Today (as I write this) marks the 77th anniversary of the first time any nation dropped a nuclear bomb in anger. Three days from now is the 77th anniversary of the second time. No nukes have been dropped or fired since (in furtherance of war). So far the scorecard remains United States of America two, everybody else zero. Here’s hoping we keep it that way.
Even so, the world has remained in a constant state of anticipation anxiety ever since that first nuke was dropped on the hapless, mostly non-combatant city of Hiroshima, Japan. Some days have admittedly been particularly worse (October, 1962, comes to mind), some have been somewhat better (November, 1989, comes to mind), but at no time since have we been entirely free of the grim prospect of mushroom clouds ruining our day.
It’s not as if we lack things to worry about, either. Global warming is becoming the daily menace it always promised to be. The pandemic has now become endemic. But we are also playing nuclear brinkmanship with something that is almost as deadly as the Cuban Missile Crisis — without the attendant glamour or publicity. And this time it’s not only Russia we have to worry about, it’s China as well. If you want to occasionally throw in North Korea and Iran, then be my guest,
UK National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove, 55, said recently that the erosion of backdoor diplomatic channels to Russia and China has resulted in an increased chance of an accidental escalation into war. When people don’t communicate then assumptions are sometimes made, assumptions that are frequently wrong and lead to misunderstandings. Such misunderstandings can escalate, leading to conflict or even all out war.
Back in the good old days of the Cold War we also had something else going for us. It was known as the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD for short. It was the well-understood and frequently acknowledged notion that if either side launched a first strike the other side would immediately retaliate. As both sides have sufficient firepower to destroy the other and the planet, then both sides will be destroyed. But “[That] doctrine is opaque in Moscow and Beijing,” Sir Stephen said, “let alone Pyongyang or Tehran.”
So the MAD doctrine doesn’t seem to enter into nuclear calculations any more. If you doubt that then consider this. To protect his no-fly decree over Ukraine, Vladimir Putin darkly hinted that nukes could be used against any nation found in violation. In other words, if someone were to accidentally stray into Ukrainian airspace, Vlad would destroy the planet. That’s a pretty extreme reaction, and one that suggests that he either doesn’t understand the MAD doctrine or he himself is mad
Now China is massing troops and firing missiles on the borders of Taiwan, in an overreaction to Nancy Pelosi’s visit. Violence is turning out to be the first refuge of the incompetent, and the world must hold its breath every time one of these idiots finds something to get offended about.
No matter how much attitudes may have changed since the days of the Cold War, reality has not changed. If any nation engages in a nuclear conflict with any other nation, no matter how “tactical” or limited the intention, it can and probably will escalate into a full scale Armageddon-style war. We have to keep repeating the message until everyone understands it and believes it: in such scenarios there is only one enemy, and that enemy is war itself. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.