The Guardian • Issue #2081


Reinforcing the imperium: Joseph Gerson on the US nuclear arsenal


Asked about the function of the US nuclear arsenal, Joseph Gerson, President of the US Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, told the Morning Star:

In addition to providing massive profits to the military-industrial complex, the US nuclear arsenal has two primary purposes: reinforcing the US global imperium and deterring nuclear blackmail or attacks by rival nuclear powers.

The origins of the US nuclear arsenal and the first-use doctrine are instructive. The Manhattan Project was initiated amidst fears that Nazi Germany would create nuclear weapons to be used against the United States and its allies. The idea was to have a US nuclear weapon to deter Nazi use of the apocalyptic weapon.

However, by 1942 US intelligence concluded that Germany would not be able to develop nuclear weapons in time for use during the war. Nonetheless, there was no slackening in the drive to build the US bomb.

It is now recognised that, as US secretary of war Henry L Stimson said at the time, attacking Japan with nuclear weapons was not necessary to end the war. He explained that Japan was functionally defeated and that Japan’s surrender could be achieved on terms acceptable to the US.

The reason for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks was to bring the war to an immediate end, before Russia could enter the war and gain control of northern China, Manchuria, and Korea.

It was not nuclear attacks that led Emperor Hirohito to order Japan’s surrender. It was the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan on the same day as the Nagasaki A-bombing.

Not to be missed was President Truman’s diary entry that with the A-bomb he would have “a hammer over those boys” – the ability to terrorise Soviet leadership.

US secretary of defence Harold Brown once testified that with the US nuclear arsenal our “conventional weapons” become “meaningful instruments of military and political power.”

Noam Chomsky explained that means that the US nuclear arsenal allows the US to “sufficiently intimidate … anyone who might help to protect people we are determined to attack.”

Daniel Ellsberg, who was once the lead author of the US nuclear war-fighting doctrine, taught that during many US wars and international crises, the US prepared or threatened to initiate nuclear attacks.

A partial list includes the 1948 Berlin blockade, Eisenhower’s 1953 nuclear threat to win the armistice agreement with North Korea and China, and again in 1955 and 1958 during the Taiwan crises.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy thought that the odds that the US would resort to nuclear attack was between a third and a half.

President Lyndon B Johnson threatened the use of nuclear weapons during the Six-day and Vietnam wars.

We had President Richard Nixon’s “madman” nuclear threats mobilisation against Vietnam. In the 1973 October war [the Yom Kippur war], Henry Kissinger prepared for, and threatened the use of nuclear weapons.

The post-cold war era included such threats and preparations during the wars against Iraq (including a 1991 threat by [British] Prime Minister John Major) and against North Korea.

US post-cold war nuclear threats were made in the run-up to the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq to ensure that US and allied troops being assembled in the Middle East for those wars were not attacked.

Today, as we face the danger of the Gaza war becoming a regional war including Iran, we can be sure that Iranian policy-makers are well aware that in a worst-case scenario, the US or Israel (which threatened the use of its ‘Temple Weapons’ during the 1973 October war) could respond to attacks with tactical nuclear weapons or use precision and devastating ‘conventional’ weapons in an effort to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Morning Star (edited for reasons of space)

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