Nuclear Weapons: an Absolute Evil
Review of John Scales Avery's book
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has recently announced (25/1/18) that they have moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to mid-night.
A few days before this announcement was made a statement by General Sir Nick Carter appeared in The Times in the United Kingdom: “Our ability to pre-empt or respond to threats will be eroded if we don’t keep up with our adversaries.” (The Times 22/1/2018).
This statement encapsulates the mind-set that drives the Military-Industrial Complex in the nuclear nations and its interminable preparations for and anticipation of a future war. It could ultimately lead to one of these nations, whether deliberately or inadvertently, unleashing on the world the catastrophe of a nuclear war.
Many decades ago General Eisenhower warned America about the unwarranted power of the Military-Industrial Complex. Today, the entire planet is held hostage to this Complex whose lethal tentacles control the nine nuclear nations as well as those nations and corporations engaged in the lucrative arms trade. This Complex is one of the major causes of war and the persistence of war. Here is Eisenhower’s comment on war in general:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
America paid no attention to his warnings and, in its hubristic will to power, continues to be complicit in expanding the greatest evil that has ever come upon this planet, threatening war with Russia and China and, most recently North Korea.
Most of the planet’s inhabitants, even those who are highly educated and working in governments and organizations like the United Nations have very little awareness of what an exchange of nuclear weapons would be like or what its immediate and long-term effects would be in terms of the massive numbers of civilian deaths and the rapid deterioration of the planetary environment. This is the lacuna that Professor Avery’s book sets out to fill in an admirably clear and comprehensive way, enriching it with photographs and quotations from men who have, from the outset, expressed their opposition to nuclear weapons.
The book is an education in itself on the many facets of this complex subject including how these weapons first came into being in first five, then nine nuclear nations. It addresses both the amorality and the illegality of nuclear weapons. Many people like myself who are appalled by the existence of nuclear weapons but insufficiently informed of their history and the threat they pose to the planetary biosphere, could benefit by reading its highly informative chapters.
The first chapter, “The Threat of Nuclear War”, explores the important subject of how existing ethical principles about avoiding the bombing of civilians were eroded during the Second World War with the carpet bombing of cities by German and British air forces, culminating in the incendiary raids on Coventry, Hamburg and Dresden that destroyed those and other German cities and many thousands of their helpless inhabitants.
Not long after these, in August 1945, came the horrific obliteration of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the first atom bombs, together with most of their civilian inhabitants. It is noteworthy that the First and Second World Wars cost the lives of 26 million soldiers but 64 million civilians. We live, Professor Avery comments, in an age of space-age science but stone-age politics.
Instead of drawing back in horror from the evil it had unleashed, America and then the Soviet Union embarked on an arms race that has led, step by step, to the current existence of nine nuclear nations and some 17,000 nuclear weapons, with the greater part of these situated in the United States and Russia.
Thousands of these are kept on permanent “hair-trigger” alert. 200 of these nuclear bombs are situated in Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as Turkey, available for use by NATO and placed there by the United States principally to deter a Russian attack. The danger of the launch of one of these weapons in error is a constant possibility and would precipitate a genocidal catastrophe.
His first chapter also addresses the important concept of nuclear deterrence and shows how, according to the historic 1996 decision by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, this was declared to be not only unacceptable from the standpoint of ethics but also contrary to International Law as well as the principles of democracy. The latter have been reflected in the pattern of voting at the United Nations (originally founded to abolish the Institution of War) which has consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of the world’s people wish to be rid of nuclear weapons.
The basic premise of this chapter and indeed, the entire book, is that nuclear weapons are an absolute evil and that no defence can be offered for them, particularly the defence that they act as a deterrent. He brings evidence to show that the effects of even a small nuclear war would be global and all the nations of the world would suffer. Because of its devastating effects on global agriculture, even a small nuclear war could result in a ‘nuclear winter’ and in an estimated billion deaths from famine.
A large-scale nuclear war would completely destroy all agriculture for a period of ten years. Large areas of the world would be rendered permanently uninhabitable because of the ‘nuclear winter’ and the radioactive contamination affecting plants, animals and humans.
Summarising at the end of this chapter Professor Avery writes: “In the world as it is, the nuclear weapons now stockpiled are sufficient to kill everyone on earth several times over. Nuclear technology is spreading, and many politically unstable countries have recently acquired nuclear weapons or may acquire them soon. Even terrorist groups or organized criminals may acquire such weapons, and there is an increasing danger that they will be used.”
To believe that deterrence is a preventive to their being used is to live in a fool’s paradise. It only needs one inadvertent mistake, one mis-reading of a computer, one terrorist nuclear bomb to unleash unimaginable horror on the world. There have already been several near disasters. Governments claim to protect their populations by holding these weapons. Instead, they offer them as hostages to the greed and will to power of the giant corporations, of arms manufacturers such as BAE and the Military-Industrial Complex in general. Professor Avery refers to the greed for power that drives each of these as “The Devil’s Dynamo”.
As an example of this will to power, concealed beneath the mask of deterrence, there is the existence of a Trident submarine which is on patrol at all times, armed with an estimated eight missiles, each of which can carry up to five warheads. In total, that makes 40 warheads, each with an explosive power of up to 100 kilotons of conventional high explosive—eight times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 which killed an estimated 240,000 people from blast and radiation. One nuclear submarine can incinerate more than 40 million human beings. This capacity for mass murder is presented as essential for our defence but it begs the question: ‘How many people are we prepared to exterminate in order to ensure our security?’ We would have no protection against a reciprocally fired nuclear missile directed at us. The concept of deterrence puts us at risk of instant annihilation.
Many people are not aware that the illegality of war was established in 1946 when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously affirmed “The principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal.” These set out the crimes that henceforth were punishable under international law. It is obvious that the nine nuclear nations, in developing and holding their weapons, have ignored and violated these principles.
Professor Avery draws attention to the significant fact that NATO’s nuclear weapons policy violates both the spirit and the text of the NPT. An estimated one hundred and eighty US nuclear weapons, all of them B-61 hydrogen bombs, are still on European soil with the air forces of the nations in which they are based regularly trained to deliver the US weapons.
These nations are Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands as well as the United Kingdom with its Trident submarines. Turkey, one of the 29 nations that have joined NATO holds about 50 hydrogen bombs at a US base at Incirlik. The aim of all these weapons is to intimidate Russia. This “nuclear sharing” as he points out, “violates Articles 1 and 11 of the NPT, which forbid the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states.”
In another most important chapter “Against Nuclear Proliferation” Professor Avery draws attention to the danger of nuclear reactors, a danger that is very rarely reflected on by the governments who have committed vast sums to building them and is virtually unknown to the general public.
Nuclear reactors constructed for “peaceful” purposes to generate electricity nevertheless constitute a danger in that they generate fissionable isotopes of plutonium, neptunium and americium and, are not under strict international control. Since 1945, more than 3,000 metric tons (3,000,000 kilograms) of highly enriched uranium and plutonium have been produced, of which a million kilograms are in Russia, where they are inadequately guarded.
A terrorist could create a simple atom bomb, capable of killing 100,000 people if he were able to access a critical amount of uranium. He notes that “no missile defence system can prevent nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists since these weapons can be brought into a country via any one of the thousands of containers loaded onto ships whose contents cannot be exhaustively checked.” This fact, as he says, undermines the argument in favour of deterrence.
More specifically, the danger lies with the fact that reactors can be used to manufacture both uranium and plutonium from the fuel rods that are an intrinsic part of every reactor and these elements can be used by anyone with sufficient expertise to create a nuclear bomb. Because this is such an important subject and largely unknown to the layman, it is worthwhile quoting his exact words:
By reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods, a nation with a power reactor can obtain weapons-usable Pu-239 (a fissionable isotope of plutonium that was used to create the bomb dropped on Nagasaki). Even when such reprocessing is performed under international control, the uncertainty as to the amount of Pu-239 obtained is large enough so that the operation might superficially seem to conform to regulations while still supplying enough Pu-239 to make many bombs… Fast breeder reactors are prohibitively dangerous from the standpoint of nuclear proliferation because both the highly enriched uranium from the fuel rods and the Pu-239 from the envelope are directly weapons-usable… If all nations used fast breeder reactors, the number of nuclear weapons states would increase drastically… If nuclear reactors become the standard means for electricity generation [as is planned in Saudi-Arabia, for example] the number of nations possessing nuclear weapons might ultimately be as high as 40.
At the moment, there are no restrictions pertaining to the control of the enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of fuel rods in the reactors throughout the world. In Professor Avery’s view, this is a very dangerous situation which invites the manufacture of nuclear weapons by default.
There were 2053 nuclear tests that took place between 1945 and 1998, the majority by the United States and the Soviet Union. All of them emitted radiation. The United States used the Pacific chain of islands as the site of 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958. Of these the hydrogen bomb dropped on Bikini Atoll in 1954 was 1300 hundred times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It gave rise to devastating radiation that affected and still affects the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, 120 miles from Bikini. They experienced radiation sickness and deaths from cancer and women still give birth to babies who do not resemble humans and have no viable life.
In April 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed actions in the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the United States and the eight other nations that possess nuclear weapons. The actions focus mainly on the Nuclear Nine’s alleged failure to “fulfill the obligations of customary international law with respect to cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament.”
As of March 2014 only the cases against the UK, India, and Pakistan have reached the current preliminary stage of proceedings before the court, because the other six nations have refused to participate. True to form, the United States has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In addition to the radiation emitted by nuclear testing there has been the radiation emitted by the Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) disasters.
At Fukushima, between 300 and 400 metric tonnes a day of this radioactive water has been and still is flowing into the Pacific, contaminating the fish, algae and the birds who feed on the fish — and ultimately affecting humans. Contaminated fish have already been found off the coast of Alaska and the west coast of America. According to a report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, the initial breakdown caused “the largest single contribution of radio-nuclides to the marine environment ever observed.”
Summing up the effects on the world of a nuclear war, Professor Avery writes:
The danger of a catastrophic nuclear war casts a dark shadow over the future of our species. It also casts a very black shadow over the future of the global environment. The environmental consequences of a massive exchange of nuclear weapons have been treated in a number of studies by meteorologists and other experts from both East and West. They predict that a large-scale use of nuclear weapons would result in fire storms with very high winds and high temperatures [similar to what happened in Hamburg and Dresden]… The resulting smoke and dust would block out sunlight for a period of many months, at first only in the northern hemisphere but later also in the southern hemisphere. Temperatures in many places would fall far below freezing, and much of the earth’s plant life would be killed. Animals and humans would then die of starvation.
I cannot recommend this book too highly. It has given me what I wanted to know and what I had no immediate access to: the complete picture of how we have lost our humanity and how we could regain it by ridding the Earth of these demonic weapons.
From a Jungian perspective, the whole history of the splitting of the atom and the development of nuclear weapons is a dangerous and unrecognized pathology, born of the cultural conditioning that men have undergone for millennia.
It is very difficult for them to break out of this conditioning and to recognize the full horror of what they have brought into being and the catastrophe they could unleash on the earth and its inhabitants.
(Professor Avery is Associate Professor Emeritus at the University of Copenhagen.
Nuclear Weapons: an Absolute Evil can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/home or downloaded from http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/nuclear.pdf
Anne Baring is an author and a Jungian Analyst: www.annebaring.com https://youtu.be/TOsuJuHUgv4 on nuclear weapons)