"But There Has Been No Third World War"
OK, someone might argue, the U.S. has done bad things, but what Obama said is true: "there has been no Third World War." Isn’t that reason to trust the U.S. rulers and feel they’re the best option for preserving the peace?
Here’s the reality; true, there has been no World War 3. But it wasn’t because the U.S. wasn’t preparing for the possibility of waging a third World War; it wasn’t because the rulers never risked world war; and it wasn’t because the imperialists felt that nuclear war was just too horrible to contemplate and should not be considered under any circumstances.
As their rivalry with the Soviet Union intensified over the 1970’s and 1980’s, the U.S. rulers and their military establishment seriously prepared for the possibility of nuclear war—debating its pros and cons, incorporating nuclear war fighting in U.S. strategy and force posture, and building new weapons systems, and overall working to gain nuclear superiority over the Soviets. "For the first time," former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote concerning the late 1970s and early 1980s, "the United States deliberately sought for itself the capability to manage a protracted nuclear conflict."
Rather than an unbreakable taboo, nuclear war was something the U.S. rulers actually joked about—most infamously when Ronald Reagan "joked" "we begin bombing in 5 minutes." And during the 1980s—whether over Iran or after the September 1, 1983 Soviet shoot down of Korean Air Lines (KAL) Flight 007, the U.S. imperialists were willing to escalate tensions to weaken the Soviets and/or force them to back down—with no guarantee that would happen and knowing the possibility that events could spin out of control in ways catastrophic for the planet.
In short, the rulers were compelled by the underlying dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system they represent and serve to pursue global power and supremacy—which is foundational and essential to the functioning and continuation of their system. The interests of humanity and the lives of billions of people were secondary to those considerations.
In the final analysis, World War 3 did not happen primarily because the Soviet Union under Gorbachev "blinked" first—backing down in nuclear negotiations in 1986—and ultimately because it collapsed (in no small measure due to the strains placed on the Soviet empire as a result of the U.S. "full court press" and its threats of nuclear war.)
Did The U.S. Change Its Nuclear Ways When The Cold War Ended….Or When Obama Took Office?
The end of the Cold War in 1991 did not bring fundamental change—much less an end—to the U.S. imperialists’ reliance on nuclear weapons. Neither did Obama’s election.
Today, the U.S. still maintains one of the world’s two largest and most lethal nuclear arsenals (along with Russia)—an estimated 9,960 warheads, some 5,735 of which are operational and 3,696 of which are strategic (long range).
Nuclear weapons have remained a core element in U.S. military strategy. In 2002 under George W. Bush, the U.S. made ominous changes in nuclear strategy including scrapping arms control treaties, developing a new generation of nuclear weapons—including more "usable" tactical warheads—more fully integrating nuclear weapons into U.S. war fighting strategies, and planning for the possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. For the first time, the U.S. stated it would contemplate nuclear strikes on non-nuclear powers—which effectively undermines the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
In September 2002, Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, a document which states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."
Three months later, in December 2002, a new "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" was issued which threatened first strikes, possibly with nuclear weapons, against countries thought to be developing chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
It is not widely known, but during its 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration never took the nuclear option off the table. Two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon was "quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq…including the possible use of so-called bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets." (See endnotes for sources)
During his time in office, Obama has stated that a central component of his foreign policy is strengthening treaties to reduce nuclear weapons, including U.S.-Russian agreements, and he has talked generally about working for a world without nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russia recently concluded an agreement to cut their arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear warheads by one-quarter to 1,600 each. This does not count each side’s thousands of stored strategic warheads and tactical nuclear weapons, and still leaves them with an arsenal capable of wreaking unimaginable destruction over the planet. (New York Times, December 18 & 19, 2009)
There is no evidence that Obama has fundamentally changed U.S. nuclear strategy, rolled back the decisions of the Bush years, or has any serious plan to actually eliminate the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
There is, however, evidence, that Obama is continuing to upgrade and modernize U.S. nukes. Democracy Now! (October 1, 2009) reports that the Obama administration is "going ahead with a Bush administration program increasing nuclear weapons production… The administration is proposing to build new plutonium pits at the Los Alamos lab in New Mexico and expand enriched uranium processing at the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee." (See Matthew Cardinale, "Nukes Agency Pushes New Bomb Production," Inter Press Service [IPS], September 30, 2009)
As discussed below, the actual purpose and impact of Obama’s rhetoric and his diplomatic steps are not to eliminate nuclear weapons, but to put the U.S. in a stronger position to keep its own arsenal—while imposing its own diktat on those it seeks to prevent having nuclear weapons. In short, to maintain the nuclear monopoly—largely in the hands of the U.S. and its allies.
"A Few… Men… Murder Innocents On A Horrific Scale"
At Oslo, Obama condemned Islamic fundamentalists for their wanton disregard for human life: "Terrorism has long been a tactic," he said, "but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."
But who was it—repeatedly and massively over the 60 plus years following World War 2 that wantonly snuffed out millions and millions of lives—overwhelmingly civilians—often to terrorize and crush whole populations? None other than Barack Obama’s United States of America: whether killing some 3 million with conventional weapons in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, or by killing over 500,000 through its backing and organizing of death squads in Central America in the 1980s, or by killing over 500,000 Iraqis—mainly children—during the 1990s via the imposition of crippling economic sanctions.
The U.S. rulers were perfectly clear about what they were doing—and occasionally they blurted out some of that truth. In 1996, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked during a CBS 60 Minutes interview about the impact of sanctions on Iraq. Leslie Stahl asked: "We have heard that half a million Iraqi children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And—and you know, is the price worth it?" Albright’s answer: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it."
The World’s Leading Nuclear Enabler
In Oslo Obama stressed that when it comes to nuclear treaties: "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."
He focused on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), "whose bargain is clear," as he put it: "all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament."
Obama then insisted, "it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system."
There is so much lying and hypocrisy here it’s hard to know where to begin.
First, the NPT was signed in 1968. Since then the major nuclear powers—especially the U.S. and Russia—have refused to "work toward disarmament" in any kind of real way, but instead as we have described, maintained huge stockpiles of devastating and potentially planet-killing weapons—even as the numbers of those have fluctuated—and continued to hold humanity hostage, and continued to threaten to use nuclear weapons, most recently in U.S. threats against Iraq in 2003 and recent Israeli threats against Iran.
Second, the U.S. has been "gaming the system" since day one. When it has suited U.S. imperialist purposes, it has aided, abetted, and allied with countries who have refused to even sign the NPT, and instead developed nuclear weapons, reactionary countries which pose grave nuclear threats to the people: Israel, Pakistan, and India. Meanwhile, it has threatened sanctions and even war against a country like Iran for pursuing the development of nuclear energy, a right under the NPT. (Iran may in fact seek nuclear weapons or the ability to make them; however this has not been proven, and in any event, the U.S. has made clear that it considers even Iran’s mastery of the enrichment cycle needed to process uranium for nuclear power intolerable.)
Israel: The U.S.’s Nuclear Armed Attack Dog in the Middle East
Compare the U.S. attitude toward Iran—a country with no nuclear weapons which has signed the NPT—with its attitude toward Israel—a state with a stockpile of 150 to 200 nuclear weapons, which has not signed the NPT, whose facilities are never inspected, which has waged one war after another against its neighbors and which is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people as part of its campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Israel‘s nuclear arsenal is treated as untouchable, even though Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran (and other countries). There are no calls by any U.S. establishment political figures—Democrat or Republican—for Israel to sign the NPT or submit to international inspections.
Instead, as Noam Chomsky has recently written, in the weeks before Obama’s Oslo speech, "Amid the furor over Iranian duplicity, the IAEA passed a resolution calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. The United States and Europe tried to block the IAEA resolution, but it passed anyway. The media virtually ignored the event. The United States assured Israel that it would support Israel’s rejection of the resolution—reaffirming a secret understanding that has allowed Israel to maintain a nuclear arsenal closed to international inspections, according to officials familiar with the arrangements. Again, the media were silent." (Noam Chomsky, "War, Peace, and Obama’s Nobel," In These Times, November. 5, 2009)
Israel has also been a nuclear proliferator—helping the racist apartheid regime of South Africa obtain nuclear weapons in the 1970’s.
So today, one of the greatest dangers of nuclear attack—a conflict that could engulf the whole Middle East and spread to the whole world—does not come from Iran . It comes from the U.S. and Israel and their efforts to maintain their nuclear monopoly in the Middle East and prevent Iran from even acquiring the know-how for enriching uranium.
Why Is There A Nuclear Danger In Pakistan? And Who Continues To Fuel It?
The first question is—why does Pakistan even have nuclear weapons, which Islamists could potentially get hold of, in the first place? Pakistan’s nuclear program has its roots in its 60-plus year rivalry with India, but also in American support for Pakistan’s reactionary rulers, and its tacit support of Pakistan’s nuclear program. Pakistan is ruled by big capitalists and landlords, and has one of the world’s deepest chasms between rich and poor. It has been ruled by military juntas for much of its existence, juntas which fostered Islamization as a foundation of legitimacy, a tool of state, and a means of suffocating the masses.
For decades, the U.S. supported Pakistan as a counterweight to India—which was then allied with the Soviet Union—in the region, despite Pakistan’s refusal to sign the NPT. This included billions in military aid and close military collaboration. India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974. Two years earlier Pakistan had decided to embark on a nuclear program of its own. By 1986 it had the capability of assembling a nuclear bomb, and in 1998 it carried out its first test explosions of its nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has at various times chastised Pakistan for developing nuclear weapons, and temporarily imposed sanctions and cut off aid. But these cuts have been short-lived and never trumped U.S. strategic objectives in the region. For instance, in 1979, the U.S. cut off all military aid to Pakistan over concerns its nuclear program was not strictly peaceful. Yet as soon as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. pledged military and economic support and by 1982 had lifted its embargo and resumed military and economic aid. The Reagan administration in particular turned a blind eye to Pakistan’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
India and Pakistan have nearly gone to all-out war, potentially including nuclear weapons, twice, most recently in 2002. In addition to helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons, U.S. actions in the region have helped fuel the India-Pakistan rivalry and thus poured fuel on this potential nuclear fire. For instance, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. began trying to cultivate India as its main ally in the region (and recently agreed to aid India’s nuclear program).
Then, in 2001, it overthrew the pro-Pakistan Taliban in Afghanistan and thus opened Afghanistan up to further Indian influence. (And the U.S. has refused to work for any just resolution of the Kashmir issue, which is a key fault line between India and Pakistan.) All of this has stoked the regional India-Pakistan rivalry—and this is one reason that Pakistan has continued to support the Taliban in Afghanistan—and contributed to the danger of war between these reactionary, nuclear-armed states.
Having helped pile up combustible nuclear tinder in South Asia, the U.S. imperialists have also fueled reactionary Islamic fundamentalism and in that way as well contributed to the possibility of fundamentalists getting the bomb. The U.S. has fanned the flames of fundamentalism by, among other things, supporting the Pakistan’s reactionary and quasi-fundamentalist military rulers, arming and training Jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the 1980s, driving the Taliban and other Islamists out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan with its 2001 invasion and occupation, and then poured gasoline on this tinder in both Afghanistan and Pakistan by its mass bombings of civilians and overall brutality of its occupation—including illegally detaining, holding, and torturing both Pakistanis and Afghanis.
All this has created enormous rage, tension, and instability in Pakistan. And Obama’s latest surge—which includes more drone strikes and other military operations in Pakistan (reportedly including in major cities)—may well intensify these hatreds and increase the fragility of the Pakistani state.
Obama, like his predecessors in the Oval Office, justifies U.S. actions by claiming "god" is on America’s side: "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America," he concluded at West Point, after announcing the escalation of the war in Afghanistan and the deployment of 30,000 more troops.
What is this clash between imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism—both reactionary and "outmoded" social forces—leading to? In Bringing Forward Another Way, Bob Avakian writes, "I have pointed out before that, sooner or later if things keep going the way they are—and in particular if these ′two historically outmodeds′ continue to drive much of the dynamics of things and reinforce each other even while opposing each other—then things could get to the point where some of these Islamic fundamentalist forces will get some real weapons of mass destruction, maybe even nuclear ones, and then the shit’s going to really fly on a whole other level."
This is looming larger today in Pakistan.
The Realities That Must Be Faced, The Choices We Confront
So any honest accounting of the history of U.S. actions around the world in the last 60 years—and today—shows a wanton disregard of human life, a ruling class repeatedly driven to murder millions and risk even greater slaughter, whose actions have not only spawned enormous suffering but also sharpened rivalries, accelerated the nuclear arms race, and fueled Islamic fundamentalism.
So given all this, you can’t make an honest argument that the U.S. rulers are any more guided by concerns of humanity, avoiding civilian deaths, and protecting the planet from a nuclear holocaust than the Islamic fundamentalists they condemn. In fact, the imperialists are the primary authors of these horrors, with far, far more power to inflict damage than the Islamists.
Today, Obama is arguing—and demanding—that this same ruling class be strengthened and followed. At Oslo it wasn’t simply or even mainly that his speech was hypocritical in a general way (War = Peace). The deeper reality was that he was using the Peace Prize platform to advance and legitimize a U.S. imperialist agenda of escalating war, bullying and bloodshed.
Obama’s talk of a world without nuclear weapons, in particular, is an effort to legitimize the continued U.S. possession (and possible use) of nuclear weapons and its role in policing who has and doesn’t have them—and its use of military force (including nuclear weapons) if need be, in pursuit of its own interests—as if this is somehow part of a plan to get rid of nuclear weapons.
In short, now that the imperialists have created an explosive and nightmarish hell on earth—with the potential to engulf whole regions and the planet in ongoing and possibly nuclear war, they demand that only they be allowed to solve the crisis—with the very means that have helped create it in the first place and when history has shown that their "solutions" only pave the way and prepare the ground for the next horror and the next emergency.
On the deepest level, capitalism is an economic and social system whose core nature and functioning rests on ruthless competition—economically, politically and militarily—between rival powers and blocs of capital. And this expresses itself in military rivalry, clashes and horrific wars for dominance over vast swaths of the earth and efforts to prevent other powers from doing likewise. And it means these powers will never give up their military forces and advantages—including nuclear weapons.
In sum, Obama is demanding that we protect and preserve this system and the deadly dynamics it spawns for our "safety." The only thing these imperialists are concerned about keeping "safe," is their right and ability to dominant, exploit, and threaten the planet. This is a choice anyone who faces reality and has a conscience should vehemently reject.
He’s telling us we should ignore everything the U.S. has done to the people of the world, to forget how 80% of the world’s population is forced to live and the threats and death they endure at U.S. hands—instead we should just focus on "us," and the possible danger to "us." And to give the U.S. rulers a blank check to continue to do what they will to defend the interests of empire. In short, let however many be slaughtered or tortured for our "safety" and the American way of life.
Supporting Obama and the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan is signing on to ALL this. This is sickening and unconscionable for anyone with a shred of basic morality or concern for humanity.
And we should vehemently reject their entire system. Can there be any insanity as monumental and criminal as repeatedly risking all human life on the planet for the strategic concerns of a handful of exploiters and oppressors? Can there be anything as monstrous as the repeated murder of hundreds of thousands and even millions in the horrific wars they fight—whether by conventional or nuclear weapons? Can there be anything as perverse as the biggest practitioners of nuclear terror and risk-taking and mass slaughter posing as the guarantors of "peace"??
And that’s not all. As we speak, these same monsters are also plunging the planet into ecological catastrophe (while arresting and beating those who protest on the planet’s behalf) and consigning billions to a "way of life" that, as the Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage says, "drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity."
Well…. isn’t that argument enough for revolution? And the possibility exists to eliminate the roots of these kinds of wars and conflicts, through revolution to get to—again, as laid out in the Manifesto—"a whole different way of life… in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, can throw off the heavy chains of traditions and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined."
And when that revolution includes the elimination of destructive conflicts between nations and indeed the whole existence of antagonistic nation-states oppressing the people and fighting each other, well, isn’t that worth putting everything you have into making that happen?
** Excerpts from Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda on changes in U.S. nuclear posture during the George W. Bush administration (Chapter 1, pp. 22, 23)
Ominous changes are also taking place in U.S. nuclear strategy. The latest U.S. "Nuclear Posture Review," leaked to the Los Angeles Times in February 2002, advocates scrapping arms control treaties, developing a new generation of nuclear weapons—including more "usable" tactical warheads—more fully integrating nuclear weapons into U.S. war fighting strategies, and planning for the possible preemptive use of nuclear weapons. For the first time, the U.S. stated it would contemplate nuclear strikes on non-nuclear powers. This latter move effectively undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Los Angeles Times reported:
The Bush administration has directed the military to prepare contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven countries and to build smaller nuclear weapons for use in certain battlefield situations, according to a classified Pentagon report obtained by the Los Angeles Times. The secret report, which was provided to Congress on Jan. 8, says the Pentagon needs to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. It says the weapons could be used in three types of situations: against targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack; in retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; or ‘in the event of surprising military developments.’1
In September 2002, Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, a secret document which states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."2
Three months later, in December 2002, a new "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" was issued which threatened first strikes, possibly with nuclear weapons, against countries thought to be developing chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.3
Top Bush officials radiate, as it were, a vicious eagerness to use military power, including nuclear weapons. "Rule nothing out," Rumsfeld wrote in the May/June 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs. "The enemy must understand that we will use every means at our disposal to defeat them, and that we are prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve victory."4
It is not widely known that the Bush administration never took the nuclear option off the table in Iraq. Two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon was "quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in a war against Iraq…including the possible use of so-called bunker-buster nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets."5
1. The review had been underway since September 2000, and was made public after it was leaked to the Los Angeles Times in February 2002. Paul Richter, "U.S. Works Up Plan for Using Nuclear Arms," Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2002 [back]
2. Jonathan Schell, "The Case Against the War," The Nation, March 3, 2003 [back]
3. "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction," December 2002; David E. Sanger, "U.S. Issues Warning to Foes in Arms Plan," New York Times, December 11, 2002; Mike Allen and Barton Gellman, "Preemptive Strikes Part Of U.S. Strategic Doctrine," Washington Post, December 11, 2002, A1 [back]
4. Rumsfeld, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2002, p. 31 [back]
5. Paul Richter, "U.S. Weighs Tactical Nuclear Strike on Iraq" Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2003 [back]
This article originally appeared on the site of Revolution newspaper.