[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]
Valerie Plame Wilson, Host:
Apocalypse Never is a frightening book to read but impossible to put down. In clear, accessible prose, Tad Daley unblinkingly lays out the case, point by point, for why we must ultimately rid the world of nuclear weapons or else suffer the inevitable consequences of the end of civilization as we know it. Daley then takes on the task of showing how this seemingly Herculean task can be accomplished, even within our lifetimes. It is compelling and accurate in its assessments and one of the absolute best out there on why we simply cannot continue along the way it has been. Joe and I are honored to lead the discussion on Firedoglake book salon and perhaps help bring increased recognition to this critical issue that affects every human on the planet today.
Nuclear weapons and their unimaginable destructive capabilities have typically belonged exclusively in the realm of the foreign policy elites; arcane terminology, closed, secretive worlds, and discussions of “throw weights” and “MRVs” discouraged all but a select few to enter into temple of nuclear expertise. In the bi-polar paradigm that existed prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world seemed relatively content with the notion that the aptly named doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” would keep us all safe. And, indeed, it did. From the first nuclear flash over the New Mexican desert in 1945 followed quickly by the two atomic bombs detonated over Japan, there has not been another bomb used as a weapon. When the Soviet Union imploded, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief about the nuclear threat and efforts to contain and reduce nuclear arsenals were swept under the rug. For years, things appeared frozen as though the Cold War still festered. But what in fact was happening was the rapid dissemination of nuclear know-how and proliferation of nuclear-capable states. Additionally, the rise of terrorism and their unquestionable desire to acquire nuclear weapons for their own nihilistic purposes has fundamentally altered the equation. But many of the esteemed experts continue to argue that nuclear weapons provide us with blanket security. Daley shows consistently and cogently throughout this book why they are absolutely wrong about this thinking. This is one of the nicest surprises of Apocalypse Never – Daley never feels the need to make his case in language that is too dense or technical for the average reader to absorb.
Daley begins by taking on the nuclear double-standard that underpins the entire nuclear construct of today’s world: Certain countries are allowed to possess nuclear weapons and others cannot. As Congressman Ed Markey put it colorfully, “American cannot credibly preach nuclear temperance from a nuclear barstool.” Naturally, the nuclear weapon states have chosen to appoint themselves the final arbiters of which countries can be trusted and who is deemed irrational or unpredictable. There is no appeal to these decisions. By pursuing the path of have and have-nots, nuclear powers have inevitably created a club that everyone who is out is striving to be in. Nuclear weapons mean more influence, a seat at the global table, and announce to your dangerous neighbors you are to be taken seriously. The have-nots will spend billions of dollars and starve their own people if it means they can achieve nuclear status. North Korea is Exhibit A. As Daley rightly notes, perpetual possession means perpetual proliferation. A rational mind cannot argue that a world with 20 or more nuclear capable countries is really a safer place. But, they keep trying.
From the irrefutable logic of perpetual possession means perpetual proliferation, Daley shows us what that means for our world. He starts with the certainty that terrorists are seeking nuclear weapons. There are only three ways to obtain one: buy it, build it, or steal it. Without overstating the case, Daley points out that any of these scenarios are plausible. The global stockpile of either of the two components necessary to construct a bomb (highly enriched uranium or HEU or weapons-grade plutonium) amounts to 2,300 tons or enough to construct 200,000 nuclear warheads. Held in hundreds of locations world-wide, the security surround them ranges from “excellent to appalling”, according to the IAEA. From my vantage point as a former CIA operations officer working this problem, the question is not if, but when the terrorists obtain a bomb. The aphorism that those that seek to keep nuclear weapons have to be 100% lucky every day whereas the terrorists only need to get lucky once is spot on. And make no mistake – when a single nuclear device goes off in a single city somewhere in the world, all other matters will seem trivial by comparison. Civil rights in this country and others will come under enormous pressure from a populace that only wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. The stakes could not be higher. [cont’d.]
Even without the significant terrorist threat, Daley demonstrates the possibility of accidental nuclear launches or political miscalculations makes our bargain with nuclear weapons increasingly unsustainable. He describes a particularly excruciating moment in 1995 when Russia detected what they assessed to be nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles heading at them from the Arctic Sea. President Boris Yeltsin was given the Russian equivalent of the nuclear “football” and told that he had eight minutes to make a decision on retaliation using the “fire on warning” doctrine. Fortunately, Yeltsin was not drunk and did not launch any nuclear weapons. With three minutes to spare, Russian radar officers determined that the “missiles” was a Norwegian weather satellite. There are hundreds of similar near-misses. As Daley writes, “how long must we wait before one of them is resolved not with three minutes to spare, but three minutes too late?”
Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope in this otherwise bleak landscape. Daley uses the latter part of his book to discuss what the architecture of a nuclear weapon-free world might look like. Again, using clean, clear writing and thinking, he lays out the way ahead. It can be done with intrusive inspections, the genuine safeguarding of weapons materials, and the unglamorous and plodding but crucial work of building an international consensus using a variety of diplomatic tools toward the international recognition that we must move toward the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. The United States has demonstrated world leadership at crucial moments of history: ending slavery, opposing Hitler and rebuilding Europe, ensuring civil rights for all our citizens, and putting a man on the moon. Greatness for the United States in the 21st century will derive from genuine leadership on this issue and it will be our enduring legacy if we succeed. Apocalypse Never contributes to this worthy effort and allows one to believe that it just might not be too late.