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Nuclear war now becoming closer than ever

the chance of accidents, miscalculations, and blunders with tactical weapons—as well as the pressure to “use them or lose them” in battle—greatly increase the risk of an all-out nuclear war.

The Fourth Geneva Convention extends legal protection to civilians during wartime. The rules against deliberately harming noncombatants were expanded by two additional protocols, in 1977. “The civilian population . . . shall not be the object of attack,” Protocol II states. “Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.” Despite that admonition, today’s nuclear-targeting policies in many ways resemble medieval hostage-taking. The innocent are threatened with murder in order to preserve the peace. 

The Growing Dangers of the New Nuclear-Arms Race,  The Trump Administration’s push for more nuclear weapons is part of a perilous global drive to miniaturize and modernize devices that already promise annihilation. New Yorker, By Eric Schlosser, 24 May 18,  Less than a decade after President Barack Obama called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, the nine countries that possess them are engaged in a new nuclear-arms race. North Korea has most likely developed a hydrogen bomb, and its Hwasong-15 missiles may be large enough to transport not only a warhead but also decoys, chaff, and other countermeasures that would thwart America’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense anti-ballistic-missile system. India recently commissioned its second ballistic-missile submarine, launched an Agni-5 ballistic missile that can strike targets throughout Pakistan and China, and tested nuclear-capable BrahMos and Nirbhay cruise missiles. Pakistan now has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear stockpile, including low-yield warheads on Hatf-9 missiles for use against Indian troops and armored vehicles. Israel is expanding the range of its Jericho III ballistic missiles and deploying cruise missiles with nuclear weapons on submarines. France and the United Kingdom are developing replacements for their Vanguard and Triomphant ballistic-missile submarines. China is about to introduce Dongfeng-41 ballistic missiles that will be mounted on trucks, loaded with up to ten nuclear warheads, and capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. Russia is building a wide range of new missiles, bombers, and submarines that will carry nuclear weapons. The R-28 Sarmat missile, nicknamed Satan-2, will carry up to sixteen nuclear warheads—more than enough for a single missile to destroy every American city with a population larger than a million people. Russia plans to build forty to fifty of the Satan-2s. Three other countries—Iran, Japan, and South Korea may soon try to obtain their own nuclear arsenals.

In the preface to the Nuclear Posture Review, released in February by the Trump Administration, Secretary of Defense James Mattis expresses the new American point of view: “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” That reality, according to the Pentagon, requires a full renovation of the Cold War nuclear triad—new intercontinental ballistic missiles, new long-range bombers, and new ballistic-missile submarines. It also requires new, low-yield “tactical” warheads and bombs, a category of weapons once considered so destabilizing that President George H. W. Bush removed almost all of them from active service, in 1991. The cost of rebuilding America’s nuclear arsenal is projected to be more than a trillion dollars, spent over the course of thirty years.

The growing danger of the nuclear-arms race has failed to inspire much debate. Nuclear policy is no longer widely discussed in the media; the public has been told little about a subject of existential importance; and questions once passionately argued have been largely forgotten. Why do we have nuclear weapons? What they are for? How might they be used? And, at a time when a single American submarine can destroy the capital city of every country in the United Nations, how much is enough?

Instead, these questions are being addressed by a small group of policymakers. Many of the crucial details are top secret, and the mundane terms used in official discussions tend to hide the apocalyptic consequences at stake. “Mutual deterrence,” “flexible response,” “counterforce,” “countervalue,” “buffer distance,” “ladders of escalation,” “circular error probable,” “releasing commander,”  “release other than attack,” “nuclear umbrellas,” “nuclear posture,” “force elements,” “yield,” “penetration aids”—none of these sound too alarming. But one term truly evokes its meaning. A “megadeath” is a unit of measurement in nuclear warfare. Ten megadeaths, for example, means that ten million people have been killed.

The targeting strategies of today’s nuclear powers stem from the aerial-bombing campaigns of the Second World War, when the distinction between hitting military assets and killing civilians disappeared……..  .

The Fourth Geneva Convention extends legal protection to civilians during wartime. The rules against deliberately harming noncombatants were expanded by two additional protocols, in 1977. “The civilian population . . . shall not be the object of attack,” Protocol II states. “Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.” Despite that admonition, today’s nuclear-targeting policies in many ways resemble medieval hostage-taking. The innocent are threatened with murder in order to preserve the peace.

……… Today, the United States keeps about two hundred tactical weapons at six natobases in Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, and the Netherlands. The weapons are B-61 bombs designed to be carried by fighter planes. They have no assigned role in nato’s war plans, and their military usefulness is “practically nil,” according to General James Cartwright, a former commander of the United States Strategic Command. The B-61 bombs have been retained as symbols of America’s commitment to the defense of nato, despite concern that the weapons are vulnerable to theft by terrorists, sabotage, and attack, especially in Turkey. A few B-61s could fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

The Trump Administration is moving forward with plans to modernize the B-61 and would like to mount low-yield tactical warheads on submarine-based missiles. The advantage of basing tactical weapons on a submarine is that they will be hidden underwater—and therefore will be less likely to be stolen, attacked, or become the subjects of political protests. The disadvantage is that Russia will have no way of knowing whether a missile launched from a submarine is carrying a tactical warhead meant to destroy a tank battalion on the battlefield or a strategic warhead fired to destroy an underground leadership bunker in Moscow.

The glaring problem of how the President of the United States and the President of Russia might reliably communicate and negotiate during a limited nuclear war has never been resolved. The Moscow-Washington Direct Communications Link, known as the “hotline,” isn’t a voice link with matching red telephones, as portrayed in Hollywood thrillers. It’s a dedicated computer link that transmits encrypted e-mails between the Kremlin and the Pentagon. A recent photograph of the hotline is not reassuring: it looks like a computer terminal you might find in the business center at a Marriott hotel.

The return of tactical weapons is the most controversial aspect of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review. The new policy assumes that American tactical weapons will deter the use of Russian tactical weapons, raising “the nuclear threshold” and making “nuclear employment less likely.” Sam Nunn, a former chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services and a co-founder of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, has argued against that sort of thinking for more than forty years. He fears that the chance of accidents, miscalculations, and blunders with tactical weapons—as well as the pressure to “use them or lose them” in battle—greatly increase the risk of an all-out nuclear war………..  https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-growing-dangers-of-the-new-nuclear-arms-race

 

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May 25, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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