BY BRUCE AMUNDSON
Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they have the greatest destructive capacity of all weapons. A global ban on nuclear weapons is long overdue.
Since 1947 the single hand of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock has symbolized the threat of the end of civilization. Initially the clock only conveyed the urgency that the magazine’s founders, mostly nuclear physicists, and the broader scientific community wanted to convey to the public about the dangers of nuclear war.
This week, the clock was reset at three minutes to “midnight for Western civilization.” It was at two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the U.S. tested the hydrogen bomb. In 1991, when the Cold War officially ended, it was set at 17 minutes.
The mere presence of the world’s 16,300 nuclear weapons poses a continuing grave and constant threat to humanity. In his recent book, Command and Control, Eric Schlosser documents over 1,000 accidents and mishaps involving nuclear weapons, some of which could have resulted in catastrophic nuclear exchanges [think President Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs]. Current threats come from accidents like those chronicled by Schlosser, unstable countries like India and Pakistan again going to war, further proliferation by dangerous regimes, and especially from nuclear terrorism.
Yet our current political leaders are still locked in a Cold War mentality. In a vastly changed world, the U.S. budget for nuclear weapons and research currently exceeds the all-time record set by President Reagan at the height of the Cold War. But it gets more bizarre.
President Obama, who pledged in a dramatic and visionary speech in Prague in 2009 to “pursue the security of a world without nuclear weapons,” has lost that noble vision. His administration, with strong support in Congress [which has long been under the influence of the major defense contractors], is now calling for “modernization” of the entire U.S. nuclear force.
The magnitude is astonishing: 12 new Trident submarines [most housed across Puget Sound at Bangor, putting Seattle in the nuclear crosshairs], up to 100 new long-range bombers and 400 land-based missiles. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to taxpayers will be $1 trillion over the next 30 years, a trillion dollars at a time when almost all of the rest of civil society is starved of the resources needed to make our society function.
Apparently our president and Congress have not noticed that most of the rest of the world is moving in the other direction. At the third international Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held in Vienna in December 2014, over 150 nations met and called for the swift pursuit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world. Pope Francis weighed in as well, adding a compelling moral urgency. As did the Dali Lama.
By launching the proposed modernization of its nuclear weapons, the U.S. would set a highly embarrassing example within the community of nations and likely trigger a new nuclear arms race with Russia and China.
This plan is indefensible from every angle. Whether your concerns are national security, economic investments in underfunded domestic programs, or the sanctity of human life, there is no justifiable reason for massive investments in these weapons of mass destruction. The hostile use of any modern nuclear weapon for deterrence or any other justification would constitute a crime against humanity by any of the standards leveled against aggressors in past wars.
This is not the country we are. And this is not what President Obama promised when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nuclear-free vision.
We all need to hold the president and Congress to a sane vision: no nuclear modernization and get us on the international bus to their abolition.
Join us in communicating with your congresspersons to stop this march of madness.
– Bruce Amundson, MD, lives in Seattle and is president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is a former Oklahoma City resident.