Because: we love peace and motherhood. Then Russia got the bomb – but that’s OK, the balance of power remains that way. Who’s Next?
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the US is the world’s foremost nuclear weapons proliferator. It started with the development of the bomb tested at Trinity in New Mexico, then the technology spread remarkably quickly – as weapons technology always does. The USSR was given the technology by a spy in The Manhattan Project, then the US proliferated it to Canada and England. Back in 1942, England, Canada, and the US signed the Quebec Agreement which was a fig-leaf over studying advanced technology such as “tube alloys” – the English euphemism for highly enriched uranium. Now you know the reason for the US Government’s apparently odd obsession over high-quality steel tubing: before carbon fiber, Maraging steel was used in centrifuges. By the way: Dupont invented Teflon looking for a material for tubing that would not be eaten by uranium hexaflouride.
(We’ll try to stay serene and calm, when Alabama gets the bomb)
The US taught the Canadians and the English how to make nukes, and the English exploded their first nuke in 1952. From England, the secret leaked to France 1942 because the perfidious albionites had already signed a nuclear technology sharing agreement with France in return for indemnification on some nuclear power generation patents held by Frédéric Joliot-Curie. As soon as the US and Japanese discovered that nuclear weapons worked, it started holding back certain pieces of information but the cat was thoroughly out of the bag. France was enriching uranium by 1946-49 and detonated its first bomb in 1960.* USSR proliferated nuclear technology to China in 1959 and China’s first bomb was tested in 1964.
In 1969/70, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was assembled by the declared nuclear states. If you actually read it, it’s an odious document, reading in effect: “We promise no ‘first use’ against any countries that sign this treaty.” There’s this other annoying bit, in which the signatories also pledged to pursue nuclear disarmament with the objective of eventually eliminating everyone’s nuclear arsenals. With over 19,000 nuclear warheads worldwide, you can tell how well it’s working. The US and Russia have over 90% of the worldwide stock, with approximate parity.**
Apres Moi, La Deluge
Then, there were the 2nd generation proliferations: France taught Israel how to make weapons, China taught India, and Germany and France inadvertently taught Pakistan. Israel appears to have taught South Africa, who stood down their program due to international pressure. So did Libya, probably much to Muammar Ghaddafi’s later regret.
Pakistan was in a tight spot. They had already been at war with India, and India was now a nuclear power. India declared its intention to obtain nuclear weapons very early on, in 1949 and sort of dawdled along about it until they had a border war with China over the Himalaya. In 1972 “Smiling Buddha” was detonated and the world knew it was a nuke for peaceful purposes because of the name. India’s bomb-making was problematic because they openly used nuclear materials and technologies sold to them for peaceful purposes. But the buddha smiled anyway. India’s actions spurred the creation of the “Nuclear Suppliers Group” – a group of
high-tech nations with their own successful nuclear programs, that agreed to track and restrict the purchase of key components for bomb-making. So, for example, it was one thing if you wanted to make a centrifuge but another thing entirely if you wanted to purchase a Krytron or a Thyratron, or exploding bridge wire detonators.
The young Abdul Qadeer Khan got a job working for a materials manufacturing company in Amsterdam, which made high-strength steels suitable for centrifuges, then researched centrifuges as a subcontractor for the German company Urenco Group. Basically, he did his own R&D at their expense, improving their centrifuges and then he left and went back to Pakistan where he designed the Pakistani RP-1 centrifuge. India, meanwhile, was willing to threaten Pakistan with nuclear attack, which they could do nothing about. The Pakistanis responded by stealing, making, and copying technology, finally detonating their own nuclear device**** in 1998.
The A Q Khan network became rather notorious, since they were already ignoring the NPT, and they needed money. So they sold nuclear weapons-making technology fairly openly. This greatly assisted North Korea with their weapons-making process. Iran and Iraq appear to have obtained centrifuges or plans for centrifuges from the A Q Khan network. The stuff Iraq had at Osirak when Israel bombed it in 1981 appears to have been antiquated, and enrichment was based on electrical separation with cyclotrons (“calutrons“) rather than gas centrifuges. My opinion is that Iran and probably Libya were ripped off – sold nuclear technology that wouldn’t result in a bomb without a heinous amount of work. There’s a lot of money at stake in these things, and it was the French that appear to have sold the Iraqis their calutrons.
And, that’s more or less the story so far. We have a world regime in which all of humanity lives under the threat of nuclear death, with the controls in the hands of imperialists and ex-empires. Beware of imperialists saying “this is for your own good.”
The NATO Angle
Here’s where the situation gets ugly.
Not content to bring the world into the nuclear era, the US decided to use NATO members as a way of forward-deploying***** nuclear weapons throughout the world. It began simply, with the Multi-Lateral Force – the “MLF” that Tom Lehrer sung about.
(“Let’s make peace the way we did in Stanleyville and Saigon”)
The US’ practice of foward deploying nuclear weapons is an old one. There were MACE-B missiles in Okinawa pointed at the underbelly of China. The Japanese would have been thrilled about that, if they had known. The Cuban Missile Crisis was triggered in response to the US’ forward deploying medium-range ballistic missiles to: Turkey.
Today, if you’ve got aircraft in a NATO configuration, they are capable of carrying US-made B-61 bombs. Those F-16s the Turkish coup pilots were flying? Yeah, they were nuclear-capable. Know what else? In a very armored bunker at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey, there are about a dozen B-61s. During the 1st Gulf War there were at least 2****** MLRS reload trucks that were kept far away from the others, under armed guard at all times. Currently Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and Turkey contain stockpiles of US nukes. Greece used to have a stockpile but the US removed them because … political instability.
We’re also proliferating to other countries, by having them ready to weaponize ballistic missiles with the addition of a nuclear warhead. You’ve heard all kinds of stuff about the crazy North Koreans that are threatening to make missiles that can hit anywhere, but why are the South Koreans testing ballistic missiles that are able to cover only North Korea and carry a 2000-lb payload? A 2000-lb high explosive bomb is not something you’d spend a ballistic missile to deliver. And the South Koreans have F-16s in NATO configuration, too.
We call it “Nuclear Sharing” – as in: Have a coke, and a smile.
Why Does This Matter?
I occasionally encounter young people who think that the nukes are all safely bedded down, guarded by wise, competent leaders and people of stern resolve. Uh, no, it’s not that good. It’s not just a matter of whether that too-incoherent-to-fascist-right Donald Trump might have his finger on the nuclear football (password: 00000000) – what about if the coup had succeeded in Turkey? What if the US’ pushing NATO’s strike envelope farther toward Russia triggers a response like Cuba 1962? The US’ “refresh” on its nuclear arsenal will almost certainly trigger a new arms race and may – worse – encourage the policy-making oligarchs in Washington to think that nuclear weapons have tractable tactical uses.
All our eggs are already in one basket. And look what kind of people are carrying that basket. There is a vast apparatus in place, designed to kill us all, and they say it’s built for our protection.
All of these books are covered under my money-back book recommendation policy:
- Richard Rhodes – Twilight Of The Bombs. tl;dr: Rhodes is an optimist. Sort of.
- Feroz Khan – Eating Grass – The Making of the Pakistani Bomb. There are some amazing tidbits in this one! The part that had me literally sit down and hyperventilate was the description of the accident that occurred when an earthquake jiggled 2000 supersonic centrifuges full of uranium hexaflouride. “A mess” does not begin to describe it.
- Eric Schlosser – Command and Control – Readable and entertaining though terrifying even for the non-nuke-geek.
- Thomas Reed – At the Abyss, an Insider’s History of the Cold War – Mister Reed: why did you help build these monstrous things?
- Scott D. Sagan – The Limits of Safety – Learn about how the Air Force nuked North Carolina with an armed H-bomb, then lied about that it was safed. Why does the Air Force still exist? Buncha incompetents. This book should be read with Perrow’s “Normal Accidents.” I’ll do a blog posting on the combination eventually.
(* The French nuclear program was driven by the desire to maintain perception as a world power following the Suez Canal crisis, the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, and the perpetual collapse of one French government after another.)
(** With nukes, it’s hard: do you measure in terms of warheads, delivery systems, TNT equivalent?)
(*** Very very very fast electrical relays useful for making sure all the explosives in an implosion lens go off at the same time)
(**** A “layer cake” design similar to the early USSR fusion devices invented by Khariton)
(***** That’s military-ease for: “deploying within striking distance of your enemy”)
(******* I know the guy who commanded them, and I believe him)
PS – I am aware of Permissive Action Links (PAL) as depicted in “Doctor Strangelove”‘s CRM114 Discriminator. Not all weapons have PALs. It’s a good idea anyway- I recommend Reed and Rhodes if you want to learn more about PALs and how all that happened.
Nuclear Weapons Fuzing at Cryptome.