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How the Left Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
" Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat. "
" Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human beings if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat. "

We are sleepwalking towards Armageddon.

At the present day, for the first time in over half a century, there exists the imminent possibility of open hostilities between the two countries that between them hold the overwhelming majority of the planet's nuclear weapons. At this moment the danger of all-out nuclear warfare is almost certainly greater than at any previous point in history, with the sole exception of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. Yet, in stark contrast to that earlier emergency, public awareness of the fact seems essentially non-existent.

The unelected cabal that seized power in Kiev earlier this year has begun a bloody crackdown on dissent in the eastern reaches of Ukraine. The Russian government has repeatedly warned that it will not stand idly by while Kiev tries to extend its writ through violence. Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has served notice that it is prepared to go to war on Kiev's behalf should Russian forces enter eastern Ukraine.

Events of the past few days suggest that Kiev intends to continue and intensify its campaign of repression in dissident areas of Ukraine. If this provokes a military response by Russia it seems virtually certain that NATO would counterattack the Russian forces. Once NATO and the Russian military exchange fire there is a significant likelihood of escalation to the use of strategic weapons -- and the United States and Russia both possess nuclear armaments far in excess of what would be needed to kill every person on Earth.

To put it plainly: only a short sequence of plausible steps now separates us from the onset of World War Three. At this point it seems highly unlikely that Kiev will adopt a more conciliatory policy, and it can scarcely be doubted that NATO would assault any Russian forces that entered Ukraine. As such, it would appear that whether we move on to global annihilation now rests on one of two factors. The first is that the Russian government may yet decide against an incursion into Ukraine. The second is that, in the event that NATO and Russia do end up at war, the combatants might restrict themselves to the use of conventional weapons only. As outlined below, we have no reason to rest easy on either point.

Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, draws much of his domestic support from Russian nationalists and this crucial constituency will certainly expect him to intervene if Kiev continues with its current violent campaign to suppress dissent in eastern Ukraine. Putin's quick and decisive operation to secure Russian assets in Crimea demonstrates that he is fully capable of taking bold measures. Nor was this the first time in recent memory that the Russian government authorized action in direct defiance of the United States. In 1999, in the aftermath of NATO's bombing of Serbia, NATO and Russian forces entered the country as "peace-keepers." Knowing full well that the NATO troops regarded themselves as an occupying army, and wishing to dissociate themselves from this, the Russians insisted on operating independently rather than under NATO command.

As an indication of their autonomy, the Russians unilaterally took control of Pristina airport. The NATO commander, US General Wesley Clark, ordered an attack on the Russians but his order was countermanded by the British General Sir Mike Jackson, who famously declared: "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you." A deal was eventually brokered whereby the Russians passed custody of the airport to NATO in return for recognition of the independent status of the Russian contingent in Serbia.

Of course, neither Pristina in 1999 nor Crimea more recently provides a clear parallel with the developing situation in eastern Ukraine. In both of the previous cases the Russians took swift and unforeseen action leaving the United States scrambling for a response. By contrast, in the present instance NATO is fully primed to react to any incursion into Ukraine by Russian forces. There can be little doubt that war will be the result.

If Vladimir Putin must choose between, on the one hand, incurring the displeasure of his nationalist constituency by standing clear while Kiev murders ethnic Russians, and on the other, sending troops into eastern Ukraine and thereby providing NATO with a pretext for declaring war on Russia, it might be supposed that he would opt for the first alternative. Even allowing this is so, the choice may turn out not to be that simple. While Russia is unlikely to go seeking war in Ukraine it is quite possible that certain Ukrainians may insist on bringing the war to Russia.

It is widely held that the collapse of the Soviet Union was due in large part to the costs of its disastrous war in Afghanistan. What is far less well known is that a principal, perhaps deciding, factor in the Soviets' decision to invade in the first place was that mujahideen were conducting raids into the Soviet Union itself from bases in Afghanistan. As has been attested by Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, these sorties were organized under the auspices of the Central Intelligence Agency of the US with the deliberate aim of goading the Soviets into attacking Afghanistan.

Were the US government to pursue a similar strategy today by encouraging Kiev's Right Sector paramilitaries to raid across the border into Russia the outcome would not be that Moscow would once again be plunged into a long and debilitating counterinsurgency but rather that NATO and Russia would find themselves at war. While today's Russia would make a far weaker adversary than the Soviet Union of 1979, the United States must still reckon with the fact that Russia possesses the world's second-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. One would like to think then that Washington would not be so reckless as to incite Kiev to sponsor irregular warfare against Russia.

Even if this assumption is correct, however, more remains to be said. Washington's foreign policy machinations have so often given rise to unexpected and undesirable consequences that the CIA invented a term -- "blowback" -- to describe this phenomenon. The mujahideen of Afghanistan, from which al Qaeda originated, provide one famous example; the attacks on US personnel in Benghazi in September, 2012, by Islamist militants who had been used by Washington to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, offer another. Were the Right Sector to attempt to bring matters to a head with a unilateral decision to launch attacks inside Russia this would only be the latest (albeit likely also the most catastrophic) instance of blowback.

Like any number of fascist militias the world over, Ukraine's Right Sector has been fostered by elements of the US government to serve Washington's purposes; but that does not mean that the group is controlled by the US government. To date, the aims of the Right Sector have corresponded with Washington's: both wished to wrest Ukraine from Moscow's sphere of influence and correspondingly increase their own power within the country. No doubt they also share the ultimate objective of destroying Russia as a regional power and perhaps even as a viable state. Yet, if it is to be hoped that Washington perceives this as a long-term project and is not in a hurry to expedite the process by going to war with Russia, it is much less certain that the Right Sector lacks the stomach for such a fight. As the good fascists they are, the Right Sector may yet prove willing to convoke Götterdämmerung if in so doing they are able to destroy the hated Russian enemy.

Such suicidal recklessness might seem difficult to credit but it may be less farfetched than it seems. Yulia Tymoshenko, doyenne of the Fatherland Party, which currently holds the premiership of Ukraine, was secretly recorded as saying that, given the chance, she would have used nuclear weapons to exterminate the eight million Russian speakers in Crimea. Needless to say, Tymoshenko was speaking in anger and one cannot take her words at face value, but the sentiment is chillingly relevant nonetheless. It is also noteworthy that the Nazi collaborators that the Right Sector worship as sainted patriots were only too happy to assist in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people, including many of their fellow Ukrainians.

The Right Sector would unquestionably welcome the wholesale extermination of Russians in a nuclear conflagration. To this it might be returned that Ukraine (and indeed the rest of the planet) could hardly expect to escape unscathed from such a holocaust. Possibly -- but as intimated above, the Right Sector might consider mutual destruction an acceptable outcome, just as members of the John Birch Society once did in comparable circumstances. Equally, it would be less than surprising if initiates of the Right Sector shared the belief, held by certain of those ultraconservative Americans, that there is such a thing as a winnable nuclear war.

This leads us to the other question alluded to above: if events do conspire to bring NATO and Russia into open conflict, might the two sides refrain from using nuclear weapons? The situation being historically unprecedented, no certain answer can be given, but it is possible to attempt some assessment.

Clearly, the most compelling reason for such restraint would be the prospect of catastrophic retaliation by whichever side first came under nuclear attack. In the rare instances of skirmishing between two nuclear powers (variously India and China, and India and Pakistan), it seems clear that this was what deterred the belligerents from using nuclear weapons. Likewise, the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the US was based on the doctrine of "mutually assured destruction."

A worrisome difference between the aforementioned instances and the current situation in Ukraine is that, in the present case, the two sides are not in balance. The US has far more nuclear warheads than do the Russians and, more importantly still, the monitoring and anti-ballistic missile defence systems of the former are vastly superior. Given these novel circumstances it is possible that important elements in the US government might now consider it feasible to win a nuclear war against its adversary and in consequence elect to launch a first strike. Though it might sound a bit like a pastiche of The Princess Bride, there is also the danger that the Russians might conclude that they need to launch first so as to forestall just such a move by the US government.

Such scenarios may seem somewhat unlikely and perhaps they are -- but accidents do happen. In the event of war the strategic forces of both Russia and the US would obviously assume their highest state of readiness. During the past year numerous violations of security protocols for handling nuclear weapons have been reported in the United States, in some cases leading to the disciplining of entire units. Perhaps hostilities would focus the minds of these personnel -- but what if the additional stress makes them even more careless? What is more, one of the most perilous aspects of strategic forces being placed on war footing is that launch protocols necessarily become less strict. A terrifying and virtually unknown episode of the Cold War bears this out.

As previously classified materials have been made public over time it has become ever clearer how close the Soviet and the US governments came to commanding the launch of nuclear weapons during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. What is still not widely understood is that, during the emergency, the fate of the world hung on a decision in the field.

More than 50 years after the crisis an incident came to light of which the West had previously been entirely ignorant. It was disclosed that a Soviet submarine carrying nuclear missiles came under attack by US destroyers in the waters off Cuba. Standing orders were that Soviet submarines with nuclear payloads that were at risk of destruction through enemy action were to launch their missiles while still capable of doing so. However, a further rule stated that a submarine's three senior officers had to agree on when the craft was so imperilled as to warrant such a launch. In the incident in question, one of the three officers cast his vote against the decision to launch. In short, but for the veto of one low-ranking officer of the Soviet Navy, World War Three would have begun and human life would have ended in 1962.

Will Russia and NATO go to war with each other? It's looking more likely all the time. Will one side or the other opt to introduce nuclear weapons? Not unless they're insane -- but one could be forgiven for feeling that the NATO leaders engaging in the present game of brinksmanship must be less than sound of mind. Have launch protocols been amended or could an incident like that of the Soviet submarine and US destroyers occur under crisis conditions today? Sorry -- that information is classified.

What we do know is the following:

We know that the United States spent $5 billion to develop opposition within Ukraine to the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych. When peaceful protests failed to dislodge Yanukovych the US encouraged the Right Sector to do the job through violence. The Right Sector duly obliged by, amongst other tactics, gunning down members of the opposition movements then blaming this on the police (as revealed in a recent documentary shown on German television).

We know that Yanukovych was venal and corrupt but that he was also the democratically elected leader of Ukraine. As for the opposition forces that ousted him through the use of death threats, incendiaries, baseball bats and firearms, these range from the Fatherland Party of the equally venal and corrupt billionaire oligarch (and would-be nuclear génocidaire) Yulia Tymoshenko and on to the neo-Nazi Right Sector and Svoboda Party.

We know that immediately on seizing power the putschists initiated a campaign of thuggery and intimidation, singling out Russian speakers in particular. We know that in response the Russian forces in Crimea were strengthened and, at the behest of the local government, proceeded to non-violently disarm Ukrainian military on the peninsula. We know that a referendum was then conducted in which an overwhelming majority of the area's inhabitants voted in favour of union with Russia and that over one hundred respected international observers attested to the probity of the proceedings.

We know that Washington and all of the raggle-taggle toadies in its train denounced Russia for having "invaded" Ukraine and "annexed" Crimea. We know that the US has bombed or otherwise attacked scores of countries -- frequently on the pretext of protecting the interests of its citizens in these places -- and for two hundred years has asserted its legal right to intervene with military force anywhere in the Americas. Yet neither Washington nor its legion of lackeys (Canada, the European Union, etc.) nor the chorus of sycophants comprising the mainstream media have acknowledged this blatant hypocrisy.

We know that Washington has continued to issue patently false claims about events in the region, stating, e.g., that Russian troops were massing near the border of Ukraine when satellite reconnaissance revealed the opposite, or giving out photographs that purported to prove the presence in Ukraine of Russian special forces but which, upon examination, showed nothing of the kind. We know that the mainstream media and the leaders of the other NATO countries have shamelessly parroted these lies and made little or no effort to correct the record when the mendaciousness of this propaganda has been exposed.

Finally, we know that Canada's New Democratic Party has outdone itself in its efforts to prove its fealty to Washington in all of these matters.

Let us pause here and, for a moment, imagine that all of the lies birthed by Washington and spread by the international press were true. Let us suppose that Viktor Yanukovych resigned his office in shame and that the present caretaker regime in Kiev is composed of peace-loving, law-abiding democrats. Let us say that imperialist Russia seized Crimea by force and is now menacing mainland Ukraine.

Even if all this were true -- and, of course, first to last it is in reality nothing but lies -- and even if the New Democrats unfailingly opposed imperialism wherever it manifested itself (also completely false), the conduct of the NDP would still be nothing short of monstrous in its staggeringly self-absorbed recklessness.

We face the very real and imminent prospect of war between NATO and Russia -- an eventuality that, as I have been at pains to explain, could well wipe out all human life. Under these circumstances, the only decent -- nay, the only sane -- course of action would be to do everything possible to defuse tensions in the region. Instead, the NDP has dedicated itself unreservedly to marginalizing and demonizing Russia, and lionizing and supporting Washington and its fascist factotums in Kiev.

In brief, for the sake of their own petty domestic political success, the New Democrats are willing to play fast and loose with the possibility of World War Three. To make matters still more piquant, the NDP does so under colour of concern for human rights. My contempt and loathing for the party is beyond expression.

If we get out of the present mess alive it is absolutely imperative that socialists recognize the New Democrats for the utterly amoral abortions that this affair has shown them to be. Certainly because we ourselves cannot help being corrupted through association with such monstrosities; but also because it reveals that for them, as for all the rest of the capitalist order, life itself is a secondary consideration when the prerogatives of the system are at issue.

It is a near certainty that the excess mortality of the coming decades will number in the billions. If we don't all die in the next few weeks in a nuclear conflagration then destruction of the natural world will do for most of us well before mid-century. There are strong indications that emissions of greenhouse gases must be effectively reduced to zero within a few decades or the Earth's climate will lock into a pattern of increasing warming that will eventually produce temperatures on the order of those on Venus -- and while climate change is doubtless the single most serious ecological crisis facing us, it is but one of a multitude.

The New Democratic Party is a part of capitalism and capitalism is killing us -- perhaps quite quickly, depending on developments in Ukraine over the next month or so. Under these circumstances we have a choice of two sane and honest options. We can decide that the situation is utterly hopeless and give up entirely on political action; or we can set our faces resolutely against the entirety of the horrific, murderous, inhuman system that is capitalism, of which the NDP is -- and must necessarily continue to be -- a constituent element.

To all Canadians of conscience, I would say: if you cannot choose for the socialist revolution then at least do not work for the reaction by supporting the NDP. On this depends the integrity of our future lives and, in significant measure, whether there will be a future for us at all.


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