OP-ED: Democratic Nukes

By Peter G Cohen

"We hold these truths to be self-evident/All men may be cremated equal"

—Vern Partlow, Old Man Atom Talking Blues

In 2007 the Wall Street Journal published “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons

by two former Secretaries of State, George P. Shultz and Henry A Kissinger, with former Secretary of Defense,  William J. Perry and longtime Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn.   The article created quite a stir, yet its outline of steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons has been hard to implement. What the proposed measures and implementation problems?


“First and foremost is intensive work with leaders of the countries in possession of nuclear weapons to turn the goal of a world without nuclear weapons into a joint enterprise.”


I disagree. Leaders have had decades to eliminate these weapons with limited results. We now know that nuclear weapons threaten not just the target nations, but human survival. While the leaders of the nuclear nine are important, it will require the sustained efforts of all the world’s people to abolish this threat to human survival.


“Changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time and thereby reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon” and  “Eliminating short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed.”

The aggressive expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe and the positioning of anti-missile systems on Russian borders has increased tensions and made agreements on these issues more difficult. Why is the U.S. doing this? Are these actions designed to preserve tensions in order to maintain Cold War budgets?


“Continuing to reduce substantially the size of nuclear forces in all states that possess them.”


To persuade conservative Senators to ratify the New START (arms reduction) Treaty with Russia, President Obama promised to invest $185 billion in modernizing our weapons and the missiles, planes and submarines built to deliver them. The hawks are demanding to see that money spent, in spite of its anti-proliferation effect and the current national budget austerity.


Initiating a bipartisan process with the Senate... to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty....”  Congressional hawks oppose all treaties that impose any limitations on our nuclear weapons activities.


“Getting control of the uranium enrichment process, combined with the guarantee that uranium for nuclear power reactors could be obtained at a reasonable price....” Chernobyl, Fukushima and many smaller accidents have demonstrated to the world that nuclear energy is uncontrollable and horribly dangerous. Germany got the message and is closing its plants. The control of fissionable materials while hundreds of nuclear plants are operating around the world is not possible. We still have no provision for disposing of the deadly waste. Right now the leaks, accidents and routine discharges from nuclear plants are causing stillbirths, early births, infant deaths, leukemia, etc. We must face the fact that we cannot have a healthy, viable human future as long as we continue to pursue nuclear energy.


“Redoubling our efforts to resolve regional confrontations and conflicts that give rise to new nuclear powers.” Some nations that do not have extensive conventional forces rely on nuclear weapons as their defense of last resort. If all nations knew that any attack or invasion would be stopped by powerful international policing and sanctions, it would be much easier to be rid of nuclear weapons.


A Realistic Agenda for a Safer World

From this analysis we get some idea of the changes necessary to free the world of nuclear weapons. Change is difficult -- not changing is suicidal.


1.  The most urgent project is taking weapons off rapid deployment. It is criminally negligent that the U.S. and Russia still have a total of over 3,300 deployed weapons largely targeted on each other. This is an intolerable level of risk. Human, mechanical, electronic failure, or cyber attack could trigger Armageddon. The people of both nations must demand that these weapons be taken off rapid deployment. Why is this terrible danger not an election issue?


2. We must create a worldwide vision of a nuclear free world. Not just the nuclear nations, but all nations, large and small, rich and poor want a healthy future for their citizens. Creating and spreading this vision must be a top priority of all who want peace and a nuclear-free world. Film and television can reach the farthest corners of the Earth. In primitive terms, the wild animal about to eat the human child is the unseen radiation from all nuclear activities. For those who believe in the human future, in treasuring God’s Creation, there can be no greater calling.


3. Reducing tensions and resolving conflicts are essential to relinquishing nukes. For example: The joint imperial project of the U.S. and NATO nations to control world resources and markets creates reactions in many forms and encourages nations to keep or acquire nuclear weapons. The ongoing India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is particularly dangerous because both nations have nuclear weapons and extremists who might use them. It is urgent that we support United Nations efforts to improve and enforce its conflict resolution process.


4. U.S. Congressional Hawks. Some in the Congress want to appear tough on terrorism, preserve DOD contracts in their districts, or are sponsored by Pentagon contractors. They routinely oppose all efforts to reduce tensions or military budgets, to ratify disarmament treaties, and often obstruct efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

“In the 2012 election cycle, the top 14 nuclear weapons contractors gave total of $2.9 million to key members of Congress with decision making power over nuclear weapons spending. These firms have donated $18.7 million to these same members of Congress over the course of their careers.” -- Key findings, Bombs Versus Budgets, the Center for International Policy at www.ciponline.org

The whole of humanity is endangered by these hawks. The most effective way to pressure them to change is to run challengers against them and to convince their constituents that nuclear weapons and energy are too dangerous to exist. At the same time, we must provide for conversion of military facilities and labor to more humane purposes wherever possible.


5. Nuclear power must be replaced. Enriching uranium for nuclear fuel is the same process as enriching uranium for nuclear weapons. Only by closing down nuclear plants and permanently disposing of their radioactive waste can we control and eventually eliminate the possibility of disastrous accidents or weapons manufacture. There is no way to continue encouraging and selling nuclear power while attempting to control weapons grade materials around the world. Assisting conversion to clean energy systems worldwide is an integral part of our efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons.


These examples and conclusions illustrate the depth of the change required to eliminate nuclear weapons.  Fortunately, we have powerful allies. No serious religion can approve of such indiscriminate weapons, or the threat to Life on Earth. It is important that religious organizations be provided with current materials on the nuclear threat and the importance of acting for nuclear abolition.


The environmental movement must be educated to realize its stake in the abolition of nuclear weapons. Certainly a nuclear exchange, nuclear winter, the weakening of the ozone layer and the breakdown of society are all threats to the environment. Getting rid of nuclear power will encourage more investment in alternative energy systems. Closing nuclear plants will reduce the toxic effects of routinely dumping heated water into our waterways and low-level radiation into the air.  Environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists share the vision of a healthy, nuclear-free planet, where children can flourish in greater security and confidence in the future.


The very presence of targeted nuclear weapons, whether acknowledged or not, creates a short-term vision of life. How can we invest in or save for a future that may not exist? Throughout human history the future of life was left to the forces of nature. Now our cleverness has put us in charge of the future of Life on Earth -- a new and unique situation for which we are entirely unprepared. The responsibility and the demands are great. The magic of life can continue, or be wiped out in an hour! Let us dedicate ourselves to removing this dreadful scourge.


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Peter G Cohen (aerie2@verizon.net), Santa Barbara, CA, is an artist and anti-nuclear writer since creating materials for SANE’s Ban the Bomb testing campaign in the 1950s. This commentary was submitted by  Tom H. Hastings, Ed.D. Director, PeaceVoice Program, Oregon Peace Institute http://www.peacevoice.info/