Seventy-four years ago today the United States dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. This nuclear weapon resulted in the deaths of an estimated 140,000 individuals. Three days later on August 9, a similar attack was carried out on the city of Nagasaki, Japan killing an additional 80,000 people. These events changed history and made the U.S. the most feared and ultimately most dangerous country in the world. That danger continues to this day as the new arms race unfolds.
Following World War II the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union resulted in our most immediate existential threat and the bloated nuclear stockpiles of today that contain 13,850 weapons. The vast majority, 91 percent, of these weapons are controlled by these two countries with the rest in seven other nuclear states. Most of today’s weapons are many times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.
For decades, arms control treaties have been the mainstay of efforts to contain and check the arms race and continue a dialogue with Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union. At the height of the Cold War there were in excess of 60,000 nuclear weapons. This resulted from a false sense of security derived from the theory of deterrence where if my enemy had two weapons, I was safer with three?and so on to 60,000 weapons! It was as though the superpowers existed together in a pool of gasoline and one had a single match and the other had one and wanted more to be “safer.” There can be no winner with that thinking.
The 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) committed the nuclear powers to work in “good faith” to eliminate nuclear weapons under Article VI. The non-nuclear nations – almost all the nations on Earth, signed that agreement not to develop nuclear weapons on that condition, that promise, which is so broken it means other nations, betrayed, seek their own nukes. Safer?
In 1987, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), negotiated at the peak of the Cold War, went into force. This landmark treaty eliminated an entire class of exceptionally dangerous weapons capable of immediate launch-on-warning and first-strike capacities. In total, 2,692 short, medium and intermediate range nuclear missiles with a range of between 550- 5,500 km were eliminated. The treaty which contains language to address concerns and compliance was terminated on August 2nd of this year when the United States withdrew from this treaty. This move was just the latest by the Trump administration following on the withdrawal of the US last year from the multinational Iran Nuclear Deal. Safer?
Unfortunately, with this latest move coupled with others before, the United States has lost its credibility in arms control.
The new arms race began in 2011 as President Obama made his “grand bargain,” when he agreed to modernize the US weapons arsenal in trade for needed Republican support to ratify the New Start Treaty. This renewed arms race has been estimated to cost $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years with inflation. And again with deterrence theory, each of the seven nuclear nations, not to be outdone is following suit in rebuilding and expanding their arsenals.
In January, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, identified the risk posed by nuclear weapons and climate change as the “new abnormal” announcing their Doomsday Clock setting at 2 minutes till midnight where midnight represents nuclear apocalypse, the closest at any point during the Cold War.
Then in June, the United States inadvertently showed its hand, temporarily, when the Joint Chiefs briefly published online and later took down their “Nuclear Operations” Document 3- 72. It outlines plans for fighting and “winning” a nuclear war. Incredibly, the document states:
Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability…Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.
These statements fly in the face of scientific fact and reality. Nothing but death will “prevail” in any nuclear war.
Nuclear war and climate change are the two existential threats we face today. As the planet warms, competition for scarce natural resources increases causing conflict potentially involving the superpowers as they vie for influence and access in their proxy states.
The current presidential debates have seen minimal questioning on proposed climate change policy, but no significant questions have been asked of candidates regarding their positions about the eminent threat of nuclear war. As if a code of silence existed between our corporate media and political parties, or a complete lack of understanding of this risk, the silence persists.
Fortunately, the United States medical and scientific communities working with the international community continue to speak out, warning of these threats. Identifying the humanitarian and climate effects of even a small nuclear war, Physicians for Social Responsibility in the “Nuclear Famine: 2 Billion People at Risk” report, has documented that even a limited regional nuclear war using less than 1/2 of one percent of the global nuclear arsenals would result in the potential deaths of two billion people on the planet. There is no adequate medical or humanitarian response to nuclear war. Prevention is the only answer and that can only be achieved with the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Civil society and the non-nuclear states have responded. With the leadership of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the international community has spoken. The 2017 United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is their response. This Treaty, now with 70 signatory nations and 23 states parties, is positioned to go into effect in 2020 once 50 nations have ratified it. At that point nuclear weapons will join all other weapons of mass destruction in becoming illegal. From that point forward it will be a breach of international law to have, develop, produce, transfer or threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
American citizens, faith communities, scientific, medical and NGOs are endorsing a growing movement supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons. This is a national movement called “Back from the Brink” that supports the Treaty and the precautionary steps necessary while waiting for it to go into effect and while nuclear arsenals still exist. All organizations and individuals are invited to endorse the campaign. Ultimately, our security policy has relied on luck to protect us from nuclear attack either by accident, miscalculation or intent and time is running out. Now is the time to make our voices heard. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
When our children’s children look back, it will be noted and remembered what side of history we were on when our planet was threatened. The choice is ours.
Robert Dodge is a family physician practicing full-time in Ventura, California. He serves on the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles serving as a Peace and Security Ambassador and at the national level where he sits on the security committee. He also serves on the board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. He writes for PeaceVoice.