'Death merchants' and US nuclear policy

Issue 

REVIEW BY EVA CHENG

The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex
By Helen Caldicott
Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2002
320 pages, $30 (pb)

Although the risk of India and Pakistan launching a nuclear war seems to have reduced for now, the much heightened danger of such a confrontation is a powerful reminder that the human race is still threatened by nuclear weapons.

According long-time anti-nuclear activist Dr Helen Caldicott, in her new book The New Nuclear Danger, the world was even closer to a nuclear confrontation a few months earlier — on September 11, 2001. Yet most people in the world were not even aware of it.

Caldicott writes that “before much of the world was even aware of what had happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the Bush administration had raised the country's nuclear alert codes from defcon 6 to defcon 2 — the highest state of alert before the launch code is operable.

“Russia, the country with the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world, almost certainly responded in kind. As a result, thousands of nuclear weapons stood poised on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched by the president of either country with a decision time of just three minutes.”

Caldicott goes on to explain how US President George Bush's conventional war in Afghanistan and his "aggressive militarisation under the rubric of defence against terrorism" threatens to provoke a chain reaction among nuclear-armed countries which “once set in motion, may prove impossible to control”.

Caldicott further warns that the US has 103 of the world's 438 nuclear power plants and all of them could be the source of an unimaginable nightmare if attacked by terrorists.

Caldicott argues that despite US proposals to reduce its nuclear arsenal, Washington has been expanding it. She has no doubt this will provoke a new nuclear arms race.

The New Nuclear Danger highlights, and details with rich information, the complex web of the US military-cum-corporate establishment. She calls them the “death merchants” and notes that successive US administrations have been based on and evolved around them. With the Pentagon, this establishment calls the shots on US military and nuclear policies.

The book provides elaborate coverage of some of Washington's other key manoeuvres: to upgrade its nuclear weapons program under the disguise of “stock management” (the Manhattan II project); to tear apart the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty — the cornerstone of all nuclear arms control agreements in the world — in the name of developing a system against missiles of the “rogue states” (the National Missile Defence or “Star Wars”); and to militarise, nuclearise and hegemonise space.

The book is written within a progressive framework, correctly targeting the number one culprit — US imperialism. Caldicott's book exposes successive Australian governments as accomplices with Washington's nuclear war fighting plans.

Caldicott recognises the hegemonic and imperialist ambitions of Washington but seems to harbour illusions that things would have been better if a more “competent” US president had not let the war-hungry Pentagon take control.

She thinks highly of President George Bush senior for his “commendable leadership” in taking full command of nuclear weapon policies, especially in “moving decisively and unilaterally to eliminate” a range of nuclear weapons and in “defying” the hawkish pressure from Pentagon.

Caldicott also thinks Bill Clinton's presidency was deficient. She has no doubt that the Pentagon and the “death merchants” are bad guys — which they are — but seems to imply that a capable president and administration could have made things right.

This perspective ignores the fundamental common class interests of the US ruling class, its state apparatus and institutions. This dynamic does not change despite periodic internal differences and personality variations.

Caldicott correctly identifies Bush junior's government as a “Lockheed Martin presidency and Star Wars administration”, detailing its close corporate links, especially to the highly influential military-industrial complex. But she avoids assessing Bush junior politically — a big contrast to her upfront scrutiny of Clinton.

Caldicott includes references as recent as March 2002 when Bush's war drive was already in full swing. But she hasn't questioned the driving force behind it — that of an imperialist superpower seizing the opportunity presented by September 11 to push its hegemonic agenda. She unquestioningly accepts Bush's line that he was going hard only to prevent future “terrorist” attacks.

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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