Editorial: Is nuclear war on the horizon?

March 6, 2019

From the March-April 2019 issue of News & Letters

The retreat from even modest efforts to control nuclear weapons has brought humanity closer than ever to annihilation. President Donald Trump’s suspension of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Vladimir Putin’s Russia gins up an already accelerating new arms race.

Putin countered by touting Russia’s new doomsday weapons—an “invincible” hypersonic missile that goes five times the speed of sound, as well as a 100-megaton bomb, delivered by an underwater torpedo, against which there are no defenses and which would make U.S. coastal areas unlivable for decades. The U.S. is now deploying lower yield “operational nuclear weapons” on Trident missiles. The new deputy national security advisor, Charles Kupperman, has advanced the idea of a winnable nuclear war.


Nagasaki, Japan, 1945, before and after its devastation by an atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. gives a hint at what could happen in a nuclear war. Photo: Wikipedia.

The madness of this moment’s unpredictable world of deep economic crises, impending environmental catastrophe and multiple nuclear threats is unpredictable and dangerous. U.S. war planners were eager to remove any constraint on their capacities against China, which has never signed the INF. In the present global economic crisis, nuclear war capacity is the ultimate currency.

Today’s collapse in the rate of accumulation of capital has economists and historians noting the parallel with the rise of nationalism in the 1930s, when trade wars became a prelude to shooting wars capped off by the atom bomb, used twice by the U.S. against Japan. War plans reveal the insane underlying order in President Trump’s disorderly trade wars and helter-skelter shakeup of global alliances. 

A frightening new global realignment is on the horizon. Bound up in the trade war with China is a struggle over whose technology will be used in the next generation (5G) telecommunications network, which will enable a more powerful, faster “internet of things.” The paramount things at stake are smart weapons and the unimpeded ability to deliver them. At this point the Chinese technology company, Huawei, is way ahead in the global deployment of 5G.


Enter the U.S. state-capitalist warriors for whom the internet is, above all, a machinery of war. The detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, was the first salvo in a U.S.-led drive to push Huawei technology out of 5G. The U.S. is putting pressure on countries throughout Europe to rip out Huawei technology. Poland, which was eager to provide a base for deployment of U.S. troops, called “Fort Trump,” was told those troops wouldn’t be safe if Chinese telecommunications equipment were used. Most countries are falling in line. The present crisis, which forces a unity of economic and war policy, portends serious disruptions in global supply chains and contractions in the world economy.

In general, 5G telecommunications under development are part of capitalist science oriented around things, putting living beings at risk. Its goal is to displace humans from production. The insurmountable contradiction is that living labor is the source of all value accumulated “in” capital. The trend of eliminating living labor makes the crisis deeper by tending to lower the rate of accumulation even more.

5G uses high frequency electromagnetic radiation designed to speed up the internet and connect things, like household appliances. However, 5G’s more ominous purpose is pervasive: industrial automation, like driverless trucks. According to Physicians for Safe Technology, who are calling for a moratorium on its deployment, 5G is harmful to people and threatens many species of insects with extinction. 5G radiation, unlike earlier generations, doesn’t pass through the body but stops at the skin, where it induces heat and cell damage. It is already deployed by the military as a crowd control weapon.

With their racist dehumanization of the “other” and fabricating external enemies, a tiny minority of capitalists, with help from their ideologues and war planners, want to turn attention away from themselves as the real source of misery—namely, capitalist science driving more and more people into irrelevance and precarious existence. The present unity of economic and war policy is an absolute threat to life.

Against it there is a reach for something new whether in thousands of Chinese rank-and-file strikes against Chinese and global capital’s sweated labor, or in strikes against the hothouse computer-driven Amazon delivery system. Opposition takes many forms, as in the present wave of teachers’ strikes in the U.S., exposing the scarce resources going to education that abuses teachers and truncates the development of a whole generation. (See “Oakland, Chicago—teachers strike!” March-April 2019 News & Letters.)

Whatever the mode of resistance, the present total threat to humanity demands projecting the absolute opposite of globalized capitalist production. That is not a nationalist retrenchment, but rather an overcoming of what Marx called the lie of having one basis for science and another for life.

—Ron Kelch

One thought on “Editorial: Is nuclear war on the horizon?

  1. I don’t think that a war using atomic weapons is wise. This can escalate into to total destruction of the planet. And once it starts there will be no way of stopping it. If a war is started stick to conventional weapons.

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