drive-by planet: Risk of ‘accidental’ nuclear war: Chomsky on the ‘worst case scenario’

Chomsky on the threat of nuclear war

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which any world power would deliberately start a nuclear war given the dire consequence for the planet. Rational thinking and the will to survive prevents us from believing that any nation… any leader… could be crazy enough to intentionally unleash what could wind up being a terminal war of reciprocal destruction. But what is often overlooked is the increasing likelihood that a nuclear war might well be started by accident.

During a recent RT interview Noam Chomsky addressed this possibility:

The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war, which would be terrible. Both states that initiate it will be wiped out by the consequences. That’s the worst-case. And it’s come ominously close several times in the past, dramatically close. And it could happen again, but not planned, but just by the accidental interactions that take place – that has almost happened. It’s worth remembering that just one century ago, the First World War broke out through a series of such accidental interchanges. The First World War was horrifying enough, but the current reenactment of it means the end of the human race.

Chomsky’s reference to a nuclear war begun ‘by accident’ makes sense when you look at how this might come about. An escalation factor might be faulty intelligence, leading for example to a mistaken belief that the other side is planning an imminent nuclear strike. The decision may then be taken to use tactical nuclear weapons in order to seize first-strike advantage. Underlying intelligence failure of this sort could be a more general strategic misreading of the enemies’ intent and other communications failures that fuel a pattern of escalation.

A report entitled Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership lays out a new vision for the NATO alliance. It contains a number of statements that confirm the importance of nuclear weapons “in the quiver of escalation”… ostensibly to prevent “existential dangers.” But in fact their use is also clearly about maintaining a winning edge however couched in the language of prevention, as this statement from the report suggests:  “What is needed is a policy of deterrence by proactive denial, in which preemption is a form of reaction when a threat is imminent, and prevention is the attempt to regain the initiative in order to end the conflict.” Tactical nuclear weapons are very much a part of any so-called “proportional” response. This scenario opens the door for all kinds of potential disaster.

Tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons are now part of the toolkit of the world’s major militaries. These weapons can be calibrated to suit the challenges on hand. Variable yield allows operators to set the weapons’ explosive power in consideration of target and conditions. Small-yield tactical nukes might encourage preemptive strikes especially if a conventional force is facing defeat. They may be used in other ways to seize the advantage. Under war conditions the step from tactical to strategic nuclear weapons might not be such a huge leap, especially on the part of a military staring down the barrel of defeat.

Bottom line, our continued use of these weapons raises the ante when it comes to the prospects of large scale nuclear war. Chomsky sums up the stark choice we face in this paragraph:

We can think back as far as 1955, when Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein produced an appeal, a joint appeal to the people of the world, in which they said to all of us, you have a choice that is stark, unavoidable, the question is, will you eliminate war or will you eliminate human race? These are your choices.

Right now we are making bad choices. The provocations of the West in Eastern Europe and the expansion of NATO’s reach to the borders of Russia is fraught with risks that can’t be taken lightly. Chomsky rightly characterizes NATO as a “US-run intervention force.”

The official mission of NATO became to control the international, the global energy system, pipelines. That means, to control the world. Of course, its [a] U.S.-run intervention force, as in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999 – it was a U.S.-run intervention force. That’s the new NATO and it did expand to Russian borders…

The demonization of Russia in Western media and the toxic cold war-like environment that is being whipped up is driven by geopolitical ambitions, energy and resource considerations and a very particular animus toward a major global power that is unwilling to alter its long held values and traditions. This offends some people, who over and above the larger geopolitical considerations, appear willing to risk heightening an already tense situation in the course of pressing a Western-centric rights agenda.

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