By David Swanson
Tad Daley writes, in his new book, “Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World,” that he would like his book to have the impact of “Common Sense,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or “The Jungle.” Yeah, buddy, what author wouldn’t? But Daley has a unique argument for the moral necessity of sharing his goal and promoting either his book or others like it: our only alternative is the annihilation of all life on earth.
By the time you’ve read this book, you will in fact be persuaded that if others do not grasp its central points, not just tyranny or slavery or unsafe workplaces will continue, but all trace of humanity and every other life form in the world will be eliminated.
One of those central points is this: we can either eliminate all nuclear weapons or we can watch them proliferate. There’s no middle way. We can either have no nuclear weapons states, or we can have many. This is not a moral or a logical point, but a practical observation backed up with enough specifics to convince you of its certainty. As long as some states have nuclear weapons others will desire them, and the more that have them the more easily they will spread to others still. The number of nuclear states has jumped from six to nine since the end of the Cold War, and more are likely.
A second central point is that if nuclear weapons continue to exist, there will very likely be a nuclear catastrophe, and the more the weapons have proliferated, the sooner it will come. Once Daley recounts some of the incidents (there have been hundreds) that have nearly destroyed our world through accident, confusion, misunderstanding, and extremely irrational machismo, you will be amazed that you are currently alive and that anyone else is. And then you’ll want to eliminate the chance of such a tragedy playing out in the future, not increase it to the point of near certainty, which is what proliferation does. And when you add in the quite real and increasing possibility of non-state terrorists acquiring and using nuclear weapons, the danger grows dramatically — and is only increased by the policies of nuclear states that react to terrorism in ways that seem designed to recruit more terrorists.
The danger is increased again, and dramatically so, by the Bush-Obama era policy of nuclear first-strike against non-nuclear states, which encourages Iran to seek nuclear weapons as a deterrent, and which violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as of course does our failure to work for multilateral (not just bi-lateral) disarmament and elimination (not just reduction).
Daley is also persuasive that possessing nuclear weapons does absolutely nothing to keep us safe, so that there is really no trade-off involved in eliminating them. They do not deter terrorist attacks by non-state actors in any way. Nor do they add an iota to our military’s ability to deter nations from attacking us, given the United States’ ability to destroy anything anywhere at any time with non-nuclear weapons. They also don’t win wars, and the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China have all lost wars against non-nuclear powers while possessing nukes. Nor, in the event of global nuclear war, can any outrageous quantity of weaponry protect the United States in any way from apocalypse.
However, the calculation looks very different for a smaller nation. North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons and put an end to bellicosity from the United States. Iran has not acquired nukes, and is under steady threat. Nukes mean protection to a smaller nation. But the seemingly rational decision to become a nuclear state only increases the likelihood of a coup, or civil war, or mechanical error, or fit of rage somewhere in the world putting an end to us all.
Daley lays out a framework for how the nations of the world could proceed toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. This would require, among other steps, allowing international inspectors access to search for nuclear weapons in any country, including our own. Such inspections were successful in Iraq, eliminated weapons, and would have prevented war had the United States complied with the UN Charter. Of course, international authority will be a major stumbling block and be denounced as a threat to national sovereignty. But Daley points out the stark choice we face:
“Yes, international inspections here would intrude upon our sovereignty. But detonations of atom bombs here would also intrude upon our sovereignty. The only question is, which of those two intrusions do we find less excruciating.”
Of course the answer may be the former. But I think we can change that through greater awareness. Hence my promotion of this book.
I think Daley may fall short in one area, however, and miss the significance of his own logic. He claims to be an agnostic on the question of whether we can maintain nuclear energy plants while eliminating nuclear weapons. He holds this position even while recognizing that the plants are themselves weapons, easily detonated by state enemies or terrorists, and even while recognizing that possession of nuclear energy’s technology and materials makes acquisition of nuclear weaponry much easier. Daley also understands the escalating exchange currently underway between the United States and Iran during which Iran is threatened and understood to see nuclear weapons as a powerful deterrent, Iran works to acquire nuclear energy, the United States is threatened by that and increases its threats toward Iran, which leads Iran to pursue nuclear energy (and possibly weapons) all the more, and on and on, back and forth. This cycle would not be possible in a world that was truly post-nuclear.
Nonetheless, Daley provides a sane and necessarily revolutionary vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, in which — as he explains — the cost in universal condemnation for acquiring nukes would be treated just as the similar cost for reinstituting slavery is imagined today. Daley points out that there are “rational” grounds for the United States to use its nuclear weapons now, such as to take over Cuba, that are not deterred by anything other than moral standards and the value of respect in the world community. Were a “rogue state” or a terrorist group to acquire nukes in a world otherwise rid of them, the response would come from the entire world. It could include the same unlimited military destruction of which the United States is capable today with non-nuclear weapons. And it could include universal boycott, sanctions, and criminal prosecution.
And, remember, we are no better able to defend against a terrorist with a nuke today because of our nuclear arsenal — we’re just more likely to encounter one. The man arrested for attempting to set off a bomb in Times Square last week is the son of a man who has been involved in guarding nuclear weapons in Pakistan. And Pakistan would not have nuclear weapons if we did not. Is that enough degrees of separation for you to sleep well?
Every time there’s a hurricane or an oil spill, there are lots of I-told-you-so’s. “Apocalypse Never” is the I-told-you-so for that moment when there’s nobody left to tell. Consider yourself preemptively told.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.