Obama Sharpens His Nuclear Posture

A new Pentagon document indicates that contingent plans for the use of nuclear weapons are being made, with the self-evidently impossible task of minimizing collateral damage.

— by Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

Soon after President Barack Obama began his first term, he called for a world free of nuclear weapons. His address, which quickly became known as Obama’s Prague Speech, helped him win the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Then, he dropped the ball.

The Pentagon finally followed up in late June with a strange document that fails to explain how Obama intends to make progress toward full nuclear disarmament.

Even though the Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States doesn’t do that, it still should have been news. Instead, the mainstream media took a pass.

In the past, these documents, the last of which the Pentagon issued in 2010, were called “Nuclear Posture Reviews.” They focused largely on the role of nuclear weapons for deterrence. Now for the first time the word “employment” — another word for “use” — is in the title.

Is this a not-so-subtle way of telling our enemies, actual and potential, that we are not afraid to use these weapons of mass annihilation?

To drive home that point, the report states that, while the “2010 Nuclear Posture Review established the (Obama) administration’s goal of making deterrence of a nuclear attack the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons…we cannot adopt such a policy today.”

WashingtonGoesAWOL

Instead, this report explains, “the new guidance re-iterates the intention to work towards that goal over time.”

What are the other purposes of U.S. nuclear weapons besides trying to stop nuclear attacks by others?

Alas, the report doesn’t really say. Instead, it vaguely states that while the threat of global nuclear war has become remote since the Cold War ended, the risk of nuclear attack has increased.

Presumably, this refers to nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists rather than governments. But it doesn’t explain how U.S. nuclear weapons could be “employed” to deter the use of nuclear weapons by, for instance, al-Qaeda.

The phrase “new guidance” appears repeatedly in the report. But it leaves readers guessing about the nature of such guidance as it relates to the most important goal of U.S. nuclear-weapons strategy: “strategic stability” with Russia and China.

The report indicated that our government is sticking with its longtime concept of “extended deterrence,” a commitment to also use our nuclear arsenal for the benefit of U.S. allies and partners. But what does “partners” mean in this context? The report doesn’t say.

And it looks like the government remains sold on the idea that it must maintain a stockpile of non-deployed nuclear warheads in case deterrence with deployed ones should fail.

There are other mysteries.

The Pentagon’s report states, “The new guidance makes clear that all plans must also be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly plans…will seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects.”

Thus, plans for the use of nuclear weapons are being made, but the planners have been given the self-evidently impossible task of minimizing collateral damage.

There’s more.

In February, Germany sponsored a conference in Berlin on creating the conditions for a nuclear-weapons-free world. Washington didn’t participate.

In March, Norway held a conference in Oslo on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Delegates from 127 countries attended. None were from the United States.

In May, the Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament created by the UN General Assembly held its first meeting in Geneva. The United States skipped it.

Obama’s recent declaration in Berlin that Washington might be willing to reduce its stockpile of more than 1,500 deployed nuclear warheads by one-third to 1,000 drew applause from some arms-control supporters. I’m holding my applause until he demonstrates the political will to work on the goal of scrapping nuclear weapons altogether.


Peter Weiss is the President Emeritus of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

State Legislatures Gone Wild—9 Terrible Proposed State Laws

— by ThinkProgress War Room, March 15, 2013

If you think that irresponsible and outright ridiculous bills only come out of Washington, D.C., think again. Ever since the big GOP wave election in 2010, state legislatures across the country have been racing to pass offensive, unconstitutional, and just outright bizarre laws. Other states long controlled by Republicans are also rushing to pass unconstitutional and ridiculous laws just for good measure, it appears.

Here are 9 terrible proposed state laws:

  • NORTH DAKOTA: The state is getting in on the latest anti-abortion fad sweeping the nation: so-called “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. North Dakota is set to pass a law that bans abortions (at its single remaining abortion clinic) after just six weeks. The law, the most stringent in the nation, is clearly unconstitutional.
  • TEXAS: An “avid proponent of tort reform” in the state legislature has proposed a law that will allow people to be served notice of a lawsuit through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
  • OKLAHOMA: The Sooner State is still fighting Obamacare and just this week the Oklahoma House passed an unconstitutional Obamacare “nullification” law.
  • INDIANA: Newly elected Gov. Mike Pence (R) is pushing for a 10 percent cut in the state’s income tax, something which could gut investments in education and infrastructure. Even Republican legislators are wary, but the Koch Brothers front group, Americans for Prosperity is pushing the proposal.
  • MISSISSIPPI: The Magnolia state, which has the highest obesity rate in the nation, passed a so-called “anti-Bloomberg” bill to prevent localities from “enacting rules that require calorie counts to be posted, that cap portion sizes, or that keep toys out of kids’ meals.”
  • SOUTH CAROLINA: The Palmetto State said no to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, which sadly is hardly a novel feat. The South Carolina GOP’s innovation was to explain its motivation for doing so was because the president is black.
  • OHIO: Ohio’s radical anti-union law was overturned by a statewide referendum and its anti-voting law was headed for the same fate until the legislature preemptively repealed it on their own. Now Ohio legislators are trying to make it harder for voters to initiate referenda to overturn the radical laws passed by the GOP-controlled legislature.
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: You might think that the 13th amendment to the Constitution is the one that banned slavery, but some Republican legislators in New Hampshire would like to tell you otherwise. They claim the “original 13th amendment” is one that banned people with titles of nobility from holding office and that it was deleted by some sort of conspiracy. They aren’t taking this lying down and have introduced a bill to restore the “original” version, in order “to end the infiltration of the Bar Association and the judicial branch into the executive and legislative branches of government and the unlawful usurpation of the people’s right.”
  • IOWA: An Iowa Republican wanted to ban no-fault divorces for couples with children, out of fears that easier divorces may make teenage girls “more promiscuous.” Fortunately, legislative leaders shut that whole thing down.

While some of these bills are laughable, it’s not very funny when they actually become law. In Arkansas, for instance, the legislature just overrode the governor’s veto (which, bizarrely, only requires a simple majority in Arkansas) of a measure banning abortion after 12 weeks. This was briefly the nation’s strictest abortion ban until it was outdone by the North Dakota law mentioned above.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Hope and Change Fade, but War Endures—Seven Reasons Why We Can’t Stop Making War

— by William J. Astore

imageIf one quality characterizes our wars today, it’s their endurance.  They never seem to end.  Though war itself may not be an American inevitability, these days many factors combine to make constant war an American near certainty.  Put metaphorically, our nation’s pursuit of war taps so many wellsprings of our behavior that a concerted effort to cap it would dwarf BP’s efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.


Our political leaders, the media, and the military interpret enduring war as a measure of our national fitness, our global power, our grit in the face of eternal danger, and our seriousness.  A desire to de-escalate and withdraw, on the other hand, is invariably seen as cut-and-run appeasement and discounted as weakness.  Withdrawal options are, in a pet phrase of Washington elites, invariably “off the table” when global policy is at stake, as was true during the Obama administration’s full-scale reconsideration of the Afghan war in the fall of 2009.  Viewed in this light, the president’s ultimate decision to surge in Afghanistan was not only predictable, but the only course considered suitable for an American war leader.  Rather than the tough choice, it was the path of least resistance.

Why do our elites so readily and regularly give war, not peace, a chance?  What exactly are the wellsprings of Washington’s (and America’s) behavior when it comes to war and preparations for more of the same?

Consider these seven:

  1. We wage war because we think we’re good at it — and because, at a gut level, we’ve come to believe that American wars can bring good to others (hence our feel-good names for them, like Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom). Most Americans are not only convinced we have the best troops, the best training, and the most advanced weapons, but also the purest motives.  Unlike the bad guys and the barbarians out there in the global marketplace of death, our warriors and warfighters are seen as gift-givers and freedom-bringers, not as death-dealers and resource-exploiters.  Our illusions about the military we “support” serve as catalyst for, and apology for, the persistent war-making we condone.
  2. We wage war because we’ve already devoted so many of our resources to it.  It’s what we’re most prepared to do.  More than half of discretionary federal spending goes to fund our military and its war making or war preparations.  The military-industrial complex is a well-oiled, extremely profitable machine and the armed forces, our favorite child, the one we’ve lavished the most resources and praise upon.  It’s natural to give your favorite child free rein.
  3. We’ve managed to isolate war’s physical and emotional costs, leaving them on the shoulders of a tiny minority of Americans.  By eliminating the draft and relying ever more on for-profit private military contractors, we’ve made war a distant abstraction for most Americans, who can choose to consume it as spectacle or simply tune it out as so much background noise.
  4. While war and its costs have, to date, been kept at arm’s length, American society has been militarizing fast.  Our media outlets, intelligence agencies, politicians, foreign policy establishment, and “homeland security” bureaucracy are so intertwined with military priorities and agendas as to be inseparable from them.  In militarized America, griping about soft-hearted tactics or the outspokenness of a certain general may be tolerated, but forceful criticism of our military or our wars is still treated as deviant and “un-American.”
  5. Our profligate, high-tech approach to war, including those Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles, has served to limit American casualties — and so has limited the anger over, and harsh questioning of, our wars that might go with them.  While the U.S. has had more than 1,000 troops killed in Afghanistan, over a similar period in Vietnam we lost more than 58,000 troops.  Improved medical evacuation and trauma care, greater reliance on standoff precision weaponry and similar “force multipliers,” stronger emphasis on “force protection” within American military units: all these and more have helped tamp down concern about the immeasurable and soaring costs of our wars.
  6. As we incessantly develop those force-multiplying weapons to give us our “edge” (though never an edge that leads to victory), it’s hardly surprising that the U.S. has come to dominate, if not quite monopolize, the global arms trade.  In these years, as American jobs were outsourced or simply disappeared in the Great Recession, armaments have been one of our few growth industries.  Endless war has proven endlessly profitable — not perhaps for all of us, but certainly for those in the business of war.
  7. And don’t forget the seductive power of beyond-worse-case, doomsday scenarios, of the prophecies of pundits and so-called experts, who regularly tell us that, bad as our wars may be, doing anything to end them would be far worse.  A typical scenario goes like this: If we withdraw from Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai will collapse, the Taliban will surge to victory, al-Qaeda will pour into Afghan safe havens, and Pakistan will be further destabilized, its atomic bombs falling into the hands of terrorists out to destroy Peoria and Orlando.

Such fevered nightmares, impossible to disprove, may be conjured at any moment to scare critics into silence.  They are a convenient bogeyman, leaving us cowering as we send our superman military out to save us (and the world as well), while preserving our right to visit the mall and travel to Disney World without being nuked.

The truth is that no one really knows what would happen if the U.S. disengaged from Afghanistan.  But we do know what’s happening now, with us fully engaged: we’re pursuing a war that’s costing us nearly $7 billion a month that we’re not winning (and that’s arguably unwinnable), a war that may be increasing the chances of another 9/11, rather than decreasing them.

Capping the Wellsprings of War

Each one of these seven wellsprings feeding our enduring wars must be capped.  So here are seven suggestions for the sort of “caps” — hopefully more effective than BP’s flailing improvisations — we need to install:

  1. Let’s reject the idea that war is either admirable or good — and in the process, remind ourselves that others often see us as “the foreign fighters” and profligate war consumers who kill innocents (despite our efforts to apply deadly force in surgically precise ways reflecting “courageous restraint”).
  2. Let’s cut defense spending now, and reduce the global “mission” that goes with it.  Set a reasonable goal — a 6-8% reduction annually for the next 10 years, until levels of defense spending are at least back to where they were before 9/11 — and then stick to it.
  3. Let’s stop privatizing war.  Creating ever more profitable incentives for war was always a ludicrous idea.  It’s time to make war a non-profit, last-resort activity.  And let’s revive national service (including elective military service) for all young adults.  What we need is a revived civilian conservation corps, not a new civilian “expeditionary” force.
  4. Let’s reverse the militarization of so many dimensions of our society.  To cite one example, it’s time to empower truly independent (non-embedded) journalists to cover our wars, and stop relying on retired generals and admirals who led our previous wars to be our media guides.  Men who are beholden to their former service branch or the current defense contractor who employs them can hardly be trusted to be critical and unbiased guides to future conflicts.
  5. Let’s recognize that expensive high-tech weapons systems are not war-winners.  They’ve kept us in the game without yielding decisive results — unless you measure “results” in terms of cost overruns and burgeoning federal budget deficits.
  6. Let’s retool our economy and reinvest our money, moving it out of the military-industrial complex and into strengthening our anemic system of mass transit, our crumbling infrastructure, and alternative energy technology.  We need high-speed rail, safer roads and bridges, and more wind turbines, not more overpriced jet fighters.
  7. Finally, let’s banish nightmare scenarios from our minds.  The world is scary enough without forever imagining smoking guns morphing into mushroom clouds.

There you have it: my seven “caps” to contain our gushing support for permanent war.  No one said it would be easy.  Just ask BP how easy it is to cap one out-of-control gusher.

Nonetheless, if we as a society aren’t willing to work hard for actual change — indeed, to demand it — we’ll be on that military escalatory curve until we implode.  And that way madness lies.


William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and TomDispatch regular.  He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School and currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.  He may be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

Copyright ©2010 William J. Astore

The Total Collapse

I’m retired, so I get the opportunity to do quite a bit of reading.  One of the newsletter’s I subscribe to is “The Total Collapse.”  I find it offers quite a different perspective on foreign policy events than what we hear on the mainstream media channels (regardless of which one you listen to).  Here’s a list of articles from today’s newsletter:

Check out items 7 and 8.  Now that was a surprise this morning.  I thought we were trying to GET OUT of foreign wars!  If there’s truth in those articles, we could find ourselves in yet another never-ending mid-East conflict.  More specifically, it could be the start of yet another war, this time with IRAN.  Take the time and read those two articles.