Inside Story has just published a piece by me on President Obama’s nuclear record, and what this might mean for President-elect Trump.
The Credibility Vortex is available on Kindle (for eReaders, Macs, PCs, iPads, etc).
It’s a political thriller set in Washington. It features intrigue in the National Security Council, rogue officials, dirty tricks, assassination attempts, and the possible end of the world…
From the book description:
At the time, the project seemed compelling. The scheme’s author, Professor Greta Kurgan, could picture the end-game: a dramatic reassertion of America’s global supremacy. She’d already sold the plan to powerful backers – no less than the secretary of defense and the president’s national security advisor – and they now stood ready to roll the dice.
Behind the scenes, the Strategic Paradigms Institute offered support, and the MAXX News Network helped with public relations.
All Kurgan needed was for the National Security Council to provide the rubber-stamp. The only snag was that Project Credibility had to be set in motion before the president and NSC fully realised what they were unleashing.
The full meaning of the project had to be kept under wraps because it was as an explosive experiment. An unfortunate Central Asian country would be the test tube. This set the scene for the most important challenge to American constitutional government since the Civil War and the Pentagon’s greatest ever test of strategic planning. Would Kurgan’s conspiracy be exposed in time to prevent matters spiralling out of control and ending in the biggest man-made disaster in history?
The build up to the 2016 US presidential election has seen a small flurry of articles and interest in US nuclear first-use policy. Many commentators have expressed surprise that the US has, for decades, kept a first-use option on the books.
There’s been much speculation that President Obama might get rid of the first-use option. This would be a final gesture to add some weight to his early promise of moving toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. Speculation has centred on the idea of Obama by-passing Congress and imposing the policy as an executive decision, via his position as commander in chief.
Here are some recent links on the topic, drawn from the media coverage of the election campaign:
For background on Obama’s nuclear policy, see my article from 2012: American Exceptionalism and President Obama’s Call for Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (note, this is a long article).
To coincide with the completion of a draft manuscript of my novel, The Credibility Vortex (recently sent out to a group of readers/critics), I have provided some sources on a central theme of the book: US nuclear strategy.
The particular focus here concerns possible American first-use of nuclear weapons. Washington has repeatedly refused to rule-out this option. Aside from its implications for war planning, this stance has been a persistent theme in US arms control diplomacy for decades. It is a policy position that has been especially noticeable (and, I would say, a noticeable embarrassment) at several international review conferences of the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
The topic has been a longstanding interest of mine, it was a key issue in my post-graduate research, as well as the subject of academic journal articles, such as:
Andy Butfoy, ‘Washington’s Apparent Readiness to Start Nuclear War’, Survival, October-November 2008.
Andy Butfoy, ‘Perpetuating US Nuclear First-Use into the Indefinite Future: Reckless Inertia or Pillar of World Order?’, Contemporary Security Policy, August 2002.
Many people are surprised to hear that the US insists on a “right” to initiate nuclear escalation. They are often even more surprised to hear that President Obama, while backing away from the more alarming rhetoric of President George W. Bush, would not rule-out American nuclear first use (and has made smaller cuts to the US nuclear arsenal than his predecessor). For an examination of the factors at work here, see:
Andy Butfoy, ‘American Exceptionalism and President Obama’s Call for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons’, Contemporary Security Policy, December 2012.
Alas, copyright restrictions prevent me from putting these articles on-line. Those of you fortunate enough to have university library access will find it easy to get copies. Fortunately there is much information on the issue which is freely available. For example, see the following study of so-called ‘tactical nuclear weapons’ (often singled-out as likely candidates for first-use, especially during the Cold War). It was produced by the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College:
New documents dealing with the risk of a nuclear World War Three arising from the Cold War conflict between Moscow and NATO have been published. The focus of the new papers is a 1983 NATO exercise called ABLE ARCHER. This included testing arrangements for transmitting nuclear release orders. The Soviet Union read this as possible preparation and cover for an American first-strike. In response, Moscow considered preemption, consequently it raised its nuclear alert level. Thus the scene was set for a disastrous chain of escalation. Fortunately, the crisis was resolved by, among other things, a senior US Air Force Intelligence Officer (Lt. Gen. Peroots) deciding – on his own initiative – not to elevate American war readiness in response to the higher Soviet alert levels.
The outline of the story is familiar to strategic analysts/historians. But it was only this month, after decades of semi-official denials, that the details have been confirmed and declassified. See this link:
More documents at: NSA archive on Able Archer
The issue is of particular interest to me because my PhD was on the relationship between politics and conventional/nuclear war planning. Most NATO and Soviet planning for World War Three assumed escalation from conventional to nuclear conflict arising from a crisis in Germany (or sometimes Norway or Turkey). ABLE ARCHER was a test of the pointy end of preparation for what could have led to the end of the world.
News that Prime Minister Abbott is considering launching airstrikes into Syria calls for a strategic review.
On the one hand, if the claim that islamist fighters (especially in their IS form) truly represent the greatest threat since the Second World War is accurate, then Abbott is being shockingly negligent in committing only a fraction of our military to deal with the peril. If civilisation, world order, and national survival are at stake we ought to be doing massively more. We should, for example, raise taxes very significantly to make a much larger military contribution, one commensurate with the supposed danger.
On the other hand, the government could step back from its noisy politicking and engage in more measured strategic thinking. This would require sensible perspective rather than rabble-rousing, and would recognise at least five interrelated points.
First, we still have unfinished business in Afghanistan and Iraq going all the way back to 2001 and 2003. Unsuccessful involvement in two decade-long civil wars would give most nations pause for reflection, rather than spur them on to rumble into a third adventure.
Second, the ADF can only ever be a bit player in transforming the Middle East. Although we have an obligation to assist (having helped create the mess in 2003), this should be on a selective basis. Better to have the ADF do a limited task in Iraq relatively effectively, rather than spreading its resources too thinly in a war without limit and inadequate reflection.
Abbott seems to believe the cause self evidently requires us to drop more bombs without thinking too hard about what we are doing. But if there really is a strategic imperative to militarily go after islamist fighters wherever they are to be found, why stop at Syria? Why not Yemen, Libya, northern Nigeria, etc? Where does the Putin of Oz want to draw the line?
Third, why not keep to clear limits in terms of international law? Support for the Iraqi government is one thing, and is almost universally seen as legal. But who would we be supporting in Syria? A sound legal position requires a clear answer. Would we side with the current Syrian government, which the West has wanted to undermine for years, one complicit in mass murder of its civilians? Or some one else. Who? And, to cycle back to an earlier point, if this alternative entity is worthy of our support, why send only a half dozen or so aircraft to drop a few bombs? To what effect in terms of building a new Syria?
The aim of international law (much ridiculed by right wingers for being imperfect, although they have no idea how to replace it with anything better) is to put limits on behaviour. Abbott appears ready to shove this concept aside. But why stretch the legal boundaries beyond their intended purpose for the sake of an almost meaningless strategic impact in Syria?
Fourth, even the dumbest armchair warrior and the most desperate Churchill wannabe ought to realise the West’s problem in Syria isn’t lack of airpower. Look at the stats. Employment of 10% of the West’s combat aircraft would probably crowd-out Syrian airspace, run out of meaningful targets within an afternoon, and inadvertently escalate the killing of civilians.
Fifth, what does the end-game look like? I’ll give you a hint: the government hasn’t got a clue.
We need to look beyond the apparent flag-waving and chest-thumping politicisation of defence policy which currently seems to be driving government decision making. A start would be a review of how we arrived at this mess. That would require introspection and an inquiry into policy decisions since at least the 1990s. Alas, I don’t see any hairy-chested government MPs signing up for that particular fight.
The 6th of August is Hiroshima Day. On this day in 1945 a single bomb killed about 80,000 people in that city, and many more died, or lived suffering terribly, in the weeks and years that followed. This link is to a survivor’s story.
Since 1945 the history of efforts to control nuclear bombs has been patchy. On the one hand, apart from the attack on Nagasaki (on the 9th August 1945), the bombs have remained the great unused weapon of world politics, with the establishment of a so-called “nuclear taboo”, and — something often lost in the media noise on nuclear matters — most countries which could build a Bomb have decided not to do so.
On the other hand, there have been over 2,000 full nuclear test explosions, ten countries have built the things (US, Russia, UK, China, France, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea), and efforts at non-proliferation have frequently been marred by hypocrisy, bad faith, and reckless disregard for the well being of humanity. Also, many bombs now in service are far more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb. For instance, today the average US nuclear warhead is perhaps 10 or 15 times more powerful. And Washington and Moscow have built bombs more than a thousand times more powerful.
Although the number of nuclear weapons has declined since 1990, there are still enough to destroy every major city in the world and slaughter hundreds of millions of innocent people. Furthermore, permissive use of these weapons could well destroy the infrastructure and environmental foundations needed for the human species to build a recovery.
But recently a hopeful sign has appeared. This is the July Agreement (a 159 page “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”) between Iran and the “P5+1” (US, Russia, China, France, UK + Germany) over Tehran’s nuclear program. The text of the Agreement is here.
Most experts support the the deal. For example:
There is, of course, room for measured debate over the merits of the deal. For instance, see this range of views.
Unfortunately the Agreement has also attracted lots of ill-informed or mischievous criticism, including blow-hard polemical nonsense. The most predictable and depressing reaction has come from the US Republican Party and cross-over Neo-conservatives. Often they are the same folks who produced and directed the 2003 Iraq War. But let them, and other critics, speak for themselves:
Many critics who caricature and ridicule the deal with Tehran (including, apparently, most of the Republican candidates for the Presidential election) will try hard to defeat it. They will then explicitly or implicitly call for a non-negotiated resolution. This merges into advocacy of another Middle Eastern war. Some opponents are quite open about the idea.
Great! Just what we, the Middle East, and the World needs: another war. A conflict based more on parochial politically inspired rabble-rousing rather than a measured examination of the pros and cons of a seriously important diplomatic deal. What the more gung-ho critics of the agreement have to seriously reflect on is whether they think trashing a measured diplomatic initiative in order to make way for another American led war in the Middle East makes any moral, political, strategic, or practical sense.