Apr 092008

I happened to catch the repeat of last night’s LNL while out & about today. One of Phillip’s guests was Steven Starr, a member of INESAP The International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation. Hell of a title, but a snappy acronym.

The purpose of INESAP is to promote and lobby for a complete global disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. Especially nuclear weapons, of which major and minor nuclear powers still retain approximately 25,000 volatile examples. Both the US and Russia between them retain some 18,000 weapons, of which an estimated 5,000 warheads are maintained by both nations collectively on what is colloquially described as ‘ready-alert’. That seems a rather innocuous term, doesn’t it? After all, we know that the Cold War ended 17 years ago, so what’s in a vague term like ‘ready-alert’? Plenty, it seems.
What we seem to have forgotten is that the Soviet Union may have passed into history, but the isolationist, suspicious ethos remains. Equally, and especially so since 2001, the United States has become much more insular and protectively aggressive in foreign policy terms. Unilateral, pre-emptive action is the modus operandi of the Bush administration. The Russian Federation is again flexing what military muscle it can and grows stronger on the back of it’s own oil and gas exports. America is steaming ahead with it’s anti-missile shield adventure in western Europe. In reality, nothing much has changed. The so-called Cold War may be a part of history now, and the instigating personalities long dead or retired from political life, but the wary and watchful angst remains.
So, why is INESAP so alarmed? Well, it transpires that ‘ready-alert’ is a vague euphemism for the Cold War retaliatory missile launch protocol known as ‘launch on warning’. Essentially, the requirement that in order to achieve a respectable retaliatory strike against a foe which launches nuclear missiles against another nation, the target nation needs to get it’s missiles airborne, quite literally, as soon as a launch warning alert is received from satellites or other early warning systems. As was revealed during the LNL program, a submarine launched ballistic missile fired from the North Sea can reach Moscow within 15 minutes. Neither the US nor the Russian Federation have retreated from their respective ‘launch on warning’ protocols. Despite protestations to the contrary, INESAP knows well, apparently from sources within both governments, that while neither will admit to having any missile defences on hair-trigger alert, both do. Anything up to 5,000 individual warheads aboard some 2,000 delivery devices. Both heads of government continue to retain ultimate authority over these ‘launch on warning’ weapons. It seems that years have passed, but nothing has changed. We, the human species, still face annihilation by our own hands, probably over a longer time frame than during the 1960’s, but annihilation just the same. Instead of going out in a fiery, radioactive pyre of more than 50,000 nuclear fireballs, we’ll likely freeze or starve to death as a result of a nuclear winter raised by a few thousand. Scary shit.
Mutually Assured Destruction might have had a part to play in maintaining a fragile peace in the latter half of last century, but as I heard it expressed this afternoon, suicide is hardly a logical defence. Have a listen to this edition of LNL. It was quite informative, albeit frightening. I often wonder whether the human species will ever wake up to itself.

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