During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden spoke 6,500 lines. However, not one of them acknowledged the dangers of nuclear warfare. spiked upwardThe rate of decline has been steeper in recent days than it was over the past decade. The militarism that Martin Luther King Jr. warned us about has been spiraling toward its ultimate destination in the nuclear era — a global holocaust that would likely extinguish almost all human life on Earth.
In the midst of this reality, leaders of the world’s two nuclear superpowers continue to fail — and betray — humanity.
In the stark light of March 2022, Albert Einstein’s outlook 75 years ago about the release of atomic energy has never been more prescient or more urgent: “This basic power of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense, there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world.”
The phrase “narrow nationalisms” aptly describes the nuclear-weapons policies of the United States and Russia. They have been engaged on a dance of death that has predictable human consequences on a scale that is beyond our comprehension.
Einstein expressed a belief that “an informed citizenry will act for life and not death.” But the dire nuclear trends have been enabled by citizenry uninformed and inactive.
Twenty years ago, George W. Bush’s government withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Despite his promising rhetoric, President Barack Obama plunged ahead to begin a $1.7 trillion program for further developing the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the euphemism of “modernization.” President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which had removed an entire category of missiles from Europe since the late 1980s — largely as a result of the international movement against nuclear weapons.
You can kill the ABMAnd INFThe U.S. government has pushed the world away from nuclear arms control and disarmament by signing agreements. And by insisting on expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Russia’s borders — and in recent months continuing to insist that Ukrainian membership in NATO should stay on the table — the United States ignored Russia’s longstanding and reasonable concerns about NATO expansion.
NATO was given the opportunity to place ABM systems in Poland, and Romania. This was billed as defensive. capacityThese systems were retrofitted with offensive cruise missiles. Overall, NATO’s claims of being a “defensive” alliance have been undercut by three decades of broken promises,As well as intensive war operations against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Russia has its own military and industrial complex, as well as its own nationalistic fervor. The duplicityProvocations by the United States of America and NATO allies are not sufficient to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was launched last week. Russia is now on a murderous killing spree that is just as vile as the U.S. invasions into Afghanistan and Iraq.
There is one overarching truth that must be faced right now. The nuclear superpowers have led humanity to the edge of omnicide. The latest example of this is the invasion in Ukraine.
Last week, the extreme recklessness of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s not-so-veiled threat to use nuclear weapons was an indication of just how dangerous the Ukraine conflict has gotten — for everyone, everywhere. Passivity will not get us anywhere. The U.S. supporting antiwar protestsAnd demanding real diplomacyOrganizing for peace is essential.
“However soon the war ends, its effects on the European security order and the world will be and already are profound,” San Francisco State University scholar Andrei Tsygankov wroteIt was days ago. “In addition to human suffering and devastation, the European continent is entering a new era of social and political divisions comparable to those of the Cold War. It is now more likely than ever that there will be an even greater escalation. Instead of building an inclusive and just international order, Russia and most European nations will now rely mainly on nuclear weapons and military preparations for their security.”
Any “conventional” war that puts Russia and the United States in even indirect conflict has the very real potential of being a tripwire that could set off an exchange of nuclear missiles. An increase in tension can lead to fatigue and paranoia as well as a greater chance of mistaking a false alarm with the real thing. This is especially dangerous because of land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which are uniquely vulnerable to attack and therefore are on hair-trigger, “launch on warning” alert.
“First and foremost,” former Defense Secretary William Perry wrote in 2016, “the United States can safely phase out its land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force, a key facet of Cold War nuclear policy. Retiring the ICBMs would save considerable costs, but it isn’t only budgets that would benefit. These missiles are among the most dangerous weapons in existence. They could even trigger an accidental nuclear war.” As Daniel Ellsberg and I wroteIn The Nation last fall, “Contrary to uninformed assumptions, discarding all ICBMs could be accomplished unilaterally by the United States with no downside. Even if Russia chose not to follow suit, dismantling the potentially cataclysmic land-based missiles would make the world safer for everyone on the planet.”
But we’re not hearing anything from Congress or the White House about taking steps to reduce the chances of nuclear war. Instead, we’re hearing jacked-up rhetoric about confronting Russia. It’s all too clear that responsible leadership will not come from official Washington; it must come from grassroots activism with determined organizing and political pressure.
“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction,” Dr. King saidAs he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, 1964. “I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.”
Realistic hope seems very scarce right now. In this moment of despair, all that we love requires our determination to organize.