As tensions increase between Russia and the United States, a chilling report suggests that a nuclear strike is not beyond the realm of possibility. According to the report, numerous sources have reported on the meeting of US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the headquarters of the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, with two dozen other US military commanders and European diplomats in tow.
Nuclear option on the table
The purpose of this meeting is ostensibly to discuss how the economic and military campaign that is currently being waged against Russia will be further escalated. Carter is expected to lead a discussion that will assess the impact of current economic sanctions, as well as encompassing debate on the success of the NATO strategy in exploiting the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Most serious of all, though, is a recent report published by the Associated Press which suggests that the head of the US military effort, the Pentagon, has been actively considering the use of nuclear missiles against military targets in Russia. This may seem like a dire prospect to anyone aware of the possible consequences of such an action, yet the United States administration apparently considers this a possible response to alleged violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
Reports suggest that three separate options are currently being considered by Pentagon top brass, which include a pre-emptive deployment of nuclear missiles against targets inside Russia. Although this would be a particularly extreme option, it is widely believed to be on the table alongside two other less drastic courses of action. The placement of anti-missile defenses in Europe aimed at shooting Russian missiles straight out of the sky, and pre-emptive non-nuclear strikes are also reportedly under consideration.
A Pentagon spokesman that spoke to the Associated Press did not explicitly confirm the reports, but did state that all military options under consideration are designed to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from the alleged violation. Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny the suggestion that it has violated the 1987 Treaty, stating that its actions have been entirely consistent with this legislation.
The consequences of a nuclear strike against Russia
It should be naturally underlined that a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russia could quite conceivably, and some might say inevitably, lead to a full-scale nuclear war. The consequences of this are almost incalculable and unimaginable, but the absolutely most optimistic scenario would be that hundreds of millions of lives would be lost. Considering that this option appears to be on the table, it has not unreasonably led some sources to describe the foreign policy of Washington and its NATO allies as staggeringly criminal and reckless.
While such an extreme suggestion as a pre-emptive nuclear strike is always likely to attract naysayers, it is important to assert that there is already significant precedent of such an act occurring. Generations of Americans grew up under the shadow of the Cold War, when the prospect of nuclear war seemed a distinct possibility on a daily basis. At that time, what can best be described as a maniacal nuclear war arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States was a source of concern all over the world, and although this obviously didn’t ultimately result in full-scale nuclear war, it is a matter of the public record that this unsavoury prospect did indeed come extremely close to a horrifying realisation.
Arkhipov and the Cuban Missile Crisis
Following the failed attempt of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, then president John F. Kennedy authorized Operation Mongoose, a series of by now familiar covert CIA actions designed to undermine and overthrow Cuban supremo Fidel Castro, and ultimately to the Cuban Missile Crisis stand-off with the Soviets. During this tense time, Russian submarines that were under attack from US destroyers were carrying nuclear-tipped missiles. Two of the commanders authorized their use, and a third commander, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, vetoed it. Had the missiles been fired, it almost certainly would have led to a full-scale nuclear war.
As the stand-off between Russia and China and United States continues to brew, it is important to remember that while one does not wish to engage in needless scaremongering, the last time two major nuclear powers had such a ‘disagreement’ in 1963, the world was one word away from nuclear war. We can be entirely thankful to Vasili Arkhipov that it didn’t happen, and it is pretty scandalous that this is being considered as a serious option now.
Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki
In addition to the Arkhipov incident, it also came out as a result of the Watergate tape leaks that then president Nixon once floated the idea of using nuclear weapons against Vietnam. This policy was discussed during a conversation with the infamous policy adviser Henry Kissinger, with the then president of the United States even contemplating and discussing with Kissinger the number of people that such an action would be likely to kill.
Without getting deeply into the historical context and consequences of this particular action, it is also important to recognize and remember that the United States is the only country in history to have utilized full-scale atomic weaponry. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, killed at least 129,000 people, and remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history. While some historians and apologists for this particular act suggested that it was necessary in the context of the war, many people disagree from a moral and ethical standpoint, and there are also numerous historians who suggest that Japan was on the verge of surrender without such a drastic action being undertaken.
Regardless of the historical context of nuclear weapons, the fact remains that both Russia and the United States are known to be the largest possessors of such weaponry in the world. There is debate and disagreement over which of the United States or Russia has the most nuclear weapons, but what is unavoidable is that both have enough to cause an almost unfathomable loss of life should they be utilized. We can only hope that the hawkish elements of the United States government steer well clear from the disastrous path that is being contemplated.