Looking towards Doomsday

With Trump in the White House, the Doomsday Clock was moved to two minutes until global catastrophe in January of this year. Yesterday we were moved even closer to global nuclear war.

Following the 19th century Napoleonic Wars, Europe settled into decades of peace “guaranteed” by a doctrine of Balance of Powers. It notion was that with each “side” possessing equal military forces no nation could win a war and so would not start a war. That peace ended on on 28 June 1914 when Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria  in Sarajevo, Serbia, on 28 June 1914. That caused Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. Because Serbia had a mutual defense agreement with Russia, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary and ordered a general mobilization. That posed a threat to Germany which declared war on Russia. That, in turn, lead to France and England declaring war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. In a sense,  the doctrine of Balance of Powers worked in that the war stalemated with devastating losses to both sides. It was not until the United States entered the war that one side gained the advantage to end the war on behalf of England and France, with Germany and Austria-Hungary being the losers. World War I also caused the fall of Czarist Russia to communism and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire — which is in the background to today’s chaos in the Middle East. The humiliating defeat, the punishing Versailles Treaty and the failure of Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the League of Nations were contributing factors to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy and World War II.

The moral of all this is that a relatively unimportant event can trigger a world catastrophe.

Following the first use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States, the discredited 19th century Balance of Power doctrine was replaced by a doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. The arms race and Cold War were underway — the norm for the Baby Boomers and afterwards. The notion was that the nuclear superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union had the capacity to respond to any attack with an overwhelming counter attack. Along with this policy was a doctrine of first strike; if a nuclear power unleashed a massive attack on a perceived enemy, it might protect itself by destroying most, if not all of the enemy’s nuclear capacity. A parallel policy of first use also came into play; if a nuclear power in a convention war was losing, it might gain an upper hand by first use of nuclear weapons.

The best known case of near nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is the Cuban Missile Crisis. No doubt nuclear armed missiles posed a grave threat to the United States; but the Soviet arming of Cuba was a response to the nuclear missiles close to Soviet territory in Europe by the United States and NATO. But there have been other examples of near misses caused by “operator error” or some miscue in defensive warning systems.

In 1964 the movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was based on the premise that a rogue officer was able to initiate a first strike leading to the mutual destruction of New York City and Moscow as a means to avoiding a nuclear holocaust. Another movie in 1983, WarGames, was based on the premise that a war games computer nearly triggered a Global Thermonuclear War. While both are fiction, they present realistic possibilities about how a world nuclear catastrophe could be triggered.

There are a number of books by authors who have some knowledge of the most top secret strategies of the American government concerning nuclear war. Among them are Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and Michael McFaul’s Decline of American Influence and From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia. All discuss the extreme danger we face in a world in which there are multiple nuclear powers. In addition to the United States and Russia, nuclear powers include France, India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. Until the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, and China as well as the United Nations Security Council and the European Union Iran was developing a nuclear capacity. It should be noticed that many of these powers are conflicted with others: Pakistan and India, Israel and Iran, the United States and Russia. They are in a position to “start something” that would quickly escalate into a major, nuclear World War III.

Trump has withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iranian nuclear agreement). Whether or not Iran will continue to honor the agreement with the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany, China, European Union and United Nations Security Council remains to be seen. Trump has indicated that the United States will punish Iran with sanctions. What effect that will have remains to be seen. It is possible that American businesses will continue to do business with Iran through intermediaries. To prevent that Trump would have to also sanction other countries doing business with Iran. This would sever relationships with our allies and disrupt international trade. If Iran should resume development of nuclear weapons, Israel might well decide on a first strike attack on Iran. What that could trigger would be catastrophic.

I wonder how this action will affect the upcoming summit talks with North Korea. Why should North Korea’s Kim trust any agreement with the United States given the example of the withdrawal from the agreement with Iran? So there is another “hot spot” affected by Trump’s action.

What with the developing trade wars, the erratic policies of the United States under Trump, the increasing power of American hawks in the administration and now the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement, we are closer to World War III than before. Any spark could ignite this “powder keg,” just as an assassination triggered World War I — the “war to end all wars.”