The Euro-Atlantic Populist Wave

Andrew Spannaus analyzes the anti-establishment revolt across the West in this excerpt from his new book, “Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union.” 

By Andrew Spannaus

In 2016, the world began to change, with the Brexit referendum in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. In both cases, an insurrection of “regular people” against the structures of political and media power upset the political balance of two of the leading countries of the Western world.

And the revolt didn’t stop there. It continued in 2017 and 2018 with a series of elections across continental Europe that saw the growth of protest movements and candidates willing to challenge the system of globalization that until recently seemed inevitable.

The anti-establishment revolt that has spread across the Western world is closely linked to the gradual transformation of the economic structure of the nations on both sides of the Atlantic over a period of decades, from one focused principally on production, to a system based increasingly on finance.

Finance has always had a role, of course, and speculative bubbles have often led to crashes and depressions in various periods of history. The characteristic of the shift over the past half-century is that of a structural change that despite provoking a series of crises, has not been effectively addressed. The result has been a widespread increase in inequality, interlinked with stagnation or even a decrease of purchasing power and living standards for a considerable portion of the population. This doesn’t mean that people don’t have more stuff nowadays, due to new digital technologies for example, they do. But most have to work more now, with more uncertainty, to make a decent living.

Speculative Financial Attacks

The mechanisms of the globalized financial economy have brought profound change in the international political sphere as well. Speculative movements have become a form of pressure under which countries can be brought to their knees, as national governments are no longer able to think of their own citizens’ interests in the face of a financial attack. Some might say that in the long run the markets are generally right, i.e. capital movements tend to reward or punish countries based on the quality of their economic policies. This ideological, tautological position is easily unmasked with reference to any number of speculative bubbles, from that of the “Asian Tigers” in the 1990s to the debt bubbles of Argentina and Russia in the 2000s; the pursuit of immediate profits in the name of shareholder value often means ignoring economic fundamentals, and exploiting misperceptions despite their lack of justification being fairly obvious to a reasonable observer.

The problem is not the existence of financial markets per se, but rather the role they have been given in determining economic policy, de facto shifting the aims of policymakers from the pursuit of the general welfare to the appeasement of investors in a model whose goals are generally not aligned with the long-term needs of the population.

The discontent produced by this process has now boiled over; and predictably, the targets of the protest are not only the executives who exploit the revolving door between finance and government (of which there have been many). A broader opposition has developed, a cultural revolt that mixes multiple factors associated with the same process. In the case of globalization there is no denying that many changes have been due not to some inevitable process of upheaval ultimately leading to progress. Rather, numerous Western industries have been uprooted in order to exploit weak labor and environmental regulations in countries that were desperate for investment. Political decisions were made to further this process, essentially disregarding the long-term effects they would have on the workforce in developed nations.

The defenders of globalization say that people have to be ready to adapt to this process, yet when adaptation means seeing a worsening of one’s standard of living, accompanied by a loss of social cohesion, it’s not surprising that frustration and discontent grow over time.


Another major issue that has emerged in this context is, of course, immigration. A strong reaction has developed among conservatives in particular, but has expanded to have a general effect beyond those who would normally be considered xenophobic or racist. In many countries, right-wing populists have used immigration as one of their major issues in criticizing globalization. The notion that the disappearance of borders means that people should be able to go wherever they wish, has fed into fears of a rapid change in the identity of Western European countries in particular, in both economic and social terms.

There is no denying the centrality of the issue of immigration, yet it is political malpractice not to recognize how it is linked to the overall reaction to globalization, starting in the economic sphere. The insecurity people feel due to more difficult living conditions feeds a fear of immigrants, who are seen as a threat to economic well-being. If immigrants are willing to accept lower pay and less comfortable living conditions, it is not hard to see how that can put downward pressure on the living standards of others.

Disastrous Wars

A third key issue is foreign policy. While the notion of free markets has been used to promote neoliberal economic policies, the defense of human rights has been proclaimed as the justification for a series of disastrous wars. President Barack Obama made great use of Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness to win the Democratic primaries in 2008, only to later be pushed into another regime-change war a few years later, in Libya. Donald Trump went further, decrying the “$6 trillion wasted in the Middle East” that could have been used to “rebuild our country.” This attack on the so-called shared values of the international liberal order struck a strong chord in U.S. citizens tired of endless conflict, making a connection between a failed foreign policy and economic decline. The effects were felt in Europe as well, in particular as regards a potential shift in the Western stance towards Russia.

Little Progress

In the United States, while pundits concentrate on the tone of the political/public debate as it is affected by Trump’s style, there is little progress on addressing the long-term process that has brought us to this point. Yes, there has been economic growth, and even an uptick in manufacturing jobs, yet the middle and lower classes in the United States still struggle to make ends meet, while younger workers in particular suffer from uncertainty regarding their future. Ignoring this reality, claiming that whoever still feels an aversion to the mainstream narrative regarding the economic and political conditions of the country, merely strengthens the disconnect between different segments of the population. Fortunately for the Democratic Party, in the 2018 mid-terms most candidates decided to concentrate on pocketbook issues, starting with healthcare, rather than trumpeting the cause of the resistance against the “deplorables,” the term used by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The similarity with the political situation in Europe is obvious. For years the political and media establishment branded any anti-European Union positions as being inherently racist and reactionary, simply feeding the perception that the institutions were out of touch with the demands of a significant portion of the population. From the Netherlands to France, from Germany to Italy, populist parties have all drawn on opposition to globalization and austerity to grow their support, often — but not always — mixed in with criticism of increased immigration. Despite the different political systems, the issues are so similar to those in the United States that it is hard to deny a connection, or to reduce the popular reaction to one based only on racism or fear of others.

Given the parallels between the situations in Europe and the United States, the only practicable remedy is also quite evident: either political institutions begin to deal seriously with the fundamental economic changes that have taken place over a period of decades, or nobody should expect the revolt of the voters to subside, with all of the negative side effects seen to this point. And there is no doubt things could get even worse, in Europe in particular, where the last cases of dictatorship and destruction of democratic institutions are not so far in the past.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and political analyst based in Milan, and the elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association. His latest book is “Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions Facing the European Union,” published in May 2019.

Dismantling the Doomsday Machines

Dan Ellsberg has given us a book that shows the urgency of re-engaging on nuclear disarmament, writes John V. Walsh.

With Two Minutes to Midnight, Time Is Running Out

By John V. Walsh 

“From a technical point of view, he [director Stanley Kubrick] anticipated many things. … Since that time, little has changed, honestly. The only difference is that modern weapons systems have become more sophisticated, more complex.  But this idea of a retaliatory strike and the inability to manage these systems, yes, all of these things are relevant today. It [controlling the weapons] will become even more difficult and more dangerous.”  — Russian President Vladimir Putin commenting on the film, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” in an interview with Oliver Stone, May 11, 2016. Putin had not seen the movie and did not know of it before Stone showed it to him.

The “Doomsday Machine,” the title of Daniel Ellsberg’s superb book, is not an imaginary contraption from a movie masterpiece.  A Doomsday Machine uncannily like the one described in “Dr. Strangelove” exists right now.  In fact, there are two such machines, one in U.S. hands and one in Russia’s.  The U.S. seeks to hide its version, but Ellsberg has revealed that it has existed since the 1950s.  Russia has quietly admitted that it has one, named it formally, “Perimetr,” and also tagged it with a frighteningly apt nickname “Dead Hand.” Because the U.S. and Russia are the only nations with Doomsday Machines to date we shall restrict this discussion to them.

Ellsberg’s terrifying message in the book has failed to provoke action in the year since its publication. Instead, on Jan. 24 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists kept its Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, poised perilously close to Armageddon for a second year, marking a “new abnormal.” 

The first component of a Doomsday Machine is a mechanism of launching nuclear weapons with a command structure not always in the hands of a president in either country, something carefully hidden from the U.S. public. 

The second component is a weapon of such destructive force that it can kill billions at once and then more gradually the entire human race and perhaps all animal life on earth. 

Here is a brief consideration of Ellsberg’s views as a reminder of the nuclear peril we face along with a plan of action that he and others suggest. 

Launch and Command

Russia and the U.S. each have the ability to strike the other with great force, destroy the other’s cities and industrial and military bases.

The essence of this first-strike capacity is the ability to wipe out the deterrent of the other side or weaken it so that the remaining force could be intercepted for the most part. 

How can a targeted nation respond to such a capability?  It must convince the adversary that such a strike is futile because it will not destroy the deterrent of the targeted nation.  The attacker must understand that the nuclear force of the targeted nation, its nuclear deterrent, will survive, and the attacker will be annihilated.

The first approach to ensure this survivability is to build ever more nuclear weapons.  Thus, when the U.S. pioneered its first-strike capability in the Cold War, the Soviet Union responded with a buildup. Quite quickly both had a first-strike capacity with the competitive buildup reaching the insane levels shown here.  Each side also took the following additional measures.

The first measure to prevent the loss of deterrence is to put the nuclear force on Launch on Warning, which is also described as Hair Trigger Alert.

Most of us have heard about this, but we ought to quake in our boots every time it comes to mind.  Since the time to respond to a first strike is only tens of minutes for an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) attack, which takes about 30 minutes to travel between the U.S. and Russia, and even less time for a short or intermediate range missile, a targeted country must have its nuclear force loaded onto delivery vehicles and capable of being launched on warning of a nuclear attack.

Nuclear warheads that are loaded onto delivery vehicles are said to be “deployed.” They are ready to be launched in minutes.  On each side —both in Russia and in the U.S. — roughly 1,600 such warheads were loaded onto long-range delivery vehicles in 2018. (There are several thousand more warheads in reserve on each side but not “deployed.”)  It is easy to see the danger inherent in this situation.

The second measure to prevent loss of deterrence is “delegation.”  This is not widely known or understood.

One aspect of a first strike would be an attempt to knock out known command centers so that a retaliatory strike could not be ordered.  This is known as “decapitation.”The antidote to decapitation is “delegation,” that is, others besides the presidents and their immediate successors are authorized to press “the button.”  It works this way.  These “others” are located in secret command centers far from Washington or the Strategic Air Command Base in Colorado, both of which will be targeted in a decapitation strike.  If these secret centers find themselves cut off from communication with Washington or Moscow, then the assumption is made that a decapitating nuclear strike has occurred.  In that event these “others” removed from the centers of power are authorized to press the nuclear button.  These others are not elected officials and in fact we do not know who they are. What Ellsberg discovered is that some of these “others” are military people who are concerned that they too could be hit in a decapitating strike.  So they also have the authority to delegate.

In fact, no one, perhaps not even the president, nor his circle of advisors, knows who can launch the nuclear weapons. Is it possible that one might be like the fictional General Jack D. Ripper, the psychotic, delusional fellow who gives the launch order in Dr. Strangelove, or someone lusting after the Rapture?  

In summary, first-strike capability is the source of the problem.  It leads to a nuclear arms buildup, launch on warning and delegation. The idea of having such a capability is deeply imbedded in U.S. “strategic” thinking and will be hard to dislodge.

Weapons of Human Extinction

The second component of a Doomsday Machine is the weaponry. What is the destructive power of the nuclear weapons used in a first strike?  In 1961, when Ellsberg was among those working on nuclear-war fighting strategy for the Kennedy administration, he requested an estimate from the Pentagon of the deaths due to a first strike as the war planners had mapped it out then. To his surprise the estimate came back at once — the Pentagon had made it and kept it hidden.  At a time when the global population was about 3 billion, a first strike by the U.S. would result in the deaths of 1.2 billion from explosions, radiation and fire.  That number was deaths only, not injuries.  And it was only the result of U.S. weapons; it did not include deaths from a Soviet response if they managed one.  The deaths would be concentrated in targeted countries, then and now the U.S. and Russia.  Ellsberg was stunned to learn that the Pentagon would coolly make plans for such a gargantuan and immediate genocide.  And so should we all be. 


But the damage does not stop there.  This is the surprise that the Pentagon did not understand at the time.  The ash from the fires of burning cities would be cast up into the stratosphere so high that it would not be rained out.  There it would remain for at least a decade, blocking enough sunlight to prevent crops from growing for 10 years.  That is sufficient to cause total starvation and wipe out the entire human race, with only a handful at most able to survive. Nuclear winter was  publicized in the 1980s and encountered some initial skepticism.

Now with the interest in global warming, better computer models have been developed. When the results of a nuclear first strike are put into these models, nuclear winter again makes its appearance as Brian Toon, Alan Robock and others have shown.  The TED talks of Toon and of Robock describing their findings are well worthwhile; they are brief and well-illustrated.  We are confronted with a genocide of all or nearly all humanity, an Omnicide.”

The launch of the 1600 “deployed” warheads of either the U.S. or Russia is sufficient to give us nuclear winter.  So we in the U.S. have put in place a weapon system on hair-trigger alert commanded by we know not whom that can kill virtually all Americans – along with most everyone else on the planet. 

We have on hair trigger alert a weapon that is in fact suicidal.  Even if we neglect the effects of nuclear winter, the nuclear attacks would be concentrated on Russia and the U.S.  So most of us would be consumed.  Thus MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) is replaced with SAD (Self-Assured Destruction).

Abandoning First-Strike Policy & Capacity

Dismantling the Doomsday Machine with its hair-trigger alert and system of delegation means abandoning a first-strike policy and capacity.  And right now, only two countries have such first strike capacity and only one, the U.S., refuses to take the right to use it “off the table” even when not under attack

What does the elimination of first-strike capacity mean in practice?  This involves two basic steps for the U.S.  First, the land-based ICBMs, the Minuteman III, must be entirely dismantled, not refurbished as is currently being undertaken at enormous cost.  These missiles, the land-based part of the Strategic Triad, are highly accurate but fixed in place like “sitting ducks.” They are only good for a first strike, for they will be destroyed in a successful first strike by an adversary. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and James E. Cartwright, formerly head of the Strategic Air Command and formerly vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both called for dismantling the Minuteman III. The second step is to reduce the Trident Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) force to the level where it cannot destroy the entire Russian land-based missile force. 

Russia would also need to execute similar measures, taking into account the specifics of its arsenal.  Here negotiations, treaties and verification are necessary.  But these are impossible in the current atmosphere of Russiagate and Russophobia, which is why both are existential threats and must be surmounted. We must talk despite our differences, real or perceived. 

An additional measure has also been proposed.  All nuclear warheads should be removed from deployed status by Russia and the U.S.  (The anodyne term is “de-alerting.”) That is, the warheads should be removed from their delivery vehicles and stored in a way that would take days or even weeks to deploy – that is to remount.    This has been proposed by the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction whose plan is laid out here.

The Work Ahead

Total abolition should be the ultimate goal because no human hand should be allowed to wield species-destroying power.  But it seems that an intermediate goal is not only needed to give us the breathing space to get to zero nuclear weapons.  An intermediate and readily achievable goal can call attention to the problem and motivate large numbers of people.  The Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s is a very successful example of this sort of effort; it played a big role in making the Reagan-Gorbachev accords possible. 

The effort to kill the Doomsday Machines might well be called something like “Step Away from Doomsday” or simply “Step Away.”  At two minutes to midnight we must make haste to do this.  Abolishing nuclear weapons will require a breakthrough in the way countries deal with one another, especially nuclear armed countries.  Let us give ourselves the breathing space to accomplish that.

An earlier version of this article appeared on

 John V. Walsh can be reached at  He writes about issues of war, peace and empire, and about health care, for, Consortium News, and other outlets.  Now living in the East Bay, he was until recently professor of physiology and cellular neuroscience at a medical school in New England.

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Consortium News on Flashpoints: Max Blumenthal, As’ad AbuKhalil and Diana Johnstone

The second episode of Consortium News on Flash Points focuses on two different perspectives on John McCain and the real meaning of Russian interference in U.S. politics.

In collaboration with Dennis Bernstein, host of Pacifica Radio’s syndicated show Flashpoints, Consortium News presents its second episode of Consortium News on Flashpoints. Recorded and produced in the Berkeley, California studios of KPFA radio, Bernstein speaks with Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria, who each episode chooses three Consortium News authors to discuss their recent articles published on this site. 

In this show, Bernstein interviews Max Blumenthal on The Other Side of John McCain; As’ad AbuKhalil on John McCain: The View from the Middle East ; and Diana Johnstone on her article The Real Russian Interference in US Politics.


Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at You can get in touch with the author at .

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

If you valued this original article please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.

NEW— Consortium News Launches Audio and Video Podcasts

Consortium News announces today that its audio and video productions will be available as podcasts on iTunes, Spotify and other popular hosts. 

Consortium News Radio and Consortium News Video productions will be archived as podcasts on a variety of hosts, such as iTunes and Spotify.  Our first host is Libsyn, which can be found by clicking here:


Included among the podcasts will be all episodes of Consortium News Radio, Consortium News Video, Consortium News on Flash Points with host Dennis Bernstein (originally broadcast on Pacifica Radio) and the weekly review show,  Consortium News Front Page, with host Don DeBar speaking with Joe Lauria, originally broadcast on Community Public Radio in New York.

INTRODUCING: Consortium News on Flashpoints, Our Second Radio Show

This month Consortium News launched Consortium News Radio. Today we begin a second radio show in collaboration with Pacifica Radio’s Flashpoints, a biweekly interview program with Consortium News writers.

In collaboration with Dennis Bernstein, host of Pacifica Radio’s syndicated show Flashpoints, Consortium News is today launching its second radio program, Consortium News on Flashpoints. Recorded and produced in the Berkeley, California studios of KPFA radio, Bernstein will interview three Consortium News writers about their recent articles published on this site. Each program will open with Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria discussing with Bernstein his picks of the three CN articles to be featured. The show will air twice a month on every other Friday. (We are about to launch a podcast of all our radio programming).

On the first show, Bernstein interviews Sam Husseini on his piece The Limits of Elizabeth Warren; Patrick Lawrence about his article, Too Big to Fail’: Russia-gate One Year After VIPS Showed a Leak, Not a Hack; and Joe Lauria, on his retrospective of Kofi Annan, who died last Saturday. 

Now the first episode of Consortium News on Flashpoints.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at You can get in touch with the author at .

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

If you valued this original article please consider making a donation to Consortium News so we can bring you more stories like this one.