Interview with Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, on the Danger of Nuclear War:

“The planet would survive. But humankind would disappear”

December 25, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution.


Bruce K. Gagnon is the Secretary/Coordinator for the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He has been an antiwar and antinuclear war activist since the early 1980s. He has organized protests, spoken out against and written about the danger of nuclear war and weaponization of space ever since. He is the author of Come Together RIGHT NOW: Organizing Stories from a Fading Empire.

Revolution: Thank you so much for pulling yourself away from your family gathering on Christmas Eve to talk to us in these urgent times. Donald Trump tweeted that “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Can you tell our readers, particularly those who didn’t live through the periods in U.S. history where the threat of nuclear war hung over people in a very visceral way, what a nuclear war would mean.

Bruce K. Gagnon: Basically, it would mean the end of the world, as we know it. The planet would survive. But humankind and most of the animal life would disappear because of the rising of the dust and smoke and fire of a nuclear mushroom cloud. The sun would be blocked for a significant, long period of time. The Earth would begin to freeze, literally. We would not be able to grow food. Radiation sickness would be everywhere. So we’d either die from the radiation sickness or we’d die from hunger, very quickly. Life on Earth would essentially stop.

Revolution: What is the danger right now of a nuclear war? What is the state of nuclear weapons in the world?

Bruce K. Gagnon: There are well over 10,000 nuclear weapons around the world. The U.S. and Russia have most of them. But many other countries have them, including Israel, France, China, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. And the big problem is that negotiations for nuclear disarmament have ground to a halt. That is because the United States has introduced a new variable into the equation. This is so-called “missile defense.” The idea of “missile defense” is that it is the shield you would use after you launched a first-strike attack. In fact, the U.S. space command conducts war games every year where we try to take out their nukes in a first-strike attack. But inevitably [in these “war game” exercises] they fire some kind of retaliatory capability, which is then theoretically picked off by these so-called “missile defense interceptors”—the shield.

This used to be illegal missile defense under the ABM, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, between the United States and Russia. But when George W. Bush became president, one of the first things he did was withdraw the U.S. from that treaty.

Ever since that time, the Pentagon has been developing and testing and now deploying these “missile defense systems” on ground-based launch systems and on destroyers, and basically encircling Russia and China with these systems. And [Russia] has said that because of the destabilizing introduction of missile defense, all negotiations are off the board. They say they can’t afford to reduce their retaliatory capability at a time when the United States is introducing “missile defense.”

Revolution: Can you provide some background to what it means that Donald Trump will have his hand on the nuclear trigger?

Bruce K. Gagnon: Barack Obama introduced a massive modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons: a very expensive modernization program over the next 10 years. It was approved by the Congress. So the fact is, Obama has really escalated the current situation in two ways. Number one by talking about modernization, bringing that forward, and getting the money for it. And secondly, Obama has created this escalation during his time in office by surrounding Russia and China with these so-called “missile defense systems.” Sadly, nobody made a big deal out of this because it was a Democrat, a so-called liberal doing this. When Trump does this, people get so upset. But in that sense, Trump is just repeating Obama’s policy. And adding a new dimension by broadcasting it on his very popular Twitter account.

Revolution: I appreciate you setting the record straight on what Obama has done, even as I would argue that a Trump regime would take an intolerable situation and make it much, much worse. But would it be fair to say that in a sense, Obama has handed Trump a loaded nuclear gun?

Bruce K. Gagnon: Sure, exactly. Every president has handed that loaded nuclear gun. Surely. That’s the reality of our times.

Revolution: Finally, let me ask you about what is involved in the president launching nuclear weapons. If the president enters the nuclear codes, missiles launch within minutes, is that right? There’s no review process, right?

Bruce K. Gagnon: I don’t frankly know how many minutes it is, but it is a very short period of time. There’s no question about that. You’ll probably remember the movie Dr. Strangelove. Even in that film, and that was made many years ago, it depicted a very short span of time to be able to recall a decision to launch nuclear weapons.

But that time has become even less now. That’s because most of these systems have been put on “launch on warning” status. They have developed technology where rockets can get across the world in just a matter of minutes. So there really is not time to pack in a long decision-making period. It’s really been turned over to computers under this “launch on warning” status. So that means that accidents and other such things, flocks of geese, and other unknowns, or unsuspected realities, can cause a nuclear war to happen.


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