Musclebound – the Quandary of the Nuclear Powers

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Byron Allen Black
Byron Allen Black, INDEPENDENT OBSERVER

IO – The current news blitz covering the military incursion into Ukraine, a new “ad hoc” republic calved off from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the decision to take military action by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, now raises the possibility of Russia menacing its neighbor, and anyone else who cares to confront Russia, with nuclear weaponry. 

This startling and unwelcome thesis is put forth by admittedly sensationalist media, recognizing how the “Covid-19 narrative” is getting tired. People are annoyed with the relentless barrage of fear-oriented reportage for a disease that kills less than one percent of those infected with it, many of whom are already knocking on death’s door with comorbidities. Citizens are sick of lockdowns, the destruction of small business and the questionable masking and “vaccination” drive. It is seen as government overreach. Thus the protests in Canada and elsewhere. 

The narrative shifts to keep its audience, and war is always a good way to attract eyeballs and stir emotions. This is particularly true if it involves a classic villain, which is how Russia has been painted, since “Cold War” times. Most of the world’s population is too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the superpowers came the closest to a thermonuclear exchange that would likely have obliterated civilization; for those who remember it – and this writer has vivid memories of that immensely dangerous couple of weeks – this current conflict has a familiar ring to it. 

Consider a bit of contemporary history. American President Bill Clinton assured the Russians, victims of invasions since time immemorial, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, would not be extended to the borders of the Russian Federation. As a matter of fact, NATO, whose members were initially composed of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is a very expensive proposition that has been seeking a reason for its existence since the end of the Cold War. 

In the 1950s, European nations were naturally alarmed by the militancy of the Soviet Union, and its campaign to create “buffer states” between itself and potential enemies, namely, the capitalist nations. These were known as “Soviet satellites” and ran down from the Baltics (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) to the Mediterranean (Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania). Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito distanced itself from Russian domination, choosing to follow its own path to socialism, which displeased Moscow. 

The great fear of the western democracies was that of a massed tank attack by the forces of the Warsaw Pact – the Soviet counterpart of NATO. Members of the “Warsaw Treaty Organization” included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The assumption by western governments and military experts was that a surprise tank spearhead could potentially overrun western Europe in a matter of several days. 

With the dissolution of the USSR around Christmas 1991, it was assumed that only one superpower would be able to project its force around the planet: the United States of America. The world could breathe a sigh of relief, with such a benevolent and democratic master of the world. 

Do you detect irony? The peoples of Haiti, the Philippines, Vietnam, Oceania, Guatemala and other recipients of American military force might cherish yet another memory. 

Then there was the inevitable proliferation of the bomb, as it thought until other countries began to purchase the no-longer-mysterious nuclear technology; the People’s Republic of China were peddlers of such knowhow. Pakistan and India, traditionally mortal enemies, both had atomic bombs and the delivery systems to blast away and one another. Israel stole the technology from their allies, the Americans. The hermit kingdom of North Korea also spent much of its scant foreign exchange on nuclear wizardry, thereafter pretending to be a superpower on the basis of it ability to threaten Japan and South Korea, two legacy adversaries. 

Ukraine, one of the “forward bases” of the old USSR, and historically part of the Russian empire, held onto its nukes after attaining independence, along with the other republics of the failed USSR; between 1996 and 2001, Ukraine agreed, under an international agreement supervised by Russia and the United States, to give up its atomic weapons. 

South Africa retained the distinction of being the only nation to ever develop nuclear weaponry and then shut down the program, dismantling its six nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the big powers held thousands, either as bombs carried by B-52s or TU-95s, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or “cruise missiles” launched from distant airborne platforms. 

It is critical to understand that from the outset of the atomic age, it was clear that an atomic or hydrogen bomb was nothing like any other weapon in history. The “united nations” of scientists working on the Manhattan Project, which successfully set off the first nuclear detonation in New Mexico in 1945, immediately understood what a catastrophic genie they had released onto humanity. Italians, British, Germans and others soon began to campaign for the abolition of such weaponry, but that was clearly out of the question: the military was overjoyed at having yet another big bomb in their arsenal. 

The understanding of an atomic weapon as similar to a conventional one was a mistaken attitude by Chairman Mao Zedong: during the Korean War of the early 1950s, General MacArthur, commander of the United Nations forces, proposed to lay down a “cordon sanitaire” of nuclear explosions along the North Korean / China border, to prevent hordes of PLA soldiers from overrunning the Korean peninsula. Chairman Mao was not impressed. “The A-bomb is a big armament but it’s only something larger than what we already have” he laughed to his unnerved generals. They in turn arranged for the Great Helmsman to personally witness an atmospheric test of a Chinese nuclear device. The experience of seeing and feeling the force of a nuclear detonation was gravely disturbing, and the Chinese leader quickly changed his tune. 

The primitive atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which had the effect of jarring Emperor Hirohito out of his normal dopey daze, appreciating that his island nation could be wiped from the face of the earth, only managed to destroy tens of kilometers of city centers. Today’s thermonuclear weapons, miniaturized to ft into cruise missiles carried by low-flying bombers, can devastate a hundred-kilometer area, killing cities the size of London, Washington, Tokyo or Moscow. 

The awareness of this destructive power leads to the understanding of the reality that the only purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter a potential enemy from attacking. If they ever have to be launched in anger, presumably at another nuclear power, there is retaliation, so no one “wins”. There would also be tremendous international condemnation of any country that attacked an adversary with a nuke, although a rogue regime like that of North Korea would just ignore it. Then there is the fallout, poisoning a huge swath of the biosphere. 

The stance of the USA and the USSR has been based on their ability to wreak “massive retaliation”. If attacked, a country possessing such weaponry could launch its own nuclear firestorm on the attacker. If even one bomber or missile happened to get through and detonate over a capital city, the damage would be incalculable, for years to come. All military planners are aware of this reality, and the nuclear powers are thus inhibited from any consideration of launching such weapons. This is the so-called “nuclear firebreak” which has held since 1945. “MAD”, for “Mutually-Assured Destruction” renders war obsolete. The superpowers thus take advantage of this to invade weak nations like Iraq, Panama, Libya or Vietnam, when there is no fear of their hitting back. 

The “balance of terror” of such a nuclear standoff has not prevented military types, with their programmed military thinking, from attempting to devise ways to win a nuclear conflict. The USA has considered a “decapitation strike”, hitting Moscow, Russian air bases and known missile silos so hard with a first strike that the USSR would be unable to retaliate. Placing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on the Ukrainian-Russian border, just five minutes away from the Russian capital, would present a tempting opportunity for the West to try this, and the Russians will therefore not allow it – any more than the Americans allowed the Soviets to plant ICBMs in Cuba in 1962. Thus the invasion, seen by the Russians as a “preventative measure” to defend themselves. 

Another factor is the steady attack of the Ukrainian military, and the heirs of Stefan Bandera, clearly defined as “neo-Nazis”, on Russian-speaking cities in East Ukraine, since a democratically-elected government was overturned in 2014. Perhaps you did not read about the attempted ethnic cleansing of Russians in the popular press, but that’s no surprise either, considering who owns and directs the mass media. Western countries have even cut off internet access to Russian media sources, ones that would give their side of the story, in order to prevent American citizens from hearing anything not in agreement with “The Narrative”. 

Will the Russians ever use nuclear weapons on the Ukrainians? Very unlikely. Unlike the Americans, their historical enemy (and former ally against the Third Reich), the Russians know what it is like to be invaded, bombed, burned out and brutalized. Twenty percent of all Russian men born in 1920 were dead by 1945, the greatest sacrifice of human lives in World War II. This vivid memory is what makes that grand nation unwilling to be bullied or threatened into submission. 

As a matter of fact, there is no need to escalate that far, as according to leaked reports from the Ukrainian command, their military forces are all but finished. This is again quite different from what you will read in the western press, which has the Russians battle-weary, stuck in place and facing tremendous resistance. All without the specter – raised by the sensationalist corporate media – of a nuclear attack. When the Russians withdraw and the call of “Victory for Ukraine!” goes up in the west, the reader should carefully consider and seek all available news sources before coming to any conclusion. 

Russophobes who succumb to the Narrative and believe that threats, “cancellation”, exclusion from silly sports events or financial punishment will deter the Russians clearly do not know much about that very tough race of Eurasians.