I remember being scared as a child about the possibility of nuclear war. We had drills in elementary school, hiding under our desks when a siren blew, and I remember when people were building fallout shelters and stocking them with canned goods. I also remember the Cuban missile crisis, when the possibility of a nuclear exchange was suddenly very real. (My father, a military officer, told my family that he may have to “deploy.”)
Since then things have calmed down a bit, but I fear that they’re worsening. You might be aware that a few days ago The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the “Doomsday Clock” a half minute closer to “midnight” (nuclear Armageddon and the end of humanity), so that it’s now 2½ minutes until midnight. That’s only 30 seconds farther away than its closest point: 2 minutes until midnight in 1953, when both the US and the Soviet Union tested H-bombs. As CNN noted:
The group cited US President Donald Trump’s “disturbing comments” about the use of nuclear weapons and views on climate change among other factors, including cyberthreats and the rise in nationalism, that have contributed to the darkened forecast.
“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days,” the organization said in a statement.
The emblematic clock had remained at three minutes to midnight for the past two years.
In a statement released earlier this week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said it was taking a number of recent developments into account.
“A rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise,” were among them, it said.
Now that Trump is President, I’m worried about two potential conflagrations that could lead to war. The first is with Iran, as I think some of Trump’s people are spoiling for a war with Iran, and the saber-rattling we’ve seen in the last two weeks is unsettling. Such a war could potentially bring in Russia on the side of Iran, as they are strategic partners and Russia has supplied a missile defense system to Iran.
The other possibility is a flat-out war with Russia. That’s the possibility discussed by Tom Nichols, a professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S.’s Naval War college, in the video below. Nichols is a conservative, and no fan of Obama, but he’s not a fan of Trump, either. (He’s also an undefeated five-time Jeopardy champion.) If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll go to a three-part interview with him on various topics, including why Americans distrust the media. The most interesting part was the third (click on “Part 3” at lower left of the site you reach by clicking on the screenshot): a five-minute discussion on what Russia may do with Trump at the helm.
Nichols thinks that because Putin isn’t all that savvy, but is bellicose, and because Trump has repeatedly denigrated NATO, Putin may test NATO by “pushing” at member countries like Poland or Estonia. Since we and other countries in the alliance are sworn by treaty to defend NATO countries that are attacked, that could lead to war. And Nichols, who is no slouch, is worried that that possibility could escalate naturally into nuclear war: as he says, that could either “shake apart” NATO (see Jeff Tayler’s piece in Foreign Policy on how NATO would bridle at a full-fledged response to a Russian attack on a small country), or, worse, escalate into a third world war.
Regarding the nuclear threat, Nichols notes that “The Russians have said that if they get into a jam they can’t get out of with conventional weapons, they reserve the right to use nuclear weapons to ‘de-escalate’ the situation—shock everybody into their senses. So yeah, nuclear weapons will come into play I think a lot sooner than they should, and it’s a very unsettling possibility. ”
If you want to see what a war with the Soviet Union would be like if it erupted over Iran, watch this chilling two-hour BBC docudrama, “Threads,” depicting a nuclear attack on Britain in 1984. If it doesn’t shake you, you’re made of stone.