*** This is my column from the latest print version of CounterPunch Magazine. *** According to latest report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the United States currently deploys some 2,080 nuclear warheads, ready to launch at a moment’s notice. It has 500 tactical nuclear weapons — for combat use, not strategic strikes — primed in bases across Europe. There are also 2,680 American warheads in storage. They can be brought out at short notice and added to the active arsenal. Including retired but still intact weapons, the United States possesses 7,100 nuclear warheads, any one of which could destroy a metropolis and kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people in a single eye blink.
The United States is the only nation to have used such weapons. They were used on targets consisting almost entirely of civilian populations. In the years that followed, the country vastly expanded its nuclear arsenal, declaring that it could and would launch a “first strike” against any other nation, should the leaders in Washington decide that it was in the strategic interests of the country to do so.
This threat was unprecedented in all of world history. No nation had ever possessed the power — or expressed the intention — to totally annihilate another nation in a single act of military aggression. This threat — and the reality behind it — has been the ultimate foundation of American dominance of world affairs for 70 years.
The full force of this threat diminished somewhat during the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union amassed an arsenal that presented a counterweight to American weaponry. But the dissolution of the USSR led to break-up of that nation’s nuclear arsenal. Russia now has some 1,800 missiles deployed. Its entire stockpile of weapons — deployed and in storage — is about 4,500. The nuclear balance has once again shifted significantly in the United States’ favor.
This, at least in part, accounts for Washington’s more aggressive stance toward Russia, especially in the Ukraine crisis. The old doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” is no longer so firm. The possibility exists once more that an American first strike could wipe out the Russian capacity for counter-response. This isn’t certain, but it’s a greater possibility than it has been for several decades.
Russia’s involvement in a dispute in a region on its border has been translated by the Western Establishment into an imminent, Hitler-like threat to take over Europe. Whatever one thinks of the odious Putin regime, any rational observer would have to say that Western propaganda surrounding the crisis has been absurd, exaggerated, and highly dangerous. But even if the Kremlin were guilty of everything it accused of doing in Ukraine, this would be nothing more than what the United States does day after day, all over the world: aggressively interfering in the affairs of other nations, supporting and fomenting armed conflict in order to advance its own agenda, and behaving with brutal disregard for the ordinary people who die and suffer as a consequence.
The U.S. has brought death, terror, ruin and persecution to millions of people in the Middle East, in just the past 12 years alone. It is a record of astonishing, deliberate, cold-blooded evil carried out solely for profit and political dominance. Whatever evil the Putin regime has done and is doing in its limited sphere cannot be remotely compared to what the United States is doing across the globe.
And yet the bipartisan narrative is: Russia is evil, while we are pure and holy, trying only to put the world to rights. This is, essentially, the only frame for discussing policy toward Russia and the Ukrainian crisis. It is so mind-boggingly stupid, so disconnected from reality, that it virtually defies understanding. We kill a million people, for no good reason at all, in a small, weak country thousands of miles away; and we are good. Even our super-savvy liberals, who scornfully reject the primitive doctrine of American Exceptionalism, still believe that America can hold some kind of moral high ground in global affairs.
Look again at those figures: 2,080 warheads on a hair-trigger right now, aimed at spots all over the earth, ready to — in the immortal words of Hillary Clinton in her 2008 campaign threat against Iran — “annihilate” millions of innocent human beings. This power, this threat, hangs over the entire world. However remote the likelihood of its use in any given situation, it is still present, it is still a possibility. (As our leaders like to say with nauseating regularity, “all options are on the table,” always.) It is still in the hands of, again, the only nation that has used such weapons, a nation that publicly reserves the right to use them again, aggressively, in a first strike. A nation that launched a war of aggression in Iraq that killed a million people, dispossessed millions more, destroyed the society, deliberately inflamed sectarian divides and sowed violent chaos where extremism thrives. A nation whose presidents now openly proclaim that they have the right to assassinate any individual on earth at their arbitrary order, and have the power to carry this out.
What then, is the greatest threat to the greatest number of people in the world today? There are many horrible regimes and groups, but none of them possess all of these capabilities and exhibit all of these dangerous attributes; none of them have come close to killing as many people and wreaking as much destruction as the United States has in this century.
One April day 48 years ago, in New York City’s Riverside Church, Martin Luther King Jr. descried the heart of darkness in his time, declaring that “the United States is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” How can it be that we have come so far since that day, gone through so much, and still his dread words hold so true – indeed, are truer than ever?
Yet here we are, here we are: even deeper in the heart of darkness.