Revolution #173, August 16, 2009

From A World to Win News Service

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and now

August 3, 2009. A World to Win News Service. August 6 and 9 mark the anniversaries of two of the worst war crimes ever committed—the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan just before the end of World War 2. About 120,000 people were murdered immediately, and painful radiation poisoning killed a similar number later. The shadow of the mushroom cloud continues to hang over the world because the U.S., the imperialist power that killed those civilians, continues trying to rule the globe and hasn't given up nuclear weapons. Nor have its imperialist rivals and other reactionary governments.

In April of this year, U.S. President Barack Obama made a declaration that would gladden hearts all over the globe if it were true: "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." Yet in July when he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced what was supposed to be a step toward implementing that goal, the result was "little cause for celebration," according to an anti-nuclear weapons organization that says it shares "President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons." (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation,

In reality this agreement doesn't make the world a safer place, and maybe just the opposite.

It is true that the world has seen a huge cutback in the number of nuclear warheads and missiles since the mid-1980s, even before the fall of the USSR. This has not meant, however, that the U.S. has surrendered its nukes. Under ex-president George W. Bush, it blatantly declared its plans "to dominate and control the military use of space, to protect U.S. interests and investments," which definitely includes strategic nuclear weapons. (The 2000 Rumsfeld Commission Report, cited on

The fact is that the Obama-Medvedev Joint Understanding represents little or no progress towards ridding the world of this scourge. The goal for the year 2016 is to cut the number of "strategic delivery systems"—long-range missiles and bombers and certain missile-launching submarines—by about a third. But the reduction in the number of deployed strategic warheads to be carried by these "delivery systems" would be much less. Due to changes in how "deployed" nukes are counted, the new limit of 1,500-1,675 warheads may turn out to be only slightly lower than the 1,700-2,200 level set by the Moscow Treaty signed by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin seven years ago. (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 22, 2009)

"Deployed" is the key word here. It means ready for almost instant use. The announced reductions would focus on getting rid of weapons now in storage and scheduled to be recycled. In fact, although both the U.S. and Russia now each have about 5,000 nuclear warheads (amounting to 90 percent of the world's total), the number of actually deployed weapons may already be below the new agreement's limits: The U.S. and Russia have "more than 1,000 warheads on high alert, ready to launch within tens of minutes, even though a deliberate attack by Russia or the United States on the other seems improbable." (Bulletin) Since each of these warheads is many times more deadly than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this means much of humanity could be wiped out in the blink of an eye—and that would not change under this agreement.

The most flagrant problem is what is not in this agreement or anywhere else—a renunciation of the U.S.'s long-held doctrine of "first use" on which some of its military plans are based. The U.S. says it has the right to fire off nuclear weapons as it sees fit and even refused to promise that it would not launch a nuclear attack if not attacked with nukes first. So far, nothing has changed through all the U.S. administrations since 1945.

Along with that, the agreement makes no mention of tactical nuclear weapons, the kind the U.S. considered using on Iraq and is most likely to employ in the near future under foreseeable circumstances. Similarly, instead of destroying its older strategic nuclear weapons systems, the U.S. wants to convert them to what's considered tactical use, whether or not they are fitted with nuclear warheads. This is the kind of weapon most likely to see action soon. For instance, the U.S. has converted some intercontinental missile-carrying submarines to cruise missile launchers, and it does not intend to give them up.

Equally significant in terms of immediate relevance, Obama has also failed to heed a call made by several countries over the last decades to make the Middle East a "nuclear-free zone." If the U.S.'s concerns with Iran's moves towards nuclear weapons were really rooted in opposition to nuclear proliferation, then logically it would support this idea, which Iran might conceivably accept as well. But politically and most certainly financially and technically, the U.S. supports Israel's nuclear arsenal because those weapons further American interests and policy in the region, and they are non-negotiable.

Before the Islamic regime took over, Washington actually encouraged the Shah of Iran, whose government the U.S. helped bring to power, to embark on a nuclear weapons programme as part of Iran's then-role as a secondary pillar of U.S. domination in the Middle East. Today Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and says it welcomes international inspections. But the U.S. and its allies want to forbid it to gain the engineering skills and technology that could be used to make bombs in the future—already attained by many countries—because such weapons would break Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear terror. Israeli officials recently admitted to the authoritative U.S. journalist Roger Cohen that what worried them most is not a possible Iranian nuclear attack—possible but unlikely, in their view—but that Iranian possession or even "near possession" of such weapons would change the balance of power even if they were never used. ("The making of an Iran policy," The New York Times, August 2, 2009)

One reason why the U.S. was so anxious to sign this agreement with Russia has nothing to do with peace and everything to do with aggression: the U.S. wants to rally public opinion and other governments to its efforts to squeeze the Islamic Republic of Iran. Another reason is that at this summit, Russia agreed to let the U.S. use its airspace for the war in Afghanistan. These are not exactly steps toward peace.

At the same time, while trying to get Russian assent for more pressure on Iran, the U.S. is also trying to neutralize Russia's military power to pursue its interests in opposition to the U.S. While Obama hasn't explicitly endorsed Bush's plan to station American anti-missile systems in Central Europe, he hasn't dropped it either. Such anti-missile systems, though small, would be useful in blunting Russia's capacity to retaliate after a U.S. first nuclear strike. They would be useless against a Russian first strike on the West.

Obama's crusade against nuclear proliferation is a crusade against other countries getting in on this criminal game, and even that is subordinate to the interests of the American empire. Putting aside the question of North Korea (maybe two warheads), the two main nuclear newcomers, Pakistan (15 warheads) and India (75 so far), acquired this status with American complicity. No matter where it got the technology, Pakistan acquired nukes when it was a trusted ally of the United States, and now the U.S. is turbocharging India's nuclear program. (The U.S. supposedly is only helping India on the civilian power plant side, but the same arguments about the eventual dual uses of the technology in Iran are just as applicable here.) Could this be to contain China's ambitions?

The U.S. is unlikely to give up its nukes. But consider what would happen even if it did: In the last several years, no less a gang of proven war criminals than former U.S. secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and William Perry (under presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton respectively) and the warmonger former Senator Sam Nunn have called for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Why? "Because a world without nuclear weapons is one in which the United States would have complete dominance," a hydrogen bomb designer told a writer on this subject for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (May 13, 2008). Some imperialist war strategists consider nukes a "spoiler" in that they enable small countries to make big threats. Without them, the U.S could be in an even stronger position to exert its will because of the unchallengeable power, at this point, of a military whose size and advanced technology is based on the wealth attained by the very global exploitation it was organized to enforce and expand.

The world has seen war after war since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki signalled the U.S. drive toward world hegemony. The end of the "Cold War," a confrontation between rival imperialist blocs during which the U.S. and USSR waged local proxy wars against each other while threatening global nuclear winter, brought about very important changes, but not world peace. Instead, it prompted a new U.S. hegemonic offensive and a new round of direct imperialist invasions, marked by the "death from the skies" that has been the U.S.'s signature, along with heartbreaking wars in Yugoslavia, Rwanda (and its aftermath in Congo), Sudan and other places where big power rivalry has been at work aggravating other contradictions.

The interrupted stream of horrendous violence even since the last world war should tell us something. The root cause lies not in any particular government but in the imperialist system in which a tiny handful of capitalists in a small number of countries control and clash over the wealth produced by the world's people in their billions.

Capitalism has given no reason to hope that it can even do without nuclear weapons, let alone end war.

(For a brief analysis of the political context in which the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan, and its efforts to cover up that crime, see AWTWNS for August 1, 2005, which also includes excerpts from journalist John Hersey's famous account of the human cost in his book Hiroshima.)

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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