Learning to Love — and Use — the Bomb

Exclusive: The endless demonizing of Russian President Putin is the new fun game in Official Washington as neocons dream about “regime change” in Moscow and military contractors drool over huge profits from “modernizing” America’s nuclear arsenal, with few thoughts about the heightened risk of nuclear annihilation, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

At a time when America’s public sector is apparently too strapped financially even to provide safe drinking water for some of its residents, the Obama administration plans to commit the nation to spending at least $1 trillion over the next three decades to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war. That’s right, an almost unthinkable war that would end up destroying much of the habitable portion of the globe.

That wasn’t the message President Obama conveyed in April, 2009 when he declared in Prague, “The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.  Generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Just as we stood for freedom in the Twentieth Century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the Twenty-first Century.

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

A nuclear test detonation carried out in Nevada on April 18, 1953.

“And as . . . the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

How times change. Today, warns former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, “we are now on the verge of a new nuclear arms race” based on a return to Cold War thinking. “Moreover, I believe that the risk of a nuclear catastrophe today is greater than it was during the Cold War — and yet our public is blissfully unaware of the new nuclear dangers they face.”

Russia shares some of the blame, with its ostentatious talk of developing new weapons like a giant nuclear-tipped torpedo designed to “cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination.”

But a far greater risk to global security is the Obama administration’s so-called nuclear “modernization” program, which the Pentagon is promoting at the same time U.S. policymakers are incessantly demonizing Russia as the chief threat to the United States and its allies.

In theory, the administration aims merely to ensure that America’s nuclear deterrent remains “robust”, that is, credible enough to dissuade any other nuclear power from contemplating an attack on U.S. forces, or installations, or cities.

But U.S. nuclear forces are currently sized with only one potential enemy in mind: Russia. The United States has an estimated 1,900 nuclear weapons deployed, versus 1,780 for Russia. The next largest nuclear power is France, with just 290 deployed weapons. The total U.S. nuclear stockpile of 7,200 warheads is 28 times bigger than China’s.

Apparently all that isn’t enough to let top Pentagon officials sleep at night. President Obama’s new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that he believes Russia poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security, “an existential threat” no less. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming,” he declared.

Curtis LeMay Redux

Lest Russia launch an all-out attack, for reasons unknown, the Obama administration proposes building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, and 1,000 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. It’s almost as if Air Force General Curtis LeMay were still running the show.

An authoritative study by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimates the full cost of this program over 30 years at more than $1 trillion, with no allowance for cost overruns, delays, or clean-up and decommissioning costs.

But cost may be the least of the problems with Obama’s agenda. One common if disguised element of these “modernization” programs is their ability to make nuclear “war-fighting” more, not less, conceivable by increasing the targeting flexibility of these weapons and, in some cases, reducing their yield so they resemble very large conventional weapons rather than the all-or-nothing nukes of old.

For example, as the New York Times reported, the recently tested B61 Model 12 nuclear bomb has steerable fins that permit pin-point accuracy and configurable yields to as little as two percent of the “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima. General James E. Cartwright, retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of the United States Strategic Command, said “what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable.”

Similarly, the proposed new Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, a vastly upgraded nuclear cruise missile, “is designed for nuclear warfighting,” states Stephen Young, a senior analyst in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Unfortunately, for that very reason, deploying this weapon will actually make the United States less secure.”

Moving to a nuclear war-fighting capability violates the official U.S. policy outlined in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which called for steps to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attack, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons.”

Once policymakers start seriously considering “limited war” scenarios in which nuclear weapons might come in handy, the risk of war shoots way up. At the same time, the acquisition of war-fighting capabilities will prompt the other side to follow suit.

Easing into Nuclear War

As James Doyle, a former nonproliferation analyst at Los Alamos National Laboratory, put it, “Lowering the threshold of nuclear war poses the very real threat of rapid escalation in a conflict potentially resulting in the use of many, more destructive nuclear weapons.”

Russia certainly views the Obama administration’s current nuclear program as upsetting the stability of traditional deterrence. Following a recent test of the new B61-12 bomb, Russia’s deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, denounced it as “irresponsible” and “openly provocative.”

Russia is also gravely concerned about another development that could, in theory, make the United States contemplate a “limited” nuclear war: the expansion of the U.S. ballistic missile defense network in Europe. President Vladimir Putin called that “an attempt to undermine the existing parity in strategic nuclear weapons and essentially to upset the whole system of global and regional stability.”

The biggest risk from all these developments isn’t a planned nuclear war, but an unplanned nuclear exchange triggered by a false alarm in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia. Both the United States and Russia have hundreds of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to “launch on warning” lest they be destroyed in a sneak attack. Our survival thus far is thanks in part to luck; scholars have documented at least 20 accidents that might have started an accidental nuclear war in years past.

There’s no guarantee that our luck will hold out, however. Thanks to growing fears of being wiped out without warning by stealthy U.S. weapons, “Russia has shortened the launch time from what it was during the Cold War,” according to Bruce Blair, a nuclear security expert at Princeton. “Today, top military command posts in the Moscow area can bypass the entire human chain of command and directly fire by remote control rockets in silos and on trucks as far away as Siberia in only 20 seconds.”

The priority of U.S. nuclear policy today should not be investing in staggeringly expensive new technology that makes us less secure by making nuclear war more thinkable and thus more unpredictable. It should be overwhelmingly focused on nuclear risk reduction: lowering the threats perceived by each nuclear power, eliminating launch-on-warning policies, and exploring other confidence-building measures. Our greatest security task is to modernize our thinking about nuclear weapons, not our nuclear weapons technology.

Jonathan Marshall is an independent researcher living in San Anselmo, California. Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]


28 comments for “Learning to Love — and Use — the Bomb

  1. Tom Welsh
    January 23, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    “Russia shares some of the blame…”

    Completely untrue. The leaders of the USA (whoever they may be) seem determined to appropriate control of every square inch of the world and its resources – at whatever cost. To that end they are subverting governments, destroying nations, and creating devastating anarchy everywhere they possibly can. They have built a vast network of military bases surrounding Russia as completely as they can, and now they are energetically stirring up discontent and revolution in Russia’s neighbours: Ukraine, Byelorussia, the Baltic states, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan… They are doing everything they can to encourage political challenges to the Russian government, Islamic terrorism in the southern parts of Russia, and violent aggression against Russia by Turkey. And now there is this story about a complete renovation and upgrading of the US thermonuclear arsenal.

    What Russia has done in response has been admirably calm, civilized, and restrained. Over and over again, the Russians have called for calm, respect for the rights of all nations, and careful observance of the law. They have also seen fit to warn the USA that, if attacked, Russia will fight back with all the strength at its command. And if the Americans look like winning a war, or resort to the use of WMD, the Russians have made it clear that they have the weapons to destroy the USA and its allies – even if Russia and its allies are also wiped out.

    Occasionally warning the Americans that, if they start a knife fight, they won’t know what hit them is not irresponsible or aggressive. It is a wise and necessary precaution.

    • KDelphi
      January 23, 2016 at 3:27 pm


    • frederike
      January 23, 2016 at 6:28 pm


    • Kermit Heartsong
      January 23, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Welsh on this point. Perhaps, Mr. Marshall also believes that the Russian border is moving westward in an apparent scheme to aggress NATO. Or that the introduction of US/NATO ABM systems into Europe is aimed at the non-existent Iranian nuclear missiles and not Russia.

      I agree further, that Russia has been absolutely calm in response and Russian leaders and diplomats have held (and continue to hold) a Master class for the West on diplomacy and realpolitik.

      If a person (country) prepares himself/herself for an attack from a known and dangerous bully (aggressor state) are they, in fact, being aggressive? No, they are not.

    • January 24, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Tom Welsh is correct:

      Both Marshall and the owner of this site Robert Parry are like that: aiming to achieve mainstream acceptance by affirming instead of by negating and disproving the lies against Russia; and also by pretending that the evils of the Obama Administration should be blamed upon his subordinates — by their denying Harry S. Truman’s truth about the White House: “The buck stops here.”

      For Marshall to say (and for Parry to allow to be published on his site) the outrageous lie, “Russia shares some of the blame, with its ostentatious talk of developing new weapons,” as if Russia should respond in any other way to the U.S. aristocracy’s (as represented by Obama’s) expansion of NATO and coup in Ukraine, etc., is to deceive their readers, but it’s the type of thing that I have sadly become accustomed to reading from both of them.

      The aggression is clearly by Obama and all U.S. Presidents since 1990, when GHW Bush said “To hell with that! We prevailed, they didn’t,” behind Gorbachev’s back while having his agents tell Gorbachev the exact opposite — and then all of those subsequent U.S. Presidents march lock-step in Bush’s deceit and carry out his aggressive intent against post-communist Russia. For ‘journalists’ to lie about that is to exacerbate the original fraud, to participate in it instead of to expose it (such as any decent journalist must do).

      Russia’s response to Obama’s February 2014 coup in Ukraine, etc., is, tragically, required, not optional (such as Marshall and Parry pretend it to be). It is forced upon an extremely reluctant Russian government. It is not by choice, such as the expansion of NATO to Russia’s doorstep has been and is.

      Shame on them!

  2. Tom Welsh
    January 23, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    ‘President Obama’s new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that he believes Russia poses the greatest threat to U.S. national security — “an existential threat” no less’.

    General Dunford is absolutely right about the “existential threat” – if that pompous phrase means, as I think it does, “a threat to our survival”.

    But what he failed to make clear is that the only way of making that threat materialize is to attack Russia! Personally, I do not think the Russian leadership would ever launch a first strike against the USA for at least two reasons. First, the Russian leaders are mostly Christians or Buddhists and would not do such an appalling thing unless forced to by an attack on their country. Second, a first strike could not possibly prevent a devastating retaliation which would destroy Russia.

    So the only way of making General Dunford’s fears come true is what the administration has apparently decided to do: to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Russia.

    It’s time the American people took control of their government and their country back from the dangerous pack of psychopaths who seem to have kidnapped them.

  3. Zachary Smith
    January 23, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    I’ll have to say that this is a generally excellent essay except for one highly visible exception.

    Russia shares some of the blame, with its ostentatious talk of developing new weapons like a giant nuclear-tipped torpedo designed to “cause guaranteed devastating damage to the country’s territory by creating wide areas of radioactive contamination.”

    There is absolutely nothing ‘new’ about this, and there is nothing whatever to ‘develop’. Every part of it already exists. All Russia was doing was gently reminding the US that there there will not be a successful nuclear attack on them – not one the US will survive. Andrei Sakharov was a lead member in the team which tossed together the Tsar Bomba, a 50 megaton device which they built in a very brief time. The thing was supposed to be 100 megatons, but at the last moment Sakharov deduced that the air crew of the bomber which dropped it couldn’t possibly get away far enough to survive such a blast, and replaced some active parts with inert ones. Apparently the Americans could deduce from analyzing the debris that this had been done, and the same point was made without executing the airmen.

    Years earlier Sakharov had brainstormed a Tsar Torpedo with a similarly huge bomb to set off an East Coast tsunami. The latest Russian ‘leak’ threw in the frill about wrapping the big bomb in cobalt to dose the East Coast with long-lived fallout – another 50s era concept.

    It’s my opinion the huge and wasteful nuclear expansion the nuts in Washington are undertaking has two goals. One involves wishful thinking – an attempt to replay the Legend of Saint Ronald Reagan and cause the Russians to go bankrupt (again) in trying to match the buildup. (obviously they aren’t buying into that claptrap as they made clear with the ‘leak’) The second is straight-out corruption – feeding hundreds of billions of dollars into the increasingly useless US Industrial-Military Complex. There is no doubt at all the second part will be a resounding success.

    • Tom Welsh
      January 23, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      It’s ironic that this was the very same Sakharov whom the Americans feted as a convert from Communism. Presumably they weren’t entirely up to date on his previous work.

  4. Jim Rossman
    January 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Carl Sagan once said in regards to the US and Russia worrying about who had more nuclear weapons: “It’s like 2 men standing in a swimming pool filled with gasoline and one has 10 matches and the other is worried about the other guy who has 12 matches”

  5. Bill Bodden
    January 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    To paraphrase that great humanitarian, Madeline Not-so-bright, “What’s the point in having all those bombs if you’re not going to use them?”

  6. Sherwood Ross
    January 23, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Message From The Past © 2016 by Sherwood Ross

    Still asleep in the sunrise
    Herculaneum and Pompeii
    Stirred fitfully that morning
    By their Mediterranean bay.
    Both cities had been damaged
    In the eruption of AD 62
    When Vesuvius put Romans on notice
    Of what a volcano could do.

    Now, on 24 August, AD 79,
    The morning sky turned darker
    Than the darkest coal mine.
    The earth trembled madly
    Yet many refused to fly
    Assuming a repeat of
    The earlier eruption
    Was the worst it would be.

    Receiving a message for help
    Pliny the Elder,
    Naturalist, author, and
    Admiral of the fleet
    Set sail for Pompeii
    Through pumice falling
    Thicker than sleet
    Hardening like concrete

    “Turn back!” urged his helmsman
    But Pliny persevered, a Roman
    Known for his courage,
    And for his courage revered.
    Just a few miles ahead
    The volcano spat fire,
    Spewing ash hundreds of miles
    In gaseous clouds ever higher
    While lava roared down
    Into both cities’ streets
    Cutting residents off
    From all land retreat.

    By the time the noble Pliny
    Reached his friends door
    Twenty-two million pounds
    Of ash per second spouted
    From Vesuvius’s core.
    In a show of bravado
    Pliny elected to bathe
    And to dine so a
    Gourmet dinner was set
    Before him
    With a glass of fine wine.

    Then he lay down for a nap
    But when he awoke
    Houses were falling
    Their inhabitants dying
    From the lava and smoke
    Too late Pliny
    Realized his peril
    He could not get away
    He choked on the fumes
    And died in Pompeii.

    Citizens believing the eruption
    Would only repeat AD 62
    Were buried alive by the thousands
    Under pumice like glue.
    Past is not always prologue
    Wrong lessons can be learned
    As the Romans found out
    When the world ’round them burned.

    Americans today may well tremble
    When their rulers contrive
    To make A-bombs fifty times
    Deadlier than those they
    Dropped on Japan in 1945.
    This much you could say
    for the Romans

    Buried under the rubble
    They succumbed to the forces
    of nature
    They didn’t make their own
    (Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant who has won firsts’ in Florida State Poet’s Assn. for each of the past three years. Reach him at sherwoodross@gmail.com)

  7. Abe
    January 23, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Towards a World War III Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War
    By Michel Chossudovsky

  8. bfearn
    January 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    These decisions are ultimately made by political leaders. The may be ignorant, they may be misled but they are the ones who put humanity at risk.

    It is time voters made far better decisions.

    • Bill Bodden
      January 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      It is time voters made far better decisions

      Not easy to do when voters’ only choice is to decide which is the lesser evil.

      • AHF
        January 23, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        Coke or Pepsi–is kind of the choices we are given in politics

    • Bill Bodden
      January 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      It is time voters made far better decisions

      Not easy to do when voters’ only choice is to decide which is the lesser evil.

  9. elmerfudzie
    January 23, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    When Dr Helen Caldicott referenced a comprehensive and scientific study performed by Russian scientists, detailing both the subtle and (almost) infinite number of adverse biological effects Chernobyl had on living organisms, I became very alarmed (speaking here as a trained biologist). Her footnotes were supported by similar studies such as; papers entitled- Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Other Hot Places: authored by Timothy A. Mousseau, Anders, P. Møller and A. Bonisoli et al. The areas of significant soil contamination adjacent to Chernobyl are so vast that they extend throughout Western Europe and southward into Turkey,this includes a few North African nations. I pity Obama and Putin equally, they are victims of technological advancements running a muck AND without political or social controls. This horrible leadership predicament is based on their mutual lack of or absence of, scientific training. Obama, is indeed erudite where constitutional law is concerned but remains unaware that those old repositories of aging nukes simply comes down to a few words; Styrofoam and neutron activation. NO, I’m not trying out for some comedy gig!! The plutonium cores are separated by, get this, Styrofoam and further, the intensely fast neutrons emanating from the source materials, activate and degrade the physical integrity of the surrounding bomb enclosures. Yes, the Styro degrades too, a fact that comes to my mind with every sip of coffee from the local “Starbucks”… Putin, is touting GMO free wheat but fails to realize (or perhaps commits the sin of omission), the health implications based on previously cited research herein. There are a hundred or so, never created in nature, fission products, that have spewed from the Chernobyl explosions, circulating and concentrating in his Russian GMO free wheat. The biological consequences of which are strictly unknown. Frankly, I believe, no, better then that, I’m sure that Putin has no consolation, possessing a guild-ed Dasha or having hundreds of millions in wealth nor does Obama, really know what he’s doing and like so many of his predecessors, their hair turns grey in office, testifying to those mental and physical stresses beyond their grasp. As for the proles of this world, we get to choose, either eating GMO’s that contain long fragments of DNA, the ingestion of which has a strong association with inducing premature human cancer or we can all merrily consume fission products! live well! eat well! one and all!

    • Pixy
      January 25, 2016 at 7:23 am

      Who is that Dasha person that Putin poses?

  10. Bruce
    January 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    WTF “Modernization”? ‘Merely’ detonating our nukes in their bunkers, silos and submarines (without even ‘delivery’ to “targets”) will ensure worldwide Doomsday to “THEM” (and US)! Is DingleBarry NUKING FUTS?
    0′ jest a serial Lying DEM RENEGER!!

  11. Douglas Baker
    January 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    1/23/2016 In should be noted every discharge of a depleted uranium projectile upon impact becomes a “limited” use nuclear weapon. The 1967 “Six Day War” say the shooting of many such atomic weapons–first used when Israel assaulted its neighbor. Since then these limited nukes have seen service in many war theaters with Iraq the main line recipient.

    • Andrew X
      January 24, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      There is no evidence that depleted uranium was ever used by Israel. The 1991 Persian Gulf War was the first conflict to see the widespread use of depleted uranium, both in armor-piercing projectiles and in the protective armor of the new generation of Abrams tanks.

      • Zachary Smith
        January 24, 2016 at 7:08 pm

        Most likely Israel didn’t use depleted uranium against the Palestinians. Death comes way too slowly from that material.


        No, God’s Favorite People wants the subhuman paleos to go out with lots of body parts flying around from the explosions of big bombs. Much more entertaining.

  12. Willem
    January 24, 2016 at 11:31 am

    I would like to recommend the documentary ”the war game”, especially to those who think that the use of nuclear weapons can solve anything.


  13. Willem
    January 24, 2016 at 11:32 am

    I would like to recommend the documentary ”the war game”, especially to those who think that the use of nuclear weapons can solve anything.


  14. Willem
    January 24, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I would like to recommend the documentary ”the war game”, especially to those who think that the use of nuclear weapons can solve anything.


  15. January 27, 2016 at 9:53 am

    It’s all patriarchal violence and until you all are willing to face that, we are doomed…

  16. Lee
    January 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Bullshit eminates from the Wars R U.S. Corporation. Who believes this? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice…no way!

Comments are closed.