Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

“Modernizing” the Opportunities for Nuclear War



A fight now underway over newly-designed U.S. nuclear weapons highlights how far the Obama administration has strayed from its commitment to build a nuclear-free world.

The fight, as a recent New York Times article indicates, concerns a variety of nuclear weapons that the U.S. military is currently in the process of developing or, as the administration likes to say, “modernizing.”  Last year, the Pentagon flight-tested a mock version of the most advanced among them, the B61 Model 12.  This redesigned nuclear weapon is the country’s first precision-guided atomic bomb, with a computer brain and maneuverable fins that enable it to more accurately target sites for destruction.  It also has a “dial-a-yield” feature that allows its handlers to adjust the level of its explosive power.

Supporters of this revamped weapon of mass destruction argue that, by ensuring greater precision in bombing “enemy” targets, reducing the yield of a nuclear blast, and making a nuclear attack more “thinkable,” the B61 Model 12 is actually a more humanitarian and credible weapon than older, bigger versions.  Arguing that this device would reduce risks for civilians near foreign military targets, James Miller, who developed the nuclear weapons modernization plan while undersecretary of defense, stated in a recent interview that “minimizing civilian casualties if deterrence fails is both a more credible and a more ethical approach.”

Other specialists were far more critical.  The Federation of Atomic Scientists pointed out that the high accuracy of the weapon and its lower settings for destructiveness might tempt military commanders to call for its use in a future conflict.

General James E. Cartright, a former head of the U.S. Strategic Command and a retired vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that possessing a smaller nuclear device did make its employment “more thinkable.”  But he supported developing the weapon because of its presumed ability to enhance nuclear deterrence.  Using a gun as a metaphor, he stated:  “It makes the trigger easier to pull but makes the need to pull the trigger less likely.”

Another weapon undergoing U.S. government “modernization” is the cruise missile.  Designed for launching by U.S. bombers, the weapon—charged William Perry, a former secretary of defense—raised the possibilities of a “limited nuclear war.”  Furthermore, because cruise missiles can be produced in nuclear and non-nuclear versions, an enemy under attack, uncertain which was being used, might choose to retaliate with nuclear weapons.

Overall, the Obama administration’s nuclear “modernization” program—including not only redesigned nuclear weapons, but new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs, and production plants—is estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion over the next thirty years.  Andrew C. Weber, a former assistant secretary of defense and former director of the interagency body that oversees America’s nuclear arsenal, has criticized it as “unaffordable and unneeded.”  After all, the U.S. government already has an estimated 7,200 nuclear weapons.

The nuclear weapons modernization program is particularly startling when set against President Obama’s April 2009 pledge to build a nuclear weapons-free world.  Although this public commitment played a large part in his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize that year, in succeeding years the administration’s action on this front declined precipitously.  It did manage to secure astrategic arms reduction treaty (New START) with Russia in 2010 and issue a pledge that same year that the U.S. government would “not develop new nuclear warheads.”  But, despite promises to bring the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification and to secure further nuclear arms agreements with Russia, nuclear disarmament efforts ground to a halt.  Instead, plans for “nuclear modernization” began.  The president’s 2016 State of the Union address contained not a word about nuclear disarmament, much less a nuclear weapons-free world.

What happened?

Two formidable obstacles derailed the administration’s nuclear disarmament policy.  At home, powerful forces moved decisively to perpetuate the U.S. nuclear weapons program:  military contractors, the weapons labs, top military officers, and, especially, the Republican Party.  Republican support for disarmament treaties was crucial, for a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate was required to ratify them.  Thus, when the Republicans abandoned the nuclear arms control and disarmament approach of past GOP presidents and ferociously attacked the Obama administration for “weakness” or worse, the administration beat an ignominious retreat.  To attract the backing of Republicans for the New START Treaty, it promised an upgraded U.S. nuclear weapons program.

Russia’s lack of interest in further nuclear disarmament agreements with the United States provided another key obstacle.  With 93 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in the arsenals of these two nations, a significant reduction in nuclear weapons hinged on Russia’s support for it.  But, angered by the sharp decline of its power in world affairs, including NATO’s advance to its borders, the Russian government engaged in its own nuclear buildup and spurned U.S. disarmament proposals.

Despite these roadblocks, the Obama administration could renew the nuclear disarmament process.  Developing better relations with Russia, for example by scrapping NATO’s provocative expansion plan, could smooth the path toward a Russian-American nuclear disarmament agreement.  And this, in turn, would soften the objections of the lesser nuclear powers to reducing their own nuclear arsenals.  If Republican opposition threatened ratification of a disarmament treaty, it could be bypassed through an informal U.S.-Russian agreement for parallel weapons reductions.  Moreover, even without a bilateral agreement, the U.S. government could simply scrap large portions of its nuclear arsenal, as well as plans for modernization.  Does a country really need thousands of nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack?  Britain possesses only 215.  And the vast majority of the world’s nations don’t possess any.

Given the terrible dangers and costs posed by nuclear weapons, isn’t it time to get back on the disarmament track?


Lawrence S. Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians