Why Not Nuclear Power?

I am asked in an e-mail:

“I’m assuming that in 30 or 40 years, everyone will (pretty much) be using nuclear power for their energy needs. By last count, there were 440+ nuclear reactors in the world, with dozens more planned for installation. France (of all countries) is roughly 70% nuclear. My question: Why are people still pretending that nuclear energy isn’t the cleanest, most efficient method available?

My answer: Because it’s not.

The first answer I devised, in 2012, to this question was (“solar power at 1% conversion efficiency on 2% of the land area of the United States of America would produce the total electrical energy use of the nation, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours per year (4T kWh/y)”):

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/06/08/energy-for-society-in-balance-with-nature/

My next answer (“nuclear weapons are obsolete”) was to the collateral question about nuclear weapons (which collateral question comes out of the “proliferation” issue associated with civilian nuclear reactors. I presumed the e-mail correspondent’s original question was prompted by my remarks on nuclear weapons posted on CounterPunch on February 1st, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/01/why-it-is-the-way-it-is/)(appended below) was:

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/08/09/nuclear-weapons-are-obsolete/

The two factors that would argue against nuclear power are responsibility and efficiency:

1. The “responsibility factor,” (MONEY).

Nobody wants to be the person/entity legally-financially responsible for insuring the nuclear power companies and reactor operators. The cost of “nuclear power malpractice insurance” is literally infinite.

So, governments that do have nuclear power must become (pass laws making) themselves the responsible parties of last resort — which means the public gets stuck with the bills and physical and health risks from all sorts of possible “accidents”: meltdowns and wide area contamination (like Chernobyl and Fukushima), waste storage (nuclear waste gets thermally hot, and if clumped too close or not cooled can explode, as in Russia in 1957) and guarding (from diversion by terrorists) forever (hundreds of thousands of years).

2. The “efficiency factor,” (the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics).

All the work (human and mechanical; intellectual-engineering and physical-construction) that would be required to build up a nuclear power infrastructure (like for mining uranium and refining the ore to reactor grade; and building power plants and waste disposal methods and sites), plus all the related security services needed (to ensure the refining plants don’t take the process to “bomb grade,” and then divert that into nuclear weapons, or it gets stolen!) ‘in perpetuity’ can be quantified as a total energy (or power flow into) needed to create and maintain the nuclear power industry/infrastructure (including its administration and finance agencies).

Does the energy extracted FROM nuclear power…

…(over the lifetime of its plants, whose remnants must be ‘disposed’ of as radioactive and toxic waste; so also over the time required to maintain and guard the disposal sites)…

…EXCEED the energy investment INTO nuclear power, to make that “engine for powering civilization” socially useful? This is called EROEI: energy return on energy invested.

EROEI is used by the oil industry to determine if any well/oil field is worth being pumped. If the energy needed to work the pumping is MORE than the potential energy that can be generated from the oil that could be extracted, then it makes no sense to pump it out. Instead, just use that original energy investment directly into other technical means to produce the work desired for social and economic purposes.

Another reason that re-insurers (the big big money like Credit Suisse that insures insurance companies) mark their costs for nuclear power at INFINITY (kind of like an inversion of Pascal’s Wager) is because they calculate that investments elsewhere (for energy generation) are more profitable (i.e., efficient).

Governments like the USG maintain nuclear power for military reactors, as on aircraft carriers and missile-carrying submarines, because these weapons systems are the technological infrastructure of their imperialism, their global-reach political power (and dick enhancements of the egomaniacal bigwigs in charge) to extract economic advantages (both real and imaginary) from the rest of the world (and entirely for Big Capital, which underwrites and profits from the Military-Industrial Complex: the MIC).

But this is neither energetically nor financially efficient; it is a definite national cost (a pure loss for the public) which is borne by civil society as a degradation of their standards-of-living (the combination of their political freedoms degraded because of “secrecy” and “security,” availability of social services, economic/job opportunities and thus income, and health and safety as it is impacted by the whole nuclear materials/weapons/power complex; guns versus butter).

After the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown, I wrote this poem:

Which would you rather live in?
A country of 200 nuclear plants, or
A country of 100 million solar collectors?
Which would you rather live in
After the air raids?

If the total current investment into nuclear materials/power/weapons, for all kinds of investments and from all sources, were channeled instead into “green energy” (the technology) and “eco-socialism” (the society powered by that technology), we would all live much much better and more securely and all at much less cost (which cost reduction would include much more effective action to counter climate change).

The great psychological barrier here is the usual one of people of all kinds being resistant to alter their behaviors and adapt to new thinking and technology because they are afraid of losing their personal advantages (money, wealth, jobs, “importance”), their social and economic status (in prejudicial hierarchical societies), and of “losing out” by relinquishing the old ways of “getting ahead,” because of sociological and technical advances (as John Henry, the “Steel-Driving Man,” was resistant, https://youtu.be/oEKAwslJ-_M). This is like the warped and economically unnecessary motivation that keeps Icelandic and Japanese whalers going on today in an activity that is a pure degradation of our interconnected natural world.

And that is why nuclear power continues: because of the mental inertia of those who “can’t” change their ways of life (of ‘taking advantage’ and ‘getting ahead’ of the rest of the world), and which dummies include the vast swathes of Joe Sixpacks and Karens and Jamie Portfolios and Nancy Fashionistas, who just want the continuity of their illusions of “good deals” on guns and granite countertops and big plasma-screen TVs and low-fat de-caff lattes, without any thought about the pesky “weather.”

For all such people, “nuclear energy as the cleanest most efficient method of powering our good life” is confidently held as an obvious truth.

All forms of power (physical and electrical utility power) are statements about the kinds of societies that are envisioned — by their controlling ‘visionaries’ (sic) — as being necessary.

So, the fundamental question is actually: what kind of society do we want? And from that the kind of power technologies that should be mounted can then be most clearly defined and invested in and built and used.

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Why It Is The Way It Is
28 January 2021

Here are my reactions to three articles in the 28 January 2021 edition of Counter Punch.

Why We Can’t Give Up on the Idea of a World Free From Nuclear Weapons
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/28/why-we-cant-give-up-on-the-idea-of-a-world-free-from-nuclear-weapons/

The “inability” to relinquish nuclear weapons is entirely a function of the “inability” of power elites to pry their cold dead hands off the levers of power. This is in every way like the “inability” of gun nuts (euphemistically: 2nd Amendment Patriots) to relinquish their guns and military gear costumes; the acting out of a dick measuring contest by deeply insecure people unable to let go of the security blankets they hide behind and which project their illusions of confidence, manhood (and/or penis envy), power and enviable popular acclaim and fear. This is no different from Achilles dragging Hector’s body behind his chariot before the walls of Troy to safely chest-thump his hubristic pride in himself and to inspire terror.

Another, secondary aspect of this clutching onto the obsolescence of nuclear weapons is pure pork-barrel and corporate welfare. It has nothing to do with the logical pursuit of war aims under any conditions. But the disturbing element here is the possibility of an illogical actor — a pure irrational — somehow gaining control of some nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure Doomsday Machine, as many feared a nutty American president (take your pick) might have done.

I would say that the ideal and polar opposite alternative to the continuation of the Nuclear War Club Delusion is a combination of: the outlawing of war with a robust International Criminal Court with full world participation as championed by Ben Ferencz (https://youtu.be/meDbZemxuK4), with an equally robust worldwide participation in a concerted effort to respond to climate change as urged with fervent and penetrating clarity by Greta Thunberg, and to which I have made my own individual (and I’ll admit amateur) efforts to flesh out with policy visions (as in my last CP article, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/28/from-fractiousness-to-sustainability-is-it-possible/).

While America Was Sleeping
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/28/while-america-was-sleeping/

Alfred W. McCoy describes how the United States has steadily slipped from its long-standing position of world leadership (from 1945 to 2017), both politically but most crucially economically, and which decay of American imperial power and world respect for it is most hideously reflected by the previous four years of the Boobus Americanus Administration.

The increasing economic isolation of the United States from world markets, with Europe, Asia and Africa being steadily drawn into market conformity with China, and effectively assisted by Boobus Americanus’s inept “America First” isolationism, leads me to think that the centroid for the production of carbon-dioxide planetary poisoning has moved to China, with this relocation of World Capitalism’s economic engine.

I am brought back to John Lennon’s thought that the world is run by insane people for insane purposes (https://youtu.be/YspNkm0BKgw). The intellectual refinement and seriousness of the mentalities that carry on the complex and sober work of perpetuating the objectively insane obsession with political domination for exclusionary wealth accumulation — most heinous when self-focussed, but understandably forgivable when aimed at poverty reduction nationally — is breathtaking for its utter disregard to its consequent destruction of our planet. This is “circling the drain-hole” terminal addiction on its grandest scale.

Federal Secrecy Protects the Crimes of Every President
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/01/28/federal-secrecy-protects-the-crimes-of-every-president/

James Bovard shines a strong light on the putrefaction of American democracy by its envelopment with the hyphae of the “classification” of rightly public information as “state secrets.” Very little of the information generated by government activities needs to be classified either for public safety or the defense of the Constitution (remember, the two official duties and purposes of the USG and its officers) against the attempted hostile actions by ‘enemies’ (who they?) of the American people.

I once had large locking safes filled with blueprints and computer printouts of engineering details of nuclear explosive devices (a.k.a. “bombs”), and I agree those should be classified. But even so, if such blueprints were posted on the internet it might do less for nuclear proliferation than you might imagine. Certainly a few nuclear powers, like North Korea and maybe Pakistan, would be able to improve their own nuclear weapons designs from a study of the U.S. nuclear weapons technology.

But all members of the nuclear weapons club already know how to blend very high level classical physics and engineering with the use of exotic radioactive compounds, gases, metals and salts (the material guts of nuclear bombs) into the construction of functional nuclear explosives. The threat to others from Nuclear War Club members is exponentially amplified when such members also possess high-speed delivery systems with long reach (missiles, submarines and worst of all: satellite platforms).

Most states would never (well, almost never) be able to develop their own nuclear weapons even if they possessed a huge cache of “blueprints” from say the U.S. or Russia or China or England or France or Israel, because they could never mount the huge complex infrastructure necessary to manufacture nuclear explosives, nor accumulate the many exotic materials needed.

But, it is true that any state with civilian nuclear reactors could apply that technology to generate low-grade (and yet super extremely toxic and harmful) nuclear material and waste, which could be used in crude terroristic attacks. So the single best strategy for the prevention of the proliferation of nuclear terror and nuclear weapons is the strict international (U.N.) control of the possession and transport of nuclear materials. Secrecy in the operations of such a nuclear materials policing agency is certainly a public good.

But, as has long been known and which Bovard points out, government secrets in general and the explosion of “classification” by the USG in particular are mostly about embarrassment-control and impunity-perpetuation by and for the lever-pullers in governments.

And it all makes this nerdy très petit bourgeois kid from the Hippy Era, who is irrelevantly far out from the insane consensus on world management, think gratefully of Ben Ferencz, fondly of John Lennon, and wistfully of Greta Thunberg.

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The Obvious Paradigm

Solar Powered Desalinator, homemade

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The Obvious Paradigm

The American consensus: a demise under capitalism is preferable to a continuation under socialism.

Fracking has made coal mining unnecessary. The upkeep of nuclear wastes makes nuclear power pointless. GPS guided missile technology makes nuclear weapons obsolete. The abundance of freely available solar energy and the great expanse of publicly held sunny lands makes privately metered and polluting fossil-fuel energy unnecessary, both for the power and as an expense. Fossil fuel energy is only necessary for the maintenance of militarism, and only for those who consider militarism necessary. Global warming is Earth’s fever from its infection with fossil-fueled capitalism. Solar-powered socialism is the obvious paradigm for a just and prosperous humanity in balance with Nature.

9 January 2018

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Will a Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?

(1 September 2008; still topical on 9 August 2017)

Introduction

The first, and also previous, nuclear war consisted of two atomic bomb attacks that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, on August 6 and August 9 of 1945. These attacks by the United States of America against an utterly defeated and prostrate Japan occurred in the last month of the Pacific War (which occurred between December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945 for the USA) and were demonstrations of remorseless American power intended to deflate the triumphant spirit of a Soviet Union victorious against Nazi Germany (May 8, 1945), and to check the Soviet leadership from advancing its forces into Japan (despite being implored to do so by the Allies at the Yalta Conference six months earlier).

Tsarist Russia had lost its 1904-1905 war with Imperial Japan for control of Manchuria (northern China) and Korea, both of which Japan occupied until 1945. During World War 1 (1914-1918) and the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), a dozen nations invaded Russia, occupying many regions and fielding troops that supported the pro-tsarist, anti-Bolshevik White forces between 1918 and 1920. Japan supplied 37 percent of the troops in this Allied Intervention, 70,000 of the 188,000 total and by far the single largest contingent; they were all deployed in the Vladivostok (northwestern Pacific) region and were the last to leave, in 1922. A series of Soviet-Japanese border wars occurred between 1938-1945, primarily a 1938 war along the Siberian-Manchurian border (western-eastern) just northeast of Korea, a 1939 war along the Mongolian-Manchurian border (eastern-western), northwest of Korea, and the Russian invasion of Manchuria on August 8, 1945.

With the demise of the Japanese Empire, the Russians and Chinese consolidated their adjoining domains of control spanning the Eurasian landmass east of the Baltic and north of the Black Sea, Caucasus and Himalayas, for over four decades until the breakup of the Soviet Union. Over the last twenty years, the United States has actively sought to encircle Russia with military forces implanted in client states that are former Soviet Republics or Eastern European Socialist Republics, now independent, whose compliance has been bought. A similar policy applies to China and its surrounding south and central Asian states. This US policy is often personified by Zbigniew Brzezinski (the Carter Administration National Security Advisor credited with funding the advanced militarization of the Afghani mujahideen that included Osama Bin Laden), who characterizes it as geostrategic dominance radiating from the control of Caucasus and Central Asian republics, several rich in oil.

In recent weeks, US commentators (e.g., P. C. Roberts and W. S. Lind) on Russia’s intervention into the Republic of Georgia (a US client state in the South Caucasus Mountains) to reverse the Georgian invasion of breakaway region South Ossetia, believe the blundering belligerence of US policy toward Russia could escalate to the point of armed confrontation, and this would erupt into a nuclear war.

The logic assumed is that the U.S. would have to rely on missile-borne tactical nuclear warheads launched by air and naval forces to counter Russian troops and armor in the Caucasus, since the U.S. is too distant to transport its troops quickly, and many of them are bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows, maybe also Iran by that time. The Russians could be assumed to use their tactical nuclear weapons to compensate for their possible disadvantage of having less technically sophisticated weapons systems relative to the ”smart bomb” precision-guided munitions and “stealth” delivery vehicles of the US military. Once a shooting war starts, the natural tendency is to reach for your biggest guns and fire away before the other guy can clear his holster.

So, is a new nuclear war possible? Let’s muse on this. After all, the time necessary for rationality to work its good is only available before the shoot-out, or after the killing is done and the survivors are ready to move on to the burials.

The purpose of war is to increase your degree of control OVER OTHERS. This is usually equated to having acquired greater political and military power. This is true even if the war is conducted as nothing beyond brigandage and piracy: plunder, profit and wealth are seen as increasing your power to control events. Using this metric, it is easy to judge if you have won or lost a war.

We proceed by inquiring about the psychological and technical enabling factors, and the political and diplomatic restraining factors for the outbreak of a nuclear war:

1, psychology: are the prospective belligerents easily inclined to war?

2, technology: are their military establishments ready for nuclear combat?

3, politics: can the ruling class be assured of maintaining control of its own population?, could there be a revolution if the war fares badly?

4, diplomacy: is the potential estrangement of and isolation from European states, and other allies, a significant restraint?; is it possible that in a mid-war or post-war weakened condition your state becomes unable to control new rebellions by imperial subject states, or to stop encroachments into your domain of influence by imperial rivals?

We can contract the previous four major questions in these two: have we identified all possible contingencies and devised alternative plans for each?, does the cost-benefit ratio for the war outweigh that of diplomatic alternatives, and after what period of time? We consider the four factors in turn.

Psychology: Remembering World War Two

It is important to know that the overwhelming fraction of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany was provided by the Soviet Union (Russia and its union of socialist republics), and they suffered the greatest losses as a result. Consider the following numbers. The combined 1939 population of the fifty-five countries involved in World War Two (WW2) was 1.962 billion; the total number of war dead was 72.8 million, which was 3.7 percent of the 1939 population of participants. Of course, many of these countries bore only a slight to moderate burden in carrying on the war, while a small number provided the greatest efforts and made the greatest sacrifices (see “World War II casualties” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties).

The combined human losses of the Soviet Union, China, Germany and Japan were just under 73 percent of the total deaths for WW2. The Asian theater of WW2 was essentially the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, while the European theater of WW2 was essentially the Russo-German War of 1941-1945.

Let us look at the impact of WW2 on five selected countries, by using three ratios for each country, where these ratios are defined as follows.

Country:

the percentage of its 1939 population killed in WW2;
the ratio of its 1939 population to the 1.962 billion WW2 participants;
the ratio of its WW2 dead to the total WW2 dead;
(all ratios below are expressed as percents).

Soviet Union: 13.7; 8.6; 31.7.

China: 3.9; 26.4; 27.5.

Germany: 10.5; 3.6; 10.

Japan: 3.8; 3.6; 3.7.

USA: 0.3; 6.7; 0.6.

The Soviet Union lost nearly 14 percent of its population (every 7th person) in the war, and this mortality amounted to almost one third of the entire WW2 dead. China was three times as populous as the Soviet Union, so its loss of nearly 4 percent of its people (every 26th person) amounted to over one quarter of the entire WW2 dead. Germany lost over a tenth of its population (every 10th person), which amounted to 10 percent of the WW2 dead; and Japan’s loss of just under 4 percent of its people (every 26th person) amounted to nearly 4 percent of the WW2 dead.

Notice that the United States’ WW2 dead amounts to a fifty-fifth (1/55) of the Soviet total, and the 1939 national populations were comparable, the Soviet population being 29 percent higher. It would be very beneficial to the world if Americans, commemorating their Memorial and Veterans’ Days, would try imagining their feelings if they had suffered war as deeply as the Soviet people (every 7th person instead of every 324th person lost). Now, we never trivialize the real pain of war veterans, their relatives and and friends, however small a portion of a nation’s population they may happen to be. But, clearly, the impact of a WW2 experience like that of the Soviets will imprint a dread of war far more deeply into the national consciousness than a WW2 experience like that of the United States.

Another interesting numerical result is that the combined losses of Germany and Japan amount to only 13.7 percent of the WW2 dead, and the combined population of these two Axis powers amounted to only 7.2 percent of the WW2 participating population. Advanced industrialized nations hell-bent on war can drag in a multitude of victims vastly more numerous than themselves. A reasonable assumption for today is that the state planners and popular historical memories in both Russia and China viscerally appreciate the importance of this point, but that it may be dimly perceived in US popular imagination, and even dismissed by US policy-makers. This is probably the type of caution introduced by European allies when the U.S. engages them in multilateral diplomacy and planning, and which is so annoying to US unilateralists.

So, the U.S. may have a more casual attitude about bellicose posturing and nuclear war threatening bravado, while the Russians and Chinese are likely to be very circumspect and deliberate about threatening nuclear war; if they do, pay attention!

Technology: The Military Is A Hungry Robot

The US military is a brainless stomach that always wishes to be fed, it is the very definition of fiscal cancer. It has no other goal beyond immediate ingestion of capital drained from the US treasury, so all its pronouncements, papers, studies, proposals and testimony are devoid of meaning beyond their role as advertisements aimed at the audience of policy-makers heading the capitalist, government and propaganda ministries of the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC). The purpose of these advertisements is to induce as many of these directorate-class individuals as possible to put their influence behind the many schemes for larding the military. So, we can expect any part of the military that sees initiating a nuclear war as an instant benefit to itself by calling its services into action, to lobby for it. A brainless stomach has no concept of consequences, or of others. “More” fills the conceptual space, and all the frenzied, convoluted babble is a drone of incantations intended to materialize that “more.”

While the hardware for nuclear war is complex, both the US and Russian military establishments have decades of experience with it, and they have maintained their training. These military forces could use their nuclear weapons as ordered without a significant number of technical or personnel failures. Some of the warheads launched might be duds, in that their detonation would be flawed and their full explosive yield would be unrealized; and some of the personnel might crack under the pressure of actual combat — either as a blind panic or an intentional rebellion — and fail at their posts. However, we can expect a low incidence of such failure in either the U.S. or Russian forces.

This is unfortunate from the point of view of preventing nuclear war. We now know that “a guy named Arkhipov saved the world” during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “During a naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off Cuba on Oct 27, 1962,” where “the destroyer dropped depth charges near the submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped torpedo…that the submarine was authorised to fire it if three officers agreed. The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two of them said yes and the other said no.”

This was no failure of Russian military training (which like that in the arts and sciences is of unparalleled rigor), but instead the operation of vivid historical consciousness. I fear that the culture of the United States is so shallow and immature that thorough military training can transform any callow youth into a robot soldier attuned to his or her assigned functions, and unlikely to have the psychological depth and historical consciousness to question orders and training under conditions of extreme danger, urgency and confusion, or to recognize moments of pivotal importance.

Military establishments are intended to be robotic performers, reliable agents implementing commands abstracted and codified from the political directives of the national leadership. So, we should assume that by far the best way to prevent the military from proceeding with a nuclear war is by influencing the policy that it operates under, so that it is one of restraint.

Still, let me make a direct plea to any US soldier or sailor who finds themselves charged with launching a nuclear weapon: don’t do it, mutiny, revolt. Think, the more and sooner the better. Be Arkhipov. I think the Russians will be more restrained than the Americans about first use, but will have zero hesitation about second use.

Politics: Popular Loyalty Or Popular Revolt?

Because Russia is a lesser power than the United States, and because of the many and obvious provocations made by the US against Russia as part of its encirclement strategy, as well as the shameless advantage US capitalism took of Russia during the immediate post-soviet period of political fragmentation and economic reorganization, the Russian people will have no trouble supporting their government regardless of how any potential war with the U.S. transpires; they will always see themselves as the defenders, not the aggressors. This will be especially true if the U.S. fires first, which it delights in boasting it feels free to do; and we can be sure that if Russia does fire the first nuclear shot, it will be an evidently defensive preemptive strike. The expectation of popular loyalty, won by the robust revival of the Russian economy under Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as a reaction to US belligerence, frees the Russian leadership of any fear about revolution erupting in reaction to possible reverses in a potential Russo-US war, even a nuclear one. Russia is united.

The US public is unprepared for the sacrifices attendant to a nuclear war, no matter how “tactical” and “limited.” Every nuclear munition carries the destructive power of many conventional bombs or cannons, and shot for shot every fall of a nuclear munition will produce proportionately many more casualties. US soldiers and sailors will fill coffins or dematerialize at rates not experienced since the Civil War. The American public has been protected, shielded and distracted from the impact of war, especially since the Vietnam War, but the number of casualties to be expected from even a limited tactical nuclear war would be impossible to hide (as the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are hidden today), and the mollycoddled American viewing public would be traumatized on apprehending the magnitude and pace of the carnage.

The reactions to this fright would be varied, but in all cases they would contribute to the agitation of the public, a loss of placidity and thus an increased difficulty of social control. This triggers the primary anxiety of the ruling class. It is nearly inconceivable that US public agitation over the number of military casualties from a foreign nuclear war would rise to the same intensity as the Parisian public’s agitation about starvation in 1789, but the great fear of the US ruling class would be that it had become of the same type. Today’s paycheck-dependent US Americans are disunited by their fearful prejudices and diminishing expectations in an eroding economy, while the Russian people are experiencing historically significant economic growth and political stability. At what point of disaffection would the US public unite into storming its own Bastilles, at what level of unsatisfied wants — in a population indoctrinated to be self-governed by wants — would the US public acquire the motivational rage of a Cindy Sheehan and become the 21st century sans-culottes whose pikes were now the subject of the 2nd amendment?

We should not let such florid rhetoric carry us on flights of fancy of Phil Gramm (‘let them whine for cake’) types arriving at their Sidney Carton moment, but neither should we underestimate the potential for outbreaks of real social unrest in the U.S. as a consequence of losing people to a nuclear war of imperialistic hubris.

Diplomacy: Consolidating Conquest, Or Chaotic Collapse?

The imperialist imagination sees conquest as the method of consolidating power. The emperor projects a conception of order onto the world, and then seeks to subject each actual state and population into fulfilling an assigned role. Every country is a tile that fits into the grand mosaic of the imagined empire, adding its unique hue to the overall image and easing the interconnectedness of all others into a consolidated structure. Conquest is accomplished by force, bribery or inequitable alliance.

However, every tile of the world mosaic has its own conception of itself and its role in the world, so there is always opposition to empire. Most people call this freedom.

Imperialistic thinking assumes that power, the ability of superior force to hold sway, is the only dimension along which international relations operate. It ignores chaos, the ability of nature and reality to erupt with surprises, and entropy, the tendency of all structure to dissipate, as other dimensions of international relations. It is impossible to predict all possible outcomes of present situations, so it is impossible to devise perfect systems of control. While we are always free to take action, we can never be certain of all its possible consequences. Aside from our common-sense plans for managing the practicalities of our lives, the overall contingency plan that comes closest to perfection is to “go with the flow.” This is zen. The only thing we can ever really control is our own behavior. Because all known previous empires have collapsed, chaos and entropy being prominent in their demise, we can anticipate a similar fate for the American empire.

The Russian economy is booming in part because Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe. Russia is also a leading supplier of military and nuclear power technology. Many people easily ascribe the various conflicts occurring in Eurasia to rivalries over the control of oil and gas fields and the routing of pipelines. China’s exploding economy would love to plunge its straw — direct trans-border pipelines — into Iran’s oil pools and drain them without interference; Iran would love China to monetize its oil bonanza, so it wants to power itself with nuclear energy to maximize its oil profits. Russia is eager to supply Iran the nuclear power technology it wants, because it is a profitable business venture, and because they want the security of controlling the fuel cycle of a close neighbor, for the purpose of nonproliferation (of nuclear weapons).

However, these logical commercial synergies fail the most important acceptance criterion of US capitalism, “what’s in it for me?” The U.S. would prefer a compliant Iran drained to its benefit, such as in the days of the Shah, it would prefer Central Asian oil to flow south through Afghanistan and east through the Caucasus, Black Sea and Turkey, and it would prefer Europe to limit its energy dependency on Russia. It is not just a matter of increasing the oil supplied to the U.S., it is about throttling the sources of Russia’s and China’s growing economic power; it is about control.

We can expect the Europeans to try soothing the neo-con fevered Bush Administration, quietly behind closed embassy doors, from working itself into a rabid lather for nuclear war with Russia, initially in the Caucasus. This will have some influence, because the failure of Europe to join in a diplomatic demonization campaign against Russia, like the earlier campaigns against Iraq, would make it more difficult for the U.S. to proceed to war. Also, the U.S. is mindful that were it to be seriously weakened by a unilateral nuclear war with Russia, an unscathed Europe would easily step into control of its empire. After all, this is what Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman did to Winston Churchill’s British empire.

Also, Europe would worry that a nuclear war in the Caucasus might spread, war usually does when one side becomes desperate. If Russia were being “bombed back to the stone age” it would most certainly bomb the US bases in the Central Asian republics along its southern border. These would be legitimate military targets, and would no doubt be actively involved in the US war against Russia (why else are they there?). This would draw the Central Asian republics into the war and probably topple their ruling classes, which Russia would see as their just deserts. A similar catastrophe might happen to Poland and other Eastern European states hosting US missile systems. For Europe, the thought of the disruption of their oil supplies from Russia and Central Asia, along with the possibility of sustaining casualties from nuclear bombardment, should be enough to propel them into vigorous and sustained diplomatic action to restrain US belligerency. They will probably say all manner of nasty things about Russia, to mollify their infantile US emperor, and do as little as possible to disrupt their existing commercial arrangements with Russia.

Analogous to the situation of the US public, if Europe and American “allies” were to suffer directly and severely from the war, they might unite in revolt and then use their military forces against the U.S., or Russia, or both as they guessed would offer the best relief. What is that level of “direct and severe suffering” that would trigger a European military response? Good question.

There are many other possibilities for mischief once the US is embroiled in a nuclear war and inattentive to its empire. Other nations could decide it was an opportune time to settle their own scores with each other, independent of the US-Russia war. China and India fought a border war in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is believed to have erupted because the U.S. was completely preoccupied elsewhere. One can imagine Israel finding it opportune to accelerate its liquidation of the Palestinians, expand into Lebanon, attack Iran or a variety of its neighbors, or all of these, while the US was absorbed in a nuclear war radiating from the Caucasus.

Of course, a restraining consideration here is that the U.S. might not be capable or willing to assist and even fund Israel during the course of its own major war with Russia, unless Israel were a full-fledged partner in that war. If Israel were so blinded by its own ambition that it did join the war against Russia, then Russian arms would quickly and forcefully be turned against it, and this would almost certainly be joined by military actions from many states in the Middle East. The intelligent course for Israel would be to stay out of a US war against Russia (which will really look dirty to the US public as they see their own forces being nuked), but even then it might have to accept a diminished level of support from its great protector, and consequently a more successful opposition from its many subjects and neighbors.

Conclusion

Once the chaotic dimension of reality is realized, it becomes easy to envision any number of disastrous developments for each of the initial combatants, and even the initial bystanders. From any perspective, it is easier to imagine a negative cost-benefit ratio to this war than a positive outcome. For this reason, I think it less likely to occur. However, one must not underestimate the stupidity of imperialists, if war does break out then I think the Russians will have a clearer view of how to proceed, and this will mean painful losses for the U.S., its allies and enablers.

The great fallacy of the imperialistic mind is that the threat of destruction is equated with the power to control. Control is an illusion, chaos is the reality. A successful warrior dances with chaos, and success means simply that one is still alive.

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Originally published as:

Will a Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?
1 September 2008
https://www.counterpunch.org/2008/09/01/will-a-russo-american-nuclear-war-happen-soon/

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Nuclear Weapons Are Obsolete

Because of recent media frenzy over nuclear explosives and ballistic missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, a.k.a. North Korea), and US President Donald Trump’s angry threats in response that imply nuclear retaliation, I thought it might be useful to remind you of why nuclear weapons are obsolete as military tools for the United States.

The Atomic Bomb was invented during World War II (1939-1945), the energy of explosion being generated by the runaway fission of a temporarily clumped, or imploded, mass of uranium 235 or plutonium 239. By 1952 the Thermonuclear Bomb had been developed; these types of bombs can produce a much higher yield of explosive energy than fission bombs. Thermonuclear bombs are complex devices that combine a “primary” fission bomb and a “secondary” fusion bomb within a heavy metal case. The secondary is a container holding deuterium and tritium gases, or lithium deuteride salt. A thermonuclear bomb explosion involves three steps. First, the standard fission bomb is triggered to implode and generate intense X-ray radiation from the hot fissioning uranium 235 and/or plutonium 239. Second, the X-rays flood the interior of the bomb’s metal case. Third, that intense radiation pressure implodes the initially low-density secondary to the point that the nuclei of its fuel atoms fuse, and nuclear radiation is emitted. This radiation is the “E” of Einstein’s famous equation E = mc^2, where “m” is the amount of nuclear mass converted by the fusion reactions. Clearly, all this happens very quickly, before the bomb case shatters because of the exponential build-up of explosive pressure within it. By the 1960s, ballistic missile technology had been developed sufficiently to carry men to the Moon, or thermonuclear bombs around the world, and bomb designs had been refined for compactness so several could be carried on a single missile.

Because both fission and thermonuclear bombs produce so much explosive energy, and both prompt and lingering radioactivity (radiation and fallout), they are intrinsically large area-destruction weapons. This property could compensate for the poor targeting accuracy of 1940s and 1950s bomber airplanes and missiles. However, the major military drawback of this wide area radioactive destruction is that a massive amount of collateral damage and civilian death is inevitable with the destruction of each concentration of enemy military forces or facilities, which was the intended purpose of the bombing. Lingering radioactivity would not only be a severe health risk to the hapless residents of the bombed-out area, but also to any occupation forces that would wish to exert control over the area after the bombing (or the war).

Today, wide area-destruction bombs are unnecessary for the military purposes of the United States (and other technologically advanced nations) because pinpoint targeting accuracy is possible using the Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS project was launched by the US Department of Defense in 1973 and became fully operational in 1995. Civilian use has been allowed since the 1980s. Also, advances in electronic and computer technologies have been applied to refine the control and guidance of ballistic and cruise missiles, and aerial drones. Today, chemical explosives – without radioactivity – can be delivered very precisely to “enemy” targets, and a great deal of this has actually been happening for years now.

So, nuclear weapons are obsolete for advanced military powers like the United States. It is also true that modern GPS-guided “delivery vehicles” with chemical warheads are much less expensive to produce than nuclear weapons. The true cost of each bomb and missile will include a share of the overall costs for building and maintaining the infrastructure that produced it. That infrastructure cost is monumental for nuclear weapons, not only because of the complexity of producing the radioactive metal, gas and salt fuels, but also because of the catastrophic legacy of long-term toxic radioactive waste management we are left with.

But, wouldn’t an atmospheric nuclear explosion be useful as an anti-missile defense? Again, destruction vehicles against “incoming” ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones can be devised with chemical explosive warheads, and multiple warheads per missile (like World War II “flak”), because of today’s advanced radar and satellite detection systems, computers (for fast calculation of flight paths), and GPS-guided missile technologies.

Even ten years ago, the obsolescence of nuclear weapons was so obvious that four of the leading foreign policy and military planners of the United States issued a joint public statement to the effect that “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.” Those individuals were: George P. Shultz (Reagan Administration secretary of state from 1982 to 1989), William J. Perry (Clinton Administration secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997), Henry A. Kissinger (Nixon Administration national security advisor and secretary of state from 1969 to 1973, then Ford Administration secretary of state from 1973 to 1977) and Sam Nunn (chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995). (You can read more about that at: Nuclear Weapons Obsolescence, December 11, 2008, http://dissidentvoice.org/2008/12/nuclear-weapons-obsolescence/)

So, will the United States attack (“defensively” of course) North Korea with nuclear weapons, because of the perceived threat of the DPRK’s nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capability? I don’t know, but it would not be necessary. I have no doubt that US satellite and other airborne electronic surveillance systems can detect DPRK nuclear warhead manufacturing and storage sites, as well as ballistic missile launch sites, and could if necessary destroy them with precision-targeted conventional explosives. Intelligent diplomacy in concert with the United Nations should be able to eliminate the necessity to use force against the DPRK.

In conclusion, whatever the actual military threat, or perceived threat, or hyped threat (to frighten and shake down the American public for more military industry subsidies), there is no need for the use and maintenance of nuclear weapons by the United States – or anybody who cares to live in a civilized world.

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Now published at Dissident Voice:

http://dissidentvoice.org/2017/08/nuclear-weapons-are-obsolete/

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MG,Jr Essays on Nuclear Weapons 2003-2012

America’s Nuclear Weapons Labs, The Reality Beneath The Headlines
7 July 2003
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mgarci01.html

Letter to Senator Feinstein, on Nuclear Weapons
22 September 2003
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mgarci02.html

Nuclear Test, Political Flare (North Korea)
17 October 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10172006.html

North Korea’s Nuclear Test: a Q & A
19 October 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10192006.html

Will A Russo-American Nuclear War Happen (Soon)?
1 September 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia09012008.html

Nuclear Weapons Obsolescence
10 December 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/mango12102008.html
11 December 2008
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/12/nuclear-weapons-obsolescence/

Iran’s Uranium
(“horde” should be “hoard”)
11 March 2009
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/03/irans-uranium/

Fearful Pride (North Korea’s Second Nuclear Test)
26 May 2009
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia05262009.html
27 May 2009
http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/05/fearful-pride-north-koreas-2nd-nuclear-test/

Assassinating The Iranian H-Bomb?
18 January 2010
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia01182010.html

The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer
22 October 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci55.html