SK Docs: US Strategic Nuclear Policy

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I promised more articles in English, so here we go. I am no big fan of nuclear weapons, or (strategic) nuclear policy. I grew up in the 1980s. Just as my brain began working a bit, Reagan became president of the United States. It made quite the impact. His neo-Cold Warriors rampaged through Central America and Afghanistan. Iran and Iraq were at war for an entire decade. The economy tanked. It was hard to miss.

At the same time Europe was asked to place mid-range nuclear weapons on its territory, my own country – the Netherlands – included. As I recall it shut pretty much everything down. My school, sports, parents, everybody went on some form of strike. I recall large demonstrations. In the end the people won. The missles were not placed. Back then it felt like an important victory of sorts.

Until I learned years later that none of it ever mattered. The nuclear weapons were already here. They had been here since the 1960s, as part of some secret deal our government made with Kennedy and Johnson. Apparently they still are. They are stored at a Royal Dutch Air Force base called Volkel.

You can drive from North to South – the entire country of the Netherlands – in roughly two (2) hours. If one were to fly (say) a jet-fighter plane? My guess is you’d cover the entire country in like 12 minutes or something. I presume training is done elsewhere. Storing nuclear weapons  is – due to the country’s size – not safe anywhere – since any accident would wipe the entire country out, without any help from unfortunate winds and such.

Every once in a while some nutbag… (sorry)… reporter will do a nice formula-type journalistic piece about those weapons. “Isn’t the Cold War over, do we still need them”? Sometimes, say once every 5 years or so – these dedicated “reporters” will even get some level of government person to respond to these sincere and newsworthy concerns they have raised. The “response” is always the same:  “We cannot talk about that”. No comment and go fuck yourself.

So they’re still there, like they’ve always been.

As you can see.. the UK, Germany and Belgium are not going to be happy either if anything ever happens.

I was 16 when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded. People were quite worried. Elevated radiation was measured all over Sweden, hundreds of kilometers away. There were concerns for lifestock and particularIy milk. The fallout gets absorbed by the grass and groundwater as it rains down. Cows eat the grass. That’s a problem. I recall our officials and media – even teachers – telling us not to worry: “Those cows have been indoors, eating prefab food. They are not outdoors grazing”. Oh, okay, nothing to worry about then.

Storing decpreciating nuclear munitions for 6 decades a mere 25 mins drive from a major population center is troubling and yes exploding nuclear reactors are worrisome… but that’s all nothing compared to the actual weapons themselves. Initially they were considered heavier regular (conventia)l munitions. That dream didn’t last very long. Because of their unique status, nuclear weapons required an entire industry around it. It’s a monster of an industry with many powerful players at each level. From extracting raw materials (uranium), to enrichment, to weapons manufacturing, to communication- warning- and deployment systems.

It’s been one of the largest industrial projects ever.

The total US military cost of the Cold War was some eight (8) trillion dollarssome 5 trillion of which went to the nuclear arms industry. For that kind of money we should have cars that fly to the Moon where you can go on vacation in some next-level composite-materials dome, for the weekend. People often say that this massive spending and the projected spending for Star Wars (SDI, Strategic Defense Initiative), is what broke the Soviet Union’s back. It’s the very reason, the entire system collapsed and “we won” the Cold War.

I consider that total nonsense. The Soviet system collapsed for a number of reasons: the system was rotten to the core, the entire leadership was 100 yrs old and corrupt, the costs of monitoring and controlling their own population, the costs of the Chernobyl clean-up and yea sure, the costs of maintaining their “Empire”, while their system was caving in on itself.

I don’t think there was much to “win” here, it’s not as if we’re gonna get all that money back and it wasn’t spent on any of “us” in the first place since I am not flying to the Moon anytime soon.

Plenty has been said and written about the nuclear arms industry. One group of insiders is usually left out: the strategists. The people that developed US Strategic Nuclear Policy. In a way we should be glad these people were around. As I said, the US Militairy considered nuclear weapons simply heavier munitions. If it were up to them Korea would have been a crater …Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia probably too. The strategists – in a way – made sure that didn’t happen.

Below you will find an absolutely wonderful documentary series, an oral history from strategy insiders, from 1945 until the end of the Cold War. What particularly strikes me is the ease and calm with which they speak about the most horrible weapons ever. They’re all quite clinical and detached from any normal human concerns. It’s a game of sorts where weapons development and deployment requires a “posture” and that needs to become policy and then communicated.

To the “enemy” sure, but also to the rest of us.

The documentary series has my favorite equation of all time. (Somebody actually thought this up).


Nuclear Policy P1
Part 1
Nucealr Policy P2
Part 2
Nuclear Policy P3
Part 3
Nuclear Policy P4
Part 4