As the United States accelerates toward Inauguration Day, and as President-elect Biden announces more of his cabinet appointments, we are getting a clearer picture of how the incoming Biden administration plans to manage the “scorched earth foreign policy” he will be inheriting from Donald Trump. This is a foreign policy designed to create “as many fires as possible,” even when it comes to managing humanity’s most dangerous asset: nuclear weapons.
Trump has always maintained a somewhat strange and concerning fixation with the use of nuclear weapons. That fixation goes all the way back to the 1980s and 1990s, when Trump was best known as a New York City-based real estate developer who, before the dawn of Twitter, would speak his mind to eagerly scribbling tabloid reporters.
From the 2016 campaign trail to now, Trump’s more recent, albeit scattered (and, at times, seemingly contradictory), comments about “nuclear” have been difficult to parse. What has been evident, however, is that, as a U.S. President navigating the geopolitical terrain, Trump’s nuclear sensibilities have combined a Hollywood-style apocalypticism with his patented reality-show, tough-talking approach to any and all conflicts. Recall Trump’s casual hinting (via tweet) of the potential nuclear annihilation of both North Korea and Iran. Trump has even gone so far as to ask, more generally, “‘Why can’t we use our nuclear weapons?’”
Trump’s harsh rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is, like his rhetorical approach to most topics, rightly concerning. But there are even graver concerns behind the rhetorical surface: Trump’s horrifying policy commitment to the continued development of potentially apocalyptic nuclear weapons has given many peace activists new cause for alarm.
During his presidency, Trump has overseen the production and deployment of new low-yield nuclear warheads for Trident missiles. According to The Federation of American Scientists, as of Jan. 29, 2020, “The U.S. Navy has now deployed a new W76-2 low-yield Trident submarine warhead.” The Trump administration has specifically argued that these low-yield nuclear weapons would make nuclear war less likely by giving the U.S. military a more flexible nuclear deterrent.
However, arms-control advocates have raised serious concerns that these low-yield nukes could, in fact, lower the threshold for the U.S. starting an all-out nuclear conflict.
Along with the inherent ethical and military quandaries of developing new forms of nuclear weapons, there’s also the practical issue of the exorbitant costs it takes to maintain old nukes. According to the Pentagon’s updated figures from October, to upgrade the Minuteman III nuclear arsenal alone would cost an estimated $95.8 billion. Just four years ago, the same upgrade was estimated at only $10 billion.
On top of that funding for upgrades, back in February, Trump tried to increase the funding for nuclear weapons by $46 billion as part of his administration’s 2021 budget, according to a report in Defense News. Then, in May, the Trump administration reportedly discussed the possibility of conducting the first U.S. nuclear test explosion in nearly three decades.
While the U.S. has not conducted a known nuclear test explosion since Sept. 23, 1992, successive Democratic and Republican administrations, from Bush and Obama to Trump, have objectively done much to increase the threat of nuclear catastrophe, both abroad and domestically.
In 2006, for instance, George W. Bush presided over the full-scale infiltration of private-sector actors into the development, construction, and maintenance of U.S. military weapons, including (but not limited to) all facets of the nuclear triad production process. The triad includes three types of nuclear weapons delivery systems: land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear missile-armed submarines, and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.
Obama, much like his predecessor, began his first term in office buoyed by incredibly optimistic proclamations about the future of nuclear weapons. In 2009, in Prague, in a speech referencing the Czech Republic’s Cold War history, Obama did not mince words: “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Obama is also often lauded for his successful negotiation of the New START Treaty with Russia, which, among other achievements, freezes both countries’ nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads each.
However, in stark contrast to these peaceful messages and tangible treaties, the Federation for American Scientists noted that “the Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any other post-Cold War administration.”
So far, according to recent reporting from Sarah Lazare at In These Times, the Biden administration is largely being filled out by the same “hawkish national security blob” that “helped shape some of the most militaristic policies of the Obama administration,” including interventions in Syria and Libya.
Biden’s genuflections to the military-industrial-congressional complex include the nomination of Gen. Lloyd Austin for the position of secretary of defense, according to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke to the Associated Press. Austin served as former head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and, if confirmed, would be the first African-American secretary of defense.
As some critics have pointed out, though, the fact that Austin retired from the military so recently (in 2016) puts him in a compromised position, leaving him, potentially, more deeply aligned with the same military operations forces he would be overseeing at the Pentagon.
While it has not been discussed much in the media—partly due to the justifiable and necessary focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 election, and the economic recession that is accelerating global inequality—it is, nevertheless, imperative to note that nuclear weapons are still just as dangerous and apocalyptic a threat now as they were during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s.
Putting out the many fires Donald Trump lit around the world will be difficult, but President Biden would do well to remember that nuclear weapons policy is inextricably linked to many of the foreign policy challenges he will face. Apart from climate change, it’s the only issue that one could credibly and undeniably present as an immediate and existential threat to the entire future of humanity and the planet.
As Paul Sonne describes in a recent article in the Independent, “the United States, along with the rest of the world, is now in the era of ‘great power competition’ with China and Russia, resulting in a competitive buildup that arms control advocates warn is risking a full-blown arms race.”
In that vein, it’s also worth stressing the danger of recent increases in nuclear weapons militarism around the world, fostered by nuclear-armed countries such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, France, the United Kingdom, North Korea, and Israel.
An article from the Economic Times goes on to further address China’s place in the global arms race, noting that the “growth of its nuclear weapons has increased in recent years with the fielding of new weapon systems,” and that the country has begun “significantly modernizing its nuclear arsenal.”
Israel, for its part, has denied even having nuclear weapons, claiming that its policy is “not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East.” This policy doctrine was first alluded to in a July 1969 declassified memo to U.S. President Richard Nixon from then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Nevertheless, according to a fact sheet produced by the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, and additionally supported by a report by the International Panel on Fissile Materials, Israel is believed to have “90 plutonium-based nuclear warheads and to have produced enough plutonium for 100-200 weapons.” Many experts have long suspected that Israel will acknowledge its nuclear arsenal in public if and when another country in the Middle East acquires nuclear weapons as well.
In October of this year, Russia conducted a test of an anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile. In late August, China similarly conducted a test firing of its “carrier killer” and “Guam killer” ballistic missiles into the South China Sea—a body of water that extends south of China, east and south of Vietnam, and west of the Philippines.
Outside of their escalatory effect on international conflicts, the manufacturing of nuclear weapons has smaller—but no less potentially devastating—risks.
On Dec. 17, Politico reported that the National Nuclear Security Administration was one of the federal agencies likely affected by the cyberattack on SolarWinds, a software company that provides products to both government and private businesses. One need not stretch the imagination too much to understand the devastation that future cyberattacks could wreck on our nuclear infrastructure.
It’s been more than 13 years since a major documented nuclear weapons incident took place on U.S. soil, when six nuclear-armed cruise missiles were mistakenly loaded onto a B-52H heavy bomber at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and taken to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
The nuclear-armed cruise missiles were not reported missing at all, and remained fully attached to the aircraft, without proper safety protocols in place, during their time at both air bases. If not for a chance detection 36 hours later, this inconceivable mistake could have set off a chain of events with the potential to fundamentally alter or end the world as we know it. That may sound hyperbolic, but these are, quite literally, the stakes of producing, maintaining, and handling (or mishandling) nuclear weapons.
In 2007 there was another incident: an incorrect shipment of nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan. In July 2012, moreover, protesters successfully broke into and defaced a nuclear site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In 2014, the U.S. Air Force acknowledged that it had a widespread problem with officers cheating on nuclear-related examinations. These were the same officers entrusted with potentially carrying out the launching of the United States’ intercontinental ballistic missiles.
As recently as April 2018 there was another protester break-in at a nuclear facility, this time at the naval submarine base in Georgia. In fact, these types of events apparently happen with such frequency that the Pentagon has now seen fit to classify information detailing whether any nuclear base passes a routine inspection with a “pass-fail” grade. That information is now off-limits to the public.
For decades, issues relating to nuclear weapons more generally have remained fundamentally unresolved in any substantive manner. Just this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to the closest point to midnight it has reached in recorded history, just 100 seconds away.
A statement posted to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists website states that “Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”
Just 16 days after Biden takes office, the nonproliferation-focused New START Treaty between the world’s most nuclear-armed countries, the United States and Russia, will expire.
In addition, the Iran Nuclear Deal, known officially as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a deal partly negotiated by President Obama, which President Trump subsequently withdrew the U.S. from when he took office—could also be back on the table, if Biden and his military hawk advisers see fit.
With this all in mind, the Real News reached out to journalist Christian Sorensen to talk about what larger nefarious military, corporate, and lobbying forces are at play when it comes to nuclear weapons production—and what tangible steps the Biden administration could take to change the current dangerous trajectory of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.
Christian Sorensen is an independent journalist focused on war profiteering within the military-industrial-congressional complex. An Air Force veteran, Sorensen is the author of the recently published book, “Understanding the War Industry.” Christian is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network, an organization of independent veteran military and national security experts.
The following interview was conducted by Real News Network producer Andrew Corkery and was edited for length and clarity.
Andrew Corkery: I just wanted to start off and say, first of all, thank you so much for joining us, and we really appreciate it. If you could start by just explaining broadly, but kind of in a refined way, what exactly your concerns are about U.S. nuclear policy, both currently and historically?
Christian Sorensen: My main concern with overall U.S. nuclear policy is the danger that our own nuclear weapons pose to us. And this is something that we often overlook. Our nuclear weapons threaten us, let alone anybody else who possesses nuclear weapons.
There is a great investigative journalist named Eric Schlosser who wrote a book called “Command and Control.” And he spent, I think, six years reviewing the U.S. safety record with our own nuclear weapons. Now, the nuclear triad is composed of the bomber fleet, the aircraft; the land-based nuclear weapons, which are called intercontinental ballistic missiles, ICBMs; and the submarines, which have submarine launched ballistic missiles, SLBM.
Now, Eric Schlosser talks about all those, and the most important thing that I find in his research is that, in under 20 years during the Cold War—I believe the timeframe was 1950 to 1968—our own nuclear weapons had at least 1200 significant incidents or accidents. That’s our own stockpile.
We are absolutely playing with fire. We have more nuclear weapons than any other country, aside from Russia. More nuclear warheads, that is. And as long as we have this, as long as we—as the world superpower—have these weapons, we are endangering everyone else, and we’re endangering ourselves. There are some famous close calls that we’ve had, including the Abel Archer exercise that NATO conducted in 1983.
There was also a solar storm in 1967 that basically put some of our equipment for monitoring nuclear weapons on the fritz. And we thought that it was a jamming attack, prior to Russia launching a nuclear weapon. And we came very close to launching a nuclear weapon or multiple nuclear weapons at Russia, at Moscow and cities within the Soviet Union. This stuff happens all the time.
So, even if you’re a vicious, rabid nationalist and you don’t care about any other countries—okay, I understand that. I don’t agree with it, but I understand that you have your own interests. Still, those interests should be leading you to advocate for the dismantling of the nuclear weapon complex.
Corkery: I wanted to start this next question off with a quote I found, which I think is interesting and pertinent to the issues we are discussing. The quote is from an article written by The Union of Concerned Scientists, specifically by author Stephen Young, a senior analyst and an expert on arms control and international security issues. Young says: “The Trump administration has embraced this race, with the President’s chief arms-control negotiator declaring that the United States knows “how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion.” Oblivion? Seriously?
“And yet,” Young continues, “perhaps surprisingly, it was President Barack Obama who started the wheels churning on all this; His administration lay plans to build new versions of every piece of the oversized U.S. nuclear force structure—new long-range bombers, new land-based missiles, new nuclear-armed submarines, new nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and new versions of the nuclear warheads they carry. Since coming to office, President Trump added to the list a new, lower-yield nuclear warhead (that he thinks he can use in some kind of minor conflict) a new submarine-launched cruise missile, and one more new nuclear warhead for submarine-based missiles.”
Now, additionally, the U.S. has an annual defense budget of $740 billion and has planned $1.2 trillion of spending on new nuclear weapons over the next 30 years.
With that context in mind, what are the main differences between a Trump and Biden nuclear policy that people should understand and care about? And what are some of the nuclear policy issues to look out for, based on Biden’s past policy prescriptions and career history?
Sorensen: It’s a great question. First, I would say: It’s important to understand the continuity among the past few administrations.
Because, before we can even tackle what a Biden administration might do, we have to understand the corporate nature of the two factions of the U.S. ruling class, the Democrats and the Republicans. So the two factions are both pro-war. They’re both pro-nuclear weapons. They’re both pro-Wall Street. They’re both pretty strongly anti-working class. And they’re both viciously capitalist. So, what do we expect from a Biden administration? I would say: more or less the same.
There has been some excellent independent research from independent journalists, such as Sarah Lazare writing for In These Times, who reported that around one-third of Biden’s Pentagon transition team is from either the war industry itself—that is to say, the corporations that develop, market, and sell goods and services to the overall U.S. military establishment—or they’re from the overall military-industrial-congressional complex.
So, that does not bode well for anyone within the United States or any global citizen who’s looking for a potential peace dividend. We must also understand the corporate nature of the nuclear weapons complex within the other profitable business sectors of war.
As of, I think, 2006, the final corporatization of the U.S. weapons labs was completed. Prior to that, there were at least some inherently governmental positions within those labs. Now most of those labs are run by corporate interest. You have, for example, Los Alamos, one of the more famous weapons labs that we have—that’s run by a conglomerate from Texas A&M and the University of California. Both academic institutions, mind you, are thoroughly tied in to military funding. And Battelle, which is a corporation that works on many goods and services that it sells to the U.S. military establishment. So, that’s part one of this corporatization: The weapons labs themselves are corporatized.
When war is profit, when nuclear weapons are profit, these corporations are going to do everything they can within the Beltway, including (but not limited to) lobbying and campaign finance, to make sure that any Democratic administration, if it were progressive—and the Biden administration, by all indications, is not—would not touch any part of the nuclear triad and would not change the overall orientation of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
But when you and I look at an aircraft, or a ship, or a nuclear weapon in this case, we see just that. We see an aircraft, we see a ship, we see a nuclear weapon. War corporations, the corporations that develop, market, and sell goods and services to the U.S. military establishment, see a platform upon which (and through which) they can develop, market, and sell all kinds of goods and services. So, there’s a great deal of corporate power behind each leg of the nuclear triad.
Just to take one example: The Trident II is the current submarine-launched ballistic missile. It is technically a Lockheed Martin product. But many, many more corporations work on just this one leg of the nuclear triad. You have, for example, Draper Labs and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which work on the guidance systems and the navigation systems; you have General Dynamics, which builds the submarines that launch these weapons; you have L3Harris, which develops flight-test instrumentation; you have Northrop Grumman, which does some engineering and technical work on the nukes.
So, if any administration—including the Biden administration—tries to touch one of these weapons, any one of them, they are going to feel the full might of corporate America pushing back to ensure that production and development of those weapons stays on course.
That’s the real danger, in my opinion, because we have thoroughly corporatized the nuclear triad to the point where the profit motive is really the impetus for nuclear weapons production and development, as well as military products more generally. That’s incredibly worrying—and every global citizen, including every citizen and resident in the United States, needs to be aware of that.
Corkery: So, it seems like the whatever past motives were behind what the U.S. government calls “security,” or “nuclear deterrence,” whether people agreed with those motives or not—those have fallen by the wayside and have been replaced by this kind of multi-tentacled interface of the corporate-military establishment, including private companies that are economically incentivized by, and financially dependent on, these military contracts in order to survive?
Sorensen: What you just delineated is exactly the problem with the military-industrial-congressional complex. That is why the wars continue. That is why we have basically been the country at endless war since 1945. The profit motive, the industrial side of the military-industrial-congressional triangle, is the propellant, the impetus, driving the whole thing.
That profit motive affects and sways Congress, Capitol Hill, the congressional side of the triangle, and it does the same with the military. And until we address that underlying corporate authority in the military-industrial-congressional triangle and in society writ large, including corporate personhood, we’re never going to be able to stop the wars, let alone bring the troops home, let alone take care of them, let alone pay compensation to the victims of our wars overseas.
Corkery: And, just to make sure people really grasp the gravity of all of this, how do these dynamics impact the stability, safety, and sustainability of the world?
Sorensen: I would point to the larger picture, which is brain drain. Right now, the U.S. federal government throws, give or take, between $700 billion and over a trillion dollars each year on war, and on preparation for war, depending on how you count. I say “depending on how you count” because some of the nuclear weapons budget is hidden or stashed in the Department of Energy budget, so on and so forth.
Brain drain is really the thing that concerns me, because, I mean, imagine the possibilities if we put that kind of money annually into departments such as Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, anything, instead of most of that money going to war profiteers.
Corkery: I want to bring us back to the Biden transition and just lay out some points of context. Biden could potentially commit to renewing Obama’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START Treaty, with Russia, which freezes both countries’ nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads each.
If the New START Treaty with Russia—the only remaining U.S.-Russia arms-control pact— is not rejoined, or if there is no negotiation of a replacement treaty, the New START Treaty will expire on Feb. 5. That’s just 16 days after Biden is sworn in for his first term as President.
Additionally, in August 2019, as you noted, the U.S. pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, otherwise known as the INF. The treaty, going back to 1987, banned missiles with ranges between 500 to 5,500 km (310-3,400 miles). It was initially signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
And in 2018 and 2019, both NATO and the U.S. jointly accused Russia of violating the INF treaty by specifically deploying a new type of cruise missile, which Moscow has since vehemently denied. Biden could, in theory, rejoin that INF treaty nuclear treaty as well.
Lastly (and this is an important point), Biden could also outright freeze Obama and Trump’s plan to spend more than a trillion dollars on a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons in the coming years. According to an article in Common Dreams by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies, Biden could “adopt a long overdue ‘no first use’ nuclear weapons policy, but most of the world is ready to go much further. In 2017, 122 countries voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at the UN General Assembly. None of the current nuclear weapons states voted for or against the treaty, essentially pretending to ignore it. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty, which will now go into effect on January 22, 2021.”
In your estimation, then, what is the likelihood that Biden does any or all of these things when he takes office come January 2021?
Sorensen: Sure, he could do all of those. Unfortunately, given the makeup of his Pentagon transition team, as we talked about, I don’t see him doing any of those. Now, I hope to be proven wrong. But there are literally career militants—and not just career militants, but career war profiteers, people who ride the revolving door in and around the military-industrial-congressional complex their whole adult lives—in Biden’s administration.
Unfortunately, the real stalwarts, the real mainstays in his Pentagon transition team, are known to brag about their bellicosity. They always find a way to blame Russia, they’ll always find a new way to blame China. China is the new boogeyman, the new enemy of the day. And it’s really worrying, because we are right now in the “Cold War 2.0 great power competition.”
But if Biden really wanted to turn down the heat, he could take care of the nuclear triad and the nuclear situation on day one. Biden could actually issue an executive order to deactivate the land-based nuclear weapons, the intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are spread across Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. He could also recall the nuclear submarines and not have them going out loaded with submarine-launched ballistic missiles. And he could ground the bombers. He could do that. He could also, perhaps more critically, cancel the nuclear contracts with Northrop Grumman—and with other companies as well.
Northrop Grumman just signed a deal to develop, market, and sell the next generation of land-based nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles. These are going to replace the current generation of Minuteman III ballistic missiles, which are a Boeing product.
Now, the Pentagon would have to pay what amount to cancellation fees, et cetera. But it would be a nominal fee compared to the overall cost of the eventual development, deployment, and maintenance of Northrop Grumman’s future intercontinental ballistic missiles (I believe the price tag there is somewhere around $264 billion). Imagine what we could do with that kind of money. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and everyone’s hurting—everyone was hurting in this country before the pandemic, aside from the billionaires. Half of the country was poor or low income before the pandemic. So, there’s plenty of money to go around.
Biden could cancel the Northrop Grumman contract, which would save a ton of that money. And there’s precedent for this. If the Trump administration can divert military funding to build a wall, then any other president could do the exact same thing, diverting military funding for their own projects. The precedent has been set now—the legalese is all there.
If Biden really wanted to, if he was truly progressive—and I’m afraid to say he’s probably not—he could divert that money to areas where it’s more needed. There’s so much power that we’ve invested in the executive branch since 9/11, for better or worse, that Biden could basically funnel money from the overall nuclear weapons complex into programs for social uplift. That would be a smart move politically. There are many people across the country who need health care—we need education, we need infrastructure, we need housing, we need food security. So, there are plenty of steps he can take.
Additionally, Biden could extend the New START treaty. It’s not automatic, but the New START treaty can be extended up to five years. That would give him an enormous amount of breathing room. He could also rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. Withdrawing from the JCPOA, which has only further inflamed the region, is one of the most dangerous things the Trump administration has done.
Now, unfortunately, the Biden administration—and, in particular, the whole Pentagon transition team—uses Iran as one of the boogeymen of the day, one of the official enemies of the United States. While Biden might rejoin the JCPOA, all indications are that he’s still going to position Iran as a “malignant actor,” or a “rogue state,” or whatever the preferred euphemism is. So, I’m not optimistic. The “no first use” policy you mentioned would be outstanding, though.
Right now, the other boogeyman of the day, China, has a “no first use” policy, they say, categorically. Clearly, we will not be the first country to use nuclear weapons again. And if the United States could adopt that policy, that would immediately turn down the heat, it would give decision makers breathing room. If there’s another solar flare that screws with our equipment, for example, we could actually have some time to evaluate instead of assuming it’s an incoming ballistic missile attack. Having that space for cool-headed evaluation really just takes that nuclear option out of the President’s toolkit. And that is incredibly important.
China, mind you, also keeps their nuclear warheads separate from the delivery systems, from the launchers, which is another really good thing to do. That’s a great step to make sure that we don’t have, as we currently do, our warheads on our nuclear weapons—it would really help defuse things. It doesn’t get rid of nuclear weapons, but it’s a really concrete step that we could all take to just say, “Alright, let’s all take a breather. Let’s all calm down, and let’s move on from here.”
Corkery: And, looking at this in broad terms, what would be the overall benefit of achieving some of these policy objectives, including rejoining some of the aforementioned treaties? What is the urgency of securing nuclear stability, nonproliferation, and the potential for any lasting peace, especially when we consider other interconnecting crises, like climate change?
Sorensen: Well, that’s just it. Right now, as a population, we have collectively kicked the can down the road so hard on the climate issue. And now we are facing multiple compounding crises. We need leadership that attends to these crises, and that treats them as crises. In order to do that, though, you need funding. You simply cannot give anywhere between $700 billion to $1.2 trillion to the war machine each year and take care of the impending climate disaster at the same time. You need to establish priorities.
I want to point out that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has done outstanding work in this regard, and they are leading from the ground up. The momentum that they have is incredible. There was a piece—I think it was in the Associated Press—published around the end of October that reported that the U.S. government is now working to get the countries that have committed to the ICAN treaty to uncommit. What kind of monstrous policy is this?
I mean, you, the U.S., are using your substantial diplomatic and military clout and financial resources to bully countries into renouncing their support for a very, very positive step towards peace? That is incredibly troublesome. You could kill two birds with one stone if you defund the nuclear weapons complex and you actually begin to address the war profiteering inherent to the overall military-industrial-congressional complex. You can then move that money into, for example, a Green New Deal.
Corkery: Right. And this brings us back to Biden’s incoming administration. I want to make sure that readers have a clear idea of what policy options Biden has available so they can understand what he is and isn’t doing regarding nuclear policy.
In that vein, though, would Biden rejoining any of these treaties or enacting any of these policies mean much or be holistically effective, especially considering that countries like China, India, Pakistan, and Israel are not part of those nuclear treaties and policies? Ultimately, this seems more like a global issue.
Sorensen: I agree, but it’s also a matter of leadership. It would be a wonderful signal to the world if the U.S. got back in the ABM treaty and the INF Treaty—if we renewed the New START Treaty for another five years. But that’s just the first step. If you don’t tackle the military-industrial-congressional complex—particularly the war industry portion of that, which corrupts Congress through spreading facilities out across congressional districts, through campaign finance, financing both parties, both factions of the U.S. ruling class, and through lobbying—then you are never going to be able to make any headway whatsoever.
There are also pressure groups that legally are not—but, functionally, very much are—lobbying organizations: sometimes they’re 501(c) organizations, sometimes they’re trade associations. And they basically pester Congress to get what they want. It’s another way for the war industry to confine the policy debate and options for our lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
These organizations arrange congressional testimonies, they administer arms fairs for conferences, which are usually sponsored by pressure groups like the National Defense Industrial Association, AIA America, the Association of US Army, AUSA, et cetera. There are dozens of these groups and they also need to be addressed. The lobbying and undue influence, in all its forms, needs to be addressed. I mean, imagine what kind of country we would live in if lobbyists were not writing the bills that then get passed.
And it’s a bigger issue than the war industry. The fossil fuel industry does it, too, right on down to the state level. There are a lot of lobbying organizations packed with careerists who have circulated around the military-industrial-congressional complex throughout their entire adult lives—the McKeon Group, the Cohen group, the Spectrum Group, and so on. These are packed with former generals, former staffers for the House Armed Services Committees, et cetera, et cetera.
We also must understand how the U.S. war industry shapes national narratives purveyed by corporate media, sending career militants to become national security “experts” on MSNBC, Fox, CNN—like Mike Morell at CBS News, or John Brennan. They limit the discourse when it comes to foreign policy. You’ll also see Boeing and General Dynamics taking out advertisements on Sunday morning talk shows, even though they don’t sell directly to the American public. It makes no sense beyond the need to further confine the discourse, you know, to prevent any substantive analysis of the reasons why we are constantly at war.
But to connect this back to the incoming presidential administration, I don’t see Biden taking any steps beyond maybe rejoining a treaty or two. So, it’s a very difficult situation, not just for the American public but for the global citizenry, because we simply cannot afford to kick the climate crisis down the road for another four years.
Corkery: When Americans are being fed all this disinformation and military propaganda, how can people fully understand the depth and breadth of the danger of nuclear weapons—for our planet and for humanity?
Sorensen: We’re in for a world of hurt. The best we can do is educate our families and our friends and work every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes, to try to get the word out. And we need to educate ourselves and turn to non-corporate media. That’s the key. Through a combination of independent (and foreign) media and self-education, we can at least snap out of the corporate media paradigm and really start to begin understanding the nature of the beast.
But we’re in even more trouble, to be honest. For a long time there was something called the Smith-Mundt Act, which basically said that the propaganda the U.S. government sends overseas—for example, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty—can’t be directed inward at the U.S. public. Now, regrettably, there was the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 that basically said that rule no longer applies with any regularity.
So, how do we educate ourselves? I would point to the independent group called Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, which advocates divestment. So nuclearweaponsmoney.org does great work, so does dontbankonthebomb.com. I would also point to one of the first decent think tanks I’ve ever come across, which is called SPRI (it is one of the only foreign policy-based think tanks that does not accept corporate or government money. It is entirely viewer and reader-funded, and it does excellent work from a progressive lens).
Like I said before, and I can’t stress this enough: You have to tackle the corporate rule and the profit motive underpinning the industrial side of the military-industrial-congressional triangle if you’re going to make any progress on nuclear weapons, let alone endless wars.
Lastly, I would emphasize that nuclear weapons can be abolished. Countries have done it before; there is precedent out there. South Africa gave up its program. We could do this—and if we actually want to be leaders in any sense of the word, we should.