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Nuclear Disarmament

A NATO Nuclear Weapons Problem

B-61 Nuclear Bombs in Storage

B-61 Nuclear Bombs in Storage

One risk of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in NATO countries is that security may fail and bombs could fall into unknown hands.

During the recent coup attempt in Turkey, Turkish forces surrounded the U.S. Air Force base at Incirlik (where several dozen Cold War era B-61 gravity bombs are vaulted), cut off electrical power, and temporarily closed the air space around the base as they repelled the coup attempt.

“General Bekir Ercan Van, the commander of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase, which is used both by the Turkish Air Force and NATO forces, has been detained by Turkish authorities accused of complicity in the attempted coup,” according to RT News and covered by the Wall Street Journal (Paywall). “The senior Turkish military commander was arrested along with over a dozen lower ranking officers at the base. A government official has confirmed that the general has been detained.”

The bombs were secured… this time.

Is the risk of nuclear weapons deployment worth the reward? It isn’t.

During a recent heavy rain storm, water got into our basement where a box of political memorabilia was dampened. I spread the contents on the living room floor to dry, and while putting them away found half a dozen responses from U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley during my advocacy to ratify the New START Treaty with Russia signed April 8, 2010.

Grassley responded in a formulaic manner, indicating staff had written the response. In his last letter before the Senate vote, which I believe Grassley wrote, he acknowledged my advocacy and said simply he disagreed. New START was ratified without Senator Grassley’s vote.

While the existence of nuclear weapons and their deployment is said to be an apolitical defense strategy, it isn’t. As long as U.S. nuclear weapons exist and are deployed, there is a risk of a security failure after which they could fall into the wrong hands. I’m not the first to say nuclear weapons serve no practical purpose and can never be used.

If you want to learn more about what happened during the Turkish coup and what it means, here are some links to articles about it.

The H-Bombs in Turkey by Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control, The New Yorker, News Desk July 17.

Should the U.S. Pull Its Nuclear Weapons From Turkey? by Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. and Kori Schake, fellow at the Hoover Institution, July 20, The New York Times.

U.S. planes grounded at key Turkish air base in fight against ISIS after coup attempt by Dan Lamothe, National security writer for The Washington Post, The Washington Post, July 16.

Turkey Arrests Incirlik Air Base Commander by Julian E. Barnes, he covers the Department of Defense and national security issues from The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal, July 17 (Paywall).

The Coup and the Crackdown: Turkey and American Foreign Policy by Trevor Hill, senior fellow for the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department, CATO at Liberty, July 18.

The U.S. stores nuclear weapons in Turkey. Is that such a good idea? by Dan Lamothe, National security writer for The Washington Post, July 19, The Washington Post.

How safe are US nukes in Turkey? by Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, CNN, July 19.

 

Ban And Abolish Nuclear Weapons

No Nukes.

No Nukes.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is an Aug. 15 letter to the editor of the New York Times by friend and colleague Ira Helfand, MD. The message is clear. Ban and abolish nuclear weapons).

To the Editor:

A Nuclear Legacy Within Reach” (editorial, Aug. 8) notes that President Obama still has time to reduce the danger of nuclear war. Nothing he will do is more important than this.

For 70 years we have treated nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of our security. That view is fundamentally wrong. The nuclear nations have come perilously close to using these weapons on a number of occasions and have been saved, not because nuclear weapons possess some magic power that prevents their use but because of a string of incredible good luck that will not last forever.

We need a transformational change in our nuclear policy that recognizes that these weapons are the gravest threat to our security and must be banned and abolished.

Ira Helfand
Leeds, Mass.

Ira Helfand is a co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Hiroshima Day 2016

Hiroshima, Japan after U.S. Nuclear Attack. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

Hiroshima, Japan after U.S. Nuclear Attack. Photo Credit: The Telegraph

The Washington, D.C. rumor mill is saying President Barack Obama may “do something” about nuclear weapons before the end of his term.

Among ideas being discussed are early retirement of some of the non-deployed weapons in the arsenal; declaration of a no first use policy; or taking weapons off hair-trigger alert.

The arms control community is pushing for no first use policy, but whatever — any Obama action to reduce the threat of a nuclear weapons exchange near the end of his presidency would be welcome, and largely symbolic.

Saturday, Aug. 6, marks seventy-one years since the United States dropped the first of two nuclear weapons on Japan.

When the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” over an unsuspecting Hiroshima, it killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people immediately with a total death toll estimated at 135,000. The bombing of Nagasaki occurred three days later. Men, women and children were killed indiscriminately.

President Harry Truman made the decision to use the bomb. In the end, he had no questions or regrets. Truman believed in the larger picture of World War II, a conflict in which tens of millions of people lost their lives, dropping the bomb would save lives. More than seven decades later we continue to debate whether bombing Hiroshima was necessary or played any significant role in ending the war.

After signing the New START Treaty with Russia, which entered into force in February 2011, the U.S. Congress embarked on a nuclear weapons modernization process expected to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of money for a weapons system we hope never to use.

What’s an Iowan to do? My friend and colleague Peter Wilk speaks for many of us.

Calling for “No First Use” of Nuclear Weapons
Submitted to the Brunswick (Maine) Times Record

This August 6th and 9th we are once again reminded of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed an estimated 200,000 women, men and children. This past May, President Obama was the first President to visit the site and to commemorate the bombing victims.

While in Hiroshima, President Obama declared, “Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Thousands of members and supporters of Physicians for Social Responsibility completely agree.

Although most of us would rather not think about it, the U.S. and Russia continue to have thousands of nuclear warheads deployed on hundreds of missiles, bombers and submarines. We and the Russians keep over 1,000 of them on so-called “launch on warning” status. These warheads can be launched within minutes and reach their targets around the world within thirty minutes, putting millions of innocent civilians at risk in each of our countries.

The recent military uprising in Turkey reminds us just how unstable our current situation is, with 50 of our nuclear weapons stored in a U.S. airbase there. This airbase was surrounded and cut-off during the most unstable period of that coup attempt.

Perhaps most frightening is that the U.S. maintains a policy of threatening to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a future conflict. Combining this policy with our “launch on warning” stance sets the stage for a potential nuclear war initiated out of fear, anger, miscalculation or accident.

These horrific weapons threaten our own national security rather than enhance it. They are unusable in any meaningful sense of the word, given the global disruption to the world’s climate, food supply and economy that would result. At the same time, they have no value in countering terrorists or cyber-attacks.

Fortunately there are also some positive developments upon which to build. 127 countries have taken the Humanitarian Pledge calling for elimination of nuclear weapons. As a result, the United Nations established an Open-Ended Working Group that has begun meeting to discuss the most promising next steps toward a treaty to ban nuclear weapons around the world.

Meanwhile, the potential humanitarian impact of any use of nuclear weapons is so overwhelming that we in the U.S. must pull ourselves back from the brink by taking an easy step of our own. Since these weapons are in reality unusable, the U.S. should minimize their role in our military planning. President Obama can and should declare that the U.S. is adopting a “no first use” policy – pledging to never again be the first nation to launch nuclear weapons against another.

The U.S led the world into the nuclear age. Now it’s time to lead the world beyond it – to move to safer national security strategies that do not put all that we care about at risk, under the false premise that threatening to use nuclear weapons against others can protect us.

President Obama – your legacy and our lives are at stake. Please complete your presidency by taking a meaningful step to reduce nuclear risks by initiating a “no first use” policy.

On this 71st anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima, let us all pledge “never again” and commit ourselves to do what we can to help make progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Peter Wilk, MD
Physicians for Social Responsibility — Maine

It’s time to prevent what we cannot cure, and abolish nuclear weapons.

Hope Springs From Saturday

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

In the life of a political activist, only occasionally do events transpire that make our efforts seem worthwhile.

It began during the George W. Bush administration with inauspicious red and white signs that simply said, “Talk to Iran.”

On Saturday, Jan. 16, Secretary of State John Kerry announced,

Today, more than four years after I first traveled to Oman at the request of President Obama to discreetly explore whether the kind of nuclear talks that we ultimately entered into with Iran were even possible, after more than two and a half years of intense multilateral negotiations, the International Atomic Energy Agency has now verified that Iran has honored its commitments to alter – and in fact, dismantle – much of its nuclear program in compliance with the agreement that we reached last July.

The United States not only talked to Iran, but convinced them — not only through verbiage, but with tough, international economic sanctions — that they should end their nuclear program. It worked as Secretary Kerry indicated.

It is days like today that give us hope that peace in the world is more than something nice to say to friends and colleagues. Peace has a tangible basis in reality, part of which this president, his administration and the P5+1 nations helped bring about.

Already the voices of extremism criticize the results of the Iran Deal, saying sanctions relief will fund extremism by the powerful Islamic nation. Perhaps what they hate most is the fact this president succeeded where none of them would even take the first step.

There are legitimate concerns about Iran’s future policies, actions and choices in the Middle East. However, this subzero day in Iowa we understand and can take heart in the fact that every so often it is possible to break out of the world of paper promises, social media and itinerant gossip to create a reality that includes the reduced threat of nuclear weapons.

This political cycle there is talk about the United States withdrawing from international engagement: the Iran Deal, the COP21 climate agreement and more. Some presidential candidates talk about building a wall around our country to keep people out. Such actions would be to our detriment.

The world is a scary place, and what is scarier is our lack of action to address the gravest threats of our time. Nuclear abolition and mitigating the causes of global warming are at center stage calling for action. Partly, the solution lies in talking — as we did with Iran — as international partners. Partly it lies in empowering women, world-wide, and educating girls. Solutions to our problems exist or can be developed if we persist.

Saturday’s results provide hope that peace is possible with the international community working together.

If a person blinked, they might have missed what just happened. Hopefully, more of us will be inspired by what happened with Iran and engage in the tough problems facing us before it is too late.

Hiroshima Day Around Iowa

no nukes cowAs we approach the 70th anniversaries of the August 6 and 9, 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have a unique opportunity to impact people’s thinking, to educate them about the crime of the A-bombings and the continuing dangers of nuclear weapons, and to build the popular movement needed to eliminate the threat they pose to human survival.

The need to abolish nuclear weapons is as urgent as ever. The hands of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock stand at 3 minutes to midnight. The U.S., which has driven the nuclear arms race since its beginning, plans to spend $1 trillion to “modernize” its nuclear bombs, warheads and delivery systems and maintain them well into the 21st century, while children go hungry and the country moves into relative decline for lack of infrastructure investment. Every other nuclear-armed state is modernizing its nuclear arsenal. And recent scientific studies demonstrate that even a limited exchange of 50-100 nuclear warheads will lead to global cooling, famine, and the deaths of up to 2 billion people across the planet. Nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons, 94% held by the United States and Russia, pose an intolerable threat to humanity and the global environment.

Nuclear weapons have again taken center stage in confrontations between the United States, its NATO allies, and Russia. These countries have turned a civil conflict in Ukraine into a violent proxy war. The tensions engendered by this confrontation have been intensified vastly—potentially catastrophically—by the brandishing of nuclear arms by both sides. This has included forward deployments of strategic bombers to Europe by the United States, positioning of Russian strategic bombers in Crimea, and an accelerated tempo of military exercises and patrols both conventional and nuclear. And the confrontation in Europe is but one of several potential nuclear flashpoints, with new tensions and arms-racing from the Western Pacific to South Asia.

On Thursday, 6 August 2015 from 8:30 a.m.to 5:00 p.m., there will be a meditative walk in Washington Park to acknowledge the 70 anniversary of the U.S. Nuclear attack on Japan. There will be a series of posters with information about the destruction that would be caused by a 475 kt thermonuclear device activated 1000 ft above the Washington Park Gazebo. I will conduct a water only fast at the park that day. We have access to the Gazebo and its electricity and will apply for a Courtesy Permit from the City of Dubuque to make use of the Park.

~ Richard Fischer, Dubuque

In 1989, Mayumi Fukuda with the “Never Again Campaign” traveled from Japan to live with my family for six weeks. Our young children were intrigued by her accent, kimonos, paper cranes and the yogurt culture she brought with her from Japan and nurtured each day.

I organized dozens of opportunities for Mayumi to speak in schools, churches and with the media. She spoke about the horror of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and the horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She spread the message that nuclear weapons and war itself must be abolished.

It was clear to me then, as it is now, that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a humanitarian outrage – and strategically unnecessary. Given this history and as a life-long peace activist, perhaps it has surprised some of you to hear me call for a World War II-scale mobilization in response to the climate crisis.

Since last year’s Climate March, this call has been part of my message, part of how I have built bridges to broader audiences. This is not a statement on the comparative morality or immorality of World War II, but simply to challenge people to remember that, in response to a global crisis, America once retooled an entire economy – and did it fast! We can do that again, this time for peaceful purposes. We can refocus our efforts on strengthening our economy, retooling our energy grid, and adapting our infrastructure to withstand the coming changes, especially if we invest NOW the money that is being spent on upgrading and modernizing an arsenal that must never be used.

Most years over the past three decades, I have attended the annual August 6th Hiroshima Commemoration in Des Moines. This year’s event is called “Hiroshima/Nagasaki: 70 Years Later: The Fate of the Earth.” It’s at 7:30 p.m. at the Japanese Bell just east of the Iowa State Capitol.

~ Ed Fallon, Des Moines

70 Years After Dropping The Bomb

70th Hiroshima AnniversaryIowa Physicians for Social Responsibility and Global Zero to host a day of speakers, workshops, film and bicycling in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of detonating the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

Forum from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ashton House followed at 3:30 p.m. by Iowa City Bike Around the Bomb.

Featured speakers are David Chappell from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on “Why Peace is Possible” and Steven Starr who is a PSR Senior Scientist on “Converging on the Russian Border.” (Speaker Bios) Lunch (vegan) will be provided for a suggested donation of $10 or you can bring your own lunch. (Full Program)

Following the Forum you may join in a Bike Around The Bomb event sponsored by Global Zero. The 7-mile course will circle the area in Iowa City that would be destroyed by a Hiroshima size nuclear bomb.

Organized by PSR Iowa and Global Zero. Cosponsors: Iowa UNA, Veterans for Peace, and UI Center for Human Rights.

Learn more about the Ashton House.

Click here to register and/or donate.

Iran And The Iowa Senators

USSenateBoth Iowa Senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, said they would use the 60-day evaluation period congress mandated for their approval of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 states (United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany) to reign in the Iranian nuclear program and prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Their full statements on announcement of the agreement are below.

Many of their colleagues have already spoken against approval of the agreement, so a modicum of discretion to study the agreement is both needed and represents Iowa as well as can be expected from our two current senators.

President Obama campaigned on the idea of talking to Iran, something his predecessor was unwilling to do. He not only initiated discussions, he was a driving force behind rallying our allies to enter into negotiations to bring Iran into compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to which they are a party. The United Nations approved the deal on Monday.

Here are some facts:

1. This is not, as Senator Ernst said, “the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.” Germany and the members of the United Nations Security Council reached this agreement.

2. Israel, while a U.S. ally, is a scofflaw in the community of nations by virtue of its nuclear weapons program. They are not party to the NPT, nor have they officially acknowledged their nuclear weapons program. Israel is the preeminent leader in covert nuclear weapons programs.

3. If the Congress seeks to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, killing the Iran deal is the wrong way to do it. “If the Congress kills this deal, there will be no restraints—none whatsoever—no inspections, it’s over, and the sanctions will disappear,” said Secretary of State John Kerry to Steve Inskeep on Monday. “Because our colleagues who we negotiated with will say, ‘Well, look, the United States Congress killed this, we didn’t—but now everybody’s free to do what they want.'”

4. The agreement is not about trusting Iran. “You can’t trust Iran,” said Kerry, “and nothing in this deal is based on trust. We trust that we have the ability to enforce this deal; we trust that the deal, if implemented, will do the job. And if it’s not implemented, we trust that we have every option available to us that we need.”

5. The deal does not empower Iran, enabling them to have greater influence in the Middle East. Kerry told Inskeep,

Iran without a nuclear weapon is a very different Iran than one with one, and this is why many of us are so amazed at the reaction of some people.

Israel, for instance, is much safer without an Iranian nuclear weapon. And we believe that what we have done in this deal—and even before this deal, in the last two years—is roll back Iran’s nuclear program. Before we became engaged with Iran, they had a two-month breakout time. Now they’ll be going to a year breakout time. Is Israel safer with a year, or aren’t you? I mean, this is pretty straightforward.

So, the fact is, we’ll have inspectors in the country; we’ll have restraints on what [Iran] can do, in terms of levels of enrichment, restraints on the size of their stockpile, restraint on their research and development. Clearly people are safer with those restraints in place—and forever, for lifetime, they have to live up to the access under the additional protocol of the IEA, they have to have huge restraints on the uranium production and other things.

So I believe over time we will show people in the Congress and elsewhere in the country that Israel, the Gulf states, the countries in the region are much safer with this deal than without it.

Now it the time to weigh in on the Iran deal with Senator Grassley here, and Senator Ernst here.

Senator Chuck Grassley statement on the Iran deal:

“I’ve always been skeptical about an agreement with Iran that fails to fully dismantle its nuclear program. This is a country that sponsors terrorism and has a history of hiding its nuclear program from outside inspectors. I’m concerned that Iran’s relief from international sanctions could offer a lot more carrot than stick. That would open the spigot to support Iran’s terror activities and nuclear capabilities, threatening our national security and the security of our allies in the region.

“It’s important that under the legislation Congress passed, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement before the President could waive any congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran. Under the act, Congress will review every line of the agreement before approving or disapproving the deal. We need to understand all of the components of the agreement. Does the deal allow for anytime, anywhere inspections, including military sites? When and how will sanctions be lifted, and what process exists for re-imposing sanctions, should Iran violate the deal? Will sanctions on conventional arms and ballistic missile technology be lifted as a result of the agreement? Will this deal prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability and improve the security of the United States and our allies? These are just a few of the questions that come to mind.”

Senator Joni Ernst statement on the Iran deal:

“The 60 days will allow Congress and the American people to thoroughly scrutinize every aspect of the agreement with Iran. While I am still reviewing the details, I have very serious concerns that this agreement concedes too much to Iran and will ultimately strengthen the pathway for Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon. The bottom line, Iran must never be allowed to develop a single nuclear weapon – not now or at any point in the future.

“Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and has aligned themselves with groups that are hostile to the United States and our allies. Therefore, we cannot afford premature sanction relief which has helped to curb Iranian support of terrorist activity. We cannot trust that Iran won’t use additional resources as an opportunity to fund terrorism and other proxy groups which pose a direct threat to our allies and national security interests in the region.

“Iran’s quarter century effort to obtain a nuclear weapon and long-standing support for terrorism will not subside overnight. We also cannot trust that Iran is complying with limitations on their nuclear program without stronger inspections. It is paramount that we are able to verify and enforce every aspect of Iranian compliance in order to confront and contain their nuclear ambitions.

“Iran is one of the greatest threats to peace and stability of our time, and we have a duty to stand behind our friends and closest ally in the region – Israel. The stakes are too high for the United States to risk any mistakes in an agreement with Iran. I look forward to carefully reviewing this deal in Congress to make sure we preserve our own national security and the pursuit of stability in the world.”

Will Grassley And Ernst Get It Right This Time?

Ed Flaherty

Ed Flaherty

Call On Iowa Senators to Wage Peace

by Ed Flaherty

Iran has come to an interim agreement with the U.S. and five other countries to dramatically reduce its nuclear program and to allow even more intensive international inspections. A final agreement is to be complete by June 30.

Congress will soon be debating its role in this matter. Iowa’s senators Grassley and Ernst have, up to this point, expressed not only skepticism about a potential agreement, but have attempted to derail it. They will now have another opportunity to weigh in on it, both in the upcoming debates and in the congressional review of the agreement after June 30. This will be an opportunity for them to get on the right side of history, by supporting an agreement than ensures that Iran will not have the ability to build a nuclear weapon. (Despite the senators’ claims to the contrary, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed multiple times in the last decade that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapon program).

The alternative to an agreement will be more sanctions, more distrust and isolation, enhanced conditions for another war. In January, 1991, Senator Grassley voted against the first Gulf War. He was one of only two Republican senators to vote against the Republican president’s request, and it took courage and common sense to do it. Now is the time to ask that he exercise that courage and common sense again and support this historic agreement. His actions would also hopefully have a profound effect on the junior senator from Iowa.

It Is Five Minutes To Midnight

BAS Cover(Editor’s Note: The BAS issued a press advisory that they will announce their decision regarding setting the Doomsday Clock at 10 a.m. CST on Jan. 22).

The world has not tamed the nuclear beast and it is cause for concern.

This month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group formed 70 years ago by some of the physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, will decide whether to update their Doomsday Clock which currently says, “It Is 5 Minutes to Midnight®.”

The clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.

Why should Iowans worry when most don’t think about this in daily life? We don’t need to freak out, but we do need to be aware that the U.S. nuclear program matters in Iowa.

In 2009, President Obama announced pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons in Prague. Things have gone unexpectedly under his leadership.

“I note the United States does not support efforts to move to a nuclear weapons convention, a ban, or a fixed timetable for elimination of all nuclear weapons,” said Adam Scheinman, U.S. State Department delegate to a Dec. 8, 2014 international conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons in Vienna, Austria.

Jaws dropped at the tone-deaf statement in a room where people had gathered to hear the witness of Hibakusha who survived the nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Here’s the problem. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the administration plans to spend $355 billion over the next 10 years to modernize our nuclear arsenal. This is an absurd waste of taxpayer dollars on weapons that should never be used. These are our tax dollars, over $1,100 from every person.

The Doomsday Clock is a reminder that we can’t afford the luxury of an incremental approach to nuclear disarmament, and in Iowa it matters.

Advocating For Nuclear Abolition

Photo Credit Al Viola

Photo Credit Al Viola

During their annual remembrance of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Frank Cordaro’s dwindling collection of nuclear abolitionists staged another vigil near the Bellevue, Nebraska military complex that is the command and control center for U.S. nuclear weapons. Cordaro reported to his lists in an Aug. 16 email:

A total of 13 people made it out for some time during our annual 3-1/2 day ‘shake and bake’ August Vigil at STRATCOM, reaching double digits just once at the end of the vigil on Aug 9 when we gathered around for a public reading of Tomas Merton’s “Original Child Bomb.”

Not a lot to report. The weather was cool and overcast the whole time, a little wet at first.

Not a lot to report Doesn’t mean not much happen. Check out Mark Kenney’s account of his encounter with a young mother and her three small kids at the vigil.

You old timers, check out Corey Zimmer’s new beard in photo slideshow.

Frank Cordaro
Phil Berrigan CW House

Interest in advocating for nuclear abolition is waning in the U.S., and the retirement of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is a bellwether. He wrote at length about the need for nuclear disarmament in his 1990 book Five Minutes To Midnight: Why the Nuclear Threat is Growing Faster Than Ever.

Harkin wrote that the threat of nuclear war is not with the former Soviet Union. In fact he characterized that risk as “negligibly small,” and with the exception of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he said it probably always has been. The nuclear threat is with states that have far less nuclear capability than the U.S. and Russia, or with those states who don’t possess nuclear weapons, but would provoke those that do to use them. In any case, Harkin’s voice on nuclear disarmament is expected to be stilled with his retirement.

“In the United States, the nuclear abolition movement has failed to generate much popular support,” wrote Eric Schlosser in his recent book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety. “The retired officials (George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn) who jump-started the debate in 2007 had an average age of seventy-nine. Many of the issues at stake seem hypothetical and remote. Almost half the American population were not yet born or were children when the Cold War ended.”

“Support for nuclear abolition is hardly universal,” Schlosser added.

For long-time advocates of nuclear abolition, there are no easy answers to the question what next? Organizations that grew out of the Reagan-inspired nuclear freeze movement still work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. However, in an age of competition for financial resources, the number of foundations and private donors willing to support nuclear abolition work has decreased. The voices of Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund are still heard, but theirs are often the only voices.

The risk we face is that right wing, war hawks will get their way with the absence of resistance, and grow the American nuclear complex unnecessarily, lining the pockets of defense contractors as they do. We’ve come a long way from President Obama’s hopeful April 5, 2009 speech in Prague, the light of which has dimmed with each successive year of his presidency.

What next for nuclear abolition advocacy? It’s an open question, the answer to which is elusive. It is hopeful news that the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Society and Rotary International have expressed interest in nuclear abolition for humanitarian reasons. But international initiatives fail to gain traction in the U.S. Remember, the head of the U.S. Red Cross is a political appointment, and the administration has resisted abolition work by the Red Cross.

Without U.S. participation in nuclear disarmament action, there is little hope of getting to zero nuclear weapons. Those of us who believe it is the right path have our work cut out for us. Like the small band of folks at STRATCOM, we are unlikely to give up.