Obama to Retain ‘Safe, Secure, Effective’ Nuclear Overkill Capacity

The U.S. and Russia, which together possess 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, announced this summer an agreement to someday reduce their nuclear arsenals by up to one-third.

The proposed treaty could cut each state’s long-range thermonuclear weapons – known in military jargon as "strategic" weapons – to between 1,500 and 1,675. Mainstream news reports said this was down from the limit of 2,200 slated to take effect in 2012."

In fact, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists the US had 9,938 warheads in 2007 and is obligated under the 2002 Moscow Agreement to reduce this to 5,470 by the end of 2012.

Maintaining a total of 1,500 warheads, at 335 kilotons each (today’s Minuteman III missile warheads), is equivalent to 502.5 million tons of TNT, or 502 "megatons" of nuclear firepower.

How much overkill power is this? There are currently 188 cities on Earth with over 2 million people. With 1,500 warheads, the Pentagon could still explode seven H-bombs on each one, setting massive fires whose smoke would block sunlight and could plunge the world into nuclear winter – according to new research from the Univ. of Colorado.

Presidents Barack Obama and Demitri Medvedev say they want to put the world on a path toward eliminating the bomb altogether. During their news conference Obama said, "This is an urgent issue, and one in which the US and Russia have to take leadership … showing ourselves willing to deal with our own nuclear stockpiles in a more rational way."

But Obama broadcast his less rational embrace of nuclear war policy April 5 in Prague when he said, "As long as these weapons exist, the US will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies."

Since any use of these devices backfires uncontrollably against the user – spreading radiation, firestorms, cancer and reproductive disorders for generations – nuclear weapons can’t guarantee "defense" but only self-destruction. And even the cold-blooded dirty war mastermind Henry Kissinger admitted last January, "deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous."

Speaking July 29 to the Strategic Command (which controls the US arsenal), the director of the US Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball outlined the Pentagon’s current nuclear warfare policy, and complained that it hasn’t changed since the Cold War ended 18 years ago. Kimball reported, "Even after two post-Cold War Nuclear Posture Reviews, the US still has a nuclear force posture that calls for … the same basic roles and retains all of the essential characteristics it had during the Cold War." Current doctrine, Kimball noted, calls for:

  • "A nuclear arsenal and readiness posture capable of delivering a devastating counterforce attack against Russia, China, and other potential regional nuclear-armed foes.
  • "The possible use of nuclear weapons to defend US forces and allies against massive conventional military attacks; and
  • "The possible use of nuclear weapons to counter suspected chemical or biological weapons threats."

This suicide mission, once known as nuclear madness – blast, shock and radioactive fallout would attack our own forces, allies and population – was described as long ago as 1985 in the Washington Quarterly which warned, "The climatic consequence of such a conflict would appear to afford no sanctuary…. A superpower could not isolate itself from the effects of its own weapons."

What the President Could Do Now

The use of nuclear weapons is legally prohibited because their effects are indiscriminate and uncontrollable, because radiation is a poison explicitly forbidden under all circumstances by the Hague Regulations and because their radiation-induced mutagenic and multigenerational effects long outlast the end of hostilities in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Even Cold War architect and former Reagan administration National Security Advisor Paul Nitze writing in The New York Times has said, "I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them … adds nothing to our security. I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for their prior use against us…."

If the President Obama were genuinely interested in pursuing general nuclear disarmament, he could immediately undertake six independent actions that would illustrate his good faith:

1. Take all nuclear weapons off hair-trigger "alert" status, ending the threatening, accident-prone policy of "launch-on-warning";

2. Declare a nuclear "no first use" policy similar to that of China;

3. Announce a blanket refusal to attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons;

4. Withdraw all 200-400 US nuclear weapons from Europe;

5. Separate nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles, increasing the time needed to prepare any use of the weapons;

6. Halt the production of fissile materials nationwide.

Author: John LaForge

John LaForge works for Nukewatch and edits its quarterly newsletter.