On Wednesday, June 12, 2024, the Schiller Institute hosted a press conference, titled “The Danger of Nuclear War Is Real, and Must Be Stopped” in Washingston D.C.. Speakers: Scott Ritter: former U.N. weapons inspector and U.S. Marine intelligence officer; Col. (ret.) Richard H. Black: former head of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Law Division at the Pentagon; former State Senator, Helga Zepp-LaRouche: founder of the Schiller Institute and a surprise guest of Col. Larry Wilkerson

Full video of the event

This is a short transcript of Scott Ritter’s closing remark that synthesized the tone and urgency of the present moment:

October 1962, people have said that’s the closest the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear war. In a way, they’re right, but let me talk about some differences at that time. 

While the Soviets were sending ships with missiles to Cuba, the danger was they were going to run into a blockade, lead to a direct military conflict, and could expand into a nuclear conflict. While all that was happening, a man named John McCloy was speaking to a man named Valerian Zorin. Diplomacy was taking place.

We, the United States, were actively engaging with the Soviet counterparts to prevent the war everybody feared. The reason why there was no war is because there was diplomacy, because leaders were talking to leaders, if not directly, then indirectly, if not through official channels, then through the back channel. Diplomacy was alive and well.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, right down the road in Wisconsin Avenue is an embassy, the Russian embassy. Seated in that embassy is a diplomat named Anatoly Antonov, one of the most distinguished American experts in the Russian foreign service, the lead arms control negotiator for the last remaining arms control treaty between Russia and the United States. He’s been sitting there for several years and his phone is not ringing.

We are not calling him. We are not talking to him. There is no diplomacy today.

And yet, our two countries are on a course, a collision course, that could very well lead to a nuclear conflict. And when I say nuclear conflict, let’s be clear here. Now we’re going to talk about doctrine.

There was a time when nuclear weapons existed to deter nuclear attack. That’s a sick thing, this concept of deterrence, mutually assured destruction, this sort of insanity encapsulated into a couple of words. But that’s the reality of it.

The United States had nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons, and we had to make sure that nobody felt confident enough to use these weapons preemptively to gain some sort of strategic advantage. The end result was mutually assured destruction and nuclear deterrence. This worked up until the end of the Soviet Union.

It worked so well, I have to say, one of my first adult jobs was as a Marine Corps officer implementing arms control treaties in the former Soviet Union, part of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, where we got rid of entire categories of nuclear weapons. The first time that we didn’t just limit the growth, we actually reduced the arsenals. And this could have led to even greater cuts in the nuclear arsenals.

But no, not for the United States. When the Soviet Union went away, we decided that we needed to maintain a nuclear advantage over the Soviets, and we corrupted the concept of arms control. We withdrew from arms control treaties like the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which gave mutually assured destruction its teeth.

See, without ballistic missile defense, the missiles will hit their target, which means that if you go to war, your missiles will hit the target they’re aimed at, the missiles aimed at you will hit the target. Under George W. Bush, we decided we didn’t want any missiles to hit America. Ostensibly a rational thought, except at the same time, we were seeking to gain nuclear supremacy over the Russians so that our missiles would hit Russia.

This creates an imbalance. And after 9-11, we went further. We saw a transition of nuclear deterrence doctrine into nuclear war-fighting doctrine, where we embraced a doctrine that said that we could use nuclear weapons preemptively against a non-nuclear threat.

Our current President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief Joe Biden, campaigned on a promise to return America to the sanity of sole use doctrine, meaning the sole purpose of America’s nuclear arsenal would be to deter others from attacking us. He didn’t do it. Why? I attended a reunion of intermediate nuclear forces, inspectors, and negotiators a couple of years ago, and we asked that question to a senior Biden administration arms control official.

The answer, the inter-agency isn’t ready for this yet. Now I live in a nation that is ostensibly the greatest democracy in the world. I know that I go to vote. I know I look at the names on the ballot. I never saw inter-agency on the ballot. I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when it comes to democracy.

The President is the Commander-in-Chief. He is the executive. If he wants a policy direction, he directs it to happen and the inter-agency needs to salute smartly and seek to implement it. But we’re being told that the inter-agency isn’t ready. That means the establishment isn’t ready. That means the establishment seeks something else. And that, of course, is American nuclear supremacy. We live in a world where other nations will no longer tolerate this.

Russia is one of them. And Russia today is a nation that is at the pointy end of the American nuclear spear. They’re seeing the United States promulgate policies that have American military capabilities thrust up to the very borders of Russia, indeed, crossing over into the borders of Russia, threatening Russia’s strategic nuclear enterprise, early warning radars, command and control facilities, even nuclear weapons depots and launch systems.

We have facilitated, we being the United States, an attack against Ingalls Air Base, where Russian strategic nuclear bombers are stationed. Under Russian doctrine, this alone justifies a nuclear response. We’ve been tickling the Russian nuclear bear for a long time.

And only through the patience and wisdom of the Russian leadership have we avoided a nuclear war. As an American, I take umbrage at that. I don’t want to be at the mercy of any foreign leader.

I would rather that the American leadership take a rational step towards de-conflict, that I be at the mercy of a government that I get to hold accountable at the polls, the government of the people, by the people, for the people, a constitution that begins with, we the people of the United States of America. And that’s the final thought I want to put out there. As citizens, we have a duty and responsibility to wake up and recognize the threats that face us collectively as a nation, as a people.

And the greatest threat to the continued survival of the United States of America today is American nuclear policy and American nuclear weapons. These weapons do not protect us, ladies and gentlemen. These weapons are a loaded gun at our head with an insane man’s finger on the trigger.

We need to come together. We need to stop this. We have an election in November.

Let us all do our job as citizens and vote for somebody who places the survival of America above all else, which means they place nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament, and arms control above all else. Thank you very much.