All Posts By

Michael Ellsberg

Roots of the Upcoming Nuclear Crisis

[Daniel’s chapter The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, ed. David Krieger. It was originally presented at The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, a conference organized by the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, in partnership with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, September, 2007 in San Francisco.]

The chance that some nuclear weapon will kill masses of innocent humans somewhere, before very long, may well be higher than it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. One phase of the Nuclear Age, the period of superpower arms race and confrontation, has indeed come to a close, for now. But another dangerous phase now looms, the era of nuclear proliferation and with it an increased likelihood of regional nuclear wars and nuclear terrorism. This prospect is enhanced not just by “rogue” states or sub-state terrorists but above all by the United States. Continue Reading

Ending Nuclear Terrorism: By America and Others

[Daniel’s chapter in At the Nuclear Precipice: Catastrophe or Transformation?, edited by Richard Falk and David Krieger. Originally presented at the 2006 symposium, At the Nuclear Precipice: Nuclear Weapons and the Abandonment of International Law organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.]

Long after the ending of the Cold War, the chance that some nuclear weapons will kill masses of innocent humans somewhere, before very long, may well be higher than it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

One phase of the Nuclear Age, the period of superpower arms race and confrontation, has indeed come to a close (though the possibility of all-out, omnicidal exchange of alert forces triggered by a false alarm remains, inexcusably, well above zero). But another dangerous phase now looms, the era of nuclear proliferation and with it, an increased likelihood of regional nuclear wars, accidents, and nuclear terrorism. Continue Reading

Nuclear Hero’s “Crime” Was Making Us Safer

[Daniel’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 4/21/04]

Mordechai Vanunu is the preeminent hero of the nuclear era. He consciously risked all he had in life to warn his own country and the world of the true extent of the nuclear danger facing us. And he paid the full price, a burden in many ways worse than death, for his heroic act — for doing exactly what he should have done and what others should be doing. Continue Reading

Call to Mutiny

[Daniel’s introduction to Protest and Survive, 1981]

“It has never been true that nuclear war is ‘unthinkable.’  It has been thought and the thought has been put into effect.” E.P. Thompson refers here, in the brilliant and moving essay that opens this volume, to the deliberate destruction of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. What he does not mention is that the Americans who conceived and ordered this project, like those who prepared it and carried it out and the great majority of the public who learned of it after the event, regarded the effects of the first nuclear war as marvelously successful. Such thoughts get thought again, and acted on. Continue Reading

When the Leaders Are the Problem

[This is Daniel’s Afterword to the book Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental by Marc Gerstein with Michael Ellsberg]

Dr. Gerstein’s final chapter has given guidelines for leaders on how they might avert the kinds of catastrophes described in this book. It would be good for society (and all organizations) if more leaders exhibited this kind of concern and followed the suggestions he gives.

However, in my own experience in government, and in my study of national security policy catastrophes in the decades since, I have come to believe that the most dangerous practices in the national security realm reflect priorities, in general, that are set by top officials: getting reelected, avoiding condemnation for past actions, or other political or bureaucratic objectives. Those priorities generally take great precedence over safety or preventing public harm. Continue Reading

The Next War

[Daniel’s article in the October 2006 issue of Harper’s.]

A hidden crisis is under way. Many government insiders are aware of serious plans for war with Iran, but Congress and the public remain largely in the dark. The current situation is very like that of 1964, the year preceding our overt, open-ended escalation of the Vietnam War, and 2002, the year leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In both cases, if one or more conscientious insiders had closed the information gap with unauthorized disclosures to the public, a disastrous war might have been averted entirely. Continue Reading

Learning from Past Disasters, Preventing Future Ones

[Daniel’s foreword to Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental by Marc Gerstein, with Michael Ellsberg.]

I have participated in several major organizational catastrophes. The most well known of them is the Vietnam War. I was aware on my first visit to Vietnam in 1961 that the situation there – a failing neocolonial regime we had installed as a successor to French rule – was a sure loser in which we should not become further involved. Yet a few years later, I found myself participating as a high-level staffer in a policy process that lied both the public and Congress into a war that, unbeknownst to me at the time, experts inside the government accurately predicted would lead to catastrophe. Continue Reading