US human rights hegemony rides on nuclear lethal power, hypocritical intervention

It is a truth universally acknowledged that man-made institutions are never perfect. When the United States left the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2018, the then US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, confirmed this certainty at high volume. She said the HRC was “a cesspool of political bias” that had been “a protector of human rights abusers.”

Very recently, the US has, nevertheless rejoined the HRC, which has 47 members in total, and was elected, along with several other countries, to a fresh three-year term on the HRC.

It is good that America has rejoined but it is hard for the US to maintain a low profile while reflecting on its own performance with respect to observing – and oppressing – the human rights of others.

In fact, the US swiftly began advising who should and should not be allowed to join the HRC as it rejoined. The current US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that the US will “press against the election of countries with egregious human rights records.”

The mainstream media in the US gave the story significant coverage. Both the New York Times and CNN, for example, quoted withering views on the HRC conspicuously backed up by comments from Ms Thomas-Greenfield, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and President Joe Biden. All this commentary drew on similar readings of the US-approved, political narrative.

The US maintains and applies, at obscene expense, the world’s leading global, war-making machine. It also plans a trillion-dollar enhancement of its pre-eminent, nuclear-deterrent ability to annihilate most life on Earth. Meanwhile, it insists on acting as the self-appointed, primary advocate for the universal eminence of modern, Western human rights principles. What an incredible state of affairs!

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The criticisms were not ill-founded: There are good reasons to highlight grave human rights shortfalls which occur globally. But if we take the recently expressed American concern, about “egregious human rights records” seriously, as we should, then the invisibility in this media coverage of the crucial deficit in the US record is extraordinary.

The grave problems related to protecting human rights in the US itself, especially the rights of various minorities, are widely documented. This article, though, is to concentrate on some specifics of the US global engagement, which combines continual human rights evangelizing with the widest and most egregious application (threatened and actual) of military force ever seen.

John Foster Dulles was the US Secretary of State from 1953 to 1959 and his brother, Allen Dulles, was CIA Director from 1953 to 1961. The essayist, Dan Sanchez, writing in 2016, explained how they had created a legacy of perpetual war for the US. The CIA was literally converted, under Allen Dulles, from an intelligence clearing house into a “perpetual covert war machine”.

Next, consider the range of attempted regime changes and military interventions by the US. A respected Australian commentator, Joseph Camilleri, argues that since 1945, the US has been involved in more than 50 such interventions.  Prior to this, US military interventions from 1890 to 1945 totalled more than 60 worldwide, according to the US academic Zoltan Grossman.

And how is all of this aggression managed? According to Politico magazine, the US has over 800 offshore military bases in 70 different jurisdictions maintained at a cost of more than US$100 billion a year within a massive annual military budget that is more than three times the size of China’s yearly military spending. Britain, France and Russia have about 30 offshore bases combined. China currently has one.

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"The Summary of War Spending" from the Watson Institute, published in 2019, tells us that post-9/11 wars in the Middle East have cost the US around US$6 trillion. A Brown University estimate is that military and civilian deaths in these war theaters total close to 270,000. And millions have been dispossessed.

Also, we need to consider the nuclear force triad of the US, which always stands ready to deliver an extraordinary level of comprehensive destruction globally. This triad includes land-launched missiles and strategic aircraft each armed with devastating nuclear weapons. The third leg of the triad, the stealthy nuclear-powered submarines, some armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), is particularly noteworthy.

The power of massive nuclear annihilation does not rest solely with America of course. But its martial dominance is unmistakable. Its current annual, primary military spending of US$778 billion is higher than the combined budgets of the next 11 countries, including the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia. It has been this way for many decades. 

The US has a fleet of around 70 nuclear powered submarines. About 50 are classified as fast attack submarines designed to sink enemy ships and submarines.

Four submarines are each equipped to carry around 150 cruise missiles. These exceedingly costly aerial torpedoes, which fly at exceptionally high speed through the atmosphere, can be equipped with a nuclear warhead or a very powerful conventional warhead.

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Moreover, there are the ship submersible ballistic nuclear (SSBN) submarines.  The US currently has 14 SSBN submarines fitted with long-distance nuclear weapons.  Unlike cruise missiles, ballistic missiles first fly very high above the earth and then drop, gravitationally, back to earth under precision guidance. They travel at extremely high speed and can cover well over 10,000 kilometres. 

Each submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) can deliver multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). As a consequence of arms limitation treaties, only four (rather than eight) warheads are normally loaded on each SLBM and the number of operational launch tubes in each SSBN submarine has been reduced to 20 from 24. Each missile can be accurately aimed to within a zone of 90 metres, while the individual warheads can simultaneously be sent to completely different locations.

Each, single, SLBM warhead today has about 31 times the explosive yield of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. This means that each single SSBN submarine carries the fire power of close to 2,500 Hiroshima bombs. And the US has 14 SSBN submarines armed in this way, 12 of which are continuously at the ready, submerged at great depths, so the total explosive power that can be launched very swiftly is equivalent to approximately 30,000 Hiroshima bombs.

We can get an indicative sense of the total annihilation power of this American SSBN, underwater armada, by multiplying the 100,000 Hiroshima bomb estimate of directly caused fatalities by that 30,000 figure. The result is 3 billion lives.

Thus, just these 12 operational US SSBN submarines, cruising silently and continually in the world’s oceans, carry enough firepower to wipe out over 30 per cent of the total population of the planet, in an hour or so.

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Bacevich and Sheline, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, stressed how the Biden administration is set to spend an additional $1 trillion to upgrade its nuclear arsenal over the next several years.  It seems the current deterrent, in the Pentagon’s estimation, is insufficiently terrifying.

We should also note that the US has long reserved the right to launch a first-strike nuclear attack.  When China acquired nuclear weapons in 1964, Beijing declared that “it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances”. We now know, from revealed records, that US military leaders twice considered using nuclear weapons against China: during the Korean War in the early 1950s; and later in that decade in relation to military tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

As former President Jimmy Carter candidly noted in 2018, the US is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world”.

Let me conclude with a short, forbidding case study. During the Vietnam War, the US dropped more than 270 million cluster bombs on Laos. Around 80 million of these bombs remain buried across Laos, still killing and maiming almost 50 years after that horrific campaign ended. The US has not remedied this ghastly, life-destroying legacy. Moreover, the US is one of those who have refused to sign the 1997 Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention.

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The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor within the US State Department says, in its mission statement that, “it champions American values including the rule of law and individual rights”. In 2020, this department issued another “Laos Human Rights Report”, which is highly critical of certain, listed human rights abuses. This report is, however, entirely silent on how the US destroyed untold lives and livelihoods (the most basic individual rights) with the worst sort of indiscriminate, mass bombing campaign, across Laos, from 1965-1973 –- which killing continues to this day.

As it happens, China, which has not been involved in an external war since 1979, has been progressively developing major rail connections to turn Laos from a land-locked country into a land-linked country.

The US maintains and applies, at obscene expense, the world’s leading global, war-making machine. It also plans a trillion-dollar enhancement of its pre-eminent, nuclear-deterrent ability to annihilate most life on Earth. Meanwhile, it insists on acting as the self-appointed, primary advocate for the universal eminence of modern, Western human rights principles. What an incredible state of affairs!

The author is a visiting professor with the Law Faculty of Hong Kong University. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.