A multi-billion dollar ‘modernization’ of US nuclear weapons has delivered an unsurprising ‘next gen’ nuclear arms race.
Strategic Demands initially called this ‘modernization’ a “Cold War 2.0”. Now, with war in Ukraine, threats, an announced ‘suspension’ of the New START treaty, a nuclear weapons race that pits the US v Russia and China, and a world of nuclear weapons proliferating as the hard-earned nuclear weapons control architecture collapsed, it’s time to notch-it-up to a “Nuclear Arms Race 3.0”.
Too Close to “the Apocalypse”
Begin with ‘Religious’ Practice & the Verities of Power
Millions, hundreds of millions, billions of dollars go annually to a “nuclear priesthood”, as it’s been called. The priests who oversee the atomic weapons, ‘little tactical’ ones more deadly and powerful that used at Hiroshima to ‘megaton strategic’ ones capable of erasing cities, regions, and more beyond comprehension…
Since the conception of ‘the Bomb’ at ‘Trinity’, the priest, acolytes and congregations of ‘the Bombs’ have ritually continued their death delivering practices and preparations everyday.
In the event the ritual reaches its raison d’etre then that’ll be the end of life as we know it on Planet Earth.
As Planet Citizens we should all be aware of the danger and risks of going along with this ritualistic reality — and we, at Strategic Demands, continue to call for sanity in our nation’s strategic policies.
One of the recent events that we have pointed as a clarion call involves a famed ‘whistleblower’, Daniel Ellsberg, who passed away on June 16, 2023. Although many know of the “Pentagon Papers”, the history of the Vietnam War that Dan Ellsberg was responsible for putting together for Robert McNamara, then releasing to the American public, few know that Ellsberg was a nuclear war planner.
Strategic Demands knows — and our StratDem founder-editor was involved back in the day with Dan and his writing.
Today we remember a moment on the beach in California as Dan prepared “the papers” and prepared to face his fate as he packed to leave for the East Coast, Harvard, Cambridge, where he planned to distribute the insider view he had of the war to newspapers — the NY Times, the Washington Post and others.
Let us reflect — not genuflect at this moment.
Here are personal memories of Dan from back in those days…. and then memories of a recent documentary film that revealed how close the US came to launching a nuclear war in Vietnam
In Memory of a Man Named Daniel
By Steven Schmidt
June 17, 2023
The moon was bright that night as I visited Daniel Ellsberg at his house on the beach in Southern California. It was mid 1970 and Dan was surrounded by boxes. “Papers,” he called them. He was packing to leave for Cambridge and a new position at MIT and he was worried that night as he showed me the study he had put together at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica.
As we sorted through documents I noticed some had Top Secret stamped on some of them. I learned later that these were part of the 7000 page, forty plus volume report soon to be called the “Pentagon Papers.”
Dan spoke of President Nixon and famed advisor, Henry Kissinger with first-hand knowledge. He mentioned he had met with Kissinger recently at Nixon’s San Clemente estate. I remember his fear, both that Nixon and Kissinger were repeating mistakes of previous administrations as “the Papers” demonstrated, and how the truth needed to go public. He broke off from the packing and said let’s go, “I need to swim”.
Dan was depressed, I knew, and I was not going to convince him not to go into the loudly crashing night surf. I watched as he plunged into the waves. He then reappeared for a moment in the moonlight. He swam straight out, then disappeared. I waited on shore looking out at the dark ocean. Time passed, no sign of Dan. I began worrying. Is this the end of Dan Ellsberg? Did I just witness Dan ending it all? Did a riptide take him? I walked up and down the beach searching. Suddenly, Dan walked out of the surf, nodded then sprinted back toward the house. He quickly shifted back into work mode. Something happened, he had new resolve.
Today as I reflect on the life of Dan Ellsberg and the announcement of his death, I can say he lived life like few others. He pursued the truth and facts in a way that was astounding and committed. He went on to prove in his actions that he was brave to put his life on the line for the sake of the American people. His decision was purposeful. He thought deeply about the consequences. That night under the moon I saw his fear, and I saw his resolve.
A few months later, when Daniel released the Pentagon Papers to a NY Times writer, Neil Sheehan, the truth came out. Dan’s history of the war study subsequently led to the end of the Nixon presidency and, as a consequence, the end of the Vietnam War. Dan would later say the Pentagon Papers themselves didn’t directly end the war, but the American people learned of the “evidence of a quarter-century of aggression, broken treaties, deceptions, stolen elections, lies, and murder”. This, with Nixon’s resignation, brought on the end of the war.
I learned over the course of our relationship that Dan Ellsberg was gifted, literally. I still say he is the smartest man I’ve ever known. His 2002 book “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers” is a must read. “On the evening of October 1, 1969, I walked out past the guards’ desk at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica,” he writes, “carrying a briefcase filled with top secret documents, which I planned to photocopy that night… How I came to do this is the focus of this memoir.” Dan’s memoir is a true American story.
Beyond the Pentagon Papers and resulting demise of the Nixon presidency, Dan Ellsberg’s follow-on 2017 book “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” later explained the inner machinations of the nuclear war complex. He was, as a younger man, a systems man and followed orders. His nuclear war gaming was a Pentagon nuclear plan that he, as an old man, brought into the light with this revelatory book. The extent of humanity’s threat to life on earth is part of Dan Ellsberg’s legacy now.
Daniel Ellsberg’s life is a testament to what generations to come have to deal with — perpetual wars, the realities of nuclear weapons, modern states with awesome powers for good and bad. Dan Ellsberg revealed and pointed us to harsh realities.
Will we listen to Dan Ellsberg’s message that he, risking all, brought to us?
Daniel Ellsberg, after all is said and done, was a man who taught us. He was a man of peace. Dan was a believer in the power each of us has to make a difference and move toward a better world.
Now, it’s revealed in a television PBS ‘event’, a flashback to a barely avoided nuclear flash that two men in a dark room in the White House practiced and prepared to ‘send a message’ to Hanoi ….
The Movement and the ‘Madman’: PBS PREMIERE MARCH 28, 2023 ON AMERICAN EXPERIENCE — A nuclear war planner and National Security Policy staff recall how close the US came to using nuclear weapons in Vietnam in 1969
The Movement and Madman documentary film
The little-known story of a dramatic showdown between a protest movement and a president
In the “Doomsday Machine”: Daniel Ellsberg, recalls the Vietnam Moratorium Peace Movement of October – November 1969.
In 2023, as threats to use nuclear weapons resound from Russia during the Ukraine war, in the U.S. PBS filmmakers revisit the threat, not known in 1969, being planned in the White House — and how politics changed a president’s mind.
Today, in 2023, we recall the dashed hopes that came with the “End of the Cold War” in the early 1990s. The announcement of the Soviet Union giving way to a Russian Federation, the Iron Curtain falling, Eastern Europe setting new directions, a realignment and new geopolitics was in the air. Some even spoke of chances for a “Peace Dividend” in the US as did Strategic Demands editor who, in the 1992 presidential campaign with California Governor Jerry Brown, worked on a “Platform-in-Progress” with strong peace planks.
Yet, in just over a decade, a new US doctrine of preemptive war and hopes of Nuclear Weapons disarmament, new arms control treaties, transparency, verification, inspections, and nuclear reductions turned to new wars in the Mideast and Near East, new rivalries, and new nuclear weapons planning, budgeting, and next-generation systems.
A US president named Obama would speak to the UN and Americans of nuclear weapons drawdown but a nuclear “modernization” move pushed China and Russia in countering moves. In nuclear terms, the US preemptive, “First Use” strategy acted to change geopolitics.
Strategic Demands had called this a “Cold War 2.0” launch, Eurasia turning toward hard power. A larger stage came into play. Larger strategic goals, control of resources, oil/gas/energy, rose globally. Russia established new power blocs inside and outside their reconstituted state. The Chinese “Belt-and-Road” initiative reached across the continent and into Africa. With China an economic powerhouse, providing manufacturing for the world, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) turned its military outward to compete with and match the capabilities of the US. Nuclear weapons again became a top priority for projecting power. An alliance between China and Russia grew year by year as both cooperated to counter the United States.
Nuclear weapons have re-emerged.
The US itself chose to go into a new phase of spending for military capabilities. Nuclear Weapons were high on the list. A “Nuclear Arms Race 3.0”, as StratDem calls it, has powered up even as the existing nuclear arms control agreements, treaties and protocols have collapse one after the other. Today’s generation across the world clearly does not remember the fears of those who ratcheted down thermonuclear Nuclear Weapons. The existential, global threat remains real, a “Nuclear Winter” following Nuclear Weapons use remains a real and present danger. Command-and-Control systems are set to “Launch-on-Warning”. “Usable” precision-guided tranche of Nuclear Weapons, “Dial-Up” tactical, “Bunker-Busting”, “modernized” weapons and accompanying delivery systems that can trigger responses automatically from mega-thermonuclear weapons are being tested now and deployed. The threat, global threat, is real — and the threat is escalating, expanding outward, second-by-second.
The Legacy of the Bomb
Via the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
Fighting a nuclear war is equivalent to national suicide. Make that planetary omnicide.
In the words of Daniel Ellsberg, who passed away last month:
“What is missing—what is foregone—in the typical discussion and analysis of historical or current nuclear policies is the recognition that what is being discussed is dizzyingly insane and immoral:
in its almost-incalculable and inconceivable destructiveness and deliberate murderousness, its disproportionality of risked and planned destructiveness to either declared or unacknowledged objectives, the infeasibility of its secretly pursued aims (damage limitation to the United States and allies, “victory” in two-sided nuclear war), its criminality (to a degree that explodes ordinary visions of law, justice, crime), its lack of wisdom or compassion, its sinfulness and evil.”
A “Nuclear Arms Race 3.0” has commenced
A Threatening Speech by the Russian President
War in Ukraine and a New Nuclear Arms Race
Putin announces end of last remaining nuclear control pact …
(CNBC – February 22, 2023) Officials in Moscow appeared bullish today about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision announced yesterday suspending Russia’s participation in the New Start nuclear arms treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between the U.S. and Russia that sought to limit the nuclear arsenals of both countries.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that the decision to suspend the treaty was “overdue” and that Russia’s move would have “a huge resonance in the world in general and in the United States in particular.”
Medvedev repeated a Russian claim that the U.S. “wants the defeat of Russia” and that the world is on the brink of a new global conflict. “If the United States wants to defeat Russia, then we have the right to defend ourselves with any weapon, including nuclear,” Medvedev said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported in Russian media Wednesday as saying that Moscow would still be able to “fairly reliably assess” the U.S.′ nuclear potential from outside of the agreement.
“There are national technical means that make it possible to fairly reliably assess what is happening. We, in addition, have accumulated experience in tracking what is happening in the United States, and not only in the United States, in this area, using other possibilities. Yes, this is not the same as information exchange within the framework of the agreement. But the situation has changed radically, so we will proceed from what is available,” Ryabkov told reporters, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.
A deal is made in 2010
Negotiations between the Senate and the White House led to billions of dollars over a 10-year period for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Strategic Demands: President Obama’s negotiations to obtain US Senate Republican support for the New START nuclear weapons reduction agreement through Congress led to a multi-pronged ‘land-sea-and-air’ spike in funding to develop new nuclear weapons “modernization” programs. This package deal resulted in two memoranda of understanding which “traded funding for modernization in return for Republican votes.”
Brookings Institute looks back at New START
The Brookings meeting, years later, states the obvious, that the Obama administration “had already committed to a substantial increase in the NNSA weapons budget before New START was signed.” What isn’t stated is the predictable consequence — a counter-response from Russia.
The backstory to the signing of the treaty that delivered vast “modernization” spending increases to the US nuclear arsenal should be more closely considered. Let’s do this in context of Brookings itself.
The Brooking Institute president from 2002 to 2017 was Strobe Talbott who, as Deputy Secretary of State in the 1990s, was instrumental in negotiations with Russia during his years as President Clinton’s advisor on Russian affairs. Strobe Talbott’s relationship with Russia and Clinton goes back to college in the UK, when they were roommates and traveled in Russia.
Strobe Talbott’s acquisition and translation of the book, Khrushchev Remembers
In the 1990s, during the last days of the Soviet Union, the ‘fall of the Berlin Wall, and beginnings of the Russian Federation, as US negotiations with new Russian Federation leaders set groundwork in place for new relationship, a story untold here in this Brookings meeting is key to understanding New START and today’s security concerns.
The US, NATO, EU statements and commitments made to Russia as the so-called Iron Curtain is lifted and ‘the West’ re-engaged with ‘the East’ needs to be recalled, but somehow the Brookings Institute and especially a key player, Ambassador Talbott as a president of Brookings is absent. This background is essential. It is critical to understanding the current claims made by President Putin who, during the 90s, was working in East Germany as a Soviet intelligence officer in association with the Stasi. He watched up close as the Soviet Union collapsed and Putin later explained the loss of “historical Russia”. New challenges loomed as the Soviet Union reformed. New opportunities presented themselves, forward thinking or reactive ‘old ways’.
Strategic Demands’ editor can recall, during work with the presidential campaign of Governor Jerry Brown in 1992, how we drafted a foreign policy speaking of new potential, a “peace dividend” as the Cold War drew to a close. For both the US and former Soviet states, much was becoming possible.
A historic opportunity to move away from the nuclear weapons era and a move toward reinvestment and cooperation was possible, a generational moment. The taking up of the peace dividend and ‘taking a new road’ was not to be as history shows. The Clinton administration with Strobe Talbott have their perspective of this history and I can say, as a policy person in the campaign that drew close to winning the White House, that a Jerry Brown presidency would have taken a different course. Defense conversion, reinvestment in America, larger security definitions and policies.
The Clinton and Talbott Russian Policy – vs a Brown ‘Peace Divided’ Policy
In the 1990s the national and global/foreign policy of the Governor Brown campaign were not meant to become reality at this crucial opportunity in time. The statements/commitments and promises made in the 1990s by the Clinton administration, by Strobe Talbot and US State Department to Russian leaders, were meant to be…
Today we continue to hear the current Russian leader making a case that promises made by the US in the 1990s were broken and commitments made that NATO would not expand with nuclear weapons ‘at the doorstep’ of Russia. The Cuban Missile Crisis is recalled, for example, how the US and Soviet Union negotiated themselves out of a near nuclear conflagration and cataclysmic world war.
Yet, unexplored in the Brookings nuclear weapons story, beyond the promises made in the 1990s is a recall of the quid pro quo demanded by Senate Republican leaders during extended New START nuclear reduction negotiations… In demand for their vote to enable approval of the New START arms agreement, nuclear weapons reductions promised widely in the Obama administration speeches, Republican support would only be forthcoming with increases in nuclear weapons capabilities.
The nuclear weapons modernization came to include next generation ‘smart’ nuclear weapons, more ‘usable’, ‘dial up’ tactical nuclear weapons, and an array of modernized precision, non-interceptible nuclear weapon systems, including development of nuclear-launch platforms such as the F-35 strike forces. The F-35, when enabled to carry nuclear cruise missiles, was seen as game changing, and it was.
The results, as could be predicted by experts and non-experts alike, led to a ratcheting up of Russian — and Chinese nuclear weapons programs. The race to react to US modernization was swift and consequential.
Nuclear weapons ‘experts’ opinions, here expressed at the Brookings meeting, have again been proven to provide specious reasoning and evasion of the consequential results — a profound reduction of security and proliferating nuclear risks to the extreme.
… Obama administration officials publicly recognized the important link between modernizing the NNSA complex and maintaining an arms control regime with Russia. Additionally, Creedon argued that the increased NNSA funding for modernization was in large part an effort to downsize the total number of warheads in the U.S. stockpile, produced as a hedge caused by infrastructure uncertainty.
‘A hedge caused by infrastructure uncertainty’?
The consequences of a quid pro quo nuclear weapons expansive modernization are here in front of us… modernization in the form of new, more lethal, more usable, ‘modernized’ nuclear weapons and delivery systems has produced a resulting multi-lateral nuclear arms race that has no signs of slowing… We should have known but we didn’t know and we didn’t act upon what we should’ve known and acted upon.
What we are looking at now is nuclear weapons proliferation, a US nuclear weapons complex with historic spending increases, the national labs and military-industrial complex racing to produce next generation nuclear weapons systems, from pits (weapon triggers) to ‘fin kits and guidance systems’ (upgraded warheads with precision striking capabilities, e.g., “bunker busting” strikes against underground sites, tactical, battlefield ‘utility’). Russians and Chinese, and other nations, are attempting to compete with their nuclear capabilities.
A deeper, more thorough investigation of the US role in ramping up nuclear weapons is demanded as we rethink security policy. It is time for key learnings to be on the agenda — why and how in the 21st century was a nuclear weapons race accelerated? What do we, as democracies facing authoritarian threats, need to do as we go forward? What do we need to do to guide future successful nuclear weapons negotiations, control protocols, verification and implementation agreements?
We need to aim for mutual security, we absolutely need to recognize that a ‘changing world’ demands new definitions of national security.
U.S.-Russian Relations Can Still Get Worse
By Hanna Notte
Hanna Notte, Ph.D. is a senior research associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, where she focuses on arms control and security issues involving Russia, the Middle East, their intersection, and implications for U.S. and European policy. She holds a doctorate and M.Phil. in international relations from Oxford University and a B.A. in social and political sciences from Cambridge University. Her contributions have appeared in The Nonproliferation Review, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and Carnegie, among others.
Dossiers, Compartmentalization, NATO-Russia, Germany-Russia, ‘Unmanaged nuclear competition’, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Russia-UN Security Council
The Rise and Decline of Global Nuclear Order
Nuclear Perils in a New Era
Project: Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament / April 2021