arrival of reforming Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov thawed the new cold war that had spurred the 1980s peace movement. A 1987 Gorbachov-Reagan arms treaty pulled both Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles and US cruise and Pershing rockets out of east and west Europe respectively.

The peace movements were not strong enough to force Western unilateral nuclear disarmament. But the CIA knew they were strong enough to encourage multilateral disarmament and put a little democracy in defence policy.

Along the way, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common was one of the largest, most dynamic and direct-actiony parts of the movement. The CIA papers show that while they respected the strength of the peace movement, they couldn’t keep their normal analytical sobriety when it came to Greenham. Something about the protest got under their skin.

There are many reports like the undated but early ’80s Daily Summary of Public Postions on INF in Europe, which says that the British press are “stressing the effect of the women’s protest at Greenham Common on public opinion,” showing that nearly half of those polled said: “The women’s protest had led them to reverse their opinion on stationing cruise missiles in the UK.”

Looking back, in 1984, the CIA says: “Greenham Common, where cruise missiles are being deployed, is a major focus of peace activity. A feminist peace group not directly associated with the [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] has maintained a ‘peace camp’ near the base since 1981.

“The women’s determined efforts to obstruct and, at times, penetrate the base have gained substantial publicity for the movement.”

A September 1983 secret report on “radical tactics against INF deployment in Europe” shows CIA anxiety about direct action by Greenham and other activists.

The paper worries about “some antinuclear radicals” using “direct action” — including the Greenham women who “penetrated a fence and reached an SR-71 aircraft,” a “Blackbird” spy plane “which they damaged with paint” and break-ins at Upper Heyford Airbase.

The CIA worried that “these modest successes may encourage militants — especially in the women’s camp, which continues to dominate the Greenham Common scene — to try again.” The CIA worried they would reach nuclear equipment and that “an important aim of the more radical protesters will be to provoke a confrontation with US security personnel.”

The challenge of the more radical Greenham Common protesters made the US intelligence people drop their normally pragmatic, technocratic talk.

Alan W Lukens, a senior US diplomat, wrote a “confidential memo” of “reflections on the mood in Europe” for the State Department in December 1983. He toured Europe and had an “allday session” at the British Foreign Office arranged by the British intelligence liaison office with British Foreign Office “intelligence-gathering” staff like Harry Burke.

Luken’s views reflected briefings by British intelligence staff. Lukens said: “In analysing the peace movement in the UK, these officials thought it had peaked and that only a lunatic fringe would continue to demonstrate.

“Nonetheless, they admitted that even without the punks and the crazies, the UK peace movement had deep roots which no government could ignore. ‘The early Greenham Common rallies, in the eyes of these officials, had discredited the peace movement. There was a lack of seriousness, a ‘rent-a-crowd’ psychology which many British citizens resented.”

Only British intelligence could think the Greenham women lacked “seriousness.” The CIA and their British friends putting Greenham in a “lunatic” category with “punks and crazies” shows that the women drove the CIA and their friends out of sober analysis and into knee-jerk prejudices.

CIA anxiety about Greenham took a very peculiar turn in a November 1986 CIA directorate of intelligence on Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. In April 1986, the US launched a bombing raid on Libya using British air bases.

The CIA papers say Gadaffi tried to break Libyan isolation after the bombing by “courting the left,” among other things, “strengthening groups such as the Greenham Common peace camp in the United Kingdom and the Greens who are putting pressure on European governments who are putting pressure on European governments to restrict or remove US military forces in Western Europe.”

Greenham Common protesters were of course among the very many who opposed US bombing raids on Libya in 1986. The attacks were a deadly and pointless piece of warmongering which led to big protests. But the idea that Gadaffi was behind Greenham Common protests — or indeed the Greens — shows the CIA reverting to its worst instincts, seeing secret enemies behind legitimate protest movements.

In a way, the CIA reports are the best reviews of the Greenham protesters. The CIA recognises the women of Greenham had a major influence but they also drive the “intelligence” people to denouncing them as “punks and crazies.”

British government covered up nuclear weapons failure


This video from England says about itself:

Trident is obsolete and too expensive. We are completely against the weapons of mass destruction

16 March 2016

Momentum at the National Demo in London.

From the Sunday Mirror in Britain:

Failed Trident missile test ‘covered up’ by government before MPs’ decision on nuclear weapons

A Trident II D5 missile may have veered off in the wrong direction off the coast of Florida after it was launched from HMS Vengeance in June last year, according to reports

By Dan Bloom and Courtney Greatrex

23:22, 21 JAN 2017. Updated 08:37, 22 JAN 2017

A failed Trident missile test was allegedly covered up by Downing Street just weeks before MPs were due to vote on its nuclear weapons programme.

A Trident II D5 missile may have veered off in the wrong direction off the coast of Florida after it was launched from HMS Vengeance in June last year, according to reports.

It is believed that the test was intended to be fired 5,600 miles to a sea target off the west coast of Africa.

But the missile suffered an in-flight malfunction after launching out of the water, which is believed to be the reason for it veering off course towards America.

News of the failure prompted a news blackout by Downing Street until this weekend, the Sunday Times reported.

A source told the newspaper: “There was major panic at the highest level of government and the military”.

The House of Commons backed the renewal of the Trident missile system in July 2016 – just a month after the test was covered up.

MPs approved the manufacture of four replacement submarines at an estimated cost of £31bn, with another £10bn for potential overspending.

The decision was slammed by anti-nuclear activists, who said the lifetime cost of the project would be over £100bn and help the deadly weapons proliferate across the world.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long campaigned against nuclear weapons and Labour was split three ways, with 140 MPs voting for renewing Trident – the official party policy [a leftover from the Tony Blair days] – 47 voting against and 41 abstaining or not turning up.

In all 322 Tory MPs voted for renewing Trident and just one, Crispin Blunt, voted against. Four abstained.

When questioned by the BBC, Mrs [Theresa] May repeatedly refused to say if she knew about the misfire ahead of the vote: here.

The Conservative government’s attempt to cover up the potentially catastrophic failure of a Trident ballistic missile has blown up in its face: here.

British nuclear submarine crew have faced sex, drink and drug allegations. Alleged offences were carried out while serving on nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed subs, including four Vanguards, which carry the Trident missile system: here.

Nuclear war danger


This video from the USA says about itself:

Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race: Carl Sagan Interview (1991)

3 September 2013

Nuclear winter (also known as atomic winter) is a hypothetical climatic effect of countervalue nuclear war.

Models suggest that detonating dozens or more nuclear weapons on cities prone to firestorm, comparable to the Hiroshima of 1945, could have a profound and severe effect on the climate causing cold weather and reduced sunlight for a period of months or even years by the emission of large amounts of the firestorms smoke and soot into the Earth’s stratosphere.

Similar climatic effects can be caused by comets or an asteroid impact, also sometimes termed an impact winter, or by a supervolcano eruption, known as a volcanic winter.

By Bryan Dyne in the USA:

Nuclear winter—the long-suppressed reality of nuclear war

An interview with scientist and anti-nuclear activist Steven Starr

19 January 2017

For more than three decades, the United States political and media establishment has conducted a coordinated campaign to whitewash the dangers of nuclear war. Using discredited science from the 1980s, US officials have adopted the policy that a nuclear first-strike against Russia could be “successful” and that the environmental dangers posed by multiple atomic or thermonuclear detonations—so-called nuclear winter—have been “disproven.”

Such attitudes toward the use of nuclear weapons take on a new and ominous light when one considers the neo-McCarthyite rhetoric being used by congressional Republicans and top Democratic officials against Russia … . As significant sections of the United States government are preparing for war with nuclear-armed Russia, they simultaneously reject 34 years of peer-reviewed scientific research showing that a nuclear exchange threatens humanity’s extinction.

This perspective is reflected in the media. In 1987, the [far-right] National Review described nuclear winter as a “fraud.” In 1990, the New York Times referred to the science as “discounted.” … Since then, the danger of nuclear winter has largely been ignored and the scientists doing the research marginalized.

One of the scientists who has worked to expose the consequences of nuclear war to a mass audience is Steven Starr, an expert on the environmental dangers of nuclear weapons who has been published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies. He has been involved in the research surrounding the climatic effects of nuclear detonations since 2001.

Steven Starr is the director of the University of Missouri’s Clinical Laboratory Science Program, as well as a senior scientist at the Physicians for Social Responsibility. His most recent publication is on the web site of the Federation of American Scientists, titled “Turning a Blind Eye Towards Armageddon – U.S. Leaders Reject Nuclear Winter Studies.”

We recently spoke to Starr about some of the history, science and politics underlying the concept of nuclear winter and the fallacy that any country could somehow “win” a nuclear war.

Bryan Dyne: First, could you tell me something about your background and how you became so involved in exposing the full consequences of nuclear war?

Steven Starr: I’ve been fixated on nuclear war ever since experiencing the Cuban Missile Crisis in third grade. I remember the teachers huddled around a little black and white TV set and telling us to not look at the flash and to sit against the interior of the walls. All the duck-and-cover drills left an imprint on me.

Later on, I came across Carl Sagan’s book A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race which was published in 1990. In it, Sagan talks about the atmospheric research that was done in the 1980s that shows the climatic and environmental consequences that would be caused by a nuclear war. Sagan and four other NASA scientists looked at the data collected on the global dust storms on Mars and specifically were looking at the difference of the Martian surface temperature when there was a dust storm and when there wasn’t. Then they asked, “What could cause something similar on Earth?” The answers they came up with are volcanic eruptions or nuclear war.

This made me realize just how dangerous the nuclear arsenals of the US and Russia really were. Even with the simple atmospheric models of the 1980s, it was clear that the massive firestorms created by a nuclear war would produce enough smoke and black carbon soot to block the majority of sunlight from reaching the surface of Earth. The original nuclear winter research predicted that a war fought with the nuclear arsenals of the 1980s would create temperatures colder than those experienced at the height of the last Ice Age 18,000 years ago. This would leave the Earth virtually uninhabitable. The recent research found that the original studies actually underestimated the consequences of nuclear war.

These peer-reviewed studies done in 2007 predict that even a war fought between India and Pakistan, in which a total of 100 atomic bombs were detonated in their cities, would produce enough soot and smoke to create the coldest temperatures experienced in the last 1,000 years. This would significantly decrease production of rice, corn and grain crops for several years, and the latest estimates from medical experts predict that as many as 2 billion people would starve as a result.

This modern research also shows how the hot smoke in the stratosphere would produce ozone losses of 20 to 50 percent over populated areas in the Northern hemisphere. A fair-skinned individual outside in June during mid-day could get a painful sunburn in as little as six minutes. And a war fought with existing US and Russian nuclear arsenals is predicted to make agriculture impossible for a decade or longer, dooming most people to die from a nuclear famine.

Beginning in the late 1990s, I began to wonder why more research wasn’t being done on this topic, especially since the nuclear arsenals had changed significantly and because climate models had come a long way since the first study was done in 1983. Vastly improved computers allowed us to study the impact of nuclear war, not just the effects of a single weapon. What I learned was that there had been an active attempt to suppress this research and it had been done in a variety of ways.

First was a study published by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in 1986 by Starley Thompson and Stephen Schneider, which claimed that the original nuclear winter studies overestimated the amount of soot that would be tossed into the upper atmosphere. Starley and Schneider used a primitive model (with a 20-day run) to incorrectly claim that only 50 percent of the smoke generated from the nuclear explosions would make it into the stratosphere and that the rest would be rained out. The phrase “nuclear autumn” was derived from this non-peer reviewed study and was used to belittle the previous work.

The “nuclear autumn” story was published by Foreign Affairs and was then spread to a variety of news outlets including National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and the New York Times. …

After the success of the smear campaign against nuclear winter, most people eventually accepted this narrative and funding for new research dried up. This had a big impact on the public, who got the impression that the nuclear winter theory had been disproven. As a result, this issue is hardly ever talked about now in the mainstream media.

BD: Do you think there were political pressures involved in turning “nuclear winter” into nuclear autumn?

SS: There was definitely a lot of backlash from various industrial and military interests against the first nuclear winter research. The scientists were called “frauds” and the research labeled “bad science.” One of the reasons for this is that over the years, trillions of dollars have been spent on nuclear weapons. If the conclusions of the nuclear winter research—that nuclear war is suicide for all peoples and nations—had gained widespread acceptance and understanding, it is likely that the whole nuclear weapons industry would have been shut down.

The scientists were pressured into stopping nuclear winter-related research because the funding for such research was cut. They should have gotten the highest award for making people aware of these dangers but instead they were persecuted. Taking away funding is a very effective way to silence the scientific community.

It didn’t work perfectly. Sagan, for example, continued to give talks and reports about this topic, and many scientists remained interested and concerned. My first attempts in 2001 to help find funding for new nuclear winter research projects were unsuccessful in large part because most people I contacted, including anti-nuclear weapon activists, believed that nuclear winter had been scientifically discredited. When Brian Toon, Alan Robock, Mike Mills and other scientists finally managed to get the newest research done (beginning in 2007), it was mostly self-funded using the resources of their labs. They’ve tried to get funding from the National Academy of Sciences for more detailed follow-up work on the many catastrophic effects of nuclear winter, but they haven’t been successful.

Even so, the science in their recent studies has been peer-reviewed and has survived all criticism of the global scientific community—it is considered to be top-notch science. What’s more, the scientists were essentially quite conservative in their estimates and predictions. For example, their findings indicated that 7 million tons of smoke would rise into the stratosphere after the India-Pakistan 100-atomic-bomb war, but the scientists used 5 million tons for their estimates on effects. Likewise, for their two models of a US-Russian nuclear war, the largest weapon they used in their calculations was a 100-kiloton bomb, when in reality most Russian weapons are 800 kilotons, and many US weapons are 300 and 475 kilotons. Using these more conservative figures acted to reduce the likely thermal effects and corresponding amounts of smoke released by their hypothetical wars.

BD: So what do politicians and generals think will happen if there is a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia? Do they realize the environmental dangers of nuclear war?

SS: It’s hard to get an answer from any ranking elected official. They always have a cadre of assistants surrounding them that make it hard for you to give them something to read. However, my friend Greg Mello, the secretary and executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, was once able to pose the question of nuclear winter to the US Nuclear Weapons Council. This group includes the head of the US Strategic Command and is what makes US policy on nuclear weapons. Their attitude was essentially, “We don’t believe in nuclear winter.” Their focus is instead stopping “nuclear terrorism” and other scenarios that only involve a single nuclear weapon.

This makes no sense. The United States and Russia each have about 1,000 of what I call “launch-ready” nuclear weapons. In the US, this means that the solid-fuel engines of the intercontinental ballistic missiles are powered up 24 hours a day, awaiting the order to launch. It only takes minutes for the president to open the nuclear briefcase, which accompanies him at all times, and give the order to fire these weapons. A similar briefcase also follows President Putin.

These launch-ready weapons are inherently dangerous. They are supposed to act as a deterrent, but think about what deterrence actually means. It’s based on the idea of being capable of inflicting unacceptable retaliation on somebody. If you attack us, we’ll destroy you. But classical deterrence doesn’t say you have to launch your weapons in 15 minutes or less, it just says you have to at some point be able to launch them. The short time frame came in when the military decided it needed to launch their weapons upon warning of attack, before the attack arrived.

In other words, launch-ready nuclear weapons are essentially preemptive weapons. If the US early warning systems detect a missile launch, the President can order a launch of retaliatory nuclear strike before incoming nuclear warheads take out communication systems and weapons. Of course, if this is a false warning of attack, then the “retaliatory” strike becomes a first-strike and a nuclear war has started.

Moreover, if somebody has launched a nuclear strike against the silos in which your nuclear weapons are housed in, you don’t retaliate by targeting their empty silos. You target their cities. Russia only has about 230 cities with a population greater than 100,000 and the US has 312. So it’s not that hard to wipe out a couple hundred cities in an initial salvo.

For many years, the entire global dialogue about nuclear weapons has focused primarily on the possible use of a single nuclear weapon by terrorists. This fits the official narrative on terrorism, but it ignores the existential danger posed by a nuclear war fought with existing US and Russian nuclear arsenals.

There is another problem with focusing only on a single nuclear weapon. Let’s say NATO or Polish forces attack Kaliningrad, an important but isolated enclave for the Russian navy. Russia doesn’t have the conventional forces to stop such an attack; would it use nuclear weapons to prevent the loss of Kaliningrad? Once a US/NATO-Russian war begins, how does it stop—which side will admit defeat? Once nuclear weapons are used, what prevents more from being used?

The strategists often say, “Oh, well, Russia will back down.” What if they don’t? And why would they back down on their own border? Any US/NATO-Russian direct military conflict will very likely lead to a full-scale nuclear war.

BD: You mention in one of your articles that the US is “sleepwalking towards nuclear war.” Is this sleepwalking or a deliberate policy?

SS: That’s a legitimate question. I agree with you. “Sleepwalking” was the most polite way I could say it.

To give an example, Foreign Affairs published an article in 2006 written by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press called “The Rise of Nuclear Primacy.” It was very disquieting, basically claiming that the weapon systems in the US had gotten to the point where it could undertake a first strike against Russia and Russia would lose any ability to retaliate. Nuclear primacy conveyed the idea that the US could “win” a nuclear war against Russia should the US attack first—except that Lieber and Press took no account of the environmental consequences of such a first strike. Robock and Toon tell us that the resulting nuclear famine from such a nuclear first strike would kill the inhabitants of the side that “won” the war.

Russia also fears that the US/NATO Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) that has been deployed at sea and on land surrounding Russia could be used as part of a US first-strike. This is because Russia considers BMD to have offensive capabilities, that it could be used as a “mop up” system to take out any surviving Russian missiles not destroyed in a nuclear first strike.

This has led to Russia targeting the US/NATO Ballistic Missile Defense sites that the US has set up in Eastern Europe, including the operational system in Romania and the one being built in Poland. Russia also sees a special threat from these facilities because they can also be used to launch nuclear-armed cruise missiles. This fact has been widely discussed on Russian mass media and the Russian people are demanding that Putin take some action against these sites.

BD: Given how dangerous nuclear war is, what do you think of the increasingly hysterical denunciations of Russia and the Russian government in the US media and by the Democrats and Republicans?

SS: It’s very disconcerting to see the leadership of both the Democrats and Republicans to come out with this type of thinking. These anti-Putin and anti-Russian stories keep coming up on thousands of different media sources simultaneously, including the New York Times and Washington Post, which are supposed to be the newspapers of record, and it acts like a smear campaign. Almost all such stories are based on no information or false information and they have created a narrative that is pushing us toward war with Russia. There are no two ways about it.

A war with China wouldn’t be any better. China happens to be a strategic partner of Russia. They also have 20-30 ICBMs that carry three-megaton warheads; each warhead could set 600 square miles on fire. China also has submarine-launched ballistic missiles that can be armed with nuclear warheads.

Yet there is no discussion of the existential threat of nuclear war in the US. This has to be the starting place for any discussion on nuclear weapons. If we have the best scientists in the world telling us that a nuclear war would wipe out most of the human race, that should be our primary concern. Why should these arsenals even be allowed to exist?

The belligerent outlook of former State Department official and Johns Hopkins Professor Eliot Cohen’s 2016 book is succinctly summarized in its title, The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force: here.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE PAYING ATTENTION TO THE UN NUCLEAR TALKS As nuclear dread increases to levels not seen since the 1980s. [HuffPost]

‘THIS IS HOW THE NEXT WORLD WAR STARTS’ David Wood examines how an intercept gone wrong could mean WWIII. [HuffPost]

What would a US-European-Russian war look like? Here.

Donald Trump and nuclear weapons


This video from the USA says about itself:

23 December 2016

Donald Trump tweeted out that he’s ready for a new nuclear arms race. Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian, Ben Mankiewicz, and Jimmy Dore, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

By Kate Hudson in Britain:

The orange finger on the nuclear button

Saturday 14th January 2017

Trump’s ignorance of the life-destroying capabilities of nuclear weapons and his cavalier attitude towards their use should be extremely alarming to everyone, writes KATE HUDSON

IN uncertain times the last thing anyone needs is the most powerful man on earth kicking off a new nuclear arms race.

But that’s exactly what president-elect Donald Trump did just three days before Christmas, tweeting that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

There are so many ways in which this tweet is wrong, dangerous and ignorant!.

First of all, let’s take a look at the US’s nuclear capability.

It currently has 7,300 nuclear warheads, deliverable by land, sea and air, with plans to spend over $350 billion over the next decade modernising and maintaining them.

The full-scale production of approximately 1,200 W76-1 warheads for the Trident II (D5) submarine- launched missiles is well under way, with scheduled completion in 2019. Production of the new B61-12 guided nuclear gravity bomb is scheduled to be complete by 2025.

With the yield of some of these weapons many, many times the size of the Hiroshima bomb, the US already has the capacity to destroy all life on earth.

So what conceivable reason could Trump possibly have for wanting to increase the US’s nuclear arsenal?

Indeed Trump’s ignorance about nuclear matters and his seemingly cavalier approach to their use is extremely alarming given that he will have his finger on the nuclear button in a matter of days.

During his election campaign this became increasingly clear as he promised to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran.

This agreement was a huge achievement which replaced the Bush war drive against Iran with a deal to end sanctions and reduce nuclear facilities.

Ripping it up may well push Iran down the road to nuclear weapons, potentially opening the door to Egypt and Saudi Arabia going down the nuclear route.

Trump also said that he might use nuclear weapons and questioned why they would make them if they wouldn’t use them.

Those of us who remember the fear of nuclear war in Europe in the 1980s when the US was bringing cruise and polaris to our shores would do well to be aware that Trump is open to nuking Europe because it’s a “big place” and that he thinks “you want to be unpredictable” with nuclear weapons.

Of course some people write these comments off as throwaway remarks with no substance but the fact is Trump has repeatedly said that more countries should get nuclear weapons, in particular referencing Japan and South Korea, saying he’d be “OK” with an arms race in Asia.

This has raised the question of Trump’s commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970 and has undoubtedly restrained the growth of nuclear weapons possession and contributed to the safety of all of us.

With his support for more countries getting nukes, Trump has called into question what has been a bipartisan policy in the United States for pretty much seven decades: non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

If the president of the US sanctions nuclear proliferation then we are heading on a disastrous path.

But this brings us to the second part of Trump’s tweet: “Until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The fact is, most of the world has already come to its senses — in fact, had never lost them! Only nine countries have nuclear weapons and the vast majority of the rest of them want global nuclear abolition.

This has never been clearer than it is today.

Last month the United Nations general assembly voted to start negotiations on a global nuclear weapons ban treaty. They start in New York in March.

When it came to voting, the US voted against negotiating a ban treaty — as did Britain, in spite of its repeated insistence that it wants a multilateral disarmament process.

Of the other nuclear weapons states, Russia, France and Israel also voted against a ban treaty, China, India and Pakistan abstained, and North Korea voted in favour.

So it is the US, Britain and the nuclear weapons states that need to come to their senses, not the rest of the world!.

At this incredibly dangerous time it is essential that we step up our anti-war and anti-nuclear work, and increase our international co-operation.

The forthcoming Nato summit in Brussels will be a key opportunity for us to work with partners across Europe and the US against the war policies of our governments.

And here in Britain, let’s put the maximum pressure on our government to take part in the negotiations for a global nuclear ban, and to support the achievement of such a treaty.

Why not write to Boris Johnson, telling him to get involved, or go to the CND website where you can lobby online?

You can also join our parliamentary lobby on March 1 and make an appointment to speak to your MP in person.

Details of all these activities can be found at www.cnduk.org.

As Trump prepares to enter the White House there is no better time to get down to serious analysis of the issues, strategising together for action.

Kate Hudson is CND general secretary. New Approaches to Foreign Policy, hosted by London Region CND and SOAS CND, will be held on Saturday January 14 from 12 noon to 5pm at SOAS University of London. All are welcome.

Donald Trump Expanding Scottish Golf Resort After Vowing Not To Make New Foreign Deals. “No new foreign deals … whatsoever” apparently doesn’t include this one: here.

Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, who oversees the US nuclear stockpile, told the New York Times, “You need to have the will to use” nuclear weapons: here.

On Monday, the United States, together with Britain and France, walked out of a session of the United Nations General Assembly set to discuss a global ban on nuclear weapons. After leaving the session, the United States and its imperialist allies lined up in front of reporters to give a statement protesting the UN proposal, beginning with an incoherent diatribe by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN and right-wing ideologue who formerly served as governor of South Carolina: here.