“The walking ghost phase of radiation poisoning is a period of apparent health, lasting for hours or days, following an acute dose of radiation. As its name would suggest, the walking ghost phase is followed by certain death.”
– Webster’s Online Dictionary
When the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union back in 1991, it was supposed to signify that the threat of nuclear holocaust was over. No longer would the world suffer under the consciousness that nuclear extermination might occur at any moment. Little did we suspect that, like the walking ghost phase of radiation poisoning, the illusion of safety was but a temporary reprieve; that the use of nuclear weapons would again become not only a renewed possibility, but even quite likely. Recent noises emanating from The White House regarding the issue of Iran’s continued uranium enrichment, in which the Obama administration has refused to rule out the option of a preventive nuclear strike against Iran, have brought the threat of nuclear warfare closer to home than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Perhaps the end of the Cold War was really nothing other than the walking ghost phase of the nuclear threat, a temporary respite before impending death.
It was on 6 April 2010 when The White House announced a “new” policy that would “restrict” US use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear armed nations; an apparent reversal of the Bush-era threat to use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological attack. Where it gets interesting, however, is in the announcement that the new policy does not extend to North Korea or Iran. According to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates “they’re not in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So for them all bets are off. All the options are on the table.”
Hardly surprising that Iran has interpreted the comments as an implicit threat to use nuclear weapons against them, should they fail to comply with US demands. Ignoring for the moment the United States’ own violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, or its assistance in arming Israel, a nation that refuses to even sign the treaty – what the new policy really signifies is not an intent to “limit” the use of nuclear weapons, but rather the intent to lower the threshold of use. In other words, Iran had better toe the line and fall in with our demands, or there’s no telling how far we might go.
The Nobel Peace Prize Winning US President, Barack Obama, who currently has military operations underway in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia) has received praise in some quarters for his attempts to engage Iran in “meaningful diplomacy.” What was in fact done was to present Iran with a list of demands it could not reasonably accept without severe compromise, accompanied by implicit threats to use force if the demands are not met. It is unclear as to how this represents progress from the official Bush administration policy, which was to present Iran with a list of demands it could not reasonably accept without severe compromise, accompanied by implicit threats to use force if the demands are not met. As becomes increasingly clear, Obama is just as willing to submit to the existing ideology of preserving and extending the scope of American power at all costs – through military intervention if necessary – as any of his immediate predecessors, whether they happen to be Republican or Democrat. “Yes we can change” indeed.
The notion that Obama’s nuclear arms policy represents any “improvement” over existing policy is entirely illusory. Apparently, under the new policy, the US would only consider using nuclear weapons under “extreme circumstances”. Well one would hope that this is always a minimum consideration at the very least. No new nuclear warheads are to be constructed. Again, nothing new there. The US has not built any additional nuclear warheads since 1990, and not without good reason: the existing arsenal is already sufficient to obliterate the entire surface of the planet and everything on it, several times over. As to taking “good faith steps to reduce the nuclear arsenal” as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: it’s not on the agenda.
Instead, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend US$80 billion to upgrade its existing nuclear arms complex. It’s a classic use of Orwellian double-think: announcing plans to limit the use of nuclear weapons while at the same time strengthening the existing nuclear arsenal and threatening their use against an official enemy.
That hundreds of thousands of innocent Iranians should be instantly exterminated – perhaps millions more turned into walking ghosts in the aftermath of the nuclear strikes – as punishment for the perceived misdeeds of their leaders, is of course a sickening inversion of any possible ethical standard. Yet apparently, mass annihilation and near inconceivable levels of long term human suffering are irrelevant factors when it comes to securing US interests.
Of course, the use of implicit threats does not signify that a nuclear strike on Iran is imminent. But such loose talk is deemed useful as a tool of intimidation in the high stakes realm of international diplomacy. And for “diplomacy” read: getting our way, whatever the risks. A leaked Pentagon study from 1995 stated that:
“Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the U.S. may do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed.”
In fact, the Obama administration is intent on carrying on a paranoid Cold War mentality that extends back at least as far as the early 60’s, when the US Strategic Command considered:
“The fact that some elements (of the U.S. government) may appear to be potentially ‘out of control’ can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts within the minds of an adversary’s decision makers. That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries.”
US policy is in fact reinforcing the worldwide notion that we are living on a dangerously insecure planet; that it’s the prerogative of all nations to seek out and develop weapons of mass destruction as a means of defence. The US has systematically removed every incentive for nations to disarm and disavow the use of WMD, nuclear or otherwise. Indeed, the US appears intent on exploiting the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty to prevent any potential rival from obtaining a nuclear deterrent, while retaining its own arsenal and arming selected friends such as Israel and India, sparking off regional tensions and escalating the Middle Eastern arms race to ever more insane degrees of danger.
The climate in the American far right is even further off the charts. Infamous neo-con cheerleader and borderline psychopath Rush Limbaugh made the absurd accusation that Barack Obama is deliberately attempting to arm Iran. On an October 13 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh claimed that:
“Obama wants to limit nuclear weapons. And of course a lot of idealists on the left swoon at the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons. Well, that’s wonderful! Wonderful! Let’s do it! Well, Obama knows he can’t make any other nation get rid of theirs. All he can do is reduce our stockpile. So he’ll do it, thinking he’s making the world safer, while at the same time following through with this idealistic notion of reducing nuclear stockpiles. And if there is any damage, punishment to the United States in the process, then fine, we deserve it, because we have such an unfair advantage already with so many nuclear weapons and missiles that the rest of the world doesn’t have. For example, the Middle East doesn’t have one, except for Israel. That’s just not fair, the way Obama looks at it. The Israelis have a nuclear bomb, but the Iranians don’t. They might soon, but that’s good, because that’s fair. If the Israelis have one, the Iranians should. If we have a lot, then other people should have them too.”
Yep, even though the Obama administration is spending US$80 billion on revamping the United States’ vast stockpile of nuclear weaponry and broadly hinting the possibility of carrying out preventive nuclear strikes on Iran, that’s just not going far enough for Good Ol’ Rush. Apparently, that’s all some sort of conspiracy to divest the US of nuclear weapons. And jeez – why would anybody want to do something like that? And, y’know, take good faith steps towards achieving a nuclear weapon free world? Now that’s just crazy talk!
The US political spectrum continues to step closer to whackadoo land. Rattling the nuclear sabre at Iran is now regarded as a left wing plot to undermine US nuclear dominance. Why not just nuke ‘em now?
That’s the state of the world nuclear address. A Nobel Peace Prize winning “moderate” US President refuses to rule out the use of preventive nuclear strikes, while his extreme right opposition consider that nothing less than the nuclear annihilation of Iran will do. As for removing the option of nuclear attack from the table altogether: it’s simply not on the agenda. What chance do we really have of preventing the use of nuclear weapons – whether now or at some unspecified point in the future – under such a climate? It’s perhaps sobering to consider the inevitable aftermath of the walking ghost phase in cases of acute radiation poisoning:
“In rapid succession prostration, diarrhoea, anorexia, and fever follow. Death is certain, often preceded by delirium and coma. Therapy is only to relieve suffering.”
– The Federation of American Scientists
* Prpryat Doll photo by Danny Soos.