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“The way to win an atomic war is to make certain it never starts. And the way to make sure it never starts is to abolish the dangerous, costly nuclear stockpiles which imprison mankind.” General Omar Bradley in 1948
We are the nation that created nuclear weapons. We expanded their production and deployment during the Cold War. We are the ONLY COUNTRY to use them against civilian populations. One would think this would motivate us to abolish them.
Unfortunately, we still think we need nuclear weapons. Despite all the evidence, and the testimony of many experts, we think nuclear weapons keep us safe and the deterrence of mutually assured destruction will prevent war. HYPERLINK “”General George Lee Butler, head of US Strategic Nuclear Forces from 1991-1994, disagrees. He has said,
“It is my profound conviction that nuclear weapons did not, and will not, of themselves prevent major war. To the contrary, I am persuaded that the presence of these hideous devices unnecessarily prolonged and intensified the Cold War. In today’s security environment, threats of their employment have been fully exposed as neither credible nor of any military utility.”
Although so far we have avoided a nuclear holocaust, these weapons have not prevented conventional war. The Korean and Vietnam wars are only the most prominent examples. There have been many deadly “proxy” wars by the superpowers in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The potential to use nuclear weapons in these conflicts existed and was advocated by some politicians and military leaders.
Nuclear weapons are a threat to the safety and well being of everyone. Given the power of nuclear weapons, the environmental damage caused by their production, and the record of accidents involving them, this is not just hypothetical rhetoric. In his recent book Command and Control, Eric Schlosser discusses the history of nuclear weapons and efforts to control them. The book details some of the 1200 accidents between 1950 and 1968 involving nuclear weapons or the nuclear strike force. There were bombs dropped by mistake, bombers catching on fire or crashing, missiles exploding, computers miscalculating, and people jumping to wrong conclusions and almost launching attacks. The Cuban missile crisis was not the only time we almost had a nuclear war. A review of this book in the New Yorker magazine said,
“On most days, the probability of a nuclear explosion happening by accident was far greater than the probability that someone would deliberately start a war.”
The bottom line is we would be more secure by eliminating all nuclear weapons. General John Sheehan, the former commander of NATO, agrees and has said,
“These weapons have increased global uncertainty and it is time for the global community to work toward a regime that eliminates their existence and possible use.”
So why don’t we chart a new direction for the future? For decades the nuclear weapons industry has been a giant whirlpool sucking our tax dollars. Between 1946 and 1996, we spent an estimated $8.66 trillion on them. But is it necessary? Not according to retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, Jr. He works for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and was quoted on the U.S. Labor Against War web site,
“Perhaps the most egregiously wasteful defense expenditure is the excessive budget for the entire nuclear weapons complex, estimated to cost $640 billion over the next decade. This includes expenditures for unnecessary infrastructure, nuclear warhead modernization, and new and expensive delivery systems at a time that we are reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our defense strategy.”
But the spending on nuclear weapons continues. The Obama administration is moving forward with a nuclear modernization program that will ultimately cost over $1 trillion. The plan includes redesigned nuclear warheads, new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and nuclear production plants. The 2017 Pentagon and Department of Energy budgets plan to spend over $16 billion on the modernization program. This spending shows that we are not honoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It requires signatories to make good faith efforts to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The current administration is also continuing the aggressive, militarized foreign policy of the past. They are busy reigniting the cold war with Russia by expanding NATO and deploying missiles on Russia’s doorstep in Eastern Europe. The “Pivot to Asia” policy is another example. It involves shifting more military resources to the Pacific to counter China, a major trading partner. As part of this policy we are moving back to the Philippines with five military bases. We now have troops stationed in Northern Australia. We are supporting the building of a Korean naval base on Jeju Island and we continue to occupy bases on Okinawa despite intense local opposition. These actions can only increase international tensions...not produce a more peaceful and secure world.
On August 6th and 9th we mark the 71st anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to do more than just remember these tragic and unnecessary events. We must work to abolish nuclear weapons. This is not a utopian fantasy. It is possible. Again, General George Lee Butler has said,
“It is a measure of arrogance to assert that a nuclear weapons-free world is impossible when 95% of the nations of the world are already nuclear-free. There is no security in nuclear weapons. It is a fool’s game.”
We need a new, 21st century foreign policy. We need new thinking that “projects” cooperation and peaceful problem solving rather than military power. We need foreign policy that advances the needs of people rather than the wants of the military industrial complex. We know the politicians will not act. It is up to us, as citizens, to remember the past and take action to build a better, safer, nuclear weapons free future.