At a time of growing tensions between nuclear powers—Russia and NATO in Europe, and the U.S., North Korea and China in Asia—Washington has quietly upgraded its nuclear weapons arsenal to create, according to three leading American scientists, “exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”
Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the American Federation of Scientists, Matthew McKinzie of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and physicist and ballistic missile expert Theodore Postol, conclude that “Under the veil of an otherwise-legitimate warhead life-extension program,” the U.S. military has vastly expanded the “killing power” of its warheads such that it can “now destroy all of Russia’s ICBM silos.”
The upgrade—part of the Obama administration’s $1 trillion modernization of America’s nuclear forces—allows Washington to destroy Russia’s land-based nuclear weapons, while still retaining 80 percent of the U.S.’s warheads in reserve. If Russia chose to retaliate, it would be reduced to ash.
Any discussion of nuclear war encounters several major problems. First, it is difficult to imagine or to grasp what it would mean in real life. We have only had one conflict involving nuclear weapons—the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945—and the memory of those events has faded over the years. In any case, the two bombs that flattened the Japanese cities bear little resemblance to the killing power of modern nuclear weapons.
The Hiroshima bomb exploded with a force of 15 kilotons. The Nagasaki bomb was slightly more powerful at about 18 kt. Between them, they killed over 215,000 people. In contrast, the most common nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal today, the W76, has an explosive power of 100 kt. The next most common, the W88, packs a 475-kt punch.
Another problem is that most of the public thinks nuclear war is impossible because both sides would be destroyed. This is the idea behind the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, aptly named “MAD.”
But MAD is not a U.S. military doctrine. A “first strike” attack has always been central to U.S. military planning, until recently, however, there was no guarantee that such an attack would so cripple an opponent that it would be unable—or unwilling, given the consequences of total annihilation— to retaliate.
The strategy behind a first strike—sometimes called a “counter force” attack—is not to destroy an opponent’s population centers, but to eliminate the other sides’ nuclear weapons, or at least most of them. Anti-missile systems would then intercept a weakened retaliatory strike.
The technical breakthrough that suddenly makes this a possibility is something called the “super-fuze”, which allows for a much more precise ignition of a warhead. If the aim is to blow up a city, such precision is superfluous, but taking out a reinforced missile silo requires a warhead to exert a force of at least 10,000 pounds per square inch on the target.
Up until the 2009 modernization program, the only way to do that was to use the much more powerful—but limited in numbers—W88 warhead. Fitted with the super-fuze, however, the smaller W76 can now do the job, freeing the W88 for other targets.
Traditionally, land-based missiles are more accurate than sea-based missiles, but the former are more vulnerable to a first-strike than the latter, because submarines are good at hiding. The new super-fuze does not increase the accuracy of Trident II submarine missiles, but it makes up for that with the precision of where the weapon detonates.
“In the case of the 100-kt Trident II warhead,” write the three scientists, “the super-fuze triples the killing power of the nuclear force it is applied to.”
Before the super-fuze was deployed, only 20 percent of U.S. subs had the ability to destroy re-enforced missile silos. Today, all have that capacity.
Trident II missiles typically carry from four to five warheads, but can expand that up to eight. While the missile is capable of hosting as many as 12 warheads, that configuration would violate current nuclear treaties. U.S. submarines currently deploy about 890 warheads, of which 506 are W76s and 384 are W88s.
The land-based ICBMs are Minuteman III, each armed with three warheads—400 in total—ranging from 300 kt to 500 kt apiece. There are also air and sea-launched nuclear tipped missiles and bombs. The Tomahawk cruise missiles that recently struck Syria can be configured to carry a nuclear warhead.
The super-fuze also increases the possibility of an accidental nuclear conflict.
So far, the world has managed to avoid a nuclear war, although during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis it came distressingly close. There have also been several scary incidents when U.S. and Soviet forces went to full alert because of faulty radar images or a test tape that someone thought was real. While the military downplays these events, former Secretary of Defense William Perry argues that it is pure luck that we have avoided a nuclear exchange, and that the possibility of nuclear war is greater today than it was at the height of the Cold War.
In part, this is because of a technology gap between the U.S. and Russia.
In January 1995, Russian early warning radar on the Kola Peninsula picked up a rocket launch from a Norwegian island that looked as if it was targeting Russia. In fact, the rocket was headed toward the North Pole, but Russian radar tagged it as a Trident II missile coming in from the North Atlantic. The scenario was plausible. While some first strike attacks envision launching a massive number of missiles, others call for detonating a large warhead over a target at about 800 miles altitude. The massive pulse of electro-magnetic radiation that such an explosion generates would blind or cripple radar systems over a broad area. That would be followed with a first strike.
At the time, calmer heads prevailed,, and the Russians called off their alert, but for a few minutes the doomsday clock moved very close to midnight.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the 1995 crisis suggests that Russia does not have “a reliable and working global space-based satellite early warning system.” Instead, Moscow has focused on building ground-based systems that give the Russians less warning time than satellite-based ones do. What that means is that while the U.S. would have about 30 minutes warning time to investigate whether an attack was really taking place, the Russians would have 15 minutes or less.
That, according to the magazine, would likely mean that “Russian leadership would have little choice but to pre-delegate nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command,” hardly a situation that would be in the national security interests of either country.
Or, for that matter, the world.
A recent study found that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan using Hiroshima-sized weapons would generate a nuclear winter that would make it impossible to grow wheat in Russia and Canada and cut the Asian Monsoon’s rainfall by 10 percent. The result would be up to 100 million deaths by starvation. Imagine what the outcome would be if the weapons were the size used by Russia, China or the U.S.
For the Russians, the upgrading of U.S. sea-based missiles with the super-fuze would be an ominous development. By “shifting the capacity to submarines that can move to missile launch positions much closer to their targets than land-based missiles,” the three scientists conclude, “the U.S. military has achieved a significantly greater capacity to conduct a surprise first strike against Russian ICBM silos.”
The U.S. Ohio class submarine is armed with 24 Trident II missiles, carrying as many as 192 warheads. The missiles can be launched in less than a minute.
The Russians and Chinese have missile-firing submarines as well, but not as many and some are close to obsolete. The U.S. has also seeded the world’s oceans and seas with networks of sensors to keep track of those subs. In any case, would the Russians or Chinese retaliate if they knew that the U.S. still retained most of its nuclear strike force? Faced with a choice committing national suicide or holding their fire, they may well choose the former.
The other element in this modernization program that has Russia and China uneasy is the decision by the Obama administration to place anti-missile systems in Europe and Asia, and to deploy Aegis ship-based anti missile systems off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. From Moscow’s perspective—and Beijing’s as well—those interceptors are there to absorb the few missiles that a first strike might miss.
In reality, anti-missile systems are pretty iffy. Once they migrate off the drawing boards, their lethal efficiency drops rather sharply. Indeed, most of them can’t hit the broad side of a barn. But that is not a chance the Chinese and the Russians can afford to take.
Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Forum in June 2016, Russian President Valdimir Putin charged that U.S. anti-missile systems in Poland and Rumania were not aimed at Iran, but Russia and China.
“The Iranian threat does not exist, but missile defense systems continue to be positioned—a missile defense system is one element of the whole system of offensive military potential.”
The danger here is that arms agreements will begin to unravel if countries decide that they are suddenly vulnerable. For the Russians and the Chinese, the easiest solution to the American breakthrough is to build a lot more missiles and warheads, and treaties be dammed.
The new Russian cruise missile may indeed strain the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty, but it is also a natural response to what are, from Moscow’s view, alarming technological advances by the U.S. Had the Obama administration reversed the 2002 decision by George W. Bush’s administration to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the new cruise might never have been deployed.
There are a number of immediate steps that the U.S. and the Russians could take to de-escalate the current tensions. First, taking nuclear weapons off their hair-trigger status, which would immediately reduce the possibility of accidental nuclear war. That could be followed by a pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.
If this does not happen, it will almost certainly result in an accelerated nuclear arms race. “I don’t know how this is all going to end,” Putin told the St. Petersburg delegates. “What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves.”
Do Americans Have No Shame? The Violation of Sovereign Rights of Much of the Planet
“Some of those who said Trump is ‘not my president’ applauded his bombing of a Syrian air base.”
Putting aside the lack of any proof of Russian interference in U.S. elections, Americans have some nerve complaining about outside meddling when they have violated the sovereign rights of much of the planet. Americans owe the world heartfelt acts of contrition. “There ought to be a march of apology from Americans to people in Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and yes in Russia too.”
The charge that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election is presented as fact in the corporate media and by the Democratic Party. Their collusion accomplishes two goals at once. The imperial project which has long sought to weaken Russia is given legitimacy. The Democrats divert attention from years of electoral failure which culminated in Donald Trump’s victory. Democratic Party rank and file members seethe about Vladimir Putin’s alleged misdeeds when they ought to ask their leadership hard questions.
Something is seriously amiss when Congressional Black Caucus talking points enshrine the FBI and CIA as beneficial and reliable sources of information. Democrats irresponsibly speak of an “act of war” and in so doing may bring about the real thing. The corruption and overreach are obvious but there is another important issue that has gone unaddressed.
Why is it worse for Americans to suffer a fate their government has meted out to others all over the world? The list of coups, invasions, and electoral fraud committed against other countries by the United States is a long one and encompasses every continent on the planet. American expressions of outrage should not be taken seriously.
“Democrats irresponsibly speak of an ‘act of war’ and in so doing may bring about the real thing.”
The United States directly subverted the will of the Russian people in 1996 when Bill Clinton’s operatives assisted Boris Yeltsin’s reelection campaign The current animosity between Russia and the United States results in large part from interference in Ukraine which ousted president Victor Yanukovych in 2014. The coup would not have taken place absent Obama administration support. If anyone should be crying about interference it is the Russians.
But the list of skullduggery is ignored in favor of argument about what is provable and what is not. There should also be discussion about why Americans refuse to acknowledge the wrongdoing they support either tacitly or actively. There is an opportunity being missed, an opportunity to express contrition and to change the temptation for Americans to support their government’s worst acts.
Many of the liberals so quick to cast aspersions at Russia are also quick to support American state sponsored violence. Some of those who said Trump is “not my president” applauded his bombing of a Syrian air base.
“If anyone should be crying about interference it is the Russians.”
It is time for Americans to grow up but that is easier said than done in a country for which historical amnesia is a founding principle. Most liberals want to be flag waving patriots and they are loath to concede the wrongdoing which goes on in one presidency after another. They refuse to admit their own complicity in excusing war crimes with vapid talk of lesser evils.
If Americans are so upset about the prospect of being treated the way their government treats millions of people they should always condemn these violations. They ought to foreswear support for the wars of aggression committed in their name. Democrats go on foolishly speaking of an “act of war” committed by Vladimir Putin. This latest propaganda term is not just stupid, it is extremely dangerous and posits that Americans have rights that they do not accord to others.
So far this year there have or will be marchers wearing pink hats, supporting science or fighting climate change. There ought to be a march of apology from Americans to people in Grenada, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and yes in Russia too. Millions of people have lost their homes, health and lives whenever an American president decides that another leader “must go” or claims that national interest demands intervention or endless war.
“There isn’t any democracy left for the Russian government to damage.”
It is time for people in this country to stop acting like aggrieved children. The temper tantrums about their sovereignty and their democracy are not just hypocritical but also tell lies about how this political system really works. There isn’t any democracy left for the Russian government to damage. And even if there were America’s guilty behavior abroad makes a mockery of it.
If Vladimir Putin hatched a plot to get Trump into office he didn’t do anything worse than American presidents have done. People in this country ought to reflect on their history instead of behaving as if they are entitled to rights they routinely disregard elsewhere. The Russia haters must stop whining about their supposed grievance. But first they should apologize to people around the world and fight to stop America’s attacks on them.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Video: U.S. Crimes of Genocide against Korea: “We Killed Off – What – 20% of the Population. We Burned Down every Town in North Korea…”
The crimes committed by the US against the people of Korea in the course of the Korean War but also in its aftermath are unprecedented in modern history.
“We Killed Off – What – Twenty Percent of the Population. We Burned Down every Town in North Korea…”
The above quotation is from General Curtis Lemay, who coordinated the bombing campaign (1950-53)
Who is a Threat to Global Security? The US or the DPRK?
The public perception of the entire population of North Korea is that the US is a threat to their national security.
During the Korean War, the DPRK lost more than 25% of its population.
The population of North Korea was of the order of 8-9 million in 1950 prior the Korean War. US sources acknowledge 1.55 million civilian deaths in North Korea, 215,000 combat deaths. MIA/POW 120,000, 300,000 combat troops wounded. What we are dealing with are crimes of genocide under international law. (Article 2 of the “Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”(1948))
In contrast, during the Second World War, the United Kingdom lost 0.94% of its population, France lost 1.35%, China lost 1.89% and the US lost 0.32%.
Casually ignored by the Western media and the international community, the US has actively deployed nuclear weapons targeted at North Korea for more than half a century in violation of article 13b) of the 1953 Armistice agreement.
Video: Michel Chossudovsky’s Presentation to the Japanese Foreign Correspondent’s Club on US Aggression against the People of Korea, Tokyo, August 1, 2013
This is how it looks today.
And this is what Donald Trump wants to destroy. This urban infrastructure is largely residential ( Compare Pyongyang’s towers to the Trump Towers).