Here we are at a point when the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men who are prepared to use them.
Last week, Donald Trump deployed his superweapon Moab, the “mother of all bombs.” The 10 tons of high explosive detonated just before hitting the ground, as designed, and killed 94 Isis militants. The Russian media immediately reminded us that their own thermobaric bomb – the “father of all bombs” – was four times as powerful.
These are, of course, child’s toys when compared with nuclear weapons. Some of you, particularly young people, may need reminding of what exactly a nuclear weapon does.
The one dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons, destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. The warhead carried by a Trident missile delivers a reported 455 kilotons of explosive power.
A Trident missile carries up to eight of these warheads, and military planners might drop them in a pattern around one target, creating a firestorm along the lines that conventional allied bombing created in Hamburg and Tokyo during the Second World War.
Right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable.
For Kim Jong-un it’s thinkable; for Vladimir Putin it’s so thinkable that every major Russian wargame ends with a “nuclear de-escalation” phase: that is, drop one and offer peace. In December of last year, Trump and Putin announced that they were going to expand their nuclear arsenals and update the technology. This sudden mania in talking about nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, is more than just a little scary.
Trump is ramping up the military rhetoric for a horribly simple reason: two weeks ago, the isolationist wing of his team got outflanked by the generals; they tried a little war to see how it would go down. It went down quite well for them.
It may be that the Chinese leadership is prepared to put serious pressure on North Korea to prevent Kim’s regime from staging some kind of provocation against the US Navy. Or not. Kim has a nuclear weapon, even if the missiles needed to deliver it are unstable.
In the last 50 or so years we have had politicians who understood the value of multilateralism. Now we have unilateral, populists who are falling under the control of erratic family groups and mafias. Quite literally, a man with a finger on a red button!
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