Being So Close To Nuclear War Should Change How We See Things – by Caitlin Johnstone

March 24, 2022 by Caitlin Johnstone 17 Comments

Listen to a reading of this article:

It’s so surreal how we’re closer to nuclear war than we’ve been since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it’s only continuing to escalate, and yet hardly anyone seems to notice and almost everyone is just going about their lives thinking their usual thoughts and having their usual conversations.

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Vladimir Putin has put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert and has issued threats of nuclear retaliation should western powers try to intervene in Russian military operations in Ukraine. The Biden administration’s first Nuclear Posture Review will be out soon and will likely mirror the changes in Russia’s nuclear posture in some ways.

The probability is skyrocketing of a mass extinction event which could easily block out the sun for years and starve everyone to death who isn’t lucky enough to be killed quickly in the initial inferno.

A recent New York Times article titled “The Smaller Bombs That Could Turn Ukraine Into a Nuclear War Zone” discusses the danger of Russia using a so-called “tactical” or “low-yield” nuke if the war isn’t going well for Moscow, making the calculation that using one of its much less destructive nuclear weapons might succeed in intimidating its enemies into backing down without resulting in full-blown nuclear war.

An excerpt:

“It feels horrible to talk about these things,” Dr. Kühn said in an interview. “But we have to consider that this is becoming a possibility.”

Washington expects more atomic moves from Mr. Putin in the days ahead. Moscow is likely to “increasingly rely on its nuclear deterrent to signal the West and project strength” as the war and its consequences weaken Russia, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

A truly sapient life form would read those two paragraphs and immediately say, “Oh well we obviously can’t continue along this trajectory anymore. Let’s negotiate a ceasefire by whatever means necessary and move toward detente as swiftly as possible.” But rather than move to de-escalate, all we’re seeing is continual escalation with increasingly shrill calls to escalate further.

It is worth noting here that experts have been warning for years that these “low-yield” nuclear weapons pose a horrifying threat to our species because of the risk of somebody making the calculation that they could get away with using them, as we see in this 2019 article by James Carroll titled “The Most Dangerous Weapon Ever Rolls Off the Nuclear Assembly Line“. Such warnings just didn’t get much attention before because they were about the United States manufacturing those weapons and did little to amplify Russia hysteria.

It is probably also worth noting that the US has been updating its nuclear arsenal with advancements which make its nuclear-armed rivals more likely to calculate the need for a full-scale nuclear first strike. As R Jeffrey Smith explained last year for The Center for Public Integrity, improvements in the ability to perfectly time a nuke’s detonation make it much more destructive and therefore capable of destroying underground nuclear weapons, which would necessarily make a government like Russia more likely to launch a preemptive strike in a moment of tension to avoid being disarmed by a US strike.

Others worry, however, that those leaders — knowing that many of their protected, land-based weapons and associated command posts could not escape destruction — might be more prone to order their use early in a crisis or conflict, simply to ensure they are not destroyed when incoming warheads arrive, promoting a hair-trigger launch policy that could escalate into a general cataclysm.

Physicist James Acton, who co-directs the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has written extensively about the need to avert unnecessary conflicts, said that efforts to modernize the nuclear arsenal should be more focused on ensuring the weapons’ safety, security, and reliability, and less on goosing their accuracy.

“If China or Russia believe in a conflict or a crisis that we are going to attack or destroy their nuclear forces and command posts, that gives them an incentive to use nuclear weapons first, or to threaten their use. They have strong incentives to take steps that would further escalate the crisis and create new dangers,” Acton said.

New air- and sea-launched cruise missiles also place Russia on hair-trigger alert, Smith writes:

New air- and sea-launched cruise missiles in particular, [Nuclear Weapons Council chair Andrew Weber] said, are not necessary, and will undermine deterrence because they are stealthy, surprise-attack weapons that will make opponents nervous enough to adopt hair-trigger launch policies. Since they can be deployed with both conventional and nuclear warheads and it’s impossible for opponents to tell the difference, their use could cause unintentional escalation from a conventional to a nuclear war.

And while everyone’s talking about the fear that Putin may make a calculated decision to initiate a nuclear exchange should he feel backed into a corner, at present the primary risk of nuclear war remains what it’s been for about as long as we’ve had these infernal weapons on our planet: that the explicit understanding in Mutually Assured Destruction will be set into motion by a nuke being discharged by either side due to miscommunication, miscalculation, misunderstanding or malfunction, or some combination of these, amid the chaos and confusion of escalating brinkmanship. Which nearly happened many times during the last cold war.

As Nuclear Age Peace Foundation president David Krieger explained back in 2017:

Nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons are currently under the control of nine countries. Each has a complex system of command and control with many possibilities for error, accident or intentional use.

Error could be the result of human or technological factors, or some combination of human and technological interaction. During the more than seven decades of the Nuclear Age, there have been many accidents and close calls that could have resulted in nuclear disaster. The world narrowly escaped a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Human factors include miscommunications, misinterpretations and psychological issues. Some leaders believe that threatening behavior makes nuclear deterrence more effective, but it could also result in a preventive first-strike launch by the side being threatened. Psychological pathologies among those in control of nuclear weapons could also play a role. Hubris, or extreme arrogance, is another factor of concern.

Technological factors include computer errors that wrongfully show a country is under nuclear attack. Such false warnings have occurred on numerous occasions but, fortunately, human interactions (often against policy and/or orders) have so far kept a false warning from resulting in a mistaken “retaliatory” attack. In times of severe tensions, a technological error could compound the risks, and human actors might decide to initiate a first strike.

As Ray McGovern explains in a new article for Antiwar titled “Will Humans Be the Next ‘Freedom Fries’?“, the early launch detection system Russia relies on for nuclear deterrence is so technologically lagging and prone to error that could easily lead to a nuclear war as the result of a simple mistake. He discusses an instance when Russia’s early detection equipment falsely reported a potential nuclear attack as recently as 1995, when relations between Washington and Moscow were as warm and cozy as they’ve ever been. It seems reasonable to say that a similar incident would have a good chance of being interpreted and responded to in a very different way should it repeat itself in 2022.

McGovern says that launch-to-target time has shrunk so much with the advancement of technology that there are now probably multiple subordinate commanders out in the field with the authority to launch a nuclear strike:

Here’s the thing: the Russians have good reason to be on hair-trigger alert. Their early-warning radar system is so inadequate that there are situations (including those involving innocent rocket launches) under which Russian President Putin would have only a few minutes – if that – to decide whether or not to launch nuclear missiles to destroy the rest of the world – on the suspicion that Russia was under nuclear attack.

“If that”? Yes, launch-to-target time is now so short that it is altogether likely that the authority to launch nuclear weapons is now vested in subordinate commanders “in the field,” so to speak. Readers of Daniel Ellsberg’s Doomsday Machine are aware of how the US actually devolved this authority during the days of the first cold war. I, for one, was shocked to learn that. Worse: today the subordinate commanders might be non-commissioned computers.

“U.S. pundits and strategic experts seem blissfully unaware of how close we all are to being fried in a nuclear strike by Russia,” McGovern writes.

For a lot more information on how dangerously close we’re getting to the brink, check out former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter’s epic rant toward the end of his recent chat with The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté, where he talks about all the horrible US government decisions and shredded treaties which have led us from a rare moment of relative nuclear safety to the precarious position we now find ourselves in:

I’m always stunned at how, whenever I talk about the way all this brinkmanship is bringing us ever closer to a precipice from which there is no return, people will often tell me “Yeah well if it happens it will be Putin’s fault for starting it.” Like that’s in any way a sane response to our plight. People are so confused and compartmentalized about this issue they seriously think “If nuclear war happens it will be Putin’s fault” is a complete position on this issue.

I always want to shake them and ask them, “If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, would the words ‘It was Putin’s fault’ give you any comfort? Or would you, perhaps, wish measures had been taken early on to prevent it from getting to this point?”

It’s a useful thought experiment that can be applied in many areas, while we sit here on the brink waiting to see what happens.

If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, how good would you feel about the decision not to guarantee Moscow that Ukraine would never receive NATO membership?

Nuclear Arms could destroy the Planet. The USA has just 30 mins to decide if an attack is real and launch armageddon in response. Russia has just over 15 mins to do the same.

If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, would you be able to say you tried everything you could to prevent this from happening?

If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, would you feel okay about how you’ve been treating the people you care about?

If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, would you feel okay about how you’ve been spending your time?

If you looked outside right now and saw a mushroom cloud growing in the distance, will you wish you’d spent more time at the office? Wish you’d participated in more social media drama? Wish you’d taken fewer chances? Wish you’d loved with less abandon?

The swelling likelihood of imminent armageddon draws everything into focus. Helps clarify your priorities. Helps you figure out how to live your life from moment to moment.

And from where I’m sitting this clarity brings with it a sense of responsibility as a human being. A responsibility to really be here now. To truly live our lives with presence and appreciation. To drink deeply of the cup of human experience. Because the only thing worse than everything ending would be if it ended without having been seen and valued while it lasted.

We have control over so very little in this insane little pickle we’ve found ourselves in. But one thing we can definitely control is whether we’re really showing up for however much time we’ve got left on this amazing blue planet.

“Treasure each moment” is something you hear so often in life that it becomes a cliche and loses all its meaning. But there has never been a better time to take another look at it with fresh eyes and begin putting it into practice.

Treasure each moment, because there might not be very many of them left. This is the moment. This is our moment. If this does wind up being humanity’s last scene on this stage, let’s at least help make sure we shine as radiantly as possible before the final curtain.

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Tags

armageddonbrinkmanshipconsciousnessnuclearnuclear warnukes

see also… They’re Enslaving Our Minds And Driving Us Toward Destruction

Latest comments

  • Inna / March 24, 2022Yep, I am afraid nuclear blasts appear as entertainment in the US media and youtube etc.
    So what feels threatening to people who did not grow up in a violent comics culture, is entertaining to Americans. Basically American culture is soaked in violence.
    Sociologists studied kids in different cultures found that American kids are more aggressive than Chinese, for example. Reply
  • Jack Oliver / March 24, 2022Get a grip Caitlan – you have become a paranoid alarmist ! Reply
  • Jack Oliver / March 24, 2022There won’t be a a fvcking WAR !!Russia wiped out 400 thousand ZIO/US/NATO sponsored ISIS terrorists in Syria and all the ZIO/US/NATO could do was WATCH !Russia – even without China’s help are WAY too sophisticated for NATO !Grow some fvcking BALLS and look at what your own country is doing to you !Russia can stop ANYTHING the US/NATO has before they even leave the SILOS !US cruise missiles travel at 0.65 MACH !Russian hypersonic missiles can travel at 11 MACH +It is NO contest and would be over before it began – PERIOD !Russian SH!T flies so fast it would give the ZIO/US./NATO a COLD ! Reply
    • svay / March 24, 2022None of that’s any reason to suppose there won’t be a war, by which I assume you mean one directly between the US and Russia. If what you say is true, Russia would ‘win’, and rapidly, but even if that is the case, those with their fingers on the button in the US might not realise it.
      And is more testosterone really what we need right now? Reply
  • Harry S Nydick / March 24, 2022” while everyone’s talking about the fear that Putin may make a calculated decision to initiate a nuclear exchange should he feel backed into a corner.”
    Putin has already shown how he will react if backed into a corner. this war would never have happened, if the U.S. and NATO had merely assured him that the Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO. When they did not, he felt backed into a corner. So now we have much of the advanced world believing in the narrative that Putin is the devil and the U.S./NATO are white knights come to save us.
    If you believe that narrative, Please get in touch with me. I’ve got got deeds to a few bridges that I can let you have at bargain prices. Reply
  • Max424 / March 24, 2022re: Scott Ritter’s epic rant …
    It that what it seemed? These were the very calm and rational conversations I would have Ms. Johnstone, when I would sneak out of class for a smoke with my friends, when I was in the 7th grade. The 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed that year, and their was a unamimous consensus amongst us, there was now a better than 50/50 chance that we would not be vaporized by a Soviet warhead in our lifetimes. The destabilizing (MAD shattering) 3rd piece had been eliminated from the nuclear chessboard, for all time it seemed; meaning, there were only two pieces remaining, the king and the queen, and as any chessplayer of even limited skill could tell you, king and queen endgames can only end in a draw, unless one side makes a blunder for the ages.
    Note: Much has been made of the Russian’s new superweapons, the hypersonics, and the Poseidon tsunami torpedo, which is fine, but as 7th graders in another era could reassure today’s adults that are terrified by them, those are counter-strike weapons my fellow Americans. Relax. What you should be concerned about, is the recent guidance upgrades to our Trident warheads, called the super-fuze, which has effectively tripled overnight the firepower contained within the missile bays of our 14* Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.
    And to my knowledge, no one has ever claimed the Ohio’s are anything other than a first strike weapons’ system.
    *Wink. Wink. Isn’t the true figure 18? After all, the other four Ohios, the one’s limited by treaties from carrying nukes, can be quickly retrofitted back to their orginal purpose, should said treaties no longer be considered valid.
    — Thanks once again for evoking some fond memories, Ms Johnstone. You would have been most welcome in our class skipping discussions. You didn’t have to smoke, or even have a keen interest in preventing armegeddon, you only had to be willing, to entertain reality. Reply
  • Ishkabibble / March 24, 2022Don’t you find it amazing how movie scripts can sometimes illustrate problems with the present watever-you-want-to-call-it “system” far better than anything else? Here is just one example among many. (Turn up your audio volume beforehand so that you can make out the first few words.)
    https://www.youtube.com/embed/Oi1rsHkpRLE?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent Reply
  • Mike R / March 24, 2022How we see things, we being the American public, is through the lens of so-called reality (fantasy) shows, corporate sports, facebook and the rest of the internet sewer, and action/fantasy/superhero movies. War in another land is just another media show for mass consumption, with a malign villain (Putin) and hero (Zelensky). Facts and events that don’t fit the dramatic, simplistic, binary narrative are simply ignored, dropped down the memory hole. The question a few of us ask is ‘how can this march toward all out war be stopped?’ while the question most Americans are asking is ‘how do we teach Russia a lesson, and give Putin his comeuppance?’ A nuclear explosion is just one more impressive bit of film magic, not a real thing that kills real people. Reply
    • Ishkabibble / March 24, 2022Great comment! Reply
  • Ishkabibble / March 24, 2022“But there has never been a better time to take another look at it with fresh eyes and begin putting it into practice.”
     
    And what do you do after you wake up and “take another look at life with fresh eyes and begin putting it inot practice”? Specifically, how do you “put it into practice” when you walk into a voting booth, or doesn’t that matter?
     
    What, exactly, does the word “revolution” mean? Is there universal agreement on what the word “revolution” means? If there is, please tell me precisely HOW people “revolt”? What would the BEHAVIOR of “revolting” be? Would We, the Woke, We Who Already Understand What’s Going On be picking up guns and running down the streets with our hair on fire, each of us yelling in perfect synchronicity with the collective “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”? Would We, the Woke, We Who Already Understand What’s Going On be guillotining some VIPs on the White House lawn? Would We, the Woke, We Who Already Understand What’s Going On be marching hand in hand down Penn. Ave. demand, demand, demanding that the Elite behave better, or else? (“or else” just exactly WHAT?!)
     
    Here’s what 80+ million of you, me, We, the Woke, We Who Already Understand What’s Going On are eventually going to HAVE TO DO because
     
    there. is. no. other. way. to remove our warmongering, false-narrative-creating oppressors’ 536 Rs and Ds from federal elected positions of power. (If you know of another way, please spell it out, right here, right now and, BTW, reading another hundred really great books that tell you who’s holding the reins of power in one hand and your balls in the other, wishing upon a star, dream, dream, dreaming; hoping and praying and deep, deep, deep self-study and drug-trips are not going to do that job.)
     
    THIS is how you “revolt”. If you do not want More Of The Same that you’ve gotten after every election in the past, do not vote for another R or D, ever, no matter what an R or D promises! Jimmy Dore explains EXACTLY why. OTOH, if you DO want More Of The Same, when you walk into the voting booth, just vote for another R or D, makes no difference which. (The latter is what the tens of millions of direct and indirect employees of, and the investors in, the MIC are going to do. They’re going to vote for No. 1 and they don’t give a shit if doing that ultimately leads to WWIII; they know precisely what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. )
    https://www.youtube.com/embed/82kxhXlM9bI?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent Reply
  • Inna / March 24, 2022If I imagined the mushroom cloud (as I do of late) and what I was thinking then, I would say complete anarchy would have been better for us than any known form of government.
    Any form of government that is based on violence will inevitably lead to a violent ending.
    We have to change all of our systems including education, to be based on nonviolence principles.
    What can we do right now is to learn non-violent communication. And turn off all the news, do not read or hear them, leave them in their own violent bubble.
    I would never quote any military strategist in my writings, even for contrast, because their twisted thinking poisons us with fear of actual humans: “If we did this, they would do that, then we may lose, therefore we have to kill them now”. If everybody ignored them, they would have to find a different occupation. Unfortunately people who print paper money and then want to collect rent for it employ violent individuals to make their “dream come true” of collecting rent for pieces of paper. Why cant’ use rolls of toilet paper as money, then we would not need central bankers, and a new nonviolent era can begin. Reply
  • Vera Gottlieb / March 24, 2022Those pushing for war – and juicy profits, will never see things…except their way. Reply
  • svay / March 24, 2022According to this recent Consortium News piece by Joe Lauria, the Pentagon’s been leaking information about Russia’s actions and intentions in an attempt to counter the more demented pro-escalation propaganda.
    ‘ The Pentagon is engaged in a consequential battle with the U.S. State Department and the Congress to prevent a direct military confrontation with Russia, which could unleash the most unimaginable horror of war. …
    These Pentagon sources confirm what Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense have been saying all along: that instead of being “stalled,” Russia is executing a methodical war plan to encircle cities, opening humanitarian corridors for civilians, leaving civilian infrastructure like water, electricity, telephony and internet intact, and trying to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. ‘
    and
    ‘ Reuters reported: “The United States has not yet seen any concrete indications of an imminent Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine but is closely monitoring streams of intelligence for them, a senior U.S. defense official said.” It quoted the Pentagon official as saying, “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now.” ‘
    https://consortiumnews.com/2022/03/23/pentagon-drops-truth-bombs-to-stave-off-war-with-russia/
    or, if that’s inaccesible, https://archive.ph/pyzTd
    Scary times indeed if the Pentagon is a voice of relative moderation. Reply
  • svay / March 24, 2022Good to see the USA’s super-fuzes getting noticed at last. The Federation of American Scientists and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists wrote about them five years ago, both pointing out that they effectively give the US a nuclear first-strike capability, enabling the destruction of Russian missiles in their bunkers and silos before they can be launched. For reasons I can’t fathom, few in the West have shown much interest until now.
    Warhead “Super-Fuze” Increases Targeting Capability Of US SSBN Force
    https://fas.org/blogs/security/2017/03/super-fuze/
    How US nuclear force modernization is undermining strategic stability: The burst-height compensating super-fuze
    https://thebulletin.org/2017/03/how-us-nuclear-force-modernization-is-undermining-strategic-stability-the-burst-height-compensating-super-fuze/ Reply
  • mijj / March 24, 2022i think we’re safe from Nuclear War. The US Empire would be the initiators. Except, the “motivators” and “brains” of the Empire would be the first to be vaporised in retaliation.
    The US Empire is absolutely fine with mass murder, destruction and misery as long as it’s far away from the personal space of the motivators and brains of the Empire. They’re even fine with the local serfs being reduced to hamburger. But they’re abject cowards when it comes to their personal comfort and life.The atmosphere of nuclear war angst we’re going through is more Empire Illusion pressure against Russia and China’s insistence on independent existence. eg .. to influence Russia/China population fear generated opinion and decision making: the illusion of: if Russia and China insist on being independent of the US Empire, then the Empire is crazy enough to wipe us all out with Nuclear War.But we know different. The motivators and brains of the Empire are the target for nuclear retaliation. And their whole purpose of existence is themselves. The whole nuclear war fear is manufactured illusion. Reply
  • ronald young / March 24, 2022I totally agree with this post. I’m an ex-pat Brit resident in Romania and Bulgaria for the past decade and am staggered by how diffident we all seem to be to this prospect. Dave Pollard remains my voice of sanity – even if he is an “extinctionist”. But am deeply disappointed that another such character – Dmitry Orlov – has upped anchor and returned to Russia from where is posting poison.

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