What Russiagate Conspiracy Theorists are Risking
The Russiagate conspiracy theorists - and yes, it is a conspiracy theory to argue Russia used cyber attacks to interfere in the 2016 election without producing clear factual evidence of said interference - have made the claim that Russia committed an act of cyberwar against the United States. They are demanding the US retaliate, beginning with economic sanctions. Unfortunately, that is not the only potential option going forward. Nukes are now on the table.
Under the new Nuclear Posture Review proposed by the Pentagon, the US would employ the first use of nuclear weapons in the event of "non-nuclear strategic attacks" by foreign countries, including "chemical, biological ... and cyber threats ..." Supposedly this would happen only in "extreme circumstances" but as US government spokespersons have stated, what constitutes an extreme circumstance justifying first use of nuclear weapons must be deliberately kept "ambiguous."
It’s been long-standing U.S. policy to , and this NPR is explicit in saying, it is in our interests, it is part of reinforcing deterrence to maintain some ambiguity in those circumstances.
With respect to or other forms of attack, I think the context in which an attack occurred against the United States or allies would be very important. ...
And so I think what this NPR strives to do is to say, in the context of a non-nuclear attack on the United States or our allies that was strategic in nature, that imposed substantial impacts to our infrastructure, to our people, then we would consider that context in evaluating the appropriate response, perhaps to include nuclear weapons.
In other words, what would be considered an extreme circumstance justifying the US government authorizing a nuclear response is simply not stated, but left to our, and to any "potential" adversary's, imagination. Certainly, prominent Democrats who support the Russiagate narrative have claimed that alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election constituted an act of war even to the extent of comparing the alleged cyber-attacks to Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
Let's ignore for a moment how easy it would be for anyone to spoof a Russian cyber-attack on the United States. We know the NSA has the capability to do so. We know that the Department of Homeland Security in January, 2017 designated our voting systems as critical infrastructure.
We are already engaged in a an armed conflict in Syria where our warplanes and proxy militias have killed Russian citizens. The political rhetoric in Washington over Russiagate certainly isn't helping matters. The idea that the US might employ even a limited use of nuclear weapons based on a cyber-attack attributed to Russia is no longer unthinkable. Indeed, one could imagine other foreign powers who might engineer just such an attack, make it appear to come from Russia, and hope for exactly that response.
For my purposes, I am not going to assume the worst case scenario: an all-out nuclear exchange. However, even a limited exchange of so-called "tactical" nukes would have dangerous, life-threatening consequences for the entire world. In 2008, a study entitled "Environmental Consequences of Nuclear War", published in the December edition of the American Institute of Physics, looked at the effect on our climate of an exchange of 100 Hiroshima sized nukes on the earth's climate in a conflict between Pakistan and India. For context, the Hiroshima bomb, named "Little Boy," had a yield of approximately 15 kilotons. Today it would be considered a tactical nuke in the US arsenal. The study's authors, Brian Toon (University of Colorado), Alan Robock (Rutgers), and Rich Turco (UCLA) concluded that even such a limited exchange of nukes would have devastating consequences for the earth's environment, causing a climate disaster.
The intense heat generated by the burning cities in the models' simulations lofted black smoke high into the stratosphere, where there is no rain to rain out the particles. The black smoke absorbed far more solar radiation than the brighter sulfuric acid aerosol particles emitted by volcanic eruptions. This caused the smoke to heat the surrounding stratospheric air by 30°C, resulting in stronger upward motion of the smoke particles higher into the stratosphere. As a result, the smoke stayed at significant levels for over a decade (by contrast, highly reflective volcanic aerosol particles do not absorb solar radiation and create such circulations, and only stay in the stratosphere 1-2 years). The black soot blocked sunlight, resulting in global cooling of over 1.2°C (2.2°F) at the surface for two years, and 0.5°C (0.9°F) for more than a decade (Figures 1 and 2). Precipitation fell up to 9% globally, and was reduced by 40% in the Asian monsoon regions.
This magnitude of this cooling would bring about the coldest temperatures observed on the globe in over 1000 years (Figure 1). The growing season would shorten by 10-30 days over much of the globe, resulting in widespread crop failures. The effects would be similar to what happened after the greatest volcanic eruption in historic times, the 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia. This cooling from this eruption triggered the infamous Year Without a Summer in 1816 in the Northern Hemisphere, when killing frosts disrupted agriculture every month of the summer in New England, creating terrible hardship. Exceptionally cold and wet weather in Europe triggered widespread harvest failures, resulting in famine and economic collapse. However, the cooling effect of this eruption only lasted about a year. The authors found that the smoke in the stratosphere cause a 20% reduction in Earth's protective ozone layer, with losses of 25-45% over the mid-latitudes where the majority of Earth's population lives, and 50-70% ozone loss at northern high latitude regions such as Scandinavia, Alaska, and northern Canada.
The implications for human societies from even this limited exchange around the globe are staggering. It's not hyperbole to suggest that food riots, economic collapse and possibly further wars would be the result of the use of even a very small proportion of the US and Russian nuclear arsenal limited to a single region of the planet, such as the Mideast or Eastern Europe. And in the current political and military climate, where US and Russian troops are actively engaged in a hot war in Syria, and deployed along the borders of Russia, it would be easy to stumble into such a confrontation, much as Europe did in 1914.
Does anyone with half an ounce of common sense think that the unproven allegations of Russiagate justifies this risk? Or the intense McCarthyist rhetoric currently employed by so many Democrats (and a few Republican neocons such as Senators McCain and Graham) who have taken it upon themselves to demonize of a country whose military capabilities, outside of its nukes, poses no real existential threat to the people of our nation? And yet the constant drumbeat of warmongering continues non-stop from our elected officials and in the corporate media.
This horrific risk to the world that our politicians are taking is based on unproven allegations, political gamesmanship by the Democratic Party, anonymous leaks by the same US Intelligence agencies that lied us into wars in Vietnam and Iraq and media hysteria.
Where are the grown-ups in the room? They are sorely needed right now.