There Is No Nuclear Option

Think about somebody you love. Are you doing it?

Now think about them on fire, and you’re holding a bucket of water. Your course of action is easy and obvious.

Now think about 1,000 people on fire and 1,000 other people holding buckets of water. You use yours and yell for others to do the same, but for some bizarre collection of reasons many of them don’t. People fight over and spill some of the buckets, etc.

Now think about four billion people on fire and 4 billion other people with buckets of water. And then, to make it harder, this time the fire is invisible. People are writhing in pain, begging for water, but the fire cannot be seen, at least not by most people.

This is a bit what it feels like to me. We are on fire from ecological destruction as well as from nuclear war. But you can’t see it yet, and by the time you can, it will be too late. And even this tragi-comic routine of doing too little too late on climate won’t be doable on nuclear. The first intentional or accidental act by human or machine will be moments from the last human consciousness.

So, what do you do to make people see the fire? One proposal that I’ve seen in print — unlike any sane opinions whatsoever — is to use just one itty bitty widdle nuclear bomb to show people what it is, so that they won’t use any more of them. This is what you call trying to persuade people by showing them that you’re even stupider than they are. I’m sure they teach that technique in some public speaking class, because I’ve seen its graduates use it. But in this case everyone will be dead moments later, so they won’t begin to sympathize with the jackass who pushed the first button. You can’t launch a nuke without the people who believe your nation is the evil side of the Manichean struggle launching their nukes to make sure that you don’t destroy life on Earth without their help.

But why would you need to use a nuclear weapon in order to tell people what a nuclear weapon is? We know what nuclear winter is without having seen it. Drivers’ ed students are taught what a car crash is without being put into a car crash. People in the United States don’t stare at you blankly when you say the words “high speed train” or “healthcare as a human right” or “open election” because they’ve read about such things. If schools can retool their curricula to teach kids that slavery was enjoyable, surely they can teach what nuclear weapons are.

Yet what is obviously possible nonetheless gets harder and harder. People are selling t-shirts reading “I’m sorry for what I said to you when it was 110 degrees.” What we see right now is humanity’s behavior with a certain level of environmental destruction. All else equal, we can expect it to get dramatically worse. If the refugee waves from a few wars are enough to generate a scattering of fascist buffoons, one can guess what the refugees from much of the world becoming uninhabitable, combined with land becoming inarable, could do. So we can’t leave that phrase “all else equal” standing. We have to change something else. What could happen to humans when viewed as marbles in a physics experiment is not what must happen to humans who are actually creatures capable of thought.

Much of what we need to do is not in need of being dreamed up. It’s what we claim to do already. For example, I think a rules based order would be an excellent idea. I think a global community, even an intelligence community, would be a wonderful thing. A free world would be fantastic.

The U.S. government should shut up about the rules based order and join it. The U.S. is party to fewer major human rights treaties than any other nation on Earth, is the greatest saboteur of the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, the greatest abuser of the veto in the United Nations, the greatest violator of treaties related to war and peace and disarmament, the most frequent shredder of treaties it was party to such as the ABM, INF, and Open Skies disarmament treaties, the greatest violator of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The U.S. stands outside the Land Mines and Arms Trade and Cluster Munitions treaties, refuses to support treaties on weapons in space or cyberwar, and has threatened nuclear war more often than anyone else. The U.S. is the top weapons dealer to all governments and to the worst governments, the top trainer of coups, and the top destroyer — by many measures — of the Earth we live on.

There are a great many horrible governments on Earth. The BRICS grouping of nations is not a gathering of peace groups. Nor is it a rules based order. But if you wanted a rules based order, you’ve got one ready made. Join the treaties that much of the world is party to. Put in place Constitutions and laws that draw on the best in the world. Democratize the United Nations. And instead of waging wars in the name of democracy, think about what it would mean to actually support democracy — because the answer to that question is usually the opposite of war. Allowing the people of Crimea and Donbas to determine their own fate would not only be the most democratic thing possible, but also the key to ending the war in Ukraine, which is the key to nuclear and other disarmament, which is the key to global cooperation, which is the key to making the best of what we’ve got before us on this troubled little planet.

There’s nothing simple or easy about letting people in a war zone determine their fate, but it’s that or ruin. It’s nonviolence or nonexistence. It ought to be an easy question.

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