The Most Dangerous Weapon Ever Rolls Off the Nuclear Assembly Line

An era-shaping threshold is being crossed at a weapons plant in the high plains country of the Texas Panhandle, writes James Carroll.

By James Carroll

Last month, the National Nuclear Security Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) announced that the first of a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons had rolled off the assembly line at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in the panhandle of Texas. That warhead, the W76-2, is designed to be fitted to a submarine-launched Trident missile, a weapon with a range of more than 7,500 miles. By September, an undisclosed number of warheads will be delivered to the Navy for deployment.

What makes this particular nuke new is the fact that it carries a far smaller destructive payload than the thermonuclear monsters the Trident has been hosting for decades — not the equivalent of about 100 kilotons of TNT as previously, but of five kilotons. According to Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the W76-2 will yield “only” about one-third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Yet that very shrinkage of the power to devastate is precisely what makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured. Fulfilling the Trump administration’s quest for nuclear-war-fighting “flexibility,” it isn’t designed as a deterrent against another country launching its nukes; it’s designed to be used.  This is the weapon that could make the previously unthinkable thinkable.

The Enola Gay on display at Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. (DoD, Kevin O’Brien)

The Enola Gay on display at Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. (DoD, Kevin O’Brien)

There have long been “low-yield” nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, including ones on cruise missiles, “air-drop bombs” (carried by planes), and even nuclear artillery shells — weapons designated as “tactical” and intended to be used in the confines of a specific battlefield or in a regional theater of war. The vast majority of them were, however, eliminated in the nuclear arms reductions that followed the end of the Cold War, a scaling-down by both the United States and Russia that would be quietly greeted with relief by battlefield commanders, those actually responsible for the potential use of such ordnance who understood its self-destructive absurdity.

Ranking some weapons as “low-yield” based on their destructive energy always depended on a distinction that reality made meaningless (once damage from radioactivity and atmospheric fallout was taken into account along with the unlikelihood that only one such weapon would be used). In fact, the elimination of tactical nukes represented a hard-boiled confrontation with the iron law of escalation, another commander’s insight — that any use of such a weapon against a similarly armed adversary would likely ignite an inevitable chain of nuclear escalation whose end point was barely imaginable. One side was never going to take a hit without responding in kind, launching a process that could rapidly spiral toward an apocalyptic exchange. “Limited nuclear war,” in other words, was a fool’s fantasy and gradually came to be universally acknowledged as such. No longer, unfortunately.

Unlike tactical weapons, intercontinental strategic nukes were designed to directly target the far-off homeland of an enemy. Until now, their extreme destructive power (so many times greater than that inflicted on Hiroshima) made it impossible to imagine genuine scenarios for their use that would be practically, not to mention morally, acceptable. It was exactly to remove that practical inhibition — the moral one seemed not to count — that the Trump administration recently began the process of withdrawing from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, while rolling a new “limited” weapon off the assembly line and so altering the Trident system. With these acts, there can be little question that humanity is entering a perilous second nuclear age.

That peril lies in the way a 70-year-old inhibition that undoubtedly saved the planet is potentially being shelved in a new world of supposedly usable nukes. Of course, a weapon with one-third the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, where as many as 150,000 died, might kill 50,000 people in a similar attack before escalation even began. Of such nukes, former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was at President Ronald Reagan’s elbow when Cold War-ending arms control negotiations climaxed, said, “A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. You use a small one, then you go to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and we need to draw the line there.”

Atomic cloud over Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945; taken from "Enola Gay" flying over Matsuyama, Shikoku. (Wikimedia)

Atomic cloud over Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945; taken from Enola Gay flying over Matsuyama, Shikoku. (Wikimedia)

How Close to Midnight?

Until now, it’s been an anomaly of the nuclear age that some of the fiercest critics of such weaponry were drawn from among the very people who created it. The emblem of that is the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a bimonthly journal founded after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by veteran scientists from the Manhattan Project, which created the first nuclear weapons. (Today, that magazine’s sponsors include 14 Nobel Laureates.) Beginning in 1947, the Bulletin’s cover has functioned annually as a kind of nuclear alarm, featuring a so-called Doomsday Clock, its minute hand always approaching “midnight” (defined as the moment of nuclear catastrophe).

In that first year, the hand was positioned at seven minutes to midnight. In 1949, after the Soviet Union acquired its first atomic bomb, it inched up to three minutes before midnight. Over the years, it has been reset every January to register waxing and waning levels of nuclear jeopardy. In 1991, after the end of the Cold War, it was set back to 17 minutes and then, for a few hope-filled years, the clock disappeared altogether.

It came back in 2005 at seven minutes to midnight. In 2007, the scientists began factoring climate degradation into the assessment and the hands moved inexorably forward. By 2018, after a year of President Donald Trump, it clocked in at two minutes to midnight, a shrill alarm meant to signal a return to the greatest peril ever: the two-minute level reached only once before, 65 years earlier. Last month, within days of the announced manufacture of the first W76-2, the Bulletin’scover for 2019 was unveiled, still at that desperate two-minute mark, aka the edge of doom.

To fully appreciate how precarious our situation is today, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists implicitly invites us to return to that other two-minutes-before-midnight moment. If the manufacture of a new low-yield nuclear weapon marks a decisive pivot back toward jeopardy, consider it an irony that the last such moment involved the manufacture of the extreme opposite sort of nuke: a “super” weapon, as it was then called, or a hydrogen bomb. That was in 1953 and what may have been the most fateful turn in the nuclear story until now had just occurred.

After the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, the United States embarked on a crash program to build a far more powerful nuclear weapon. Having been decommissioned after World War II, the Pantex plant was reactivated and has been the main source of American nukes ever since.

The atomic bomb is a fission weapon, meaning the nuclei of atoms are split into parts whose sum total weighs less than the original atoms, the difference having been transformed into energy. A hydrogen bomb uses the intense heat generated by that “fission” (hence thermonuclear) as a trigger for a vastly more powerful “fusion,” or combining, of elements, which results in an even larger loss of mass being transformed into explosive energy of a previously unimagined sort. One H-bomb generates explosive force 100 to 1,000 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.

Doomsday Clock says it's two minutes until midnight. (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Doomsday Clock says it’s two minutes until midnight. (Union of Concerned Scientists)

Given a kind of power that humans once only imagined in the hands of the gods, key former Manhattan Project scientists, including Enrico Fermi, James Conant, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, firmly opposed the development of such a new weapon as a potential threat to the human species. The Super Bomb would be, in Conant’s word, “genocidal.” Following the lead of those scientists, members of the Atomic Energy Commission recommended — by a vote of three to two — against developing such a fusion weapon, but President Truman ordered it done anyway.

In 1952, as the first H-bomb test approached, still-concerned atomic scientists proposed that the test be indefinitely postponed to avert a catastrophic “super” competition with the Soviets. They suggested that an approach be made to Moscow to mutually limit thermonuclear development only to research on, not actual testing of, such weaponry, especially since none of this could truly be done in secret. A fusion bomb’s test explosion would be readily detectable by the other side, which could then proceed with its own testing program. The scientists urged Moscow and Washington to draw just the sort of arms control line that the two nations would indeed agree to many years later.

At the time, the United States had the initiative. An out-of-control arms race with the potential accumulation of thousands of such weapons on both sides had not yet really begun. In 1952, the United States numbered its atomic arsenal in the low hundreds; the Soviet Union in the dozens. (Even those numbers, of course, already offered a vision of an Armageddon-like global war.) President Harry Truman considered the proposal to indefinitely postpone the test. It was then backed by figures like Vannevar Bush, who headed the Office of Scientific Research and Development, which had overseen the wartime Manhattan Protect. Scientists like him already grasped the lesson that would only slowly dawn on policymakers — that every advance in the atomic capability of one of the superpowers would inexorably lead the other to match it, ad infinitum. The title of the bestselling James Jones novel of that moment caught the feeling perfectly: “From Here to Eternity.”

In the last days of his presidency, however, Truman decided against such an indefinite postponement of the test — against, that is, a break in the nuke-accumulation momentum that might well have changed history. On November 1, 1952, the first H-bomb — “Mike” — was detonated on an island in the Pacific. It had 500 times more lethal force than the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima. With a fireball more than three miles wide, not only did it destroy the three-story structure built to house it but also the entire island of Elugelab, as well as parts of several nearby islands.

In this way, the thermonuclear age began and the assembly line at that same Pantex plant really started to purr.  Less than 10 years later, the United States had 20,000 nukes, mostly H-bombs; Moscow, fewer than 2,000. And three months after that first test, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved that hand on its still new clock to two minutes before midnight.

Perimeter of the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Amarillo, Texas. (Danny Bradury via Flickr)

Along the perimeter of the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Amarillo, Texas. (Danny Bradury via Flickr)

A Madman-Theory Version of the World

It may seem counterintuitive to compare the manufacture of what’s called a “mini-nuke” to the creation of the “super” almost six decades ago, but honestly, what meaning can “mini” really have when we’re talking about nuclear war? The point is that, as in 1952, so in 2019 another era-shaping threshold is being crossed at the very same weapons plant in the high plains country of the Texas Panhandle, where so many instruments of mayhem have been created. Ironically, because the H-bomb was eventually understood to be precisely what the dissenting scientists had claimed it was — a genocidal weapon — pressures against its use proved insurmountable during almost four decades of savage East-West hostility. Today, the Trident-mounted W76-2 could well have quite a different effect — its first act of destruction potentially being the obliteration of the long-standing, post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki taboo against nuclear use. In other words, so many years after the island of Elugelab was wiped from the face of the Earth, the “absolute weapon” is finally being normalized.

With Trump expunging the theoretical from Richard Nixon’s “madman theory” — that former president’s conviction that an opponent should fear an American leader was so unstable he might actually push the nuclear button — what is to be done? Once again, nuke-skeptical scientists, who have grasped the essential problems in the nuclear conundrum with crystal clarity for three quarters of a century, are pointing the way. In 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists, together with Physicians for Social Responsibility, launched Back from the Brink: The Call to Prevent Nuclear War, “a national grassroots initiative seeking to fundamentally change U.S. nuclear weapons policy and lead us away from the dangerous path we are on.”

Engaging a broad coalition of civic organizations, municipalities, religious groups, educators, and scientists, it aims to lobby government bodies at every level, to raise the nuclear issue in every forum, and to engage an ever-wider group of citizens in pressing for change in American nuclear policy. Back from the Brink makes five demands, much needed in a world in which the U.S. and Russia are withdrawing from a key Cold-War-era nuclear treaty with more potentially to come, including the New START pact that expires two years from now. The five demands are:

  • No to first use of nukes. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Adam Smith only recently introduced a No First Use Act in both houses of Congress to stop Trump and future presidents from launching a nuclear war.)
  • End the unchecked launch-authority of the president. (Last month, Sen. Edward Markey and Rep. Ted Lieu reintroduced a bill that would do just that.)
  • No to nuclear hair-triggers.
  • No to endlessly renewing and replacing the arsenal (as the U.S. is now doing to the tune of perhaps $1.6 trillion over three decades).
  • Yes to an abolition agreement among nuclear-armed states.

These demands range from the near-term achievable to the long-term hoped for, but as a group they define what clear-eyed realism should be in Donald Trump’s new version of our never-ending nuclear age.

In the upcoming season of presidential politics, the nuclear question belongs at the top of every candidate’s agenda. It belongs at the center of every forum and at the heart of every voter’s decision. Action is needed before the W76-2 and its successors teach a post-Hiroshima planet what nuclear war is truly all about.

James Carroll, TomDispatch regular and former Boston Globe columnist, is the author of 20 books, most recently the novel The Cloister (Doubleday). His history of the Pentagon, House of War,” won the PEN-Galbraith Award. His memoir, “An American Requiem,” won the National Book Award. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

67 comments for “The Most Dangerous Weapon Ever Rolls Off the Nuclear Assembly Line

  1. OlyaPola
    February 23, 2019 at 05:15

    “I have stated it before: This quality publication needs to MODERATE the comments. You must hold them for 12 hours and read them, and filter out the nonsense.”

    Stating something once or multiple times does not make it valid.

    “This particular story generated endless fear mongering and presumptions about using nukes that have no connection with technology or policy or history.”

    Evaluation is a function of purpose and one of the purposes of weapons is fear mongering (hopefully with significant half-life since endless is not an option, although incidence is) facilitated by assumptions that have little connection with technology or policy or history.

    The comments are therefore a useful data-stream which can facilitate various purposes if Mr. Schroedinger and his cat are remembered as many practitioners would be likely to agree.

  2. J. Smith
    February 22, 2019 at 19:31

    I have stated it before: This quality publication needs to MODERATE the comments. You must hold them for 12 hours and read them, and filter out the nonsense.

    This particular story generated endless fear mongering and presumptions about using nukes that have no connection with technology or policy or history. It’s a flailing mass of dreck. MODERATE the comments, you are ruining the page with bullshit posts from completely unlearned readers.

  3. Alfonso garcia
    February 21, 2019 at 21:43

    Please God forgive me: but someone sink a ship or someone start talking peace and not about how expensive peace will be and how inconvenient it will be to economy. How inconvenient is killing each other? I have grandchildren 4 all of them beautiful and very smart! God forgive me,

  4. hans meyer
    February 19, 2019 at 00:42

    Very informative article, thanks. We also should not forget about the use of depleted uranium (which is not so depleted when its dust is breathed in). It can be thought as a mix between chemical and nuclear warfare as depleted uranium weapons and sheilds leave dangerous dust on the ground. Contrary to low y nuclear weapons do matter little if you target cities which hafe nearby ield nuckear weapons, it is used by the armies of the world and follows the same stupid logic of any nuclear (active or passive) weapon. You leave behind dangerous atomic elements, that poison the ground you gain (or lost) making it unusable. And you would think that the cretins that go to military school or political sciences at the top would have a grasp of the absurdity of these facts. To finish, low or high yield nuclear weapons do not matter if you target areas next to electric nuclear power plants, as disrupting the civilian activity around them may lead to incidents.
    Reading is not this president forte, but I would like a lot having him reading the reports on open air tests of these monuments to human absurdity that are called nuclear weapons.

    • J. Smith
      February 22, 2019 at 19:18

      People should ignore your information, you do not understand the technology. Deplete uranium is not a nuclear weapon of any sort, it’s a toxic heavy metal like lead. You suggest the President can’t read, you are making a mockery of learning.

  5. dean 1000
    February 18, 2019 at 17:25

    I made a comment (today) on Feb 18 2019 at 2:02pm. Here is the rest of it I forgot to post.

    When i hear anything about nuclear weapons, I remember the video clip of an infrared laser wiping out an ICBM missile body. It was pulsing (firing) beams of coherent light almost 13” long. Poof – the missile body was gone. Today it may take a drone as big as a Boeing 747 to lift a Laser that can do the job. The drone(s) would continue to fly nap-of-the-earth to survive long enough to have a shot at the first strike missiles rising from silos and from the sea. Who could choreograph such a defensive strike and ever be satisfied there were enough Lasers in the right place at the right time?
    Left of launch is unlikely to gamble on drones armed with lasers. The countries of the coalition for a nuclear free world might try something as off-the-shelf as satellites with missile killing Lasers focused on the first strike country and the oceans.

    A political agreement to build down and then eliminate nuclear weapons is the most rational solution if the first strike extremists can be brought to an understanding. The funds appropriated for left of launch, after a few years, would be more productively spent on a worldwide OctoberFest like event celebrating the end of nuclear weapons. The satellites would be guided into the atmosphere, one every year, a visible reminder of the end of nuclear weapons and a good time at worldwide Octoberfest.

    • J. Smith
      February 22, 2019 at 19:21

      This is nonsense end to end, a fantasy. Why do you waste the space here with this? People should ignore this.

  6. dean 1000
    February 18, 2019 at 14:02

    Whatever the rationale for the W76-2 warhead is, it will become a bully weapon, at best. Putting them on submarines makes them even more dangerous.
    Washington’s nuclear hardheads have been out of control since they claimed they were putting interceptor missiles in southern Europe to protect Europe from Iran.
    The nuclear agreement with Iran obviated any need for the missiles. The EU, UK, France, and Russia were among the European countries that negotiated the Iran deal. If it was good enough for the countries supposedly being threatened why isn’t is good enough for Washington? The Iran agreement exposed the bogus claim that the missiles were for defense against Iran. The missiles have always been about targeting Russia.

    Everyone wants a nuclear build down. But a handful of radicals and extremists are holding the world hostage to nuclear armageddon.

    If politics is unable or unwilling to eliminate the threat of nuclear armageddon, maybe technology can help. ‘Left of launch’ is a research effort to remotely blowup ICMB’s. Blowing up the missile will not detonate the warhead. Warheads don’t arm until the missile is up and out of the atmosphere. A safety measure to prevent the launching country from nuking itself if something goes awry. Years ago an ICBM exploded in its Arkansas silo. The warhead was thrown up and out out the silo but didn’t detonate. So the means of arming the warhead works.

    If Left of Launch is researching a means of remotely destroying the missile, how long before they consider remotely arming the warhead and/or detonating it. Every country has an interest in researching Left of Launch. If a coalition of countries had an effective means of Left of Launch they would have an affirmative defense against the first strike extremists.

    Kudos to Senator Warren and Representative Smith for their bill to ban a US nuclear first strike.
    Kudos Also to Senator Markey and Representative Lieu for a bill that would end the unchecked launch authority of presidents.

    Joe Lauria please keep us posted on the INF negotiations, and whatever countries with more than skin in the game may say about being locked out of the negotiations.

  7. Jose Fonseca
    February 18, 2019 at 02:46

    Does anyone thinks that if Russia detects a launch against her is going to wait until the bombs goes off in Moscow, check the yeld and then decide what to do? Once the launch is confirmed it will respond with everything they have on US mainland. And thats all she wrote. See you all in hell.

    • J. Smith
      February 22, 2019 at 19:26

      The warhead in question is not designed for launch at Russia, it’s probably for attacking ships. Your fright mongering is just unlearned nonsense. Nowhere on Earth does Russia even stand across from the US at the ready to make war, so your post is just ridiculous. We fly side by side military missions with the Russians in Syria for god’s sake. As for hell there’s another fantasy.

  8. R Davis
    February 17, 2019 at 02:06

    I stopped eating seafood many years ago.
    Great Article Thank You

  9. alexandra moffat
    February 16, 2019 at 15:48

    we humans are incapable of learning???? Apparently. If we are too stupid to stop this, nuclear weapons, maybe we deserve the apocalypse that comes with their use.

    • Jack
      February 18, 2019 at 14:06

      Its not we humans. Its a small group of humans that cannot let go of their generational power. They must rule the world at any cost.

  10. Camilla Drummond
    February 16, 2019 at 01:59

    How can the US do this while trying to police & stop other countries
    Do as I say not as I do

  11. February 16, 2019 at 01:45

    It is madness. Trump is criminally insane if he thinks he can have a Mini Nuclear war. Preparing for it deters nothing but lights the fuse.
    Compared to the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction an effective deterrent all these years thru all the proxy wars and close calls, this winnable mini nuclear war plan by the US War Machine is a criminally psychotic mad plan for World Destruction. For this Trump should answer to a justified Impeachment and conviction. What do you have to say now, Trump?

    • Gaura
      February 18, 2019 at 12:28

      Do you seriously believe that a nuclear weapon can be designed, engineered and manufactured in 2 years?
      This had to be in the pipeline far before Trump was elected.

  12. Tom Kath
    February 15, 2019 at 23:48

    It has often been stated that most people, and military people especially, spend their whole life preparing for the last war.
    I think many of us have long since realised that “The most dangerous weapon” for the next war is the media. It is an INFORMATION WAR, and it is raging as we speak!

    • OlyaPola
      February 17, 2019 at 05:33

      “I think many of us have long since realised that “The most dangerous weapon”for the next war is the media.”

      Whilst many practitioners continue to realise that ““The most dangerous weapon has been and continues to be the human brain in interaction” without prejudice/pre-judgement on to whom it is the most dangerous weapon.

      Limitation of perspective facilitates limitation of opportunity.

      ” It is an INFORMATION WAR, and it is raging as we speak!”

      All wars have an assay of information in various forms, but to describe multi-facetted lateral processes with a moment or a temporary phenomenon of multi-facetted lateral processes is to obfucate lateral processes, a reduction akin to describing people as theit toenails , thereby rendering yourself subject to strategic myopia and resort to alibis of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by the appearance of “unintended consequences/collateral damage” and/or the iterative mad-hattery of “Words mean what I say they mean” which obfuscates action/implementation as a form of communication/information.

  13. Violet Martin
    February 15, 2019 at 23:30

    This is the worse news of 70 years!

    • J. Smith
      February 22, 2019 at 19:27

      It’s relatively meaningless. It is beyond belief you could read this story and have such a response, just incredible naivety.

  14. michael crockett
    February 15, 2019 at 20:48

    It is unacceptable that the audit of the War Department failed to answer the who, what, why, when, and how of the missing 21 trillion dollars. We have been told the auditors were unable to find the documents that could have identified those responsible for the greatest crime of theft and fraud in history. That can not be the end of the story. Say good bye to Ernst & Young et al. Now let’s assemble a new team. A team of prosecutors and investigators to use such techniques as bright lights and long hours of interrogation.
    Divided into two, one group of investigators starts at the top the other at the bottom. Work toward the middle and leave no stone unturned. I do not wish to persecute the innocent. But memories have to be jogged. We can offer some consideration to the small fish who cooperate. But for those higher up in this criminal syndicate we must prosecute to the full extent of the law. We must also claw back every dollar we can find. The choice is simple. We can chose to be a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law. Or we can chose to be a banana republic under the rule of oligarchs. What say ye?

  15. Maxwell Quest
    February 15, 2019 at 18:04

    Why do all my comments end up in moderation as of late? I’m not feeling the love!

    • Skip Scott
      February 16, 2019 at 07:03

      I think it’s random. I’ve had a couple days where every comment went into moderation as well, and it made no sense, as I was not violating policy or attaching a lot of links. The gatekeeping here for commenters is quite shoddy.

  16. Dorsey Gardner
    February 15, 2019 at 15:22

    Why does James Carroll fail to mention that Israel possesses 200+ nuclear weapons and doesn’t sign the NPT?
    Or the fact that Israel is the greatest threat to nuclear war given the well-documented efforts of Zionists in the 1980s to sell nuclear warheads to an apartheid South Africa? (One apartheid state selling nuclear weapons to another apartheid state.)
    Why isn’t he demanding that Israel sign the NPT like everyone else, including Iran?
    Or how about mentioning that Israel and the US share military technology and the weapons being developed above are likely to fall into Zionist hands?
    Dorothy Thompson stated prophetically that the creation of Israel would be “a recipe for perpetual war.”
    Thompson was seventy years ahead of James Carroll.
    Maybe Carroll remembers what the Lobby did to Dorothy Thompson for speaking out?

  17. ronnie mitchell
    February 15, 2019 at 14:07

    I think we should make some awards to bestow on all the agencies and people in politics, the media,and so-called progressive alternative media people that have beat the drums demonizing all Russian people, ramping up the idea of conflict as being an answer to the perceived threat from Russia.
    Cheering on NATO troops doing military exercises all along the Russian border while blaming everything wrong in the world on Russia from Brexit to the Yellow Vests, protests in the streets of the US, to an electoral loss by the second most disliked candidate in modern history are blamed on “Russian aggression” “meddling”.
    To name just a few examples from a list that grows daily on network tv, radio,newspapers and internet sites that were considered ‘progressive’.
    I really think people like Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Rachel Maddow,Digby, Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel),Daily Kos, Mother Jones, Slate, DownwithTyranny (almost as bad as Maddow) and many many more will blame tRump and Russia even when the former is engaged in nuking the latter.

    But that won’t last long enough to be broadcasted,printed or blogged as the return fire of the many thousands of nukes from Russia on major targets like Washington DC (karma), New York, Seattle, LA, Denver, Houston Texas, and the military bases all over the US. At the same time key ally Cities around the world that have any role of support will be hit, bye bye Macron, May in the UK, Trudeau in Ottawa Canada, and Vancouver BC and the rest of our ‘vassal allies’ .

    That’s why we need to distribute the awards beforehand and we should call it a ‘participation appreciation’ trophy for all their work in helping to bringing the most catastrophic world war in human history with such unimaginable death and destruction that will never be equaled. So we have to give it to them before it all happens and maybe include pictures of their families on the awards.

    “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

    ? Albert Einstein

  18. Kim Dixon
    February 15, 2019 at 09:04

    We’ve suffered a fascinating loss of basic knowledge. A suicidal loss.

    I understand why it happened. When the USSR dissolved, articles and debate about nuclear weapons ceased to exist in the mass media. “There are still nuclear missiles? In silos? Ready to go? Really???”

    People here and in Europe have become ignorant of very concept that they and everyone they know could die in the next week, even as they organize to minimize the climate change that will roll out over the next thousand years.

    Western ignorance on nuclear war is quite astonishing. There will be no marches of consequence, when these “mini-nukes” and new intermediate-range missile fleets come online, when Launch On Warning is cut to a three-minute window. Because, the consciousness we had a mere thirty years ago has been wiped away.

    And ultimately, this ignorance will be what destroys civilization as surely as the inevitable world-killing escalation as soon as one of these “usable” weapons is unleashed.

  19. Sally Snyder
    February 15, 2019 at 07:43

    Here is a more detailed look at the American weapon that concerns Russia:

    Unfortunately, those of us that live in the West rarely get a clear understanding of both sides of the looming nuclear nightmare.

  20. mike k
    February 15, 2019 at 07:43

    The continued existence of nuclear weapons is an index of our “leader’s” insanity. The will of the people is the only thing that can correct this. But the brainwashed, propagandized people are deeply asleep. Waking the people to our imminent danger is the only option. CN and other web sites need to be part of this effort. There is no greater problem facing us at this time. Climate change still gives us time to plan and react, but a sudden moment of madness by any of numerous actors, or an accident, could destroy civilization in a day.

    • Sam F
      February 15, 2019 at 12:24

      Yes, this becomes more likely with smaller nuclear weapons, which suggest to our corrupt bully-boy leaders that they could get away with using great force, their only language. We should work for a properly-designed and independent UN to take over all nuclear weapons,and substitution of diplomacy and collective economic power for military force, once it has demonstrated good governance. It cannot do that until it can tax and embargo member nations to insulate itself against economic power. The model might be the US replacement of its Articles of Confederation with its Constitution, giving us greater federal power and federal guarantees of basic rights, and placing state militias under federal control.

      It seems likely that Russia and China would consider a much stronger and more independent UN serving as the first step to resolution of conflicts. The rogue US foreign policies since WWII are a strong incentive, and a UN measure to tax members on pain of broad embargo would free UN policymaking from US economic power.

  21. February 15, 2019 at 05:27

    The new American lower-yield, more “useable” nuclear warheads just do not shock me.

    I think the Enola Gay, having been painstakingly and expensively restored and put on display in the National Air and Space Museum, makes a statement for all time about America.

    A definitive statement.

    • mike k
      February 15, 2019 at 07:47

      For a culture to idolize a monstrous instrument of evil such as the Enola Gay is indeed deeply troubling. Having that abomination destroyed would be far more appropriate.

      • crusher
        February 24, 2019 at 14:46


        I think it perfectly summaries’ the USA goverment. Absolutely perfectly.

  22. john wilson
    February 15, 2019 at 05:14

    The notion that a mini nuke is OK and won’t be any reason for the enemy to respond is absurd. Once you use nukes of any size you have opened Pandora’s box and the supposed enemy will most certainly respond with whatever nukes he has and of any size.

    • tpmco
      February 18, 2019 at 08:52

      Why do you use the word “enemy”?

    • OlyaPola
      February 18, 2019 at 14:23

      “Once you use nukes of any size you have opened Pandora’s box and the supposed enemy will most certainly respond with whatever nukes he has and of any size.”

      Certainty and response restricted to emulation?

      As Mr. Putin remarked – Do you think your opponents are as stupid as you are?

  23. Derrick Steed
    February 15, 2019 at 03:22

    The eternal question: why have none of the scientists and engineers who must have participated in the design and construction of these weapons never downed tools and said “Not in my name”?

    • Elizabeth Murray
      February 16, 2019 at 20:57

      There was at least one such individual. Robert Aldridge, a Lockheed design engineer for the Trident nuclear missile, quit his job when he realized he was working on an offensive weapon that had first-strike capability. His act of conscience was the impetus for the formation of the anti-nuclear organization Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in 1977.

  24. Bill Dyer
    February 15, 2019 at 02:17

    The words of a Libturd. Quite a bit of truth mixed up with the not so true.

    Recently Putin claimed to have a new bomb with hypersonic missiles to suit.

    China has built intermediate range carrier killer missiles with who knows what warheads.

    Yet the writer in his leftist ways blames President Trump for addressing the imbalance.

    Seems quite treacherous to me, in it’s reasoning, to blame a President for doing his job. I have no faith in the Democrats at all.

    • Skip Scott
      February 15, 2019 at 08:39

      Mutual Assured Destruction is the only thing keeping us alive. Russia’s recent advances keeps Mutual Assured Destruction as the reality. The USA is the rogue nation that constantly pursues first strike capability and the use of “tactical” nukes. Both of these ideas are insane.

      I agree that it was a “cheap shot” to put the blame solely on Trump. All presidents are subservient to the Deep State and the MIC. But the USA is the aggressor circling the planet with its military and constantly stirring up trouble in pursuit of global empire. One of Trump’s campaign positions was “wouldn’t it be great to get along with Russia?” He learned rather quickly that he’s not allowed to go down that path. For the crazies that really run the joint, it’s empire or Armageddon.

    • dfnslblty
      February 15, 2019 at 08:50

      NOT doing the job of a president; The inability to negotiate and spreading fear disqualify 45 as president.
      Bullying creates the pushback by other countries.
      Wrongheaded expenditures while education and healthcare lag.

    • February 15, 2019 at 14:29

      Remind us again how Russia unilaterally abrogated the ABM treaty in 2002.

    • Stygg
      February 15, 2019 at 18:50

      Nobody else here has any faith in the Democrats either. You’re tilting at windmills.

    • Gregory Herr
      February 16, 2019 at 20:50

      Actually, the nuclear weapons modernization plan came into fruition under Obama.

      “Obama signed House Resolution (H.R.) 2647, or the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010, into law on Oct. 28, 2009. The bill authorized over $680 billion of military spending for the next year and directed the president to submit a report to Congress outlining a plan to “modernize the nuclear weapons complex.”

      The findings of the defense spending bill’s mandated report manifested in the administration’s commitment to request to spend almost $300 billion to upgrade and expand the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal and equipment. The administration committed to developing and procuring new fleets of nuclear-capable submarines, bomber planes, and inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) systems.

      The administration’s almost-$300-billion-figure only accounted for modernization spending over a decade, from 2011 to 2020. According to the James Martin Center For Nonproliferation Studies, this timescale does not capture a bulk of the program’s multi-billion dollar procurements of submarines, planes, and missiles that are slated for after 2024.”

    • MarkU
      February 17, 2019 at 10:31

      Re: ‘The words of a Libturd’

      Are you a 12 year old? Puerile is the word, why don’t you grow up.

      As for the rest, you don’t get to start the narrative wherever you want for your own convenience. The real start of this narrative was in 2002 when George W Bush unilaterally abrogated the ABM treaty and started building missile bases along Russia’s borders. Putin warned at the time that it would force the Russians to develop countermeasures to preserve their deterrent, that was 16 years ago.

      Similarly, the real start of the animosity with Iran was not the ‘hostage crisis’ but the knocking over of Iran’s democratically elected leader by the US and the UK many years earlier and the reign of terror, murder and torture by a western appointed puppet.

      Even the ‘Cuban missile crisis’ has been severely misrepresented. The real start of that story was the US placement of nukes in Turkey, near the border with Russia. The Russian placement in Cuba was a response to that provocation, not the start of the narrative. The usual western narrative about the courageous and saintly Kennedy facing down the Russians and forcing them to withdraw their missiles is typical US bullshit. The real story is that an agreement was made to withdraw the Turkish based missiles in return for the withdrawal of the Cuban nukes. Personally I think it should have rightly been called the Turkish missile crisis.

      • tpmco
        February 18, 2019 at 09:31

        Personally I am so happy to read a comment like yours. You just drove a 16 penny nail through 2-2×4’s with one swing.

  25. rgl
    February 14, 2019 at 23:51

    The United States of America no longer has the clout on the world stage it once had. Everything America is in decline. From morality to infrastructure, the whole place is going to hell. Unhappy, unhealthy citizens rampage – irrespective of colour, the fourth estate has become entirely unable to discern fact from fiction, nor can one cannot believe much of anything that comes out of a US politicians gob – with some (rare) exceptions …

    … no. The only instrument of US power remains it’s nuclear arsenal. They *will not* relinquish their ‘big stick’.

    Yes, yes, America has the mightiest military on earth and all that. How long has the mightiest military been struggling – and losing – to sandal-clad farmers using yesterday’s weapons. For the second time.

    America has always operated by the maxim that ‘Might Makes Right’. They are finding out that this really isn’t the case.

    Again … The only instrument of US power remains it’s nuclear arsenal. They *will not* relinquish their ‘big stick’.

    The only stick they can wield is the nuke one.

    • mike k
      February 15, 2019 at 07:54

      The insane goal of world domination colors everything the US does. Nukes will remain and proliferate as long as this false intention persists.

    • OlyaPola
      February 18, 2019 at 14:13

      “The only stick they can wield is the nuke one.”


      That “the nuke one” has lost its big-stickness ( a unit of phallicness perhaps?) – a more relevant unit of measure would be blackmailness – is among the reasons for no military itervention in Venuzuela to date although the “plan” is/was a derivation of the plans in Chile fron 1970 until 1973 – showing some of the opponents cannot follow blueprints, and the increased developments of “low yield nuclear weapons” in an attempt to increase blackmailness.

      The “big stick” may be better described as comfort blanket.

  26. Joe Tedesky
    February 14, 2019 at 21:37

    Wow James Carrol gave me a pretty good education on the nuclear bomb…. once again the Consortium keeps it interesting and educational.

    What I worry about is the ‘group think’ and where the constant Russia bashing could lead too. Add to how most Americans will do no research what’s so ever to critique the Main Stream News & Entertainment Industry’s portrayal of Putin and pretty much all Russians I fear the Russians could become paranoid to the point to mistake a mistake for the real thing…and then by golly we’re off to the morrow of our humanly destruction. Then there’s the jackass who jumps the gun scenario whereas this idiot seems to think our technology will prevail over theirs if only we pull the trigger now. The possibilities of misinterpretation are so many it only raises the ultimate fear level of it all.

    A sane world would disarm all nuclear weapons immediately. An even more compassionate world would follow that disarmament program with a commitment to scale back on all conventional weaponry down to a reasonable sized border defense. With the expansion of our world population along with technological advances reducing the size and confidentiality of our personal data war has become an even more dangerous endeavor. (I threw the personal data part in there because it pisses me off they snoop on us). In other words our methods of delivering death coupled with how many there of us we’re doomed if we do keep up this curious madness and love of war.

    • OlyaPola
      February 15, 2019 at 13:40

      “I fear the Russians could become paranoid to the point to mistake a mistake for the real thing”

      There has been a relatively consistent history of such testing since the early 1950’s and you will note you are still alive as I am.

      If your fear gives rise to any of the outcomes which you fear, there be little reason and/opportunity to fear.

      Testing suggests that that which you fear is more likely to be activated by the opponents and consequently if your fear gives rise to any of the outcomes which you fear, there be little reason and/opportunity to fear; you will be emulating in some measure the Russian perception.

      The title of the thread is:

      “The most dangerous weapon ever rolls off the nuclear assembly line” whilst the content of the thread is based on assumptions including being the most dangerous weapon on an evaluation being based on a relatively limited sample of weapons restricted to the nuclear, and without explaining in detail why and to whom it is the most dangerous weapon.

      This reflects the opponents’ assumptions and forms a significant part of the opponents’ motivations to withdraw from the INF treaty, to continue/expand development of “low yield nuclear weapons” and to develop and implement tools in conjunction with others to facilitate “regime change” in recognition that high yield nuclear weapons, particularly when delivered by ICBMs, are not fit for their purpose, which in large measure is to act as tools of coercion, including of their “own” population.

      The opponents are often immersed in notions of silver bullets, quick fixes, “wonderful” gadgets, and the conflation of machine intelligence/artificial intelligence, and hence that “the W76-2 and its successors (if such ever materialise)” are “The most dangerous weapon (s) ever rolls off the nuclear assembly line” may be rendered true through the interaction of others in respect of targets unexpected by the opponents, faciltated by spectators continuing to ponder “what is” ; practitioners continuing to ponder “how to” through circumventing the need for unpleasant bangs.

    • OlyaPola
      February 18, 2019 at 03:31

      “(I threw the personal data part in there because it pisses me off they snoop on us).”

      As experience of the STASI and others show, the “surveillance society” affords others opportunities in the management of the perceptions of the opponents – how attempts at “perception management” facilitates management of the perceptions of those attempting “perception management” – further increasing the opponents’ bewilderment often without the added expense of postage.

      Some believe that stolen apples taste sweeter, beliefs facilitating curved balls.

  27. February 14, 2019 at 21:03

    Good article and very important. Wish the MSM was discussing threats like this instead of their BS.

    I do however think any mention of the “Doomsday Clock” is unfortunate, since that’s an idiotic concept no different than the terrorist threat level colors. Or the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s completely ridiculous and should be shunned.

    • rgl
      February 15, 2019 at 00:03

      It is an unfortunate fact that Americans have become so educationally deficient that it takes grade three graphics and a ‘mommy talk’ to hold their attention. The world laughed at Benny Nuttyahoo when he spoke to the US congress – remember that silly bomb graphic? He, however, knew his audience – mostly children. So he spoke to them as such.

      Cartoons. For a cartoon country. It is all they understand. The Doomsday Clock is a reminder of this.

      • mike k
        February 15, 2019 at 07:59

        You are right rgl. The mind of the American public is the scariest factor in this whole nuclear mess. The only ones that might save us are out to lunch….

      • Maxwell Quest
        February 15, 2019 at 17:57

        LOL, rgl!

        And BN was careful to include a lit fuse on that bomb graphic, like something out of a Pink Panther cartoon. This, of course, was needed to illustrated the urgency of the situation and further identify the object as an explosive device and not a Christmas ornament.

        • rgl
          February 26, 2019 at 17:32

          LOLOLOL, yourself, Max …

          … christmas ornament.

      • Skip Scott
        February 16, 2019 at 07:11

        If congress had any respect for themselves they would have been insulted by such childish graphics. Instead Bibi gets standing ovations. It would be an interesting project for someone with video editing skills to use old Bullwinkle cartoons to lampoon RussiaGate. It might send a more understandable message to the average American than a logical analysis.

      • OlyaPola
        February 17, 2019 at 05:55

        “He, however, knew his audience – mostly children.”

        Like some others you appear to perceive/use “children” as a pejorative based on imagined assumption that children are less capable of understanding.

        This is one of the vectors which underpins “schooling” a process of “socialisation” which in part is designed to encourage less capability of understanding and more reliance on belief.

        This has been a consistent practice/resort within coercive social relations including by the Jesuits – “Give me a child until the age of 7 and he is mine forever”.

        Different social relations perceive children and their potentials differently and engage in different interactions with them.

        That was and is one component in the continuing lateral process of transcending “The Soviet Union” by the Russian Federation and in the increasing need of coercive social relations to seek to conflate childhood with lesser being in various manifestations in hope of deflecting/delaying their own transcendence.

        One of the useful illusions held by the opponents is that the “benefits” of “dumbing-down” accrue solely to them.

        Thank you for your illustration of this resort in emulation.

        • rgl
          February 26, 2019 at 17:25

          You, madam, are a flake.

          A child is one with no experience with the world or how it works. A child needs to be taught. A child has an unlimited potential to learn. But a child will still stick a fork into a wall socket.

          A child is an immature being. It acts out of want alone. Until it learns compassion and empathy, it’s wants supersede all others. A child – generally – has a short attention span.

          While a child may eventually grow to build a rocket, command an army, or invent cold fusion, until a level of education, understanding, and a loss of naivete is attained – living and learning on this rock of ours – it is still a child.

          Look to the world with reasoned eyes.

  28. Tom Kath
    February 14, 2019 at 19:54

    Good article until it got personal. The dilemma is diminished by the suggestion that “one madman” may hold the keys.

  29. KiwiAntz
    February 14, 2019 at 19:49

    Now you can see without a shadow of doubt, why Russia & China are building up their defensive weaponry capabilities? Because the United States of Death & Destruction mindlessly thinks it can win a Nuclear War? It doesn’t matter what the kiloton yield rate is, adversies will not differentiate between high yield or low yield as a Nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon? I can see a time in the very near future when America will be totally destroyed, because it’s insane behaviour can’t be allowed to continue to threaten the World & it’s Citizens! Enoughs enough!

  30. Ann Garrison
    February 14, 2019 at 19:19

    Is this really Trump’s vision? I thought it had been rolling right along for quite awhile.

    • February 15, 2019 at 05:28

      Yes, that is an error.

    • February 15, 2019 at 14:32

      *At least* a decade of R & D would have gone into the development and deployment of such weaponry.

  31. michael crockett
    February 14, 2019 at 19:07

    Good article James Carroll. Tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING! Stop the madness!

    • rgl
      February 15, 2019 at 00:11

      Follow the cash. The truckloads and truckloads and truckloads and truckloads of cash dispensed to congress-critters to legislate bigger and better boom.

      Understand the obscene amounts of money that (some) people make off of nuke weapons – weapons period! – and you will understand why they will *not* “Stop the madness”.

      The American arms industry is the *only* sector of the economy firing on all cylinders. They cannot afford to give up that cash. They’re next to broke.

      • OlyaPola
        February 18, 2019 at 14:29

        “The American arms industry is the *only* sector of the economy firing on all cylinders.”

        Perhaps a cursory investigation of design faults, design modifications during production, re-work rates, productivity rates, production phasing and cost-overruns may prove illuminating?

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