Nuclear weapons are back in the news. And, for the first time in a long time, people are scared. But the “fire and fury” threatened by the current US president has been with us, impacting our lives, for the past 73 years.
Most people may be unaware of the billions of dollars sunk fistful after fistful into the nuclear-weapon industry since the end of the Cold War. The leaders of the nuclear-armed countries call it “modernization”—a euphemism for ensuring that these weapons last long into the 21t century. We’ve read the headlines about Trump’s eagerness to “rebuild” the nuclear arsenal, but this didn’t start with Trump. Presidents Clinton and Obama both made deals to invest billions in the nuclear-weapon complex in exchange for the ratification of treaties that were supposed to limit the testing and deployment of US nuclear weapons. Spoiler alert: The United States didn’t ratify the test ban, and the agreement with Russia on reducing the number of deployed warheads wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. But each time, billions were spent on nuclear weapons.
Now Trump is talking about restarting nuclear testing and building new nuclear weapons—including so-called “low-yield” weapons that the military hopes could be used in conflict. He trashed the Iran deal, and John Bolton, his national-security adviser, seems intent on sabotaging any hope of denuclearization in the Korean peninsula. Trump’s vision is terrifying, but it is built on the foundations laid by previous leaders of the United States.
The leaders of the United States are not alone in this mad pursuit. In Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel, generations of governments have upheld their nuclear arsenals as providing the “ultimate security,” and have spent billions on maintaining these weapon systems for the indefinite future. Each has built their nuclear arsenal on backs of human beings, testing their weapons on the bodies and lands of the most marginalized of their own or other societies.