The Thucydides Trap: Stumbling blindly into nuclear war

The splitting of the atom has changed everything, bar man’s way of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophes” Albert Einstein


Figure 1. Thucydides

On a rapidly warming planet engulfed by bush fires, collapsing glaciers, floods and rising oceans the last thing needed is the growing threat of a nuclear war between superpowers possessing fatal arsenals capable of poisoning the atmosphere, the water and billions of living creatures.

The current impasse between two superpowers, the US vs Russia + China, threatening to grow into a nuclear war, endangering the future of civilization and much of nature, echoes the Peloponnesian wars between Athens and Sparta for control of the Aegean world (Figure 2), witnessed by Thucydides, the Greek general and historian. Throughout history when a great power was threatened by the rise of another, with few exceptions the stronger adversary would try to arrest the growth of the new one, a strategy labelled “Thucydides Trap. As Thucydides, wrote: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

In the nuclear age such confrontation amounts to a global suicide.

The Peloponnesian war

Figure 2. The Peloponnesian war

An analogous situation has emerged in the wake of World War II during the cold war, where superpowers, the US vs Russia/+China are trapped out of control on a collision course on the runaway warming Earth.. To date the mutual nuclear threat of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) has prevented war between the superpowers. But memories are short.

the first casualty of a war is the truth”. A new reality emerges between opponents, where double standards prevail. The more aggressive a force the more it asserts it is acting in “self defence”.

A generation has passed since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs and, as the collective memory of their horrendous consequences is fading, a global suicide machine of some 13,000 atomic and hydrogen missiles has emerged. The young and the middle aged may perceive a nuclear holocaust as a surreal nightmare, overlooking the gruesome evidence all around (Figure 3), including the testing grounds of New Mexico, the Marshall islands, Novaya Zemlya, Kazakhstan, Moruroa atoll, Nevada, Gobi Desert, the Nullarbor and elsewhere.

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov

Figure 3: Yuliy Khariton, the director of the Soviet A-bomb project

Little sympathy can be extended toward any superpower such as have perpetrated large bloodsheds, called “war”, throughout history and more recently. Now that they have constructed a 13.000 nuclear missiles-strong global suicide machine. a myriad species, including Homo “sapiens”, have been placed on a hair trigger Damocles sword (Figure 4).

 The sword of Damocles

Figure 4. The sword of Damocle

Media cover-up prevails blinding too many to the hair trigger reality of a nuclear war, quite apart from the rapidly accelerating global warming countered by civilization only with weasel words. As observed by Noam Chomsky (1998): “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”  But while the atmosphere is progressively poisoned by carbon and by radioactive isotopes, sport circuses abound, fluorescent screen portray human caricatures oblivious to the reality of life, few are aware of the ultimate danger to a myriad species, including ours. Orwellian cover-ups, lies and double standards perpetrated by much of the media dominate. Planetary consciousness is rare

Where does responsibility lie?

It lies with everyone. For losing a sense of reverence toward nature and its multitude of wonderful creatures, for allowing ourselves to join the greedy rat race where everyone can be a millionaire, for electing the mouthpieces of criminals, snake oil merchants and turncoats to control our lives.

But then responsibility belongs much further than for individuals and groups, ultimately it lies with a species which has assumed a god-like omnipotence and a craving for immortality. Whereas the mental capabilities of human ancestors, such as Homo Habilis (2.4 – 1.4 million years ago), compared with that of advanced primates and other animal species, the harnessing of fire by Homo erectus since about 2 million years ago (Figure 5A),Neolithic farming, the invention of combustion, electricity and nuclear fission (Figure 3), magnifying human power by orders of magnitude, allowed the species dominance over much of nature, through carbon and radioactive poisoning (Figure 5). It is the inability of the human mind to control its own powers which is unleashing what we are witnessing.

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 Figure 5A. Homo erectus at a camp fire; Figure 5B. The clock of the Atomic Scientists pointing to 100 seconds to midnight . Will there be a last moment rise of planetary consciouness awaking Homo sapiens to defend life on Earth?

Prof Andrew Glikson,Earth and climate scientist [email protected]

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