What the end of the World Looks Like
On the Danger of Covert Cyber-Wars between Nuclear States
As I write a very scary scenario is developing that features a rapidly escalating conflict between the US and Russia. From all appearances it seems that we are in a state of cyber-warfare with Russia and millions of Americans are giddily pushing our government to become more aggressive in taking the offensive!
The catalyst for this growing hostility toward Russia, a nation situated on the other side of the globe thousands of miles away that Americans love to hate, is an assessment by our intelligence agencies that the Russian government tampered with our recent presidential election in an effort to help elect Donald Trump…who is far more pro-Russian in his views that Hillary Clinton; a warmed over cold warrior with long standing anti-Russian attitudes. As a consequence of the spook’s conclusions regarding a covert Russian cyber assault on our political process, there is a growing cry among Americans for president Obama to do something dramatic in order to teach the Russians a lesson they will never forget. They are crying out for a full scale cyber-war while apparently giving but little consideration to where it could lead.
Of all the bizarre behavior that human beings engage in, the euphoria that accompanies the decision to go to war is the ultimate folly. For whatever the outcome there will be bloody murder, massive carnage and destruction, and squandering of large quantities of the nation’s treasures that are making war. The strange and tragic character of warfare is highlighted by the fact that only human beings, who claim dominion over all other animals due to our uniquely developed brains which enable us to reason, engage in the systematic slaughter of their own species. Yet despite the best efforts of our greatest philosophers, scientist and other deep thinkers, alas no one has found a formula for ending this plague upon humanity.
Yet it is indisputable that in the age of nuclear armed states that stockpile doomsday weapons of mass destruction with the capacity to destroy all life on this planet, humanity will find a way to end war or war will put an end to us. I wish I could share the optimism of Mao Tse Tung, the Chinese revolutionary philosopher/activist, who confidently proclaimed “The bomb will not destroy man…man will destroy the bomb. The atomic bomb is a paper tiger.” But knowing what I know about nuclear weapons, having seen them up close and gaining an intimate knowledge of their destructive capacity while serving in the United States Strategic Air Command, empowered with a Top Secret security clearance, I am far more aware than most citizens of the world as to the danger their very existence poses to our survival.
Indeed, I believe that every nation that stockpiles nuclear weapons is existentially engaged in a crime against humanity that dwarfs all the crimes of Nazi Germany….it ain’t even close! It is no accident that General George C. Marshall, the most important American military officer from the Second World War, was deeply concerned that by dropping atomic bombs on Japan Americans would eclipse the Nazi’s war crimes! Yet when I entered the Strategic Air Command 15 years later, the colonel who introduced us to the atomic weapons on the base at Glasgow Montana – whose mission was the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union – cavalierly dismissed the bombs dropped on Japan as “little more than fire crackers compared to the ordinance that we have on this base.” He pointed out that the blast power of those bombs was the equivalent of 20.000 tons of TNT and the ordinance on our base had “megatons capacity.”
The Colonel went on to point out that if fully armed, the 25 bombers on our base could wreak enough destruction that the continuation of life on earth would be problematic. That was in 1960, over half a century ago, when nuclear weapons system were relatively primitive compared to those deployed by the US and Russia today. And it has made the world a far more dangerous place. When I was in SAC the main strategy for nuclear war centered around intercontinental Strato-Bombers, mainly the B-52 on the American side, and some comparable aircraft on the Russian side. The Nuclear Triad existed then – bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles – but the bombers were the main delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons.
A half century later this equation has radically changed; it is the ballistic and cruise missiles that are now the main nuclear strike force, and these weapons are largely dependent upon computers in the launch process. Herein likes the potential for an accidental catastrophe that could destroy our planet. In times past the means to launch a nuclear war required a great technological/industrial complex. But today a computer whiz sitting in a cave in Pakistan could possibly provoke a nuclear exchange by hacking into the military computer systems of Russia, China or the USA. They only need to access one, and make them think they are under attack by the others to start a nuclear war.
Hence when President Obama talks publicly about launching cyber- attacks against Russia, and threaten to do some of them as covert actions, he is setting the stage for a third party to step in and wreak havoc. Nothing that any of the experts on Cyber-warfare have said addresses this very real possibility. What the world needs now, most of all, is for Russia, China and the US to convene an urgent summit meeting to hammer out a treaty regarding the use of Cyber-space, just like they have done regarding germ warfare and poisonous gases.
Nevertheless, this event, Russian interference in the US election, should be treated as just another incident in the long history of international espionage; a practice in which the US has engaged more vigorously than any other nation state. The US has subverted elections; organized the assassination of foreign leaders, overthrown democratically elected governments; engaged in torture; trained torturers and militarily attacked unoffending nations thousands of miles from our shores and slaughtered well over a million innocent souls whose only offense was that they sought to organize their societies in ways that Americans disapprove of. And these actions are justified by recourse to the bogus doctrine of American Exceptionalism, a dangerous myth with no basis in historical fact.
That these transgressions are not well known to a willfully ignorant US electorate is part of our tragedy. Yet with such a tawdry record the US government’s pretense that the Russian hacking of the Presidential election represents some special species of evil that they have never seen before is ludicrous and dangerous hypocrisy. And it is rapidly fueling a hysterical hatred for Russia that could force US leaders to take some actions that we shall soon regret.
Failure to convene an international conference between nuclear armed states with the greatest haste could well lead us down the path to extinction. In the meantime, the critical question facing Americans is whether the election of Donald Trump – a man who lost the popular vote to Hillary by almost three million votes, won the Electoral College by less than a hundred thousand votes spread over three states, and is wholly unqualified for the job – is legitimate. This is the issue that should consume our interests at this historical moment.
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