By Pascal Najadi
By Pascal Najadi
While Americans are understandably preoccupied by the Covid-19 crisis, the widespread rioting in the streets, and a contentious competition for the presidency, I can see a far more threatening problem growing under the surface. I view it from my vantage point in Switzerland, a devotedly neutral country. My insights into this problem come from my experience as an international businessman. The problem involves the nuclear weapons threat, of all things.
North Korea has been the focus of concern for Americans. I see that from American news reports in the recent past. It is obvious that Americans are alert to a potential nuclear threat posed by that country. Perhaps this concern is presently eclipsed by the urgent problems at home. It is still there nonetheless.
The North Korean leader is widely characterized in your news as unpredictable and unstable. The thought of him being able to develop nuclear weapons that could be irrationally released on the United States is understandably frightening.
That's not the nuclear threat I'm talking about, though. I'm talking about the United States itself. It may come as a shock to many Americans that at the present time the United States is beginning to look to us as an unpredictable threat, too.
Your country possesses nuclear weaponry that is powerful enough to destroy a significant area of our planet and make even more of it virtually uninhabitable. This would be nothing like a mere North Korean attack on a couple of West Coast cities. We're talking about an existential threat to human civilization.
This threat is of such a great magnitude that it may be hard to wrap your minds around it. The stark reality, however, is that the threat objectively exists, as remote as it may seem to one's everyday life.
Now there is something that even adds to that threat: your contentious political situation. What I see is two parties fighting in unprincipled ways with each other. That portends political instability. The proclivity of Washington to involve itself in foreign wars also exacerbates the situation.
I know that your last two presidents have acknowledged the problems posed by the Washington establishment. As a 2008 candidate, Barack Obama promised to address it. In a campaign speech he said:
"We're up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents..."
"We're up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election.
"That is not the America we believe in. We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.
"We can heal this nation.
"Yes, we can. Yes, we can change."
Those were inspiring words not only for Americans, but for the rest of us too. We thought that America was turning the corner. Obama said "yes we can" but when elected he didn't follow through. Instead of changing Washington, Washington apparently changed him.
And so it was with candidate Donald Trump as well.
He campaigned on getting the United States out of the business of proliferating foreign wars. He even promised to strive for an accommodating relationship with nuclear armed Russia. In formulating his political platform he rejected an amendment that would authorize sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine -- an act that would only stoke tensions.
But once in office President Trump did little about the foreign wars, he pushed the relationship with Russia close to the brink, and even sent lethal weaponry to Ukraine. It seems that Washington has once again changed another president.
So now the "bitter partisanship" that candidate Obama bemoaned has grown. The Washington establishment has thwarted President Trump's aspirations. Coupled with great civil unrest, this all looks to us like political instability.
If it were not for your nuclear weapons these would be largely your problems alone. But when you add in your nuclear arsenal, all this instability adds up to a global threat.
I'm sure that few Americans are thinking of their country as an out-of-control international menace. It is probably easier to believe that Russia would be in that position. But I must tell you that today Russia looks like a far more stable and predictable country than the United States.
For a long time the vast nuclear weaponry of the United States and Russia has seemed to be in stable hands. But, the United States is now refusing to continue with treaties and safeguards that have in the past acted as reassurances. This speaks directly to the danger posed by the United States.
Some prominent Americans recognize the threat and have talked about it vociferously. One such is Sam Nunn. He served in the US Senate for 25 years and for many years was chairman of its Armed Services Committee. In 2001 Nunn and CNN founder Ted Turner formed an organization called the Nuclear Threat Initiative. It aims to reduce the risk of global nuclear catastrophe.
A 2019 article authored by Nunn and NTI colleague Ernest Moniz in Foreign Affairs magazine sets out the danger plainly: "The United States and Russia are now in a state of strategic instability; an accident or mishap could set off a cataclysm."
The article offers a powerful scenario for how tensions in Europe could quickly devolve into nuclear war. I can think of a couple more myself. The trigger point could involve further nuclearization efforts in North Korea or Iran.
Viewing current events, a picture of political instability and civil unrest in the US is becoming increasingly clear. As a result, America's nuclear threat to the world is also becoming increasingly clear.
Lamentably the prospects for an American political solution for the perceived threat do not seem good. I find it hard to imagine how either presidential candidate will be able to make a difference.
President Trump first came to office with an air of unpopularity. Before the election, Newsweek reported: "Voters rate Trump worse than any other presidential candidate in Gallup's records..." After the election many voters were in disbelief that he could have won. They expected Mrs. Clinton to win. The new president's political enemies went on to wage a relentless campaign to discredit him further. His most internationally strategic campaign promises went unfulfilled. I see from American news commentaries that many Americans detest his personality and don't trust him. That leaves him with a considerable challenge to his leadership.
His opponent, former vice president Joseph Biden, offers a problematic alternative. Many label Biden's malapropisms and spoonerisms, and his sometime outlandish statements, simply as verbal gaffes. More troubling, though, is the realization that his muddled speech can only be reflective of muddled thinking. Frankly, he appears to be entering into a pattern of cognitive decline. That will put him in a position to be led by others rather than providing strong leadership himself. And who knows who will be pulling the strings?
As a Swiss citizen it is not for me to be prescriptive about how the US should address this matter. But I hope that by providing this glimpse of how things are looking to me from abroad it will help Americans in their deliberations.