In 1962 I was a high school student in New York City when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. I used to wake up every morning wondering if this was to be my last day. One day at the height of that crisis, I was sitting in my English Literature class when an ambulance went by in the street below, its siren screaming. Our teacher turned ashen grey, visibly jumped and yelled, “what’s that?” We had to reassure him that it was only an ambulance, not the air raid alert, and we weren’t all just about to die in a nuclear holocaust.
“Military-Industrial Complex” During the Cold War Years
It was just scarcely one year earlier that then-outgoing US president Dwight Eisenhower famously warned in his farewell speech about the danger of a growing “military-industrial complex”. He said: “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
This military-industrial complex plays a huge role in both the US economy as well as US politics in general. Many prominent US politicians were largely spokespeople for this complex and, as such, also for US nuclear policy. During the Cold War years, the nuclear policy was based on what was called “MAD” – mutually assured destruction” – and was aimed primarily at the Soviet Union. The idea was that if either side launched an attack, the counter-attack would be so devastating that both sides would be annihilated.
The collapse of Stalinism, however, has caused many changes in the world situation. No longer is there a conflicting and hostile economic system, nor a central rival to US capitalism world-wide. Instead, there is a fragmented world in which there are increasing, but smaller challenges to the domination of US capitalism. On the one hand there are the left-populist regimes such as those of Venezuela and Bolivia. Then there are the challenges from a wing of the capitalist class in the Islamic world – forces such as al Qaeda. On top of that there are the rivals such as Russian and Chinese capitalism.
Collapse of Stalinism and New Threats to US Domination
The main wings of the US capitalist class perceive the principle threat as coming from such forces as al Qaeda. Linked with this is the challenge from the Iranian regime. Although this regime is not linked with al Qaeda, they both challenge for control over the oil-rich Middle East. It is with this in mind that the strategists for US capitalism have been viewing the tendency for Russian and Chinese capitalism to somewhat ally themselves with the Iranian regime.
For several years now, these US strategists – who are more or less grouped around the military-industrial complex – have been weighing up the idea of a military attack on Iran, especially its nuclear facilities. Given how deeply buried some of these facilities are, they US strategists are very possibly considering the use of “strategic” nuclear weapons in this case. However, in order to launch such an attack, they have to clear the decks in some other ways. This is what Obama has been doing.
In the last year, Obama has taken three initiatives around the nuclear issue: A “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR), the signing of a new nuclear arms “reduction” treaty with Russia (START) and then, most recently, the world nuclear summit.
Nuclear “First Strike” and Iran
Key to the nuclear policy is the question of whether any nuclear-armed nation would be the first to use a nuclear bomb, or a “first strike” policy. Up until recently, the open position of the US military-industrial complex was… no position. Successive US administrations refused to commit not to be the first to use a nuclear weapon. However, this was in relation to the Cold War period, when there was one, chief nuclear rival – the Soviet Union. The collapse of that power caused this issue, amongst many others, to be reconsidered.
The Obama administration’s NPR concluded that, “the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” This statement sums up US global military goals and strategy, and was confirmed in the following START negotiations as well as the recent nuclear summit. This non-first strike policy excludes Iran (which is considered by the US to be out of compliance with the NPT) as well as any attack on the US which the US considers came from al Qaeda or any other such non-state force.
If the US military-industrial complex, and other wings of US capitalism, are considering a strike on Iran, and if they are considering the possibility of using some sort of nuclear weapons in that strike, then it would be important to reassure Russia that the US does not intend to engage in a first strike against them. This statement, as well as the START treaty and also the recent nuclear summit all had this aim. In the case of START, it means a minor reduction in total destructive power of the nuclear arms, but simultaneously would allow the development of a third generation hydrogen “bunker buster” weapons – exactly the sort of weapons that might be used in a strike against Iran.
As for the recent summit, it was supposedly called in large part to discuss and minimize the threat of a group like al Qaeda from using a “dirty” or nuclear weapon. Supposedly, one of the ways they could do this would be to obtain a “loose” (or unguarded) nuclear weapon. According to John Mueller, professor of political science at Ohio State University and author of several books on the subject, it is almost impossible to get and use a loose nuclear weapon. Pakistan, for instance, stores its nuclear weapons in different parts, all of which are “locked” in some form. It would be practically impossible for an unauthorized user to unlock even part, never mind the whole bomb. As far as a threat from al Qaeda, Mueller says that there is no credible evidence that they have or have attempted to acquire such nuclear weapons, including “dirty” bombs. He says that when the US invaded Afghanistan, they found an al Qaeda computer that documented the expense of a mere $2,000 on weapons of mass destruction, those weapons being chemical.
Thus, the real purpose of both the NPR and START was to reassure the main nuclear rival of the US – Russia – that the US military would not carry out a first strike against them. This would facilitate US capitalism to focus on its more immediate threats – a combination of Islamic fundamentalist groups and the Islamic State of Iran.
Clearly, then, the fact of a nuclear-armed Israeli regime is of vital importance. Initially with the passive cooperation of the US regime, Israel started to acquire a nuclear potential in the 1960s. However, it was the French regimes that were the main culprits in helping Israel acquire this power. Today, Israel is thought to hold anything from 80 to 500 nuclear weapons. These include bombs and nuclear tipped artillery shells and they can be delivered from rockets, fighter planes and from Israeli submarines. Israel has the potential to deliver these weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the Mid-East, as well much of Africa, Asia and Europe.
Israel’s main weapons laboratory is the Dimona lab located in the Negev Desert. Completed in the 1960s, the Dimona lab is near or at the end of its useful life, and its pipes and container walls are brittle due to the continual bombardment of sub-atomic particles. Workers there have complained about getting radiation sickness, and nobody (except the culprits) really knows how the nuclear waste from the lab is being disposed of. Both the Palestinian Authority as well as the Jordanian regime have raised this issue. Given its record, it would not be surprising if Israel were storing such deadly waste in parts of the West Bank.
The existence of a nuclear-armed Israel is dealt with like that of a disgraced family member: Everybody knows they exist, but nobody is willing to admit it. At newly-inaugurated President Obama’s first press conference, he called upon the “dean” of the White House Press correspondences first – Helen Thomas. She had the bad manners to ask him whether there were any nuclear-armed nations in the Mid East (Israel). Obama avoided answering the question and has never called upon her at a press conference again. That is how important it is to US and Israeli capitalism to avoid the topic.
The issue of nuclear waste leads to that of nuclear powered electric plants. Following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in the US (1979), construction of new such plants in this country came to a halt, although it continued in other parts of the world. The rising danger of global warming, caused by carbon dioxide emissions (as well as a few other greenhouse gases), has breathed new life into the industry, and simultaneous with the review of nuclear weapon policy, Obama and his cohorts are now moving to revive this deadly industry.
A few simple facts should be borne in mind when considering nuclear power: While the useful life of a nuclear plant is some 30 to 40 years, given the enormous energy costs in building and supplying a nuclear plant, it only provides a net energy surplus after about 18 years of operation. All such plants are designed to release a certain amount of radioactive gases. There has been much controversy about claimed “cancer clusters” surrounding these plants, and several government studies have claimed to prove that these clusters do not exist. However, such studies have been designed to prove this, by for instance not taking into account the long time lags between exposure and development of cancer and ultimate death from cancer. Finally, there is the issue of disposal of the radioactive waste, especially a form of plutonium which remains deadly for 240,000 years (ten times its 24,000 year half life). Nobody has even the slightest idea how to safely store it.
There are some claims for the development of a fusion reactor, which would produce electricity without the nuclear waste. However, these are purely in the experimental stage and have been so for a long time. As critics say: “Fusion energy is the energy of the future, and always will be so.”
The Obama nuclear policies include reviving the nuclear energy industry with many billions of dollars of loan guarantees, among other things. It has been estimated that about half the loans involved will not be repaid, meaning that the US taxpayers will be on the hook to the tune of about $8 billion for each plant. The industry is further subsidized by federal law that guarantees the operators of any such plants immunity from lawsuits should an accident happen, rendering the surrounding areas uninhabitable.
The increased world instability and the threat of social break down from global or other human-caused natural disasters adds an additional danger to the increased stockpiles of these deadly nuclear wastes.
The revival of the nuclear energy industry in the US is not due to any intent to resolve the global warming crisis. If that were the intent, far less could be spent on retrofitting housing and commercial buildings with greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The plan to build new nuclear reactors simply reflects the immense power and interests of the military-industrial complex; they are using the global warming issue simply as an excuse.
Military Industrial Complex and Finance Capital
The military-industrial complex along with finance capital have come to dominate US capitalism. The massive federal subsidies to the nuclear industry mirror the similar subsidies to US banks and insurance companies. These two wings have tended to combine, as in the example of the Carlyle Group – one of the world’s dominant private investment groups, involved in corporate buy-outs, mergers, etc. World figures associated with the Carlyle Group include former president George Bush, former secretary of state James Baker, and former defense secretary Frank Carlucci. But it doesn’t stop there. Globally, the Carlyle group has in its stable, the likes of former British Prime Minister John Major, as well as other former world “leaders” from Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Germany, etc. The Carlyle group is also intimately involved in the US arms industry – that is, the military industrial complex.
The dangers of this domination are immense in every arena from economic disaster to global warming and world pollution. The issue of nuclear war is not excluded. In fact, the US military is already using a form of nuclear arms in their use of depleted uranium, which is used for armor piercing shells in Iraq and Afghanistan. The radiation from these shells is causing widespread and horrific birth defects in parts of Iraq already.
A US and/or Israeli nuclear attack on Iran is possible. The radioactive fallout would spread world-wide. There would also be the political fallout, as such an attack would encourage other nuclear powers to consider a first-use. This could include the Indian and Pakistani regimes.
When viewed from every angle, the rise of the military-industrial complex, and its combination with the domination of finance capital is every bit as dangerous as when hydrogen and oxygen are combined. This is what capitalism represents in this, its most decadent days.