Obstacles to Nuclear Abolition: U.S.-Russia Relationship

A Discussion with David Swanson, Alice Slater and Bruce Gagnon, World BEYOND War, January 5, 2021

Hi, I’m David Swanson, Executive Director of World BEYOND War, and I’m joined by Alice Slater and Bruce Gagnon for this virtual panel called Obstacles to Nuclear Abolition: The U.S. Russian Relationship. I’ll give you my thoughts for 10 minutes and then introduce Alice and then Bruce.

Obstacles to nuclear abolition, in my mind, include the corruption of legalized bribery and the capacity of the human mind to believe nonsense. The latter is more educational to talk about. Here are some things your typical U.S. resident is likely to believe:

Vladimir Putin made Donald Trump president and bosses him around.
Nuclear weapons keep me safe.
The global policeman keeps me safe.

This past week a poll showed that the U.S. public strongly supported moving 10% of U.S. military spending to human needs, but the U.S. Congress voted down that proposal by a wide margin. So, simply having democracy rather than constantly arming and bombing in its name would move the U.S. in the right direction. But there were no crowds in the streets or on the front lawns of Congress Members, hardly a word was forced into the corporate media. If we want the U.S. Congress to take 10% out of the military, we’ll need the U.S. public passionate about taking at least 75% if not 100% out — that is, we’ll need people dedicated to the vision of war abolition. And that means, ceasing to believe nonsense.

If Putin owns Trump, and nuclear weapons keep you safe, then Putin keeps you safe and Putin is the global policeman. But nobody who believes Putin owns Trump and that nuclear weapons keep us safe believes Putin keeps them safe. Nobody believes what they believe.

This is a common pattern. If Congressman John Lewis is now in a much better, happier place hanging with his old crew, as U.S. media tells me, then Trump is doing many thousands of people a great favor by spreading coronavirus. But nobody believes that.

If the military is a service, then the majority of these disastrous murderous wars, or at least one of them, must benefit us somehow. Many realize they do not, yet still claim the military is a service. A radio host this week asked me if I could at least honor all members of the military who didn’t take part in any wars. This is like honoring any healthcare worker who has never provided any healthcare.

But also if Putin owns Trump, then Putin wants Trump to sabotage Russian economic interests, expel and sanction Russian diplomats, shred treaties with Russia, destroy the Iran agreement, refuse to cooperate on disarmament or cyberwar or weapons in space or Syria. Putin wants a much larger U.S. military with more bases around the world, a bigger NATO with more bases and weapons and war games on Russia’s border. Putin secretly demands these things while publicly protesting them because his evil genius surpasses understanding.

Now, I think Putin has far more power than any person should, but I don’t think he has super powers. I also don’t think he’s paying for U.S. scalps in Afghanistan, or that doing so would change the fact that during the past 19 years of illegal war and occupation the U.S. military has been one of the top two funders of its own enemies — the other top source of income being the opium trade revived by the invasion.

The latest lies about Russia helped Congress vote for more military money and vote down ending any wars and block removing any troops from anywhere. These lies helped more weapons dealers dump more money into Joe Biden whose foreign policy is literally fantasy. That is to say, he refrains from explicitly describing it, allowing people to fantasize it instead.

I had a coalition this week ask me to sign onto a statement urging Biden to have a good policy on Palestine. The statement made reference to Biden’s positive steps in other areas of foreign policy. But when I asked, the statement organizers effectively admitted that they’d just made that up — there weren’t actually any positive steps in other areas.

The latest lies about Russia have a long pedigree.

While the United States and Russia were war allies during World War I, the United States, in 1917, sent funding to one side, the anti-revolutionary side of a Russian civil war, worked to blockade the Soviet Union, and, in 1918, sent U.S. troops to Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok in an attempt to overthrow the new Russian government.

The threat of the communists, as an example, albeit a deeply flawed one, of taking wealth away from oligarchs was a driving force in U.S. foreign affairs from 1920 up to, all during, and long after World War II — including a driving force behind Western support for the rise of the Nazis.

The Russians had turned the tide against the Nazis outside Moscow and begun pushing the Germans back before the United States ever entered World War II. The Soviets implored the United States to attack Germany from the west from that moment until the summer of 1944 — that is to say, for two-and-a-half years. Wanting the Russians to do most of the killing and dying — which they did — the U.S. and Britain also did not want the Soviet Union making a new deal with or taking sole control of Germany. The allies agreed that any defeated nation would have to surrender to all of them and completely. The Russians went along with this. Yet in Italy, Greece, France, etc., the U.S. and Britain cut Russia out almost completely, banned communists, shut out leftist resisters to the Nazis, and re-imposed rightwing governments that the Italians called “fascism without Mussolini.” The U.S. would “leave behind” spies and terrorists and saboteurs in various European countries to fend off any communist influence.

Originally scheduled for the first day of Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s meeting with Stalin in Yalta, the U.S. and British bombed the city of Dresden flat, destroying its buildings and its artwork and its civilian population, apparently as a means of threatening Russia. The United States then developed and used on Japanese cities nuclear bombs, a decision driven largely by the desire to see Japan surrender to the United States alone, without the Soviet Union, and by the desire to threaten the Soviet Union.

Immediately upon German surrender, Winston Churchill proposed using Nazi troops together with allied troops to attack the Soviet Union, the nation that had just done the bulk of the work of defeating the Nazis. This was not an off-the-cuff proposal. The U.S. and British had sought and achieved partial German surrenders, had kept German troops armed and ready, and had debriefed German commanders on lessons learned from their failure against the Russians. Attacking the Russians sooner rather than later was a view advocated by General George Patton, and by Hitler’s replacement Admiral Karl Donitz, not to mention Allen Dulles and the OSS. Dulles made a separate peace with Germany in Italy to cut out the Russians, and began sabotaging democracy in Europe immediately and empowering former Nazis in Germany, as well as importing them into the U.S. military to focus on war against Russia.

Lies about Soviet threats and missile gaps and Russian tanks in Korea and global communist conspiracies became the biggest profit makers for U.S. weapons companies, not to mention Hollywood movie studios, in history, as well as the biggest threat to peace in various corners of the globe. They still are. Muslim terrorists just don’t sell weapons on the scale of the Russian menace. But they were armed by the United States in Afghanistan and elsewhere to fight Russia.

When Germany reunited, the United States and allies lied to the Russians that NATO would not expand. Then NATO quickly began expanding eastward. Meanwhile the United States openly bragged about imposing Boris Yeltsin and corrupt crony capitalism on Russia by interfering in a Russian election in collusion with Yeltsin. NATO developed into an aggressive global war maker and expanded right up to Russia’s borders, where the United States began installing missiles. Russian requests to join NATO or Europe were dismissed out of hand. Russia was to remain a designated enemy, even without the communism, and even without constituting any threat or engaging in any hostility.

Russia is an ordinary country with a military that costs 5 to 10 percent what the U.S. does. Russia has, like all countries, a horrible government. But Russia is not a threat to the United States, and the vast bulk of what people in the United States are told about Russia is ridiculous lies.

Mikhail Gorbachev whom we had hoped to have on this panel continues not only to urge the elimination of nuclear weapons, but to point out that until the United States ceases its aggression toward the world with non-nuclear weapons, other nations won’t give up their nukes. Nuclear abolition is a step toward war abolition, but the opposite is true too.


Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, nuclear disarmament advocateI am looking at the  topic in terms of nuclear history. We have 13000 nuclear bombs on this planet. And Almost 12,000 are between US and Russia. All the other countries have a thousand between  them: that’s England, France, and China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. So if we and Russia can’t get together and figure this out, we’re in big trouble.

The atomic scientists  have moved the Doomsday clock up a minute,  to less than a minute to midnight. The history it’s still tied to the bomb. We use the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki even though we were being told by Eisenhower and Omar Bradley that Japan was ready to surrender. They wanted to use the bomb before the Soviets got into our alliance because we had ended the war in Europe in May and this was August of 1945. They dropped the bomb so they could end the war quickly and not have to divide the glory of the victory over Japan with the Soviets like we were doing with Eastern Europe. So after we used the bombs, Stalin proposed to Truman that we turn it over to the United Nations after all the allies got together. We formed this international group. The number one demand of the United Nations was to end the scourge of war. And Stalin said to Truman turn the bombs over to the U.N.  But we did not gave up the bomb. That is how the history has gone.  I just wanted to  go over it to remind you of the manner that the US acted after the end of WWII.During the times of the Reagan administration, we see the same position of superiority with respect to Russia. It is particularly apparent in Reagan’s  contacts with Gorbachev. When the war ended, Gorbachev let go of all of the Eastern Europe states without a shot. When the time came for Reagan and Gorbachev to meet and talk about the unification of Germany, again promises were made but not fulfilled. The suggestion was voiced to get rid of nuclear weapons . Reagan said it was a great idea. Some progress has been achieved in this area, but certainly not enough.

On a different point, Gorbachev suggested not to start Star Wars. Too late, we have a document that clearly states that the US is the country to dominate and control military use of space. Reagan said I’m not giving up Star Wars. So Gorbachev pulled it off the table. (The next speaker, Bruce Gagnon will tell you more about it.)

Then there was another issue connected to the unification of Germany. Gorbachev was very nervous about a unified Germany becoming part of NATO. Russia lost 27 million people to the Nazi onslaught. We don’t hear this information in the United States. Reagan said to Gorbachev,  don’t worry, let Germany reunite, we’ll take them into NATO but we promise you, we will  not expand NATO one inch to the east. Well, we are right up to the Russian border, we are doing war games at their border. I mean it’s awful.

The other thing that’s not really nuclear but it was  another case when we broke the promises to Russia we made. That was when Clinton decided to  bomb Kosovo. To clearly understand the U.S. disregard for the international law, I have to make a step back. The United Nations was formed and very country got a right to veto. The Security Council stood guard against what happened with the League of Nations where it  became just a talking group that never did anything. So Clinton bombed Kosovo over the Russian veto. That’s the first time we broke that a treaty with the United Nations that we will never commit a war of aggression unless we’re in imminent threat of an attack. Then and only then we had the right to go to war. Well, Kosovo was not imminently attacking us, so a whole new doctrine was cooked up with Susan Rice where now a Vice President has, among his responsibilities, a responsibility to protect another country. Like we can bomb the crap out there to save you and that’s what we did there. That was a total blow to the U.N. and agreements we made with them. Then Bush walked out them. And so it went.

 Back to the missile placement issue in Europe, specifically in Romania.  We had already gotten down from 70, 000 missiles to about 16,000 at that time. We knew how to verify, we knew how to inspect, we had developed a whole system with Russia of watching the US dismantle all weapons and the U.S. watching Russia dismantle their weapons and making sure it was happening. Putin made an offer to Clinton. He said, look, let’s cut to a 1000 missiles each and call everybody to the table to negotiate for their abolition. But  don’t put missiles in Romania. Clinton refuse.

Another example of unilateral behavior on the part of the U.S. Bush walked out of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty  we had with the Soviets since 1972, yes, 1972. He walked out of it. And he put the missiles in Romania, and Trump is putting them in Poland right now. Then Bush and Obama blocked any discussion in 2008, 2014 on Russian and Chinese proposals for space weapons ban. You needed consensus, the committee on disarmament  in Geneva. Well, they blocked it. Then we attacked Iran’s enrichment facility. Putin proposed to Obama, let’s have a cyber war ban. Obama turned him down. We’ve turned down every decent proposal. We never ratified the comprehensive test ban treaty which Russia did. And then Obama made this little deal with Medvedev, who was Putin’s substitute president for a few years. According to this deal, they, the Russians and Americans, cut 1500 war heads out of the 16,000 or whatever it was. Obama asked the Congress for a trillion dollars over 20 years for two new bomb factories in Oak Ridge and Los Alamos to build new weapons missile submarines and airplanes. So the U.S. war efforts never stopped.

As for Russia, Putin was making speeches in 2016 where he said how upset Russia was. Russia depended on ABM treaty, was categorically against the U.S. pulling out of it. He said we see it as a cornerstone of international security system. We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing. All in vain. They pulled out of the treaty. Then Russia decided, we’ll we have to improve our modern strike system to protect our security. That’s where Russians were coming from. The reaction to it in the U.S. was: our military industrial, academic congressional complex used this as an excuse to up the ante and build more weapons in this country. And it is very interesting that this June Putin made a speech on the anniversary of World War II, the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII which was in May. I think he gave the speech in June. And we, our Eastern European allies, these NATO allies that were helping the Nazis march into Russia, you know, like Poland, they had a celebration and they kept Russia out of it! Even though Russia won the war. Putin made his speech  about how we have a more reflective necessity to observe the lessons lessons of history. Failure to do so inevitably leads to a harsh payback. We will firmly uphold the truth based on documentary historical facts. We’ll continue to be honest and impartial about the events of WWII. This includes a large scale project to establish Russia’s largest collection of archival records, films and photo materials about the history. He’s calling for an international commission to study it and tell the truth.

I think we have to back an international commission on truth and reconciliation. We need to ask the Secretary General of the United Nations to look into it. He is a great Secretary General. He called for global ceasefire during the virus, and they actually passed it in the Security Council. I don’t know what that means because we are still not ceasing fire but it was an idea that is out there and I really want to find out more about that effort. Perhaps we need to advance a suggestion to the Secretary General to call for a truth telling with historians and public citizens from Russia, from America, from Europe, from all over. What really happened between the US and Russia. What do we really have to know. How can we keep demonizing them? We can’t find answers to these questions in our media. Our media is so full of news that are, I hate to echo Trump, fake news. This is what we are getting in our media.

So these are my thoughts.


Bruce Gagnon, long time peace activist, coordinator of the Global Network agains Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space created in 1992. space4peace.orgThank you, David. Alice, thank you as well. It’s great to be with both of you. This is a really important discussion. So few of our important fellow organizers and friends and activists in the peace movement speak honestly about the US demonization of Russia. It is kind of a loud subject. So I am glad to see us breaking this very thick ice and dangerous ice. It must be done.

You both mentioned something that I want to just add a bit to. You both talked about  how in WWII former Soviet Union lost about 27 million of their citizens fighting against the Nazis. What you didn’t mention was that the United States lost 500,000 troups. Compare 500,000 to 27 million. I think it is a stark difference. And what Alice said a minute ago about this recent commemoration of WWII where Russia was not even invited to participate by that quote-unquote NATO allies of today, this has repeatedly happened in the last couple years: the French celebration at Normandy where the United States and Brits all go, the Russians are not invited.

 What they are doing is essentially erasing history, rewriting history for the younger generation making sure that they don’t know the contributions of Russia against the nazis. That to me is really evil, this kind of thing. It is clear why Russia begins to get so paranoid these days as they see the United States and NATO encircling them with troops and with bases on virtually all their boarders, both east and  west, and north and south.

The U.S. has been blocking progress on disarmament negotiations with Russia for a long time, as you both said. I can remember at least for the last 15 years both Russia and China saying over and over again in official representations that as long as you continue to surround us both, Russia and China, with missile defense systems which are key elements in U.S. first strike attack planning, there is the shield missile defense systems that would be used after a U.S. first strike attack to pick off any retaliatory strikes by Russia and China. So they are saying, both Beijing and Moscow, as long as the U.S. continues to encircle us we cannot afford to reduce our nuclear missiles. It is our only retaliatory capability, it is our only way of defending ourselves against first strike attack.

Note, first strike attack that both Russia and China have renounced but the U.S. refuses to renounce. First strike attack  that the U.S. space command has been annually war gaming for years. They sit at a computer, they have a military lawyer sitting next to them. They say: Can we use the space-based laser as part of our first strike attack to take out any retaliatory strikes by Russia and China?Can we use the military space plane the x-37 to drop down from orbit and drop an attack on Russia and China as part of the first strike attack war game? Can we use that? And in both cases the military lawyer says, yes, no problem because the outer space treaty of 1967 only outlaws weapons of mass distraction in space. Both the military space plane, the successor to the shuttle and the Death Star, the orbiting  battle station that they’ve long been talking about are weapons of selective destruction and therefore fall outside of the outer space treaty.

So this is the kind of stuff that Russia and China both are witness to. Then on top of that, as Alice said, for many years, now 25 years or more, the Canadiens, Russia and China have gone to the UN General Assembly introducing the Peros (perils?) resolution prevention of an arms race and out of outer space resolution. These were voted on overwhelmingly with only the U.S. and Israel objecting. Then it is sent to the conference on disarmament for further negotiations, a treaty to ban all weapons in space. And there again the US and Israel have effectively blocked it for all these years.

The Official position of the US during both Republican and Democrat administrations, that means Clinton, that means Obama and all the Republicans as well, the official position is: Hey, there is no problem, there are no weapons in space, we don’t need a treaty. Well, obviously it is the military-industrial complex, the aerospace corporations that intend to get wealthy beyond imagination from an arms race in space that are making sure this all gets blocked. The US has been talking for a long time about controlling and dominating space and denying other countries access to space in times of hostility. In fact the space command headquarters at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado just above their doorway they have their logo that reads, Master Of Space. They wear it as a patch on their uniform. And now we’ve seen the creation of the space force as well. They say it will cost 15 billion in the next couple years. But I can promise you there is going to be a lot more money pumped into it than that.

And where will this money come from? From years ago in one of the industry publications called space news they  ran an editorial saying we’ve got to be responsible corporate citizens, we’ve got to come up with a dedicated funding source to pay for all of this. What I call pyramids to the heavens. The airspace industry are the new pharaohs of our age building these pyramids, and we the taxpayers will be the slaves turning over everything we have. So in this editorial the airspace industry said we’ve identified a dedicated funding source. It’s the entitlement programs that officially are social security, medicare, Medicaid and what’s left of the tattered social safety net. So this is how they intend to pay for a new arms race in space by creating total poverty. You  could really say, I think in this country, it represents a return to feudalism, new-feudalism.

So I want to say a word about these missile defense systems, the shield that is now being used to encircle Russia and China. They are based on missile defense interceptors, they are based on navy aegis destroyers that are made two blocks from where I am sitting right now at Bath Iron Works  here in Maine which is currently on strike, by the way. The workers are on strike because the General Dynamics Corporation that owns Bath Iron Works is fleecing the workers, trying to subcontract out, trying to get rid of the Union. Actually I’ve gone down this week. I was down there and joined the picket line and several of us from veterans  for peace here in Maine will be joining the picket line every week because we support the workers right to have a union and while we’re there we talk to them about our idea of converting the shipyard to build commuter rail systems, offshore wind turbines, tidal power systems to help us deal with our real problem today which is climate change. If we don’t get serious about this climate crisis we’re facing  it will destroy much of our future.

So anyway these ships loaded with these so-called missile defense systems are being sent to encircle Russia and China. They are—in the Mediterranean, the Barentz sea, the Bering strait, the Black Sea— encircling Russia today. And on board are the SM-3 interceptor missiles that would be used to pick off any Russian retaliatory strikes after a US first strike attack.  Also on board are, fired from the same silos on these ships, tomahawk cruise missiles which are first strike attack weapons that fly below radar detection and are nuclear capable. So now this is what’s happened during the Obama administration. There are various missile defense systems, some tests are better than others. These  aegis destroyer testing programs  have been the most affective, not perfect, but the most effective. So they have created a program called aegis ashore. So they are now putting these aegis launch facilities on land, taking them from the ships and putting them on land. They put them in Romania and, as Alice said, they are going into Poland as well. They are in Hawaii now. They wanted to put them in Japan but Japan just said no to two aegis of shore sites in their country largely  because of peace movement protests in Japan. But the case of the one in Romania and the one that is going into Poland, they will be able to again launch these SM-3 interceptor missiles, the shield, to be used after a US first strike attack.

But again in the same silos they can also fire these tomahawk cruise missiles which in the case of Romania and Poland would be able to reach Moscow in 10 minutes time. Now think of that. The Cuban missile crisis in reverse, right? What would the United States do if Russia or China were putting missile first strike attack nuclear-capable missiles 10 minutes time from Washington off our shores, in Mexico or Canada? We would go ballistic, we’d be going insane! But when we do it to Russia or China, it doesn’t make the newspapers! Nobody in this country knows anything about it. And when the Russians and Chinese complain about it, they are just accused of being just communists, they are crazy, who wants to listen to them.

In addition to all of this the US has been setting up military hubs, military equipment hubs in Norway and Poland. They hold war games in these places on big massive naval supply ships. They  send over tanks, armored personal carriers, artillery systems from the United States along with the troops that go there to participate in these war games in Norway, right on the Russian border! In Poland  very near the Russian border!  Then  when the troops come back to the United States after the war games they leave the equipment there, they’re stockpiling it for an eventual war with Russia in both Poland and Norway. And so this is escalating tensions beyond imagination.

And again the American people know nothing about it. And few in the peace movement  ever say a word about it either. Still we constantly even within the Peace movement are demonizing Russia and China when the United States and NATO clearly are the aggressors in this situations. So if we want to end war, if we want to stop this massive metastasizing steroidal  cancerous  military budget of ours so that we can deal with the economic and social and climate crises in this country we’re going to have to look at where our troops are going and what they are doing there.

Thank you very much for inviting me.

Alice Slater’s and Bruce Gagnon’s remarks transcribed from the video by Anya M Kroth.

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