On July 20, 2017, after a meeting in the Pentagon, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Donald Trump a “f---ing moron.” Why did America’s top diplomat use such undiplomatic language about the chief executive?
On October 11, NBC News revealed the answer, “President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the US nuclear arsenal during a gathering last summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room… It was soon after the meeting broke up that officials who remained behind heard Tillerson say that Trump is a ‘moron.’”
Trump’s moronic desire for ten times as many nukes as he currently commands is darkly hilarious. But the joke is on us. And the punchline could be unimaginably ugly. The US currently has almost 10,000 nuclear warheads. If even 100 of the smaller ones (that is, less than 1% of America’s arsenal) ever goes off in a nuclear war, the vast majority of earth’s population will likely die of starvation in a “nuclear winter” caused by smoke in the atmosphere blocking sunlight for more than a decade. But Trump, no genius at climate science, imagines how wonderful it would be to have 100,000 nuclear weapons instead of “only” 10,000!
Though the Moron-in-Chief isn’t getting his tenfold increase, Trump’s blueprint for America’s nuclear arsenal, released February 2, foolishly heightens the already unacceptable risk of global nuclear war. By unleashing a new generation of smaller and more “accurate” nuclear weapons, most of which will be carried on American ships and submarines, Trump will force Russia, China, and North Korea into a permanent state of hair-trigger alert. And by emphasizing that the US has a first-strike nuclear policy, thinly disguised as “reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks” — and making first strike an ever-more-realistic option — the Trump Administration will force America’s nuclear-armed adversaries to expect a US first strike at any moment, greatly increasing the likelihood that those countries might unleash a nuclear barrage against the US in response to a false alarm.
Just days before Trump’s announcement, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that their Doomsday Clock was reset to two minutes to midnight — meaning that we are as close as we have ever been to nuclear annihilation. By contrast, during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was only saved from nuclear war by a series of apparent miracles in fortunate conjunction with the relative sanity of US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Doomsday Clock was at seven minutes to midnight. Today, with Trump rather than JFK in the White House, and the Doomsday Clock five minutes closer to midnight, the odds of the world surviving a comparable crisis seem slim indeed.
To understand the gravity of the situation, we must cut through the myths, obfuscations, and out-and-out lies that disguise the insanity of America’s nuclear weapons systems and doctrines. The truth is that America’s nuclear weapons are not designed for deterrence. On the contrary, the nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs, long-range bombers, and naval missiles has been created and maintained to strike first, not second. My late friend and 9/11 truth movement colleague Col. Robert Bowman, a Cal Tech rocket science PhD who headed the US Space Weapons (or “Star Wars”) Program under Presidents Ford and Carter, resigned and became a whistleblower for precisely this reason. As a God-fearing Christian, Dr. Bowman could not accept the fact that the space weapons he commanded were clearly designed for use in a surprise first strike; they are worse than useless for deterrence.
Dr. Bowman explained to me that America’s space weapons cannot survive a first strike by an enemy, so their only purpose is to strike first, or threaten to do so. During the 1970s, when Col. Bowman commanded the Space Weapons Program, the US already had a deployable “artificial meteorite” weapon that could be dropped from space on enemy missile launchers. It also had a space-based energy weapon, the details of which are still classified, that could set whole cities on fire. The mere existence of these weapons was and still is classified, but Dr. Bowman was able to discuss them because they had been accidentally mentioned in Congressional testimony by an absent-minded military leader.
Why does the US maintain a first-strike posture, while lying to the world about “deterrence”? Because the real purpose of the USA’s nuclear weapons, as former nuclear war planner Daniel Ellsberg explains in his new book The Doomsday Machine, is to bully other countries into compliance with America’s wishes. Ellsberg counts around 50 instances when the US has explicitly or implicitly threatened to use its nuclear weapons. None of these occasions involved “deterrence.” All involved threats, open or implied, of a US nuclear first strike.
Joseph Gerson’s Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World documents more than 20 explicit American threats to strike first with nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Russia, Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Muslim East were all victims of American nuclear blackmail attempts.
First strike weapons may be useful tools for bombastic presidents who wish to threaten other nations. They are thought to give the US an edge on the geostrategic chessboard. But they also carry a terrible risk: the opponent, if he thinks the Americans are about to attack, may be tempted to launch his own weapons first, before a US first strike destroys them on the launchpad.
That is why Trump’s new nuclear policy is so dangerous. All of those smaller, faster, more modern, more accurate, air-defense-penetrating nukes carried by America’s ships and submarines give the US a far more realistic first strike option. Naval forces can be stationed quite close to their targets — so close that their nuclear missiles could hit the targets with great accuracy just a few minutes after they are fired. That would give the Russians, Chinese, or North Koreans just a few minutes to decide whether an “American attack” signal is a real attack or just a false alarm. If they didn’t fire their own nuclear weapons immediately, they would be risking the destruction of their arsenal. This “use it or lose it” incentive makes accidental nuclear war much more likely.
Unlike the US with its first strike posture, America’s nuclear-armed adversaries all hold nuclear weapons primarily as deterrents. During the Cold War Russia tried to match and surpass American first strike capabilities, but today it is focusing more on trying to deter the accelerating US first strike threats. Moscow recently announced its new “ultimate deterrent”: the so-called Doomsday Torpedo. This fearsome weapon carries the largest and most lethal nuclear warhead ever built, a 100-megaton device salted with radioactive Cobalt 60. Fired from a submarine, it could cross the ocean undetected and explode off the US coastline, obliterating a city and drenching the entire coastline in a radioactive tidal wave that would render that coastline uninhabitable for a century. It is explicitly designed to survive a US first strike — and thereby deter such an eventuality.
Moron Trump is courting fire, fury, and radioactive tidal waves — not to mention nuclear winter — with his first-strike-oriented nuclear buildup. But earlier US presidents have been only marginally better (Obama considered a no-first-use policy, but was forced to withdraw the proposal by America’s permanent military chiefs).
What would a sane nuclear weapons policy look like? Daniel Ellsberg argues that the nuclear powers could realistically agree to dismantle most of their nuclear weapons, keeping a small number as deterrents. This would eliminate the possibility of nuclear winter and the near extinction of humanity. The main obstacle to this feasible and sensible reform is US insistence on keeping a first-strike capability to use for global political leverage.
If the people of the US and the world understood what is at stake in the nuclear standoff, they would be clamoring for such a change… and for a timetable mandating the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and other WMDs.