Time to chart a new path before disaster strikes
By Robert Dodge and Sean Meyer
President Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement that Russia was suspending its participation in the New START Treaty—the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the United States and Russia—is the latest, stark reminder of the nuclear brink on which the world finds itself. This is on the heels of repeated reckless threats from Putin and other Russian officials to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine and at a time of rapidly deteriorating relations with China.
In short, the risk of nuclear war is all too real, perhaps greater than it has been since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It’s well past time for the United States, Russia, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers to revitalize global nuclear disarmament efforts and take concrete steps to prevent nuclear war.
For its part, Congress has a very important role and voice in championing nuclear risk reduction and disarmament. Unfortunately, very few members have made this existential threat to humanity the priority it needs to be. That needs to change before the unthinkable happens.
Since the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons issues have tended to be far from the public’s mind except in moments of crisis. It’s been easier for most people to ignore the problem, feeling there is little they can do about it, and to go on about their lives. But we voters elect presidents and members of Congress to lead, to take responsibility, to grapple with and to solve difficult problems, including those the public is not particularly focused on nor understands, like the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
And here’s today’s reality: in less than one hour, billions of people could be killed because of an accident, miscalculation, or one person making a very bad decision. Last August, a landmark scientific study laid bare shocking truths about the potential consequences if even a small percentage of the world’s 13,000+ nuclear weapons are detonated over cities. The result would be catastrophic, with the ensuing climate disruption starving and killing hundreds of millions, even billions, of people and effectively ending human civilization as we know it. A large-scale nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia could lead to the deaths of up to 75% of the world’s population.
This time of war and heightened global tensions is precisely the right time for the United States, Russia, China, and all nuclear weapons states to recognize their mutual self-interest, and that of all humanity, in preventing a catastrophic nuclear war. Global adversaries can and must work together to solve global problems, especially in times of crisis or heightened tensions. This is exactly what President Ronald Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did in the 1980s resulting in landmark nuclear arms control agreements that made the world a safer place.
Certainly, the problem won’t be addressed without leadership and new, bold thinking. Importantly, President Joe Biden needs to know that members of Congress, and the public, will have his back if he pursues a global nuclear disarmament agenda, even if it means negotiating with adversaries like Russia and China.
For members of the House, there’s one simple step they can take to show that leadership and signal to the administration and their constituents that this issue is important to them. They should co-sponsor H. Res. 77 introduced on January 31st by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).
H. Res 77 calls on the United States to embrace the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which has now been signed by 92 countries and ratified by 66 of them “to actively pursue and conclude negotiations on a new, bilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament framework agreement with the Russian Federation before 2026 as well as to pursue negotiations with China and all other nuclear-armed states on an agreement or agreements for the verifiable, enforceable, and timebound elimination of global nuclear arsenals.”
H. Res 77 further calls for the the U.S. to lead a global effort to reduce nuclear risks and prevent nuclear war by adopting the following common sense policies:
- Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first;
- End the President’s sole authority to launch a nuclear attack;
- Take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; and
- Cancel the plan to replace the entire nuclear arsenal of the United States with modernized, enhanced weapons at a cost that could exceed $2 trillion.
And there’s widespread public support for these policies. To date, over 70 municipal, county, and state governments including Los Angeles, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, and many more have passed resolutions advocating for these very policies that have been organized by Back From the Brink, the national grassroots nuclear weapons abolition campaign. Some 150 local, state, and national organizations including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Peace Action, Public Citizen, and dozens of faith organizations have endorsed H. Res 77.
Last August, at the commencement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” In that same speech, he emphasized that “Luck is not a strategy.” He’s right. Current U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and its fealty to the immoral doctrine of deterrence, assumes that nuclear weapons are controlled by rational, infallible human actors and that systems failures will never occur.
History’s many “nuclear close calls” demonstrate why such thinking is a recipe for disaster.
It’s time to chart a new path before disaster strikes. Congress and the Biden administration need to show real courage and leadership and move us away from the nuclear brink. Our survival and that of future generations depend on that leadership.
Robert Dodge, a frequent Common Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles. Sean Meyer is a strategic advisor/consultant to Back from the Brink, a US-based grassroots nuclear disarmament campaign which he co-founded in 2017.
This article first appeared on Common Dreams.
Headline photo by Sayedqudrathashimy1991/Wikimedia Commons.
The opinions expressed in articles by outside contributors and published on the Beyond Nuclear International website, are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Beyond Nuclear. However, we try to offer a broad variety of viewpoints and perspectives as part of our mission “to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future”.
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