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.
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.
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.
This video by comedian John Oliver is making the rounds of District of Columbia nuclear disarmament folks today, and is worth sharing.
Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety plays a cameo role in the clip, and is a likely source of some of the information about the the problems with the U.S. nuclear complex. Read the New York Times Book Review here.
(Editor’s Note: This article by colleague Steven Starr first appeared on June 11 in Truthout. Starr summarized why there is a real threat of nuclear war, and how it would be devastating. While Starr is a bit alarmist, he reminds us that we must commit ourselves to preventing what we can not cure and abolish nuclear weapons).
There Can be No Winners in a Nuclear War
By Steven Starr
Nuclear war has no winner. Beginning in 2006, several of the world’s leading climatologists (at Rutgers, UCLA, John Hopkins University, and the University of Colorado-Boulder) published a series of studies that evaluated the long-term environmental consequences of a nuclear war, including baseline scenarios fought with merely 1% of the explosive power in the US and/or Russian launch-ready nuclear arsenals. They concluded that the consequences of even a “small” nuclear war would include catastrophic disruptions of global climate and massive destruction of Earth’s protective ozone layer. These and more recent studies predict that global agriculture would be so negatively affected by such a war, a global famine would result, which would cause up to 2 billion people to starve to death.
These peer-reviewed studies – which were analyzed by the best scientists in the world and found to be without error – also predict that a war fought with less than half of US or Russian strategic nuclear weapons would destroy the human race. In other words, a US-Russian nuclear war would create such extreme long-term damage to the global environment that it would leave the Earth uninhabitable for humans and most animal forms of life.
“Nuclear weapons are bad for human beings and other living creatures. We should never again detonate such a weapon.“
Monday, Aug. 5
- Hiroshima/Nagasaki Observance Program organized by Dubuque Peace and Justice, Dubuque. 6 until 6:30 p.m. at the corner of 6th and Locust (Multicultural Family Center in case of rain).
Tuesday, Aug. 6
- Annual Observance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at 7:30 p.m. Japanese Bell at the Iowa State Capitol. Sponsored by Catholic Peace Ministry, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, American Friends Service Committee.
- Hiroshima Day Candlelight Vigil on the River organized by Workers for Peace Iowa. 8:30 until 9 p.m. They’ll start setting out and lighting luminaries around 8:15 p.m. Center of First Ave Bridge over Cedar River in Cedar Rapids.
- Annual 3-1/2 Day Vigil at STRATCOM, Offutt Air Force Base, Bellevue, Neb. organized by Veterans for Peace, Chapter 163 and the Phil Berrigan Catholic Worker House, Des Moines. Tuesday, Aug. 6 until Thursday, Aug. 8, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the STRATCOM Kenny Gate.
(UPDATED July 16, 2013) Iowa Catholic Workers Frank Cordaro, Ed Bloomer, Elton Davis, and Jessica Reznicek were among two dozen people who were arrested Saturday morning for trespassing at the entrance to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s new south Kansas City complex in a peaceful protest against the nuclear weapons that will soon be built there.
David Goodner, also a Des Moines Catholic Worker, reported this morning,
“A group of priests, nuns, Catholic Workers, and other faithful took nonviolent direct action at a Kansas City nuclear weapons plant over the weekend. 23 were arrested including Father Carl Kabat, the head of his order, other priests and nuns, and many Catholic Workers from around the Midwest and country.
Most have been released, however, Frank Cordaro of Des Moines is still being held because of prior warrants and will see a judge today.”
President Obama spoke in Berlin this week, and I have been waiting to listen to the speech, doing so this morning. Friends have been talking about Obama’s call for a new series of steps toward nuclear abolition. One friend, who is not an Internet user, called and left a voice mail message saying he hoped that Obama’s speech would generate new energy around nuclear abolition within Veterans for Peace. I don’t know about that. The speech was less than inspiring, even if filled with lofty ideas, many of which have been heard from this president before. Referring to the global AIDS initiative, Obama spoke about peace with justice,
“Peace with justice means meeting our moral obligations. […] Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise– an achievable promise– of the first AIDS-free generation. That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency.”
That last part, “a sufficient sense of urgency,” is always the problem in our consumer society, isn’t it? At the same time, we can’t ignore the president’s call for new energy around what threatens life as we know it— nuclear proliferation, a warming and increasingly polluted planet, and social injustice. Obama touched on all three in the speech.
The heavy lift of the New START Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation was a signature achievement of Obama’s first term. I was proud to have been part of the effort toward ratification. There was a sense in the conference calls with key State Department leaders, even shortly after Russia’s parliament ratified the treaty, that it was the last big thing regarding nuclear abolition for this president. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I heard it from people in a position to know.
Nuclear abolition matters, so it is important to consider the president’s announcement in Berlin, his plan to move forward in slowing nuclear proliferation. The U.S. will negotiate further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons, by up to one third, with the Russian Federation; the U.S. will negotiate with Russia a reduction in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe; we must reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking; the U.S. will host a summit in 2016 to secure nuclear materials in the world; the administration will build support for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and the president called on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are all continuations of previous administration policies: baby steps forward.
The day after the speech at the Brandenburg Gate, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, posted an article in Foreign Policy titled, “Death by Cuts to a Thousand.” He wrote, “while (the president’s) remarks are overdue and welcome, the pace and scope of his proposals for further nuclear reductions are incremental at best and changes in the U.S. nuclear war plan are less than meets the eye.” I met Kimball in Washington in Fall 2009, and he is a key person among the non-governmental organizations that work on nuclear weapons issues. One suspects he was putting the best face on what was a disappointing policy announcement.
Despite this, as Kimball wrote in the article, “doing nothing in the face of grave nuclear weapons threats is not an option.” My work with others toward nuclear abolition will go on. It is a core part of working toward sustainability in a turbulent world.
After the U.S. Air Force removed 17 nuclear weapons launch officers from duty this week for marginal job performance skills, it should be a wake-up call. Lt. Col. Jay Folds, deputy commander of the 91st Operations Group, which is responsible for all Minuteman 3 missile launch crews at the Minot, N.D. Air Force Base, indicated there is “rot” in the force.
According to the Associated Press, “underlying the Minot situation is a sense among some that the Air Force’s nuclear mission is a dying field, as the government considers further reducing the size of the U.S. arsenal.”
Air Force Secretary Michael Donley was quoted, “it is the duty of commanders to ride herd on those young officers with this awesome responsibility of controlling missiles capable of destroying entire countries.” No sh*t Sherlock.
With all the public posturing about nuclear deterrence and missile defense in Washington, D.C., a simple truth is that the care-takers of our nuclear weapons program are not always the best. Situations like the one at Minot creates a risk of a nuclear mishap, which could have devastating consequences.
There has been a long history of nuclear weapons mishaps, and while some credit is due to the Air Force for inspecting and taking action regarding the program, as a taxpayer, one has to ask how did the men and women holding the nuclear umbrella get to be in such sorry shape?
Along with a changing climate, a nuclear weapons exchange is on the short list of things that could end life as we know it on the planet. Incidents like this week’s sidelining of nuclear weapons launch officers provide evidence that there is more risk than reward in the deployment and maintenance of a nuclear weapons program.
It is more reason to support the administration’s slow, but steady progress in moving toward a world without nuclear weapons.
The North Korean nuclear test explosion on Feb. 12 is a serious threat to international security and reemphasizes the need for the U.S. to lead in working with other nuclear-armed states to decrease the risk posed by the existence of nuclear weapons.
As long as the U.S. and other nuclear powers attempt to maintain their monopoly on these weapons, other countries will seek to build them too. We must work cooperatively with other nations to pursue meaningful reductions of nuclear arsenals, a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and other common-sense approaches to mitigating the risk posed by the existence of these deadly weapons.
National security and military leaders in both political parties support the case for the elimination of nuclear weapons. They know, as we all do, that one of the biggest risks to U.S. security is the continued proliferation of these weapons around the world. The humanitarian consequences of getting this issue wrong are daunting. We must act in our time to protect our common future.
We must also refrain from letting the actions of North Korea become a distraction from working toward a nuclear weapons free world.