Living under a nuclear sword
This year opened on a positive note when the major nuclear powers (US, Russia, China, France and the UK) solemnly declared together that “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” But that joint declaration came after they had spent over $US82 billion modernising their nuclear arsenals in 2021.
These arsenals are expected to grow over the coming decade, as a new nuclear arms race is going on. Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, not enough money was found to provide vaccines against Covid worldwide, and over six million died because they had remained unprotected. 2.4 billion people, mostly in Africa and South Asia, are furthermore still completely unvaccinated.
The major nuclear powers, that need to spend more on health, education, water production and measures against the climate emergency, and do not find the money to do so, have no problems on increasing their spending on new and more sophisticated and more destructive armaments.
Military doctrines on the use of nuclear weapons are being reviewed to allow for the first strike (using nuclear weapons against your enemy before your enemy attacks you) and for the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield. We are living at the most dangerous moment in the history of mankind, as all this is happening during a turbulent transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, arms control talks are at a standstill, no treaty regulates the use of tactical nuclear weapons and the command and control systems of nuclear weapons are more vulnerable to cyber attacks.
A new normal is being created, where the use of nuclear weapons is no longer considered a taboo. Serious magazines give practical tips to their readers on how to survive a nuclear war, by staying inside and “washing your face often, and if you happen to be outside when there is a nuclear strike, remain face downwards so that you will be less exposed to the radiation.”
Since the United States had used atomic bombs for the first time on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the contamination following nuclear tests in the atmosphere, we know of the death and destruction and disease that the use of nuclear weapons brings. Millions have died, directly or indirectly, as through their use. Scientists and medical experts continue to warn that the medical consequences of nuclear weaponry are devastating. They describe nuclear war as a final epidemic, for which there can be no cure, and that prevention is the only option.
Long ago governments gave up building nuclear shelters for the general population, not only because of their expense, but also because it was pointless to build them as it is impossible to survive a nuclear war. Yet, this year, private companies building mobile nuclear shelters, costing up to $US300,000 each, are making a roaring trade.
Tool box with a hammer only
The stocks and shares of the companies manufacturing arms, including nuclear ones, have risen this year. Politicians who are sitting on boards influencing their country’s foreign and defence policy, further profit from stocks and shares in companies in the military industrial complex. These companies spend millions of dollars on lobbying politicians, political parties and governments to buy more armaments, and some of these millions of dollars fund think-tanks on foreign policy.
These think-tanks do not necessarily tell us what to think, but they certainly try to tell us what to think about. How many of them are telling us about the threat of nuclear war and the new nuclear arms race, together with the need to de-escalate and use the diplomatic tool box to deal with the global issues we face, instead of resorting only to the hammer?
Our diplomacy has disappeare,d and instead we have become increasingly like Abraham Kaplan’s boy. In 1964 he said: “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.” While governments are increasing their spending on the hammer of nuclear and more sophisticated armaments, they are spending less on their diplomats to study languages, cultures and histories, so that they are able to develop empathy and to understand those they are dealing with. We seem keen to prove singer, Annie Lennox, right when she says that, “Humankind seems to have an enormous capacity for savagery, for brutality, for lack of empathy, for lack of compassion.”
60 years ago, the Soviet Union and the United States were at the point of destroying each other and the whole world, as during the Cuban missile crisis. In 1962, the Soviet Union began to secretly install missiles in Cuba to launch attacks on U.S. cities. The confrontation that followed, known as the Cuban missile crisis, brought the two superpowers to the brink of war before an agreement was reached to withdraw the missiles. The Soviet Union withdrew them from Cuba, and the United States withdrew them from Turkey.
A year before this crisis, American President, John F. Kennedy, had said that: “Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”
A month after the crisis was resolved peacefully, the Soviet Prime Minister, Nikita Khrushchev, said that: “Of course, I was scared. It would have been insane not to be scared. I was frightened about what could happen to my country, and all the countries that would be devastated by a nuclear war. If being frightened meant that I helped avert such insanity, then I’m glad I was frightened. One of the problems in the world today is that not enough people are sufficiently frightened by the danger of nuclear war.”
The Federation of American Scientists further says that: “Approximately 90 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States, who each have around 4,000 warheads in their military stockpiles ...the number of warheads in global military stockpiles––which comprises warheads assigned to operational forces––is increasing once again…. Of the 9,440 warheads in the military stockpiles, some 3,730 are deployed with operational forces (on missiles or bomber bases). Of those, approximately 2,000 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.”