Research suggests the consequences of supervolcano eruptions and nuclear bombs could be similar to the aftermath of the asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs.
About 74,000 years ago, for example, the Toba supervolcano eruption sent clouds of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, cutting sunlight by as much as 90%. That volcanic winter might have reduced the global human population to just 3,000 people, based on one analysis.
If enough nuclear bombs (thousands of them) were to explode, that could also bring on a nuclear winter that would reduce sunlight levels by more than 90%, according to a 1983 paper co-authored by Carl Sagan. Global temperatures could drop up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in that scenario.
“Such rapid and drastic cooling could make farming impossible, even in those regions spared by the missiles,” Walsh writes.
Without sunlight, in other words, our food system would break down.
The mushroom cultivation solution in Walsh’s book comes from David Denkenberger, a civil engineer who suggested it in a 2014 book about post-apocalyptic agriculture, called “ Feeding Everyone No Matter What.”
“Maybe when humans go extinct the world will be ruled by fungi again,” Denkenberger told Walsh. “Why don’t we just eat the mushrooms and not go extinct?”
Mushrooms do grow on trees, with or without the sun
If clouds of debris or ash were to blot out the sun and lead the climate to cool rapidly, trillions of trees would die. Humans wouldn’t be able to digest that dead wood, of course, but mushrooms could — no photosynthesis required.
Walsh does the math: A 3-foot-long, 4-inch-wide log should produce 2.2 pounds of mushrooms in four years, by his calculations.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, but with a small post-disaster population and efficient fungus production, Denkenberger thinks it might work.
While we’re using the wood to grow mushrooms, we could use the dead trees’ leaves, too, he said.
“The ground-up leaves could be made into tea to provide missing nutrients like vitamin C, or fed to ruminant animals like cows or rats,” Denkenberger told Walsh.
Dead trees can feed other life forms, like rats and insects
Rats, much like mushrooms, can digest cellulose, the sugar that makes up 50% of wood. So anything the mushrooms leave behind could be fed to the rats, Walsh suggests. That way, any human survivors could eat meat.
What’s more, rats reproduce quickly and they probably don’t need sunlight to do it, Walsh adds. It takes a rat just six weeks to reach sexual maturity, and from there only 70 days to produce seven to nine babies. In Denkenberger’s calculations, all of humanity could be eating rats after just two years.
Insects could also provide protein, and many of them would survive a sun-blotting catastrophe.
“The same qualities that make insects so abundant and so persistent would allow many species to weather even the most extensive, climate-changing existential catastrophes,” Walsh writes. “Beetles can feast on dead wood, and humans can feast on beetles.”
Insects are already a staple food in some parts of the world, and they’re starting to gain traction elsewhere. Walsh describes an insect food fair in Richmond, Virginia, where he tasted a pasta dish with ground cricket meatballs, called “Orthopteran Orzo,” and deep-fried mealworm larvae.
“They were both passable,” he writes. “If I were starving, though, I’d manage.”
Survivors would band together
Walsh’s book debunks another popular idea about how to feed ourselves during an apocalypse: cannibalism.
That would not help in the aftermath of a catastrophe that puts humans at risk of extinction, he says, because other people are simply not a sustainable food source. Walsh points to a 2017 study in which a group of undergraduate students calculated how long the human species would last if we subsisted on cannibalism alone. They found that only one person would remain after 1,149 days (about 3 years).
He adds, however, that building a new agricultural system would require working together. He thinks such collaboration would be likely in a disaster scenario.
“For all our fear of what would come after, for all our bleak stories, collapse and conflict aren’t givens after a disaster,” Walsh writes. “Human beings help each other, including in those times when it doesn’t seem to be in their interest. That’s likely how Homo sapiens survived its closest brush with extinction — the Toba supereruption — and it’s the only way we would survive the next one.”
As he refuses to take action to combat the climate crisis, which scientists say is making extreme weather events more intense and devastating, President Donald Trump reportedly suggested deploying America’s vast nuclear arsenal to stop hurricanes from reaching the United States.
Axios reported Sunday that Trump asked, “Why don’t we nuke them?” during a hurricane briefing in the White House.
“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” Trump said, according to Axios, which cited sources who heard the president’s remarks.
Trump has reportedly invoked the idea of nuking hurricanes “multiple times” in meetings with U.S. national security officials.
“Trump also raised the idea in another conversation with a senior administration official,” Axios reported. “A 2017 NSC memo describes that second conversation, in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland. A source briefed on the NSC memo said it does not contain the word ‘nuclear’; it just says the president talked about bombing hurricanes.”
In a tweet Monday morning, Trump called Axios‘s story “fake news” and said he never raised the idea of bombing hurricanes, which commentators described as “dangerously moronic” and “absolutely nuts.”
Donald J. Trump
The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous. I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a page on its website dedicated to addressing the question, “Why don’t we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?”
“During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms,” the page reads. “Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems.”
“Needless to say,” NOAA concludes, “this is not a good idea.”
Environmentalists were quick to ridicule the president’s reported suggestion and demand action to confront the climate crisis and protect vulnerable communities from extreme weather events.
“We cannot believe we have to say this but elected officials should get their climate policy recommendations from frontline communities and science, not the movie Sharknado,” tweeted 350.org. “What if instead of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes we just passed a Green New Deal and made fossil fuel billionaires pay for the devastation of climate disasters?”
There is a remarkable incongruity between the existential danger of nuclear war and the absence of public discussion about preventing it.
This disconnect is all too apparent today, as arms control and disarmament treaties are scrapped, nations embark on vast nuclear weapons buildups, and governments threaten nuclear war against one another. Meanwhile, the mass media routinely avoids these issues but, instead, focuses on movie stars, athletes, and President Donald Trump’s latest tweeted insults.
Do I exaggerate? Consider the following.
At the beginning of February 2019, the Trump administration announcedthat, in August, the U.S. government will withdraw from the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty ― the historic agreement that had banned U.S. and Russian ground-launched cruise missiles ― and would proceed to develop such weapons. On the following day, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that, in response, his government was suspending its observance of the treaty and would build the kinds of nuclear missiles that the INF treaty had outlawed.
The next nuclear disarmament agreement on the chopping block appears to be the 2010 New START Treaty, which reduces U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, limits U.S. and Russian nuclear delivery vehicles, and provides for extensive inspection.
According to John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, this treaty, scheduled to expire in February 2021, is “unlikely” to be extended. To preserve such an agreement, he argued, would amount to “malpractice.” If the treaty is allowed to expire, it would be the first time since 1972 that there would be no nuclear arms control agreement between Russia and the United States.
One other key international agreement, which President Clinton signed ― but, thanks to Republican opposition, the U.S. Senate has never ratified ― is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Adopted with great fanfare in 1996 and backed by nearly all the world’s nations, the CTBT bans nuclear weapons testing, a practice which has long served as a prerequisite for developing or upgrading nuclear arsenals. Today, Boltonis reportedly pressing for the treaty to be removed from Senate consideration and “unsigned,” as a possible prelude to U.S. resumption of nuclear testing.
Nor does it seem likely that any new agreements will replace the old ones. The U.S. State Department’s Office of Strategic Stability and Deterrence Affairs, which handles U.S. arms control ventures, has been whittled downduring the Trump years from 14 staff members to four. As a result, a former staffer reported, the State Department is no longer “equipped” to pursue arms control negotiations. Coincidentally, the U.S. and Russian governments, which possess approximately 93 percent of the world’s nearly 14,000 nuclear warheads, have abandoned negotiations over controlling or eliminating them for the first time since the 1950s.
Instead of honoring the commitment, under Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to pursue negotiations for “cessation of the nuclear arms race” and for “nuclear disarmament,” all nine nuclear powers are today modernizing their nuclear weapons production facilities and adding new types of nuclear weapons to their arsenals. Over the next 30 years, this nuclear buildup will cost the United States alone an estimated $1,700,000,000,000 ― at least if it is not obliterated first in a nuclear holocaust.
Will the United States and other nations survive these escalating preparations for nuclear war?
That question might seem overwrought, but in fact the U.S. government and others are increasing the role that nuclear weapons play in their “national security” policies. Trump’s glib threats of nuclear waragainst North Korea and Iran are paralleled by new administration plans to develop a low-yield ballistic missile, which arms control advocates fear will lower the threshold for nuclear war.
Confirming the new interest in nuclear warfare, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in June 2019, posted a planning document on the Pentagon’s website with a more upbeat appraisal of nuclear war-fighting than seen for many years. Declaring that “using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” the document approvingly quoted Herman Kahn, the Cold War nuclear theorist who had argued for “winnable” nuclear wars — and who provided an inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film, Dr. Strangelove.
Of course, most Americans are not pining for this kind of approach to nuclear weapons. Indeed, a May 2019 opinion poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that two-thirds of U.S. respondents favored remaining within the INF Treaty, 80 percent wanted to extend the New START Treaty, about 60 percent supported “phasing out” U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 75 percent backed legislation requiring congressional approval before the president could order a nuclear attack.
Therefore, when it came to the recently concluded round of Democratic presidential debates, one would expect the CNN moderators ― as stand-ins for the American public ― to ask the candidates some questions about nuclear weapons dangers and how to reduce them. Nevertheless, in five hours of grilling the would-be Democratic nominees over July 30 and 31, the moderators steered clear of the issue of how they would deal with the alarming drift toward nuclear war.
The only time when the CNN moderators broached the subject of what should be done about the world’s 14,000 nuclear weapons was when ― in line with their frequently hostile questions ― Jake Tapper asked Senator Elizabeth Warren about her proposal to “make it U.S. policy that the U.S. will never use a nuclear weapon unless another country uses one first.”
Warren’s proposal, Tapper added, had been rejected by the Obama administration and would force the United States to “tie its own hands with that policy.” In response, Warren gamely argued that a nuclear first strike policy heightened the risks of an outbreak of nuclear war. Tapper then called upon Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who retorted that he “wouldn’t want to take that off the table.”
Tapper’s question, of course, was not directed toward averting nuclear war, but rather toward facilitating its onset.
On occasion, some candidates managed to break through CNN’s blockade on a wide-ranging discussion. Using her closing statement, Representative Tulsi Gabbard departed from the network’s priorities and denounced “Donald Trump and warmongering politicians in Washington” for “pushing us closer and closer to the brink of nuclear catastrophe.” But, given the many other questions asked of the candidates and the very limited time they were accorded for answers, their resistance couldn’t get very far.
Surely the American people, as well as people around the globe, deserve a better discussion than fostered by the mass communications media of how to prevent nuclear war.
This is a revised version of an article published by the History News Network on July 28, 2019.
Uranium stockpile limits could be breached as soon as June 27
Trump prepares new U.S. sanctions, says Iran can’t go nuclear
Iran is set to breach a cap on its enriched-uranium stockpile within days, potentially pushing its conflict with the U.S. into a dangerous new phase.
Limiting the volume and purity of its accumulated uranium was a central part of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. The U.S. abandoned the deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions. President Donald Trump said Saturday he’ll impose “major” additional U.S. penalties on Monday.
While Trump announced the sanctions, days after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone, he didn’t provide details. In his Twitter post Trump specified the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, echoing comments made to reporters at the White House on Saturday.
“All I want is no nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “Let me just tell you, they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon.”
In a move foreshadowed by Iranian leaders for weeks, the cap set on the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium could be broken by Thursday, a day before negotiators from the countries, mostly European, still committed to the accord meet in Vienna.
“If Iran’s leadership comes to the conclusion that it has no choice other than talking to Washington, it will do so only after it has resuscitated its leverage,” said Ali Vaez, a director at the International Crisis Group. “This means that the path to new negotiations passes through another perilous nuclear standoff.”
Iran eliminated some 97% of its enriched uranium to comply with the nuclear agreement with China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. The country previously had enough material to build more than a dozen bombs. While Iran has always said its program is civilian, world powers pursued the deal because they doubted that claim.
Pressure on Europe
Iran’s president signaled on May 8 that the country would soon violate terms of the agreement unless European governments, which haven’t pulled out of the deal, guarantee the trade it envisages.
Five weeks later, Iran said it would increase the rate of enrichment. Barring policy change or mechanical breakdown, Iran could accumulate the volume of material needed to build a weapon by the end of the year.
“While Iran’s frustration with Trump’s reckless pressure campaign is understandable, we strongly urge Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington nonprofit, said by email.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s policy toward Iran has “increased the risk of a new nuclear crisis,” he said.
The association estimates Iran would need about 1,050 kilograms (2,315 pounds) of uranium enriched to 3.67% to build one bomb. The material would then need to undergo further enrichment. The nuclear deal was designed to prevent Iran from breaking out and constructing a weapon within a year.
International Atomic Energy Agency monitors said last month that Iran has met its obligations. Diplomats from the countries remaining in the accord will meet June 28 to discuss “Iran’s announcement regarding the implementation of its nuclear commitments.”
The US could be on the brink of war with Iran after weeks of rising tensions.
The US has sent bombers, an aircraft-carrier strike group, and more to the Middle East in response to unspecified threats to US forces or interests in the region from Tehran, Iran, prompting the Iranian government to issue warnings about the consequences of an attack.
Critics of the Trump administration feel the president’s Iran policy is being driven by national security adviser John Bolton, who has supported military strikes against Iran in the past.
A war with Iran would likely be geopolitically and economically disastrous while further destabilizing a region that has been consumed by conflict for years.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on, how we got here, and what the stakes are.
What’s going on with Iran?
On May 5, national security adviser John Bolton issued a statementannouncing the US was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Middle East to counter unspecified threats from Iran.
Bolton said the US was not seeking war with Iran, but that the deployment was meant to send “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack” on the US or its allies “will be met with unrelenting force.”
The US has since repositioned or sent other military assets to the region.
The exact nature of the threats the US is responding to remains unclear, but officials have said there’s been indications of a “possible attack” against US forces in the region by Iran or its proxies.
Some reports have also suggested the Trump administration has discussed sending an additional 120,000 troops to the Middle East amid the tensions with Iran. The president on May 14 denied this, but said he’d be willing to send “a hell of a lot more” troops than 120,000 if necessary.
Iranian leaders have signaled they don’t want war with the US but are prepared to respond if attacked, while issuing veiled threats about their ability to quickly enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels.
At the same time, Republicans in Congress are placing the blame on Iran for the confrontation and urging Trump to “stand firm.”
How did we get here?
The US and Iran have a complicated history and have been adversaries for decades, encapsulated by the oft-repeated “Death to America” chants from Iranian leaders.
In many ways, the modern US-Iran relationship began via a CIA-orchestrated coup in the 1950s that placed a pro-American monarch — Mohammad Reza Shah — in charge of the Middle Eastern country. The Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, an uprising that shaked the foundations of the Muslim world and led to theinfamous hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran that continues to be a touchy subject in Washington.
After years of animosity, former President Barack Obama sought to improve relations with Iran via diplomacy. Obama’s administration orchestrated the landmark pact known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was finalized in July 2015 and aimed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions.
Critics of the deal contended it didn’t go far enough to bar Iran from building nuclear weapons and said Tehran could not be trusted. Along these lines, Trump withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018 despite no evidence Iran was violating its terms. This move put Washington at odds with key allies and the already contentious US-Iran relationship took a turn for the worse.
Comparatively, Iraq had a population of roughly 25 million and the Iraqi military had fewer than 450,000 personnel when the US invaded over a decade ago.
Iran is also much bigger than Iraq geographically — 591,000 square miles of land versus 168,000 square miles, and its influence has grown as the power of its rival, Iraq, collapsed in the wake of the US war there.
If the US launched an attack against Iran, it would also reverberate across the Middle East. Iran has proxies throughout the region and is allied with militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. A revised Pentagon estimate released in April found Iranian proxy forces killedat least 608 US troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2011.
Moreover, Iran shares a border with a number of countries the US considers allies and has a military presence in — including Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan. None of these countries are especially stable at the moment, as they all continue to deal with ongoing conflicts and their consequences (including millions of displaced people).
In terms of other geopolitical blowback, Iran is allied with Russia and China and it’s unclear how these major powers might react if conflict breaks out. Key US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, which are adversaries of Iran and just a stone’s throw away from it, would also likely get sucked into a US-Iran war.
A war with Iran could also be extraordinarily disruptive economically given it borders the Straight of Hormuz, a narrow route that roughly a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic travels through. Experts have predicted that if the route were blocked it would quickly lead to a 30% drop in daily global oil exports and prices would rapidly go up, the Washington Post reported.
Iran’s forces would likely be defeated by the US, but could exact a heavy toll with cruise missiles, naval mines, and fighter jets. Any troops that survive could blend into the population and lead a brutal insurgency against the US occupation force. That was the scenario that unfolded for the US in Iraq, a country a third the size of Iran, and proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
A Cold War-era concrete “coffin” brimming with atomic waste is leaking radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned. The dome was built to contain the nuclear waste that was created when the U.S. and France conducted atomic tests in the Pacific between 1946 and 1958. “The Pacific was victimized in the past as we all know,” said Guterres, according to AFP. The structure is on the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands; Guterres described the dome as “a kind of coffin” designed to contain nuclear material. Thousands of indigenous island people were evacuated or exposed to radioactive fallout when the U.S. carried out dozens of nuclear weapons tests in the area. The bombs tested included the 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb, which was 1,000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union adopted the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in an effort to eliminate missiles on hair-trigger alert for nuclear war due to their short flight times. It was the first time the two countries agreed to destroy nuclear weapons. That treaty outlawed nearly 2,700 ballistic or land-based cruise missiles with a range of roughly 300 to 3,000 miles.
The Trump administration thought nothing of pulling out of the INF. On February 2, the United States suspended its obligations under the treaty, starting a dangerous chain reaction that brings us closer to nuclear war. Russia followed suit and pulled out of the treaty the next day.
Then the three countries with the largest nuclear arsenals quickly test-launched nuclear-capable missiles. France conducted a test of its medium-range air-to-surface missile on February 4. The next day, the United States fired a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). And an hour and a half later, Russia launched an RS-24 Yars ICBM.
Richard Burt participated in the negotiations of the INF during the Reagan administration. Last fall, he predicted that U.S. withdrawal would lead to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range missiles and the United States’ development of new sea- and air-based weapons systems. Sure enough, on February 4, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced his country plans to build mid-range, nuclear-capable missiles within two years.
“New intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles and low-yield warheads now being planned both in Russia and United States are nothing other than filed-down triggers to all-out thermonuclear war,” Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, told Truthout. He warns of “nuclear winter,” which is the end of civilization as we know it. A consultant to the Defense Department and the White House in 1961, Ellsberg drafted Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s plans for nuclear war.
Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, concurs. “Trump has fired the starting pistol on Cold War II. Only this one could be bigger, more dangerous, and the world may not be so lucky this time around.”
Trump’s Actions Undermine Nuclear Disarmament
The adoption of the INF led to the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which considerably reduced the number of long-range strategic nuclear weapons. The New START, signed in 2010, requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads from a maximum of 2,200 in 2010 to 1,550 in 2018. Trump’s cavalier withdrawal from INF does not portend well for the renewal of New START in 2021.
Moreover, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 would allow the United States to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks. This new U.S. policy opens the door to first-use of nuclear weapons, which is prohibited by international law.
The Nuclear Posture Review also violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the United States is a party. This treaty requires parties “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
The Doomsday Clock Says “Two Minutes to Midnight”
In order to convey the urgency of the threat to humanity and the planet, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock. It uses imagery of the apocalypse (midnight) and a nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to either move or leave in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made each year. The Clock is a universally recognized measure of vulnerability to catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons, climate change or other emerging technologies that could pose a threat. On January 24, the Bulletin once again kept the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight. And that was before the U.S. and Russia pulled out of the INF.
“Trump and Putin are both posturing as gunslingers in a Western movie,” Ellsberg warned. “But the weapons in their quick-draw holsters are not pistols; they are doomsday machines. And this is not high noon; it is two minutes to midnight.”
In his book, Ellsberg proposes the U.S. government undertake the following measures toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons:
A U.S. no-first-use policy;
Probing investigative hearings on war plans to avoid nuclear winter;
Ending the pretense of preemptive damage-limiting by first-strike forces;
Foregoing profits, jobs and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense; and
Otherwise dismantling the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Ellsberg calls the American Doomsday Machine.
On January 30, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, took a good first step. They introduced the No First Use Act, to establish in law that it is the policy of the United States not to fire nuclear weapons first so “that the United States should never initiate a nuclear war.”
The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) forbids ratifying countries “never under any circumstances to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” It also prohibits the transfer of, use of, or threat to use nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. The treaty, adopted in 2017, will enter into force after 50 nations have ratified it. Thus far, it has 21 ratifications. But the five original nuclear-armed countries, which also happen to be the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., Russia, France, China and the U.K. — did not participate in the treaty negotiations and have not agreed to it.
Resistance against nuclear weapons also takes the form of civil disobedience, such as the recent action by the Kings Bay Plowshares 7.
The Kings Bay Plowshares 7
When I was growing up in the early days of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear annihilation was pervasive. Although U.S. nuclear weapons have been on hair trigger alert for 73 years, “nuclear weapons have become normal,” Patrick O’Neill told Truthout. He and six other Catholic activists are facing up to 25 years in prison for their symbolic action to disarm the nuclear weapons on Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia. They chose April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to mount their protest.
In May 2018, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 were charged with conspiracy, destruction of property on a naval station, depredation of government property, and trespass, stemming from their action at the Kings Bay Naval Base. The base is homeport to six nuclear ballistic missile submarines each armed with 16 Trident II missiles. They carried with them a copy of Ellsberg’s book and left it on the base.
The defendants, who will likely go to trial this spring, maintain that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons of mass destruction is illegal, Kings Bay Plowshares 7 spokesperson Bill Ofenloch told Truthout. They are also arguing that their prosecution violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because their actions were motivated by their Catholic belief that nuclear weapons are immoral and illegal. The Act was passed in 1993 to strengthen protection of free exercise of religion. Finally, the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 are claiming that Trump’s repeated threats to use nuclear weapons and his illegal conduct have not been prosecuted, so the government’s decision to prosecute only those who protest against nuclear weapons constitutes unlawful selective prosecution.
Co-defendant Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Catholic Worker Movement co-founder Dorothy Day. The movement, founded in 1933, comprises 203 Catholic Worker communities committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken. Catholic Workers protest war, racism, violence and injustice. (The Catholic Worker newspaper is still published and sells for a penny a copy.)
Hennessy told Truthout, “The U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty is designed to ensnare Russia and the world in a new nuclear arms race.” She warns, “This is empire run amok, we have lost our democracy, let us pray we don’t lose our world and each other.”
It is incumbent upon all of us to resist the inexorable march toward nuclear winter. We must join together in coalitions and protest to Congress, the White House, in writing and in the streets. There is no time to lose. It is two minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.
When two of Russia’s most modern, nuclear-capable bombers landed in Venezuela earlier this week, American officials quickly took note.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted out a statement calling the move “two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.” The angry reaction may well have been the intended purpose, according to experts on Russia and Venezuela.
#Russia‘s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.
The arrival of the Tu-160 “White Swan” strategic bombers in Caracas on Monday serves to remind the United States that Russia can still project military might into the Western hemisphere, says Miriam Lanskoy, the Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit. “I don’t know that this constitutes some kind of military threat, but it is a communication about Russia’s overall global reach.”
The Tu-160 bombers were manufactured at the end of the Cold War and are among the most advanced strategic bombers in the world. They are capable of flying at twice the speed of sound and carrying both conventional and nuclear-armed cruise missiles that have a range of more than 3,400 miles. It’s not known whether the Russian bombers were carrying any kind of armament on their visit to Venezuela.
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The White House told The Hill that the bombers — along with a Russian An-124 cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger jet — would leave on Friday.
Russia and Venezuela have had close military ties for decades. During boom times, oil-rich Venezuela has been a major buyer of Russian military hardware — with contracts for fighter jets, tanks, small arms and other equipment totaling more than $12 billion, according to Americas Quarterly. More recently, Russia has helped Venezuela develop a cryptocurrency intended to help it evade U.S. sanctions.
Russia’s decision to land bombers in Venezuela also comes as the U.S. plans to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which restricts the United States and Russia from keeping a broad range of nuclear-armed missiles. American officials say new Russian weapons are in violation of the treaty.
“This is Russia trying to force the U.S. to say, ‘listen, if you withdraw from this and if you make these moves in Europe, we will make these moves as well,’” says Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuela analyst for IHS Markit.
For Venezuela, whose collapsing economy has led to chronic food and medicine shortages, the Russian mission represents a useful cameo on the world stage. President Nicolas Maduro will also be happy of a demonstration to potential opponents in the Venezuelan military that he still has powerful friends in Moscow, Moya-Ocampos said. The United States has imposed sanctions on several top Venezuelan officials, and earlier this year barred Americans from buying Venezuelan debt or debt from the state-run oil company.
The long-term repercussions of the Russian bombers’ presence are likely to be limited. Both Moya-Ocampos and Lanskoy say it’s unlikely the short-term stay of the Russian Tu-160 bombers could result in the establishment of of a Russian air base, like the one in Syria, or a Cuban Missile Crisis-style standoff with Russia stationing nuclear weapons in Venezuela.
A Russian base would represent a much larger investment in Venezuela than Russia has signaled it’s willing to make, as well as a larger provocation to the United States. “The permanent deployment of Russian troops on Venezuelan soil would go beyond the big brother relationship between Russia and Venezuela,” Moya-Ocampos says.
Moya-Ocampos also says Russia’s friendship with Venezuela is doing nothing to improve the desperate situation of Venezuelan citizens. The Russians — who had provided billion in loans to Venezuela — are now using the relationship to establish access to lucrative Venezuelan oil and mining.
Dire conditions in Venezuela are likely to get even worse in 2019. The International Monetary Fund estimated that the Venezuelan economy shrank by 18% in 2018, and expects a further contraction by 5% in 2019. Hyperinflation, estimated at 1.37 million percent in 2018, could reach 10 million percent for 2019.
“It’s simply a mess, the whole country is going down the drain,” Moya-Ocampos says.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia discussed new weapons systems in a televised meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.CreditPool photo by Alexei Nikolsky
MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in a decision that was widely expected, suspended his country’s observance of a key nuclear arms control pact on Saturday in response to a similar move by the United States a day before.
But adding to a sense that the broader architecture of nuclear disarmament has started to unravel, Mr. Putin also said that Russia would build weapons previously banned under the treaty and would no longer initiate talks with the United States on any matters related to nuclear arms control.
The Trump administration withdrew from the treaty, a keystone of the late Cold War disarmament pacts known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, saying that Russia had been violating it for years. The decision holds the potential to initiate a new arms race, not only with Russia, but also China, which was never a signatory to the 1987 treaty.
Beijing responded to the American announcement by warning on Saturday that the breakup of the treaty would undermine global security, but also by rejecting calls for China to join an expanded version of the pact.
In a televised meeting on Saturday with his ministers of foreign affairs and defense, Mr. Putin said Russia would, indeed, design and build weapons previously banned under the treaty — something the United States says Russia is already doing — but would not deploy them unless America did so first.
“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Mr. Putin told his ministers. Money to build the new missiles, he said, will come from the existing defense budget.
The treaty had prohibited the United States and Russia from testing or deploying land-based missiles able to fly in what are known as short or intermediate ranges: 300 to 3,400 miles. Both countries have sea- and air-launched missiles that fly in these ranges.
The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, suggested that Russia in coming months design and test a land-based launcher for its maritime cruise missile, called the Kalibr, an analogue to the American Tomahawk, and a new short-range ballistic missile.
“I agree,” Mr. Putin said. “Our response will be symmetrical. Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the I.N.F. Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.”
In his remarks, the Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergey V. Lavrov, presented a picture of the wobbly state of the whole architecture of American and Russian nuclear disarmament that had been erected over the past 50 years, beginning with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.
Mr. Lavrov suggested a number of treaties were in need of urgent review, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty that prohibits passing nuclear weapons technology to countries that do not already posses it. He argued that America had violated it by conducting nuclear deterrence training exercises with NATO nations that were not declared nuclear powers.
China’s array of nuclear weapons remains much smaller than the American and Russian forces, but Beijing has been upgrading and expanding its arsenal. Some critics of the intermediate nuclear forces treaty have argued that it unfairly ties the United States’ hands from responding effectively to China’s military buildup.
“If Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it, and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Mr. Trump said after a rally in Nevada.
In January, Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party-controlled tabloid newspaper with a heavily nationalist tone, reported that a People’s Liberation Army unit had carried out an exercise with an intermediate-range “ship killer” missile formally called the DF-26. China probably has 16 to 30 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, an annual Pentagon report on China’s military said last year.
At the televised meeting, Mr. Putin said that Russia remained open to negotiation, and that Moscow’s proposals to resolve disputes “remained on the table.” But he said that neither the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should initiate talks with the United States.
“I suggest that we wait until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue,” he said.
China, meanwhile, appeared to have no interest in binding itself to an intermediate missile treaty, even as it defended the current agreement between Russia and the United States.
“This treaty plays a significant role in easing major-country relations, promoting international and regional peace, and safeguarding global strategic balance and stability,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement on the ministry’s website. “China is opposed to the U.S. withdrawal and urges the U.S. and Russia to properly resolve differences through constructive dialogue.”
But he added: “China opposes the multilateralization of this treaty. What is imperative at the moment is to uphold and implement the existing treaty instead of creating a new one.”
WASHINGTON — In one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War, the top American military commander in Saigon activated a plan in 1968 to move nuclear weapons to South Vietnam until he was overruled by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to recently declassified documents cited in a new history of wartime presidential decisions.
The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should American forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.
With the approval of the American commander in the Pacific, General Westmoreland had put together a secret operation, code-named Fracture Jaw, that included moving nuclear weapons into South Vietnam so that they could be used on short notice against North Vietnamese troops.
Johnson’s national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, alerted the president in a memorandum on White House stationery.
The president rejected the plan, and ordered a turnaround, according to Tom Johnson, then a young special assistant to the president and note-taker at the meetings on the issue, which were held in the family dining room on the second floor of the White House.
“When he learned that the planning had been set in motion, he was extraordinarily upset and forcefully sent word through Rostow, and I think directly to Westmoreland, to shut it down,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview.
He said the president’s fear was “a wider war” in which the Chinese would enter the fray, as they had in Korea in 1950.
“Johnson never fully trusted his generals,” said Mr. Johnson, who is of no relation to the president. “He had great admiration for General Westmoreland, but he didn’t want his generals to run the war.”
Had the weapons been used, it would have added to the horrors of one of the most tumultuous and violent years in modern American history. Johnson announced weeks later that he would not run for re-election. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated shortly thereafter.
The story of how close the United States came to reaching for nuclear weapons in Vietnam, 23 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender, is contained in “Presidents of War,” a coming book by Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian.
“Johnson certainly made serious mistakes in waging the Vietnam War,” said Mr. Beschloss, who found the documents during his research for the book. “But we have to thank him for making sure that there was no chance in early 1968 of that tragic conflict going nuclear.”
The new documents — some of which were quietly declassified two years ago — suggest it was moving in that direction.
With the Khe Sanh battle on the horizon, Johnson pressed his commanders to make sure the United States did not suffer an embarrassing defeat — one that would have proved to be a political disaster and a personal humiliation.
The North Vietnamese forces were using everything they had against two regiments of United States Marines and a comparatively small number of South Vietnamese troops.
While publicly expressing confidence in the outcome of the battle at Khe Sanh, General Westmoreland was also privately organizing a group to meet in Okinawa to plan how to move nuclear weapons into the South — and how they might be used against the North Vietnamese forces.
“Oplan Fracture Jaw has been approved by me,” General Westmoreland wrote to Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., the American commander in the Pacific, on Feb. 10, 1968. (The admiral was named for the Civil War general and president, who was married to an ancestor.)
The plan did not last long.
That day, Mr. Rostow sent an “eyes only” memorandum to the president, his second in a week warning of the impending plan.
Two days later, Admiral Sharp sent an order to “discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw” and to place all the planning material, “including messages and correspondence relating thereto, under positive security.”
The incident has echoes for modern times. It was only 14 months ago that President Trump was threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea — which, unlike North Vietnam at the time, possesses its own small nuclear arsenal.
There have been other moments when presidents had to consider, or bluff about, using atomic weapons. The most famous was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the closest that the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear conflict.
And before he was dismissed in 1951 by President Harry S. Truman, Gen. Douglas MacArthur explored with his superiors the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean War. Truman had feared that MacArthur’s aggressive strategy would set off a larger war with China, but at one point did move atomic warheads to bases in the Pacific, though not to Korea itself.
But the case of Khe Sanh was different, the documents show.
“In Korea, MacArthur did not make a direct appeal to move nuclear weapons into the theater almost immediately,” when it appeared that South Korea might fall to the North’s invasion in 1950, Mr. Beschloss said. “But in Vietnam, Westmoreland was pressuring the president to do exactly that.”
The seriousness of that discussion was revealed in a lengthy cable about the Khe Sanh battle that General Westmoreland sent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, on Feb. 3, 1968.
“Should the situation in the DMZ area change dramatically, we should be prepared to introduce weapons of greater effectiveness against massed forces,” General Westmoreland wrote in a cable that was declassified in 2014 but did not come to light until Mr. Beschloss cited it in his forthcoming book.
“Under such circumstances, I visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment.”
Within four days, Admiral Sharp, the Pacific commander, wrote that he had “been briefed on the contingency plan for the employement of tactical nuclear weapons in the Khe Sanh/DMZ area which was drafted by members of our respective staffs last week in Okinawa.’’
He declared it “conceptually sound” with some minor alterations, and asked for a full plan to be forwarded to him “on an expedited basis so that the necessary supporting plans can be drawn up.”
Three days later, General Westmoreland wrote back that he had approved the plan. At the White House, Mr. Rostow noted to the president: “There are no nuclear weapons in South Vietnam. Presidential authority would be required to put them there.”
That notification led to the president’s angry eruption, and within days Admiral Sharp, once so eager to develop the plans, ordered a shutdown.
“Discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw,” he commanded in a Feb. 12, 1968, cable to General Westmoreland, with copies to the Joint Chiefs. “Debrief all personnel with access to this planning project that there can be no disclosure of the content of the plan or knowledge that such planning was either underway or suspended.”
None of this was known to the American Marines and other soldiers who were being shelled at Khe Sanh.
“I don’t remember any discussion of atomic weapons on the ground at Khe Sanh,” Lewis M. Simons, then an Associated Press reporter on the ground with the troops, and later a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked at The Washington Post and Knight Ridder newspapers.
Mr. Beschloss’s book, which will be published on Tuesday by Crown, examines challenges facing presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush. It also reveals that at the same time the nuclear debate was underway, senators were outraged to discover that the president and his aides had misled them about progress in the Vietnam War.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, told his fellow senators that “we were just plain lied to,” and that the lying meant that the United States had lost “a form of democracy,” according to transcripts obtained by Mr. Beschloss, who is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.
There was even discussion of the possibility of impeaching the president for those lies. That discussion was terminated by Johnson’s decision, announced later that spring, not to seek re-election.