Is a nuclear war in Europe probable?

28 Jan

Yes, this map again …

As the Ukraine crisis continues apace, the article below appeared today, January 28, in Defend Democracy Press. Its author, Dimitri Konstantakopoulos, was a Syriza colleague of the better known Yanis Varoufakis.

While I have points of difference – a tendency to idealism 1 I do not share … a moral equivalence implied between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Clinton is worse) … insufficient recognition of Russia’s and China’s game-changing advances in missiles technology, to which Washington has no current answer – Mr Konstantakopoulos gets far more right than wrong.

Is a Nuclear War in Europe probable?

In a previous article we explained why we believe the West’s and NATO’s aggressivity towards Russia, in Ukraine and other places deep inside the former USSR carries the  real possibility of a major nuclear conflict, able to destroy at a minimum a large part of the European continent, and at a maximum, all humanity. 

Western press and political forces are simply not discussing this aspect of the crisis in  Ukraine. They probably believe the probability of a nuclear war is something simple citizens should not care about, being a subject for career politicians and generals. That such subjects are not discussed publicly is one more indication that we are already in a very dangerous, new kind of post-modern totalitarianism. This alone may facilitate disaster. We are in Europe at a point of intense debates about whether or not to wear masks, we are organising demonstrations about the COVID related measures, but few are discussing the very real chance of humans being annihilated as a species due to a nuclear conflict made much more probable because of NATO policies! We have not seen even one mass demonstration in Europe against the visible prospect of a nuclear war. 

We cannot of course calculate the probability of that. (For an interesting game of predictions, see Michael Clare’s interview Why Do Men Keep Making War?). But it is utterly irresponsible to deem the possibility non-existent.  In reality the only reason western press and political forces are not discussing it is their fear of the public questioning NATO’s policies and thinking of their potential cost.

One gets the impression that Europe and the US are in a process of deep fuddle. With the probable exception of the period between Napoleon’s defeat and the 1830 or 1848 revolutions, modern European societies have never lived through such decline and apathy, never resigned so much from the ambition to be the authors of their history.

The risk of nuclear conflict between the US and Russia is higher than at any time since the Berlin (1961) and Cuba Missile Crisis (1962), owing to five factors: 

    1. The Destruction of Arms Control

 The system of arms control treaties signed during the three decades after and as a result of the Cuban crisis – and of the understanding that a nuclear war is possible, but victory impossible  – has collapsed, as the US has unilaterally abandoned them (ABM, INF, Open Skies). Only the START Treaty was saved at the last moment by Biden. Not only have those treaties been abolished, but their “ideological”, strategic and intellectual foundations and “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) were abandoned. The codes of behaviour, communication and mutual respect between the two superpowers have disappeared. Due to the concentration of vast power, a monstrous, degenerate and dehumanised political personnel has appeared in the centre of the western system, examples provided by Dick Cheney, Benjamin Netanyahu and, much more, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, twin expressions of the descent of a superpower into madness and psychopathy. (Hillary Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler and enjoyed live the humiliating execution by a mob, orchestrated by CIA killers, of Colonel Quadaffi, with whom one may disagree of course, but who was executed not for any crimes but because he had been one of the leaders of the Arab and African anti-colonial struggles after WWII).     

Biden is one of the few US politicians to remember the lessons of the Berlin and Cuban crises, and often makes  reference to the notions of strategic stability, of predictability and of the unacceptability of any nuclear conflict. But can he impose those views in his own camp? Does he control the western establishment? Here, history seems to need a Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy or de Gaulle to confront the problems ahead, but such personalities were the product of very different societies. We also need a large mass movement against war, imperialism and nuclear war, such as the West had from 1945 until the enormous demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US and its satellites (Britain, Poland, Australia). We have nothing of the sort now. 

    1. Pursuing world domination

 A large part of the US and the “wider West” establishment is in no mood to accept that it has lost the omnipotence it appeared to have after the dissolution of the USSR in 1989-91. Few of note – Zbignew Brzezinski before his death, Richard Haas or Graham Allison – accept that the West cannot dominate the planet, and that if it tries it will lead to a global catastrophe. The emergence of Far Right forces with an irrational ideology, in the centre of the western system (like Trump) is the answer of a wing of the establishment to the lack of realism of the imperial totalitarian project to rule the world and not to accept alternative power centres with the degree of freedom Russia, China or even middling powers like Iran possess. With no rational way to accomplish the domination dream, some are inclined to abandon realism itself (    

    1. Points of unclear sovereignty

There are many areas of disputed sovereignty where the fire can be lit, first and foremost the Donbass, due to the undemocratic way in which the USSR (and Yugoslavia) was dissolved. We mean the disrespect of both the result of the Soviet referendum of March 1991, when citizens voted overwhelmingly to preserve the USSR, and the disrespect of the right of nations to self–determination. The supposedly new states created as the result of the dissolution of the USSR  comprise large entities with compact populations of minority nationalities, as in the republics of Donbass and Lugansk, Transdnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh (or in the Balkans, Kosovo and Bosnia) and so on. Formally, these belong to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan etc: that is, to states whose main nationalities (except for Moldovans) have pursued a bloody oppressive policy against the minority nationalities residing there, at the same time allying with NATO against Russia. Any attempt to restore these regions to the sovereignty of Kiev, Chisinau, Tbilisi and Baku, as Mr. Stoltenberg, the stupid and criminal chief of NATO is asking now every second day, will mean war – between East and West. 

    1. The resignation of societies

 Today, there is no strong anti-war and anti-nuclear movement that shook western societies in the past, after 1945, as in the huge demonstrations over Vietnam and Iraq, or with the support of so many brilliant Europeans and Americans; carriers of a superior conscience, to the revolutions of the colonies, such as Algeria, Cyprus, Vietnam, Cuba and so many others. 

European states are more dependent today than at any other time in history on the USA, the big international banks and various Israeli lobbies. Even France, post Nicolas Sarkozy, has lost its identity as a relatively sovereign and independent state (the only one in Europe after WWII). It has returned fully to NATO and reversed its traditional Arab and African policies, in particular by taking the lead in the campaign for the destruction of Libya. Israeli diplomacy has an enormous, unprecedented influence on the Quai d’ Orsay, its most impressive victory being when Jewish organisations in France (CRIF) stopped Sarkozy’s appointment of Hubert Védrine as Foreign Minister! Another example of the enormous, determining influence of the Israeli lobby over French foreign policy was the role of pseudo-“philosopher” BHL in launching the war which led to the destruction of Libya.  

There are also more general trends like the rise of the “Empire of Finance”, of big international financial capital and loss of most of the “national” characteristics of the European ruling classes within the context of globalisation.  All that is accompanied by the disappearance of the class of critical intellectuals, who have, from the Rennaissance until 1980, expressed in the West, in Europe and also in the States, the consciousness of societies. There is no more telling indication of the depth of the western decline than the appearance of people like Zemmour or Finkelcraut in the country of Voltaire and Hugo, of Camus and Sartre, the “mother” of modern European democracy and culture. 

This factor is one of the most important in deciding whether or not there will be war. Even in the nuclear era, war remains the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz defined it. Western political and media leaders know that. They know that ideas acquire material strength when millions believe them, and this is  why Western media are now full of all sorts of lies and disinformation about the situation in Ukraine, using the same method used before the attacks on Yugoslavia, Iraq, Greece (with economic means), Libya, Syria etc. 

Of course weapons, the correlation of material forces, is an important factor as far as wars are concerned, but equally important is the weapon of ideas to decide whether or not  a war will be launched, and  its outcome. 

The United States for example had a monopoly of the atomic bomb between 1945 and 1949. They could have used it to unleash the Third World War against the USSR that powerful forces in the US and British establishment had been preparing since 1943. But they did not, because US and European public opinion would have opposed them, because people  remembered very well what war meant, because the Soviet Union, the main power that defeated Hitler, had enormous prestige worldwide, because in half of Europe, France, Belgium, Italy and the Balkans, there were powerful, armed communist resistance movements and because De Gaulle would not turn against Russia. It was not the correlation of forces or the superiority of weapons: it was rather the “correlation of ideas” which decided the question of launching or not launching WWIII between 1945 and 1949. It was the same factor, that of ideas, which led the US armed forces to defeats in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iran, and the Israeli army to defeat in Lebanon, in spite of overwhelming military superiority. 

 It is for that reason that we believe the absence today of any mass reactions to the escalation of NATO aggression in Eastern Europe, to and the terrible possibility of a destructive nuclear war in Europe as a whole, is a major factor which makes that outcome more likely. 

    1. War is a way out of the crisis

There is also a deeper reason in the systemic crisis of western capitalism, comparable to the big crises of the past and even worse, as it now has an ecological and technological dimension. A century ago, confronted with a crisis of comparable depth, western capitalism produced three answers: Keynesian Reform (Roosevelt), Fascism and War (Hitler), Revolution (Lenin and Mao). We must wait similar products now. 

In reality we already have a proto-fascist tendency (Trump, Netanyahu, European Far Right, Modi, Bolsonaro), and a very timid reformist tendency (Biden) and very few forces struggling for a deep systemic transformation. Russia and China, which represent objectively an important external opposition to Western Capitalism and Imperialism, remain rather conservative, not radical powers.  2

The drive to war (on Russia, China, Islam, popular classes in the West, civilisation, and on Nature herself), the transformation of war into a new norm, the appearance of a Disaster Capitalism and Imperialism which does not aim at control, but at disrupting the accumulation of capital, is no accident. It is a symptom of the depth systemic crisis of the dominant economic, international and civilisational system. Such a crisis will most probably lead either to a global disaster or to the deep transformation of the existing system in the long run (which is not so distant, given the rapidity of the incoming ecological crisis and also the introduction of all sorts of technological factors affecting the very foundations of life and civilisation, such as AI or biotechnology).   3

Even now many in the Russian elite do not understand and cannot explain why the Americans are attacking Russia. They thought that by adopting Capitalism they would become friends with America. 4 But it is in the nature of Capitalism to dominate and to colonize, Capitalism is not only an economic, it is also a civilization and a geopolitical system, and for this reason it continued the Cold War even after the fall of “communism”. If it was not so there would be no need for Russia or China to make their revolutions in the 20th century, they would be able to develop in the context of capitalism. They were unable to do it and this is what has pushed them to adopting Communism. 

The existence of nuclear weapons is a relative barrier to war, but only relative. After all, no one can easily imagine a geopolitical antagonism which will go on unabated for centuries without provoking a clash. Stanley Kubrick has presented us a possible way which can get us to a nuclear disaster in his superb DrStrangelove, inspired by real persons who happen to have been the mentors of nowadays Neocons. Much later, another film, “The War of the Roses”, described very well how a couple which gets trapped into an antagonism and does not find a way to retreat, finally arrives at mutual extinction. 

And even if the Cold War with Russia or China does not become to a Hot War, it will guarantee, if continued, our destruction by other means. It is impossible to address any problem, like for example the climate crisis, in the atmosphere of Cold Wars. 

This is what makes a new kind of “Zimmerwald Conference” more important now than back in 1915. We will examine this question in our next article.

  1. In referring to Mr Konstantakopoulos’s ‘idealism’ I use the term not in the sense of unworldly altruism but in the epistemological sense of prioritising ideas over material forces as the ultimate drivers of history.
  2. “… we have a proto-fascist and a timid reformist tendency …”  This reflects a deeper divide within the US ruling class. Both wish to preserve US Exceptionalism (of which the lethal doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance is a logical corollary) but are divided into neoconservative and neoliberal wings over how best to do so.
  3. With regard to “the appearance of a Disaster Capitalism which does not aim at control, but at disrupting accumulation”, I’m not sure what Mr Konstantakopoulos is driving at. He drops it in apropos of very little. Perhaps he has in mind Davos, Klaus Schwab and “the Great Reset”. Whatever, speaking objectively and without seeking to second guess political intent, war is indeed a primary means of resolving capitalism’s periodic crises. Its torching of infrastructure offsets the inherent tendency for the rate of profit to fall, and sets the scene for a phoenix-like rejuvenation of the accumulation cycle. Helpfully, Mr Konstantakopoulos has titled this section, War is a way out of crisis. Indeed, and the sooner this truth gains wider recognition – which is to say, the sooner people get how Capital works – the closer we will be to the mass protests whose absence he rightly bewails.
  4. “Even now many in the Russian elite do not understand and cannot explain why the Americans are attacking Russia. They thought that by adopting Capitalism they would become friends with America.”  This applies too to Westerners, the difference being that the latter don’t much care and seldom think about it. The truth is that neither can understand the new cold war because they had never understood – having taken at childish face value its presentation in the West as a clash between Free World and Communist Tyranny – the old one. This is explored in my post of August 2020, Our Beautifully Democratic Wars.

8 Replies to “Is a nuclear war in Europe probable?

  1. A few [random] observations. Apologies in advance, this will be all over the place.

    1. “We have not seen even one mass demonstration in Europe against the visible prospect of a nuclear war. ”

    Been pondering this for a while now. Two thoughts occur:

    (i) Seems reasonable to suggest one factor is the way in which the original ‘woke’ idea got hijacked and co-opted by the Establishment. Most of those who twenty years back would have hit the streets and the media terrain, like we did over Iraq and even a decade later over Syria, have been atomised into a plethora of competing groups courtesy of the cult of intersectionalism and self ID.

    Summed up brilliantly by Jonathan Pie here:

    “A liberal left that almost entirely ignores economic inequality in favour of Identity politics. Which brings people together by segregating them into smaller and smaller groups based on their gender, their sexuality and their skin colour.”

    And you can see this playground level nonsense right now over at the pseudo left site Skwawkbox. Where Starmer is getting heat not over this existential issue unfolding before our closed eyes and deaf ears but over the alleged transphobia of the LP delegation at a European conference in trying to remove the UK’s name from a Motion condemning the UK ‘s record – a record in which the UK came 5th best in the Rainbow Europe chart of 49 European countries.

    What Skwawkbox failed to mention was that Jeremy Corbyn was a participant at the conference and supported the ‘offending’ removal Motion.

    (ii) One of the downsides of the demise of the BBC and the rise of a plethora of TV channels is that there is no longer any proper national conversation. Just as with the predominant organisational model in which constituent parts are working separately from each other in their own silos, so it is with a populace now totally dependent upon a single Establishment narrative policed not only in the Corporate but also on and across the Social Media landscape.

    The glue binding people together has been dissolved. There is no longer a common language or understanding because there is no common informational reference point to focus on. This morning, walking with two ex-work colleagues, one of whom has close relatives in Western Canada, I mentioned the current massive trucker convoy proceeding through Canada. Neither of them had a clue what I was talking about.

    Those bloody silos again.

    2. On a, perhaps, more hopeful note:

    (i) RT reported yesterday some kind of progress with the restarted Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine RF) format over the Minsk Accords.

    Indicating a ceasefire (presumably on the contact line in the Donbass). With further talks in Berlin in two weeks time.

    (ii) This video was on the Saker website from yesterday, 27 January:

    Looking beyond the obvious mobilisation of most of the Russian Navy on various exercises one BTL commentator on the Saker site picked up on the video commentary the number and disposition of RF Naval forces heading to, alleged temporary ‘stopover’, in Tatrus, Syria.

    Their point being that the assumption these military assets are stopping off here in transit to the Black Sea may not be the case and that the ‘miltary-technical’ response to the anticipated rejection of the Russian proposals submitted in December may well occur in some form in Syria rather than Ukraine?

    (iii) Gilbert Docterow is highlighting an open Letter signed by 40 top former diplomats, military officers and political scientists condemning U.S. belligerence and drumbeats of war in Germany.

    (apologies can’t link this in as too many links trigger the spam filter for comment submissions)

    Suggesting the existence of differences emerging within the European camp?

    • It would be super-plus-good if Russia kicked the US out of Syria and gave Assad S-400 missile defences with leave to shoot down any Israeli planes engaged in stand-off missile attacks. I’m pretty sure nothing is going to happen in Ukraine, apart from possibly some kind of US false flag operation which Moscow will just ignore or take minor correcting action.

      But Putin has promised ‘military-technical’ action once talks break down, which they will. That will be interesting to watch.

      • I’m pretty sure nothing is going to happen in Ukraine …

        If I were a betting man I’d agree. Then again, for a betting man the odds of surviving a round of Russian roulette are a handsome six to one in favour.

        That cult in Beltway and Pentagon which thinks MAD is over and it could win a nuclear war had, since the dismantling of the USSR, moved from lunatic fringe to mainstream acceptability. Now it is once more subdued. Not by reason or ethics but game-changing advances by China and Russia in missiles technology. The threat of taking out most of a country’s nuclear capacity with a devastating first strike, then using ‘defence shields’ to shoot down what few missiles it could fire back, has been nullified. The USA no way of stopping missiles coming in at Mach 10-20.

        But with a calculated nuclear strike off the menu for NATO (i.e. USA) we are still left with the nightmare you and I grew up with: of bluff and counter bluff leading to one round too many of playing chicken. As in the South China Sea, none of us should be complacent about the possibility of Ukraine triggering an inadvertent WW3.

    • Dave thanks as always for the links. Speaking of which, here is the Doctorow link to the open letter.

      As site administrator I impose no upper limit on links inserted, on pain of a comment not being published at all. I do have a limit above which the comment must await moderation. But this comment doesn’t even reach that threshold. Mystified – as I continue to be with all comments by Jams having to await moderation despite my having set the filter differently. Ghost in the machine?

  2. Greetings Phil and Dave,
    Two comments on Dave s comment:
    A) Had lost sight of Jonathan Pie, although I was lucky enough to see
    him in London in 2015, only now to marvel at his brilliance!
    B) I have not, to date, found any mention here in Germany of the Open Letter.
    Although to be fair I am presently enjoying a few days on the island of Texel, just North of Amsterdam. A destination I can only recomend, I might add,
    Take care.

    • Texal!

      That brings back some memories Billy.

      Not the island though but ‘De Haven van Texal’ – or as it was known among the BAOR squaddie community ‘The Scottish Bar.’ in Amsterdam.

      Summer Camp (don’t ask) in Ijmouden. Daily trips to the Big A. The Heinekin and Amstel Brewery trips. Sat in the Scottish Bar playing ‘dead ants’ to determine who got the next round of Jeneva gin in. Cheering on the marines who commandeered a small boat to paddle round the canal and climb up the outside wall of the bar to ‘invade’ it. Breaking down in the middle of Amsterdam (bloody Fiat’s) and being pestered to buy hash.

      Wonder if its still there?

  3. So tell me Dave, that Summer Camp.
    Before you reply, do remember this is a family show……….
    Yes well.
    I assume the Scottish Bar ( is that Woke–conform?), is probably still a going concern,
    probably selling Dope–Cakes instead of Irnbru, and although Fiat hasn‘t really improved it‘s reputation, I for one drove down in my Cinquicento with as many cybicles on the back as I have cylinders, (2!!), without any hitches.
    Other than that I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch are kinda like the Aussies of Europe, just not as Gung Ho.
    That’s it from me, time for another very fine Texel Amber Ale called Skuumkoppe!

    • Rather banal to be frank Billy.

      The Squadron was twinned with Ijmouden, a small coastal town on the end of the North Sea Canal. Long and short: we had the best of it. Ten or twelve days towards the end of July in which the good Burgher’s of the town would welcome us. Providing a field surrounded by woodland for us to set up camp consisting of 6 man bivouacs, cookhouse & beer tent, cinema tent, guard house tent, ablution facilities etc etc.

      An itinerary of trips to local places of interest was provided. Ranging from markets to coastal resorts, windmills and flower festivals, breweries (the most popular) and so on. In addition we took on the local plod at hockey and rugby (a fixture in which the proprietor of ‘De Haven van Texal’, known to us ‘Big Robbie’, would turn out on our side – I suspect he enjoyed having ‘close contact’ with the police in this context)?

      Apart from the odd trips and the obligatory two day exercise at either the beginning or part way through ‘Summer Camp’ – which the Regiment insisted we carry out as a quid pro quo – much of the time was spent drinking up to eighteen hours a day in and around Amsterdam, Harlam, Zaandvort, and Ijmouden.

      In return the good Burghers of the Town spent two or three days as guests of the Squadron during November, when it was cold, wet, and basically miserable.

      As you say, given this is a family site its probably prudent to avoid further elaboration.


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