Arsenals of Folly

The title of the book by historian Richard Rhodes on the Nuclear Arms Race of the Cold War.

Here he is with Joseph Cirincione on discussing that book. Blew my mind. Maybe the best Bloggingheads ever imo.

They discuss first the beginnings of threat inflation (under Truman gov’t). Threat inflation was the deliberate use of false information (fear-tactics) to gain military spending, particularly escalating nuclear warhead/military spending.

50 bombs is all it would have taken to destroy any country on the planet. Not 20,000. The discussions of numbers of missiles in planned attacks were never in fact rational. They never took into account, for example, number of deaths from fire or environmental destruction (not the bomb itself).

Rhodes goes through the history following from the original Threat Inflation. During detente–when Nixon (moderate Republican) realized that the Soviets had more than their 50 bombs therefore a deal had to be struck–when the Soviets and US began first to talk negotiations, then the Neo-Cons were born (Perle, Wolfowitz). They believed, wildly inaccurately, that the Soviets were at the center of all known world terrorism and were getting ready for a nuclear war. (Hence we should be building more bombs–again irrationality as if anyone could “win” a nuclear war).

See Rudy Giulliani’s recent ad for the current form of threat inflation.

The neocons also began a process of undermining the traditional intelligence gathering agencies. Sound familiar? They created a Plan B report which would always (given their ideological not rational decision making processes) come out with the worst possible scenario. Again, recall the deleterious effects of the Vice President Cheney’s own intelligence gathering/security office in the run up to the Iraq War (and pushing for war with Iran).

The latest neocon line in this regard is from Chris Hitchens, calling for the abolition of the CIA (and accusing its leader of treason). Though Hitchens pulls an interesting one combining both right-wing hatred for the NIE on Iran and left-wing furor over the torture tapes destruction (though conveniently acting as if Rumsfeld’s decisions in Iraq/Afghanistan and Bush’s authorization of such techniques had nothing to do with the culture of torture).

Then totally fascinating stuff on Reagan. Namely that he really believed in missile defense as the way to end and literally destroy all nuclear weapons, which was his dream all along. A dream, amazingly, propelled in part by his belief in the End-Times Prophecy of the Religious Right, especially the godfather tract of all religious right apocalyptic-fiction/prediction genre (i.e. Left Behind Series): The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey argued via his read on Biblical apocalyptic prediction of future events (never mind that that is not what the genre is actually for) that annihilation and the coming Apocalypse would be due to nuclear weapons. Hence Reagan (believing that quite literally) sought to destroy them all.

Total disarmament was thwarted, in part, by Richard Perle. Sad. Watch the clip. Evaluate the argument. It has a lot going for it.

Bush II’s policies have of course only exacerbated and increased nuclear proliferation. He did in part (not mentioned in the piece) help break up the AQ Khan network, turning Libya (and Syria after Israeli attack?) away from nukes. But certainly speeding up both North Koreans actually getting a bomb (the craziest f@*!ers on the planet) and the Iranian enrichment (which may or may not be aligned with tactical warhead technological innovation).

The saddest part may very well be the end, discussing the lasting effects of the “victory” of the US in the Cold War. 10 Trillion by one estimate spent on the Cold War. As Rhodes points out, having nuclear weapons did not achieve American military victory in either Korea, Vietnam. The Soviets lost in Afghanistan similarly.

And worse the crumbling bridges and infrastructure of the United States. Wasted on irrational weapons spending. Dysfunctional schools, petro-energy policy non-renewable in nature/polluting, pathetic health care, and broken roads. The “victory” of the Cold War. The crumbling “Empire”, like Rome, on whom she is mythically modeled.

Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 3:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. MAD and detente introduced a devestating geo-political construct. Now it is political common knowledge that you must arm up against your enemy to render his power nullified. It is no wonder Iran seeks to achieve this balance. We forcibly introduced the Shah to rule their country in a CIA op. And we wonder why they seek nukes as a defensive posture?

  2. JP,

    Exactly right. And then certain elements (e.g. neocons) talk about how insane their regime is. They’re perfectly rational as you say. They’re doing exactly what the system calls for to defend themselves. What’s more rational than that?

    Thanks for the comment. Peace.


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