Let’s Not Spend $1.7 Trillion on Nukes Weapons
Zia Mian, Alan Robock and Sharon Weiner / New Jersey On-Line
A group of N.J. professors says “Let’s get rid of them, and the threat of a catastrophic war”
(May 26, 2019) — On May 23rd, the New Jersey General Assembly approved Resolution 230, urging the federal government to pursue a broad range of measures to reduce the danger of nuclear war and to join the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. California and some American cities have already adopted similar resolutions to call for action in Washington on nuclear weapons. Here’s why.
It has been understood since the US destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II that the explosion of a single nuclear weapon can destroy an entire city. One modern US warhead exploding over a large city would on average kill half a million people.
The US has about 4,000 warheads in its operational stockpile, including about 1,000 ready to launch within minutes. Plans include options to use these nuclear weapons first in a conflict. President Barack Obama wanted to declare a no-first-use policy but was told that it was a bad time.
Scientific work has shown that, beyond the already catastrophic scale of death and destruction from blast, fire and radiation at the target, the environmental effects from the soot produced by cities set ablaze by nuclear attack could have global effects lasting for more than a decade. These include destruction of the ozone layer and growing seasons shortened by late and early frosts. Large-scale nuclear war could destroy modern civilization and condemn billions to starvation and death.
Most people assume that if something hasn’t happened, it won’t happen. But that is psychology, not reality. Some of those who have spent their careers managing US nuclear weapons believe that we have been extraordinarily lucky that nuclear weapons have not been used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The nuclear age has been marked by many crises, close calls, nuclear threats, and faulty warning and command-and-control systems. The US and Russian hair-trigger launch posture in combination with fear, misperception, accident or false warning could trigger a nuclear war.
The future of civilization depends on the unpredictable psychologies of the people commanding the US, Russian, United Kingdom, French, Chinese, Israeli, Indian, Pakistani and North Korean nuclear weapons.
In the US system, the president has sole nuclear launch authority. It would take only a moment to issue the order, and a few minutes later, the nuclear missiles would fly.
Hard-won nuclear arms control agreements are being dismantled. In 2002, President George W. Bush quit the 30-year-old ABM treaty that limited ballistic missile defenses in order to avoid a futile and dangerous offense-defense arms race. Last month, the Trump Administration gave six months’ notice that the US will exit the 30-year old Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which eliminated thousands of medium and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles.
The last and most important nuclear-arms-control treaty is New START, which limits the long-range missiles and warheads with which Russia and the US can attack each other and allows rigorous on-site inspections to verify those limits.
It will expire in 2021. It could be extended for an additional five years by executive agreement but the Trump Administration has not been interested in discussing that option.
The future looks bleak as the US is currently in the beginning stages of a plan to modernize its entire nuclear arsenal. There are to be new long-range land-based nuclear missiles, new ballistic-missile submarines, new bombers and air-launched cruise missiles, modernized warheads and an upgraded nuclear weapons production infrastructure. The Trump Administration is building smaller nuclear warheads that will lower the threshold for use.
This plan is scheduled to be completed in the 2040s. Over these coming 30 years, the cost of modernization, maintenance and operation of these weapons is expected to be at least $1.7 trillion.
Once completed, these programs will ensure nuclear weapons remain at the center of US national security policy for the rest of the century. Most of these programs are just starting, however, so there is time to reconsider before much more money is spent.
It is important to remember that the US is bound by the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to work in “good faith” for nuclear disarmament and to achieve this goal. Assembly Resolution 230 specifically calls on the US to “actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.” The US could make an effort to start such talks.
One new road to the goal of ending the nuclear danger was created in July 2017 at the United Nations, when 122 countries agreed to a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. The new treaty has so far been signed by 70 countries. It offers a set of principles, commitments, and mechanisms for eliminating nuclear weapons. The US has been opposed.
Assembly Resolution 230 seeks to shine a bright light on the need for the United States to pursue alternatives to nuclear modernization and using nuclear weapons first. It also calls for supporting the new prohibition treaty. By such actions, the United States could begin to pursue a less dangerous future and help the effort to free the world from nuclear weapons.\
Andrew Zwicker is a member of the state Assembly, chairman of its Science, Innovation, and Technology Committee and head of the Science Education Department at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. Frank von Hippel is emeritus professor in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Zia Mian is co-director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. Alan Robock is distinguished professor in Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. Sharon Weiner is a visiting scholar at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and has worked in Congress, the Pentagon and the White House.
Who Are the Nuclear Scofflaws?
(April 6, 2015) — Given all the frothing by hawkish US senators about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, one might think that Iran was violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But it’s not. The NPT, signed by 190 nations and in effect since 1970, is a treaty in which the non-nuclear nations agreed to forgo developing nuclear weapons and the nuclear nations agreed to divest themselves of their nuclear weapons. It also granted nations the right to develop peaceful nuclear power.
The current negotiations in which Iran is engaged with other nations are merely designed to guarantee that Iran, which signed the NPT, does not cross the line from developing nuclear power to developing nuclear weapons.
Nine nations, however, have flouted the NPT by either developing nuclear weapons since the treaty went into effect or failing to honor the commitment to disarm. These nine scofflaws and their nuclear arsenals are Russia (7,500 nuclear warheads), the United States (7,100 nuclear warheads), France (300 nuclear warheads), China (250 nuclear warheads), Britain (215 nuclear warheads), Pakistan (100-120 nuclear warheads), India (90-110 nuclear warheads), Israel (80 nuclear warheads), and North Korea (fewer than 10 nuclear warheads).
Nor are the nuclear powers likely to be in compliance with the NPT anytime soon. The Indian and Pakistani governments are engaged in a rapid nuclear weapons buildup, while the British government is contemplating the development of a new, more advanced nuclear weapons system. Although, in recent decades, the US and Russian governments did reduce their nuclear arsenals substantially, that process has come to a halt in recent years, as relations have soured between the two nations.
Indeed, both countries are currently engaged in a new, extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. The US government has committed itself to spending $1 trillion to “modernize” its nuclear facilities and build new nuclear weapons. For its part, the Russian government is investing heavily in upgrading its nuclear warheads and developing new delivery systems, such as nuclear missiles and nuclear submarines.
What can be done about this flouting of the NPT, some 45 years after it went into operation?
That will almost certainly be a major issue at an NPT Review Conference that will convene at the U.N. headquarters, in New York City, April 27-May 22. These review conferences, held every five years, attract high-level national officials from around the world to discuss the treaty’s implementation.
For a very brief time, the review conferences even draw the attention of television and other news commentators before the mass communications media return to their preoccupation with scandals, arrests and the lives of movie stars.
This spring’s NPT review conference might be particularly lively, given the heightening frustration of the non-nuclear powers at the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill their NPT commitments. At recent disarmament conferences in Norway, Mexico and Austria, the representatives of a large number of non-nuclear nations, ignoring the opposition of the nuclear powers, focused on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.
One rising demand among restless non-nuclear nations and among nuclear disarmament groups is to develop a nuclear weapons ban treaty, whether or not the nuclear powers are willing to participate in negotiations.
To heighten the pressure for the abolition of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament groups are staging a Peace and Planet mobilization, in Manhattan, on the eve of the NPT review conference. Calling for a “Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World,” the mobilization involves an international conference (comprised of plenaries and workshops) April 24 and 25, plus a culminating interfaith convocation, rally, march and festival April 26.
Among the hundreds of endorsing organizations are many devoted to peace (Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Veterans for Peace and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), environmentalism (Earth Action, Friends of the Earth, and 350NYC), religion (Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Unitarian Universalist U.N. Office, United Church of Christ and United Methodist General Board of Church and Society), workers’ rights (New Jersey Industrial Union Council, United Electrical Workers and Working Families Party) and human welfare (American Friends Service Committee and National Association of Social Workers).
Of course, how much effect the proponents of a nuclear weapons-free world will have on the cynical officials of the nuclear powers remains to be seen. After as many as 45 years of stalling on their own nuclear disarmament, it is hard to imagine that they are finally ready to begin negotiating a treaty effectively banning nuclear weapons — or at least their nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, let us encourage Iran not to follow the bad example set by the nuclear powers. And let us ask the nuclear-armed nations, now telling Iran that it should forgo possession of nuclear weapons, when they are going to start practicing what they preach.
Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. He is the author of Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement.
Should the US Pledge Not to Attack North Korea If Kim Gives Up His Nuclear Weapons?
TRENTON, New Jersey (April 30, 2018) — US officials say they’ve heard this all before: That North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons.
However, the recent summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In has many believing that this time it might be for real.
According to South Korean officials, Kim told Moon that he would be willing to give up his nuclear weapons if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and pledges not to attack the North.
He also promised to shut down the North’s nuclear test site next month and disclose the process to experts and journalists from the United States and South Korea.
Should the US make such pledge?
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