By Matthew Ehret
We hold in our hands vast power to both create and destroy the likes of which has never been seen in history.
Up until the turn of the 20th century, the only forces capable of wrecking extinction-level havoc onto the biosphere remained comets and asteroids travelling 18 km/second which periodically slammed into the earth every few million years. But with the discovery of atomic decay in the form of fission and also the associated processes of fusion (where lighter isotopes were found to fuse together forming heavier atoms holding masses that were slightly less than the total of the fused atoms), suddenly a new force of destruction was added to the list.
After the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the top secret Manhattan Project with its three nuclear bombs was revealed to a confused Harry Truman who was quick to dump two of them onto a defeated Japan in 1945 establishing a new set of geopolitical rules that would profoundly misshape the 20th century.
The 14 kiloton bomb “Little Boy” which erupted over Hiroshima killed 140 thousand people instantly, with countless tens of thousands more who died in agony during the weeks and months following the explosion. The bomb that destroyed Nagasaki days later was 23 kilotons.
To put this into perspective, one modern U.S. Ohio Class Submarine travelling in the waters of China’s back yard carries 24 Trident missiles.
Each Trident missile can carry up to 8 nuclear warheads and each warhead utilizing thermonuclear technology packs the equivalent of 475 kilotons of TNT. When all warheads contained on one Trident II missile are added together, a force 253 times more powerful than the bomb that annihilated Hiroshima is unleashed. Although nuclear reduction treaties established since 1991 have reduced the global nuclear stockpiles from 64,000 warheads in 1986 to approximately 20,000 today, the fact Is that over 5000 megatons of nuclear bombs ready to be unleashed still litter the face of the earth.
Throughout the Cold War, scientists on both sides of the iron curtain were directed increasingly to put their creative energy towards the development of ever greater atomic weapons rather than solve world problems which for the most part was always the true purpose of science.
When the MAD doctrine (and a few too many war hawks devoted to computer models instead of human thinking) propelled the world towards a nuclear showdown in October 1962, cooler heads thankfully prevailed. During this period, mature statecraft took the form of backchannel and public dialogue between John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev who agreed upon respecting each others’ security interests with Russia removing its nuclear weapons from Cuba and the U.S.A following suite by removing their nuclear weapons from Turkey soon thereafter.
With this dance with mass death, Kennedy created several precedents for future leaders to learn from starting with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, his call to pull the U.S.A out of an oncoming Vietnam quagmire and launching a beautiful vision for U.S.-Russian joint space program presented to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 20 1963. This was an offer which Khrushchev’s son admitted his father had wished to accept during a 1997 interview, but sadly assassins’ bullets and Cold Warriors devoid of wisdom got in the way of that vision.
We are now sitting on the cusp of the 60th anniversary of the October Crisis and sadly very few statesmen in today’s U.S.A think on the strategic level of President Kennedy.
NATO has continued to expand across Russia’s soft underbelly in total renunciation of the promises made in 1991 between U.S. delegations and their Russian counterparts. With each new member added to NATO since 1998, a policy of military containment of Russia has been advanced with ever more troops, anti-ballistic missiles and bases installed across former Soviet Nations.
To stop the race towards nuclear annihilation now unfolding over the chaos in Ukraine, it is absolutely requisite that the leadership of the U.S.A and Russia conduct emergency meetings immediately with the intention of resolving the danger of nuclear extinction once and for all.
The way forward is not as difficult and only requires a willingness to compromise on certain actions which have no benefit to anyone. At the top of this list is the need to flush the strange obsession to expand NATO to the detriment of Russian security interests.
If this simple act were accomplished, then getting Russia to extract itself militarily from Ukraine would be no small difficulty.
Beyond simply putting out the immediate fires threatening to engulf our collective home, a longer term plan to avoid future fires from taking hold is also necessary. To this end, cooperation on matters of common interest is vital to establish a new security architecture founded upon firm principles. This means seeking out projects that unite the goals of eastern and western blocks into a common destiny, rather than amplifying divisions of “us” vs “them” with “good guys” invited to democracy summits which exclude nearly half of the worlds’ population.
Like Kennedy’s promotion of U.S.A-Russian scientific cooperation on space development and atomic development, today’s statesmen must discuss such programs as Asteroid Defense (dubbed by Roscosmos’ Dimitry Rogozin as “Strategic Defense of Earth” in 2011), Arctic Development, Bering Strait rail development, and re-forestation of the earth for starters. The Chinese (who are facing no shortage of threats to their security in the Pacific theater) have recently offered the Trans-Atlantic Community the chance to work together on the Belt and Road Initiative which could only benefit humanity as the BRI has already pulled hundreds of millions of souls out of poverty.
What makes these positive steps towards a sustainable global security doctrine so attractive is that they involve re-orienting nuclear science from the perverse path of self-destruction towards the path of creation which this beautiful field of research was always destined to be. The peaceful use of atomic power both in advanced fission reactors, atomic medicine and the long-overdue holy grail of fusion energy provides humanity the master key to do what no other species has been able to do: Break an extinction cycle and end the “four horsemen” of famines, war, disease and ignorance that have plagued humanity since time immemorial.
If humanity is morally fit to survive the current storm, it will be due to the rectification of those fallacious rules underlying geopolitics as have been practiced throughout recent history. Rule by “might makes right” which shaped the pre-nuclear era must finally come to an end, as a new age of “right makes might” must finally be permitted to have its chance in the sun.
Appendix: President Kennedy’s remarks of July 26, 1963:
“A war today or tomorrow, if it led to nuclear war, would not be like any war in history. A full-scale nuclear exchange, lasting less than 60 minutes, with the weapons now in existence, could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans, and Russians, as well as untold numbers elsewhere. And the survivors, as Chairman Khrushchev warned the Communist Chinese, “the survivors would envy the dead.” For they would inherit a world so devastated by explosions and poison and fire that today we cannot even conceive of its horrors. So let us try to turn the world away from war. Let us make the most of this opportunity, and every opportunity, to reduce tension, to slow down the perilous nuclear arms race, and to check the world’s slide toward final annihilation.”
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