A View from the Woods

2018 Nuclear Posture Review
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, center, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr., left, and Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette brief the press on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review at the Pentagon, Feb. 2, 2018. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm
John Raby
John Raby

If you’re looking for a spine-tingling story to pass the time, here’s a tale for you. Imagine an official government report that encourages broadened and accelerated development of nuclear weapons and preparation for what it argues is limited, winnable nuclear war. In order to speed manufacture and deployment of these devices, it proposes overlapping schedules for testing, development, and production, thereby increasing the likelihood that weapons put on line for battle will be less than fully reliable for their anticipated function.

Go on to the next part of the tale, and discover its recommendation that nuclear weapons are a proper response to any conventional or nuclear threat. In this story, any clear distinction between conventional and nuclear war slips away, along with any clear description of what threats to our national security exist or what our nation’s essential interests are. As you read, you learn what the report describes as small-scale nuclear weapons, fit for use in a battlefield, and you see its emphatic recommendation for their immediate development, production, and deployment.

The report insists on its belief that there is such a thing as limited, winnable nuclear war. Thanks to a wisely prepared and vigilant chain of command, we can fight and win it. So the argument goes, and such is the moral of the tale. On close examination, a reader might take this story seriously or toss it aside as a twenty-first century version of Catch-22.

If you’re wondering if a report like that is fiction, it isn’t. The story actually exists. Every four years, the Defense Department issues a Nuclear Posture Review, the unclassified version of which is publicly available online. The current Review, which now governs our military preparations, was published on February 2, 2018. It recommends everything described in the previous paragraphs, and has even broader implications. The smallest nuclear weapon it envisions has twenty times the firepower of the mother of all bombs we dropped in Afghanistan in 2017, with radioactivity added. It could easily wipe out Concord’s Main Street business district in a single blow. The largest warhead it proposes, which it considers small, has forty percent the firepower of the atomic bombs that fell on Japan in 1945. It would easily obliterate Manchester and reduce cites the size of Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts to radioactive ruin. All this is part of a nuclear weapons modernization program currently projected to continue into the 2040s and cost $1.7 trillion. There is no discussion of how we shall pay the bill, despite warnings from former Pentagon officials that the program is unaffordable.

Meanwhile, think about this. Imagine prisoners on death row. If you think that image doesn’t apply to us, think again. We may not be inmates in a brick and mortar prison, but as long as the nuclear arms race continues, and as long as the present federal administration continues to promote it, we’re all on death row.

It’s August 6. Hiroshima mon amour.

John Raby is a member of New Hampshire Peace Action