Photograph Source United States Department of Energy
I want to offer you something different than the barrage of facts and figures around nuclear weapons. But let’s establish the basics. There are nine countries that possess them: France, China, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and — of course — Russia and the United States. Together these nine countries possess a total of 14,575 nuclear weapons, with the United States and Russia accounting for 92 percent of them.
Then there’s the outlandish nuclear weapons budgets and U.S. plans to modernize and upgrade current nuclear weapons stockpiles at egregious expense. According to a new government estimate, plans for modernizing and maintaining the nuclear arsenal will cost $494 billion over the next decade — an average of just under $50 billion per year.
All of this is happening with Donald Trump in the White House. With his recklessness and overriding need to win — or appear to win — at all costs, he is more dangerous than his predecessors. And that’s despite the fact that every president of the nuclear age played a part in extending the nuclear nightmare and increasing the threat of global annihilation.
Again, these are just the basics — things you already knew or aren’t terribly surprised to learn. That’s why I want to tell you a different story about nuclear weapons: My own.
It comes through the lens of the nuclear fire and my relationships to the people who serve as a sort of bucket-brigade — offering sense, responsibility and sacrifice in an effort to douse the inferno.
April 1, 1974
I am born. It’s a home birth to a nun and a priest — in the basement of a tall three-story row house full of anti-nuclear activists. On the day of my birth, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock stands at 12 minutes to nuclear midnight, moved back from 10 minutes in 1972 after the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and Soviet Union developed a road map for reducing nuclear arsenals.
A few months after I am born, the scientists move the clock forward again — this time to 9 minutes to nuclear midnight, “In recognition that our hopes for an awakening of sanity were premature and that the danger of nuclear doomsday is measurably greater today than it was in 1972.”
Richard Nixon is president. He’s a nuclear hothead who perfects the “madman” strategy of nuclear diplomacy. He tells a meeting of congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”
I am blissfully unaware. A healthy baby — the first of three — born to parents, Elizabeth McAllister and Philip Berrigan, who had set themselves on a course that maybe should have precluded children: a course of robust, muscular, creative, risky anti-nuclear resistance.
My uncle, Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and poet, writes a series of poems to welcome me into the world. One goes like this:
You came from Harrisburg pit
You came from Custom’s House blood
You came from Catonsville Fire
You came from jail
You came in spite of Judge Mace’s death’s head
Shaking “no” in its socket.
You came without regard to writs, torts, barbed wire
You came up from the least known
Phiz, China and beyond
Down from Dante’s crystalline
Paradise– a round eyed
Round trip freeloader.
You came from a nun
You came from a priest
You came from a vow
Yes and No and the Great Tao
That creeps. A vine
Claiming like two arms
The world’s rack for its own dismembering and flowering.
March 28, 1979
Three days before my fifth birthday, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant suffers a partial meltdown. It is decades before I learn what that term really means, but the terror is real. Three Mile Island is less than 90 miles from our house and radiation is headed our way. My parents take my little brother and I to West Virginia — as far away as they could figure — for the better part of two weeks.
We return to a changed diet: miso in hot water for breakfast every morning. My mother read that healthcare workers in Hiroshima drank the fermented soybean paste in water after the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945. They strengthened their immune systems and cleansed radiation out of their bodies with this ancient traditional Japanese food.
Miso is brown, salty and is disgusting to the 5-year-old palate. But we drink it every morning for years.
Our father shouts at us every time we leave a light on: “Okay, now we are supporting Calvert Cliffs — our local nuclear power plant.”
My parents start to look more deeply at the connections between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. There are nearly 100 nuclear power reactors across the United States, and they provide roughly one-fifth of the electricity produced in the country. Nuclear power is one of the dirtiest, most dangerous and most expensive sources of energy. Nuclear reactors in the United States and around the globe are plagued by accidents, leaks, extended outages, delayed construction and skyrocketing costs. Nuclear reactors produce highly radioactive waste that continues to threaten the environment and public health for thousands of years and for which no safe disposal exists.
There is a large scale movement to end the production of nuclear weapons and our dependence on nuclear power as well. Our father shouts at us every time we leave a light on: “Okay, now we are supporting Calvert Cliffs — our local nuclear power plant.”
September 9, 1980
I am 6 years old and my brother is 5 when our father and seven others gain access to General Electric’s Nuclear Missile Reentry Division plant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
A few months earlier the Doomsday Clock had been moved from 9 to 7 minutes to nuclear midnightbecause the United States and Soviet Union are behaving like “nucleoholics — drunks who continue to insist that the drink being consumed is positively ‘the last one,’ but who can always find a good excuse for ‘just one more round.’”
Our dad and his friends hammer on two nose cones, pour blood and read from this statement:
We commit civil disobedience at General Electric because this genocidal entity is the fifth leading producer of weaponry in the United States. To maintain this position, GE drains $3 million a day from the public treasury, an enormous larceny against the poor. We wish also to challenge the lethal lie spun by GE through its motto, ‘we bring good things to life.’ As manufacturers of the Mark 12A reentry vehicle, GE actually prepares to bring good things to death. Through the Mark 12A, the threat of first strike nuclear war grows more imminent. This GE advances the possible destruction of millions of innocent lives.
This is a new kind of action, in the tradition of the Catonsville Nine(which two of the eight participated in) and the Hebrew prophets who enjoined peacemakers to beat swords into plowshares.
Our dad writes:
We love our children and all children — that is why we are in resistance; that is why we are in jail. We cannot abandon the children; cannot render them to caesar for our immunity and comfort. And that love for them, and for the God who blessed us with them, will enrich their lives. So runs our hope.
Fall 1980 finds us in school for the first time, at sea in a swirl of six-year-old politics that we do not understand. We are objects of fascination and derision to our mostly African-American classmates and regarded with pity by most of our teachers. They have been told what our father has done and — even though they know the details of the action and that he is a good person — they have less context for what he has done than we do.
Our father spends that Christmas in jail. Just before the holiday, we go and visit him and my brother Jerry says: “We want to thank you, Dad. You’ve given us the greatest Christmas gift anyone could.”
“What’s that, Jer?” our Dad asks. There were no presents from the Montgomery County Jail in rural Pennsylvania.
“Your action. You were making peace, just as Jesus was in coming to us at Christmas.”
This becomes an oft-told story in our household, used at various times to celebrate my brother’s thoughtfulness and sincerity or, at other times, to highlight our long downward spiral since that glorious apex of insight and righteousness.
Our dad faces years in jail. In a February 1981 jury trial, he is convicted of burglary, conspiracy and criminal mischief and sentenced to 5-10 years in jail. It isn’t until April 1990 (when I am 16) that the Plowshares 8 wins some overturning of charges on a hard fought (and almost forgotten) appeal.
Somewhere between action, trial and conviction, my sister Kate is conceived. My mom comes home from the doctor’s appointment — after finding out she was pregnant — and slugs a shot of scotch.
Liz McAlister turns 42 just two weeks after my sister is born on Nov. 5, 1981. The Doomsday Clock is at 4 minutes to nuclear midnight, moved in January in response to “the flat unwillingness of either the United States or the Soviet Union to reject publicly, and in all circumstances, the threat of striking the other first. Both sides willfully delude themselves that a nuclear war can remain limited or even be won. In 1980 both sides officially declared nuclear war ‘thinkable.’”
November 20, 1983
I am 9 and my brother is 8. Our sister has just turned 2. As a general rule, we are not permitted to watch television, except for the nightly news. But on this random Sunday before Thanksgiving, we Berrigan children get a special treat. We watch a television movie with our parents. It is called “The Day After.”
More than 35 years later, before consulting Google, the details of the film were vague, but the outline is clear. The film imagines a nuclear attack on the United States and the lives of the people who survive its aftermath.
After the film, we sat with our parents while our mom told us that she was going to do an action soon that would try and keep what the film depicted from happening.
She later wrote about that conversation:
Our children have grown up with these [nuclear] realities as part of the air they breathe. They have seen many people in the community in which we live, including their mom and dad, imprisoned for resistance to nuclear annihilation. But to have mom do something like this and to face her possible absence from their day to day lives for an indefinite amount of time — this was a large step.
They were willing to accept the personal sacrifice of my absence as their part in trying to stop nuclear war from happening, as their part in trying to avoid the suffering that the movie displayed… They committed themselves to assuming more responsibility around the house, especially to be helpful dealing with the questions and fears of their little sister, who was not able to understand it as they were.
It was a moment of extreme closeness for the four of us — a moment of accepting together whatever might come, and we concluded our conversation with prayer and big big hugs.
Thirty-five years later, reconsidering this story as a parent myself, it strikes me as a very calculated move: a mom power play. But there we were.
President Ronald Reagan watched the film a few weeks before it hit TV screens and wrote in his diarythat the film was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.” Nearly 100 million people watched “The Day After” on its first broadcast, a record audience for a made-for-TV movie. But very few followed it up with an action like our mom’s.
November 24, 1983
Mom is one of seven who enter the Griffiss Air Force Base in upstate New York in the early hours of the morning to hammer and pour blood on a B-52 Bomber.
We are in Syracuse with my dad’s brother and his family when it happens. It takes hours for the base security to learn of the breach and arrest them. They are initially charged with sabotage, conspiracy and destruction of government property — and face 25 years in jail. We are, as I said, 9, 8 and 2.
They are eventually tried in a federal court in Syracuse. Their trial is a strange mix of freedom and scrutiny for my brother, sister and me. Our mom and dad are caught up in the trial, and we are left to play and grapple largely unsupervised. But we are also in the media eye. People magazine calls us “troupers to the extreme” when it covered mom’s sentencing in July 1984.
Our dad tells the reporter, “They don’t cry. They’ve been raised in a resistance community, and they’ve seen their mother and father repeatedly brought to jail for nonviolent civil disobedience.”
We did cry. Our mom serves 26 months in Alderson Federal prison in West Virginia. We fall into a rhythm of traveling there once a month for a long weekend. The powers that be conspire to make those weekends fall on every school field trip or fun excursion planned by our teachers. Our dad writes us long “please excuse my children from school” letters reminding our teachers every month that our mom is in jail for her anti-nuclear action. He sees it as an opportunity for education. We bypass this impulse and figure out a way to relate exclusively with the school secretary for early dismissals on these fraught Fridays. We are not the only kids with moms in jail, but we are the only ones whose dad writes polemics about it every month. We endure.
April 3, 1988
It’s Easter Sunday. I am 14, and it is two days after my birthday. My dad is one of four activists who board the battleship Iowa in Norfolk, Virginia as part of a public tour greeting the vessel on its return from service in the Persian Gulf. The four disarmed two armored box launchers for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, hammering and pouring blood, and unfurled two banners: “Seek the Disarmed Christ” and “Tomahawks Into Plowshares.” It becomes known as the Nuclear Navy Plowshares action.
My dad is sentenced to six months in prison.
March 31, 1991
Another Easter Sunday. The day before I am to turn 17, and this time my father is in Bath, Maine, aboard the U.S.S. Gettysburg, taking part in the Aegis Plowshares action. The state declines to prosecute and charges are dismissed the day before the trial was scheduled to start.
December 7, 1993
While not close to any birthdays or special holidays, it is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. I am 19, in my second year at Hampshire College. The activists wade through marshes and over rough terrain to gain access to the tarmac at Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. There they hammer on an F-15 fighter plane before being surrounded by hundreds of armed soldiers who were engaged in war game exercises at the time. They call themselves the Pax Christi-Spirit of Life Plowshares.
The trial the next February was notable to some people because the judge enforced a gag order and refused any mention of the political or moral justification for their actions. It was notable to me because my college boyfriend was able to attend. I was trying to integrate the various pieces of my life and not just slip the letter to the school secretary any more.
Visiting him at the county jail in the midst of the trial, my dad says, “Was that Him in the courtroom?” I nod, nervous and proud at the same time. “Seems a bit of a hippie, doesn’t he?” my dad observes. And that was that.
February 12, 1997
My dad is one of 6 who boards the U.S.S. Sullivans, a nuclear-capable Aegis destroyer at Bath Iron Works in Maine. They hammer and pour blood on different parts of the battleship. As they read their action statement and unfurl a banner, armed military security forcibly push them to the deck and place them under arrest.
They call themselves the Prince of Peace Plowshares, and they are tried in May and sentenced in October. My dad is sentenced to two years in jail and told not to associate with any other felons except for his wife. He pays this no mind. He is 74 years old at the time.
I had finished college the month before and moved home. In that brief time before his action, we spent our time building a composting toilet to collect our “humanure.” I help him out on less controversial projects around the house, while looking for a job. He doesn’t understand why I want a job.
“I have student loans, Dad.”
He is flabbergasted. His daughter is in debt?
“Yep, I owe $14,000 bucks, Dad.”
I went to the most expensive college in the country (with a great financial aid package) and nobody had any money to put down at the beginning.
I managed to get into college with encouragement from people outside of my nuclear family. Mom and Dad were not much help. It was hard to explain — to a man who went to college on the G.I. Bill after World War II and then graduated school as a Josephite priest — the real cost of a college education.
Awaiting trial after the action, Dad is in a county jail in Maine. Every time I go visit him, I upset the routine of local activists who visit him every week, and I feel awkward as they give me “private” time with my dad, grizzled and rumpled in his orange suit.
I walk with my class at Hampshire College in May 1997 on a frigid day. We go straight from the graduation ceremony up to Maine to see Dad in jail. My brother graduates a few weeks later. Our sister graduates from high school the next year. He misses it all.
I recently poured through my high school and college journals — thick, precious times that show how much time I had to process my experiences before social media or small children. I looked for hard evidence of the bereavement I tend to lay atop my parents’ absences. But it wasn’t there, or it was so between-the-lines that my 44-year-old eyes couldn’t see it.
Nowhere did I write: “I am distraught because my father is missing my graduation.”
Looking back now, forced to confront the patina of angst I’ve spread over all these memories, it occurs to me that we were deeply embedded in this life. It was who we were and what we did. We did not question it. And while we missed our dad (mostly) and our mom (earlier), we included them in everything. We recounted it all in letters and visits. We saved the best parts for them. In some sense, our experiences weren’t entirely real until we shared them with our dad or mom (whoever wasn’t physically there).
December 19, 1999
The group cuts through a fence at the Air National Guard Base in Essex, Maryland and pours blood, hangs a rosary and a banner, and hammers on two A-10 Warthog bombers. All were charged with malicious destruction of property and conspiracy. They call the action “Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium.”
By this point, I am living in New York City. I have an apartment in Brooklyn and a boyfriend who is not a hippy. In fact, he has gained my dad’s grudging regard. I also have a job at the New School for Social Research, where I work for an arms analyst and public intellectual named William Hartung. At college, my friends and I had joked about becoming public intellectuals like Edward Said or Eqbal Ahmed, and now here I am earning money to pay attention to the military industrial complex. I feel incredibly lucky and very uncomfortable with my good fortune.
I know all about depleted uranium — the radioactive byproduct that is used as a covering on munitions to give them armor-busting capabilities. Some of my favorite times with my dad are trading bad news story for bad news story. He is reading (and enjoying) the many articles I am writing and publishing. He occasionally enjoins me to not have such a secular voice and to end my articles for In These Timesor The Progressive with a Jesus quote. I demure.
I knew this action was coming, and I asked him to sit this one out. I did not offer to take his place.
He wrote in a statement before the action:
I am 76 years old, a married Catholic priest, with 35 years of resistance to the empire’s wars, nine years of imprisonment, numberless arrests, surveillance and ‘dirty tricks’ from the FBI… Enter my friends, sometimes brusquely: ‘Hey Dads!! Give it up to the young pups. It’s rocking chair time…’ But, but, but… I cannot forget the dying children of Iraq, and the two million Iraqis dead from our war, sanctions and depleted uranium… I cannot forget my country’s war psychosis — its obsession with better tools for killing, its mammoth war chest, its think tanks and war labs.
My dad is sentenced to 30 months in jail. “They were prepared for the worst,” my mom says outside the courthouse afterward, “and they got it.”
He serves some of his sentence in a youth facility in rural Maryland. My brother, sister and I visit him there often. (There is an outlet mall nearby). He is the only white person in the visiting room — save for some of the corrections officers. The visiting room was designed for discomfort. It has this chest-level barrier between the inmates and the visitors, and you can’t lean on it to be closer to your family member. It is brutally loud. The boys all call him Pops and show him concern and respect. At some point, he was moved to a jail in Ohio that is more age appropriate, where we visit as often as we can.
He is released right before Christmas 2001. Friends welcome him back to “minimum security.” He dies less than a year later, on Dec. 6, 2002.
The Bulletin of the Atomics Scientists’ Doomsday Clock stood at 7 minutes to nuclear midnight, the same time as when it was created in 1947. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the scientists wrote: “Moving the clock’s hands at this time reflects our growing concern that the international community has hit the ‘snooze’ button rather than respond to the alarm… More than 31,000 nuclear weapons are still maintained by the eight known nuclear powers, a decrease of only 3,000 since 1998. Ninety-five percent of these weapons are in the United States and Russia, and more than 16,000 are operationally deployed.”
Over most of the next decade and a half, our mom continues to live in the community she formed with my dad and others and continues to bear witness at the Pentagon, the White House and other sites of power. She keeps animals — goats, llamas, donkeys, even sheep for a while, and starts painting again. She is arrested repeatedly, but not for any big actions. I leave New York City for a small town in eastern Connecticut, get married and have three kids.
My brother and sister settle down too. My brother has three kids, lives in a Catholic Worker community in Michigan that he founded with his wife and another couple. My sister studies to be a physical therapist, becomes a doctor, falls in love with a doctor of English and lives in Grand Rapids. We are all arrested occasionally, but not for any big action. We march, we organize, we speak. We try.
As our mother approaches and passes 70, we — like many people our age — start encouraging her to take it easy, give up the rigors of community life and resistance, the constant hosting and demonstrating. We envision and invite her to live a life with her grandchildren, stories, bedtimes, sporting events and art projects. We have room, we all say.
She goes in the exact opposite direction. With others taking the reins at Jonah House, she feels free for the first time since our father’s death to be a Plowshares activist again, to conspire with her friends and to plan for a rigorous and daring action.
We don’t know the specifics, but as all her answers about the future muddle into a very specific kind of vagueness, we know exactly what is going on.
“Please don’t,” we say.
“You are too old,” we say.
“Think of your grandkids,” we say.
“I will. I’m not. I am. This is what I have to give.”
April 4, 2018
It was just three days after my 44th birthday, which was also Easter — again. We received word of a new plowshares action. Seven Catholic activists entered Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia. They went to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to “beat swords into plowshares.” The seven chose to act on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who devoted his life to addressing what he called the “triple evils of militarism, racism and materialism.” Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction. They hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day, just by their mere existence and maintenance. They are charged with three federal felonies and one misdemeanor for their actions. They could face 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
And there they still are. Three — my mom, Father Steve Kelly and Mark Colville — remain in county jail almost a year later. They still do not have a trial date. The other four are out on bond, wearing ankle monitors and are required to check in with their minders at regular intervals.
The Kings Bay Naval Station is home to at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each carries 20 Trident II D 5 MIRV thermonuclear weapons. Each of these individual Trident thermonuclear weapons contains four or more individual nuclear weapons ranging in destructive power from a 100 kilotons to 475 kilotons. To understand the massive destructive power of these weapons remember that the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a 15 kiloton bomb.
My mother feels very useful in jail — generous, empathetic and calm in a place that encourages none of those qualities.
The wheels of justice grind very slowly in Georgia particularly because the activists are mounting a creative legal defense. They seek to portray their actions as protected under the freedom of religion, using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed the homophobic cake makers to not make a cake for a gay couple. They are seeking to demonstrate their “deeply held religious beliefs” and how the practice of their religion has been burdened by the government’s response to their actions. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the government to take claims of sincere religious exercise seriously.
Please keep them in thought and prayer.
Just a few months before they acted, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the clock again — this time to 2 minutes to nuclear midnight, saying, “This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them.”
The clock has never been closer to nuclear midnight in my lifetime. All the work, all this sacrifice, and the clock keeps moving closer to midnight.
My mom’s action and extended incarceration pre-trial come as nuclear conflagration seems more likely. Nuclear weapons do not even rate in the list of top 10 fears that Americans are questioned about every year.
Putin and Trump have shredded the imperfect and imbalanced but nevertheless important fabric of nuclear arms control treaties. Putin claims that Russia is developing a new class of “invincible” nuclear weapons, including a cruise missile that can reach anywhere in the world.
The Pentagon signaled recently that the United States would begin tests on a couple of types of missiles. And just to make things truly terrifying, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says that in response to U.S. and Russian actions, China is improving its own nuclear arsenal.
Searching for signs of hope to counter as a bulwark against these mounting fears, I hold close the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN. It developed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and is now building a global civil society coalition to promote adherence to and full implementation of the nuclear weapons ban. ICAN received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” I draw hope from that movement.
Nuclear weapons ruined my life.
I am never not thinking about them. Nuclear weapons are present in my most mundane tasks. Nuclear weapons are present in all my major relationships. Every goodbye and hello is freighted with uncertainty.
They have shaped how I think about time. Nuclear weapons have caused me to honor and treasure the present. They have made the future provisional, muted, not taken for granted. I try to be present to the present and hold the future loosely, but with hope.
Nuclear weapons ruined my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I hope they are ruining your life too. Because that is the only way we are going to get rid of them.
World’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon
The World’s Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon Just Rolled Off the Assembly Line With the creation of a new “mini-nuke” warhead, the US is making nuclear war all the more probable...
Last month, the National Nuclear Security Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) announced that the first of a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons had rolled off the assembly line at its Pantex nuclear weapons plant in the panhandle of Texas. That warhead, the W76-2, is designed to be fitted to a submarine-launched Trident missile, a weapon with a range of more than 7,500 miles. By September, an undisclosed number of warheads will be delivered to the Navy for deployment.
What makes this particular nuke new is the fact that it carries a far smaller destructive payload than the thermonuclear monsters the Trident has been hosting for decades - not the equivalent of about 100 kilotons of TNT as previously, but of five kilotons. According to Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the W76-2 will yield “only” about one-third of the devastating power of the weapon that the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Yet that very shrinkage of the power to devastate is precisely what makes this nuclear weapon potentially the most dangerous ever manufactured.
Fulfilling the Trump administration’s quest for nuclear-war-fighting “flexibility,” it isn’t designed as a deterrent against another country launching its nukes; it’s designed to be used. This is the weapon that could make the previously “unthinkable” thinkable.
There have long been “low-yield” nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, including ones on cruise missiles, “air-drop bombs” (carried by planes), and even nuclear artillery shells — weapons designated as “tactical” and intended to be used in the confines of a specific battlefield or in a regional theater of war. The vast majority of them were, however, eliminated in the nuclear arms reductions that followed the end of the Cold War, a scaling-down by both the United States and Russia that would be quietly greeted with relief by battlefield commanders, those actually responsible for the potential use of such ordnance who understood its self-destructive absurdity.
Ranking some weapons as “low-yield” based on their destructive energy always depended on a distinction that reality made meaningless (once damage from radioactivity and atmospheric fallout was taken into account along with the unlikelihood that only one such weapon would be used). In fact, the elimination of tactical nukes represented a hard-boiled confrontation with the iron law of escalation, another commander’s insight — that any use of such a weapon against a similarly armed adversary would likely ignite an inevitable chain of nuclear escalation whose end point was barely imaginable. One side was never going to take a hit without responding in kind, launching a process that could rapidly spiral toward an apocalyptic exchange. “Limited nuclear war,” in other words, was a fool’s fantasy and gradually came to be universally acknowledged as such.
No longer, unfortunately. Unlike tactical weapons, intercontinental strategic nukes were designed to directly target the far-off homeland of an enemy. Until now, their extreme destructive power (so many times greater than that inflicted on Hiroshima) made it impossible to imagine genuine scenarios for their use that would be practically, not to mention morally, acceptable.
It was exactly to remove that practical inhibition — the moral one seemed not to count — that the Trump administration recently began the process of withdrawing from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, while rolling a new “limited” weapon off the assembly line and so altering the Trident system. With these acts, there can be little question that humanity is entering a perilous second nuclear age.
That peril lies in the way a 70-year-old inhibition that undoubtedly saved the planet is potentially being shelved in a new world of supposedly “usable” nukes.
Of course, a weapon with one-third the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, where as many as 150,000 died, might kill 50,000 people in a similar attack before escalation even began. Of such nukes, former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was at President Ronald Reagan’s elbow when Cold War-ending arms control negotiations climaxed, said, “A nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. You use a small one, then you go to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and we need to draw the line there.”
Normalizing Nukes, Pentagon-Style
Rajan Menon and Tom Engelhardt February 26, 2018
Despite the dystopian fantasies about nuclear terror and destruction that hit popular culture in the Cold War era and those "duck and cover" drills kids like me experienced in school in the 1950s, the American people were generally sheltered from a full sense of the toll of a nuclear cataclysm. Consider, for instance, the U.S. military’s secret 1960 Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP, for loosing the American arsenal against Russia and China at the height of the Cold War. Three thousand two hundred nuclear weapons were to be "delivered" to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities, most of which would, if all went according to plan, essentially cease to exist. Estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and another 40 million injured (figures that undoubtedly underplayed the effects of both mass fires and radiation). Such a strike would, theoretically at least, only have been launched in retaliation for a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States, yet the figures don’t even include U.S. Casualties.
And mind you, those estimates were offered almost a quarter of a century before we learned even worse news. Thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter, a "war" of that sort would have been likely to threaten human survival on this planet. Today, we know that even a far more localized and modest version – say, a South Asian nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan – could throw enough particulates into the stratosphere to block sunlight for significant periods and cause mass global starvation, threatening the deaths, it’s estimated, of perhaps a billion people across the planet.
In his new book, The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg, a man deeply involved in nuclear planning of the Cold War era (before he became the famed leaker of the Pentagon Papers), describes the situation:
"What none of us knew at that time – not the Joint Chiefs, not the president or his science advisers, not anyone else for the next two decades, until 1983 – were the phenomena of nuclear winter and nuclear famine, which meant that a large nuclear war of the kind we prepared for then or later would kill nearly every human on earth (along with most other large species)."
As you read TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon’s analysis of the first Nuclear Posture Review of the Trump era, think about the Pentagon’s urge to create ever more "useable" nuclear weapons and ever more advanced delivery systems for them. Then try to take in just what a path of folly we remain headed down – especially with a president once reportedly eager for "a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal" and proud beyond belief of the size of his "nuclear button."
This is indeed the road to hell and it’s paved with the worst intentions imaginable. ~ Tom
Dr. Strangelove in the Pentagon: Lowering the Nuclear Threshold and Other Follies of the New Nuclear Posture Review
By Rajan Menon
If you’re having trouble sleeping thanks to, well, you know who… you’re not alone. But don’t despair. A breakthrough remedy has just gone on the market. It has no chemically induced side effects and, best of all, will cost you nothing, thanks to the Department of Defense. It’s the new Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, among the most soporific documents of our era. Just keeping track of the number of times the phrase "flexible and tailored response" appears in the 75-page document is the equivalent of counting (incinerated) sheep. Be warned, however, that if you really start paying attention to its actual subject matter, rising anxiety will block your journey to the slumber sphere.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the United States devoted $611 billion to its military machine in 2016. That was more than the defense expenditures of the next nine countries combined, almost three times what runner-up China put out, and 36% of total global military spending. Yet reading the NPR you would think the United States is the most vulnerable country on Earth. Threats lurk everywhere and, worse yet, they’re multiplying, morphing, becoming ever more ominous. The more Washington spends on glitzy weaponry, the less secure it turns out to be, which, for any organization other than the Pentagon, would be considered a terrible return on investment.
The Nuclear Posture Review unwittingly paints Russia, which has an annual military budget of $69.2 billion ($10 billion less than what Congress just added to the already staggering 2018 Pentagon budget in a deal to keep the government open), as the epitome of efficient investment, so numerous, varied, and effective are the "capabilities" it has acquired in the 17 years since Vladimir Putin took the helm. Though similar claims are made about China and North Korea, Putin’s Russia comes across in the NPR as the threat of the century, a country racing ahead of the U.S. in the development of nuclear weaponry. As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has shown, however, that document only gets away with such a claim by making 2010 the baseline year for its conclusions. That couldn’t be more chronologically convenient because the United States had, by then, completed its latest wave of nuclear modernization. By contrast, during the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s economy contracted by more than 50%, so it couldn’t afford large investments in much of anything back then. Only when oil prices began to skyrocket in this century could it begin to modernize its own nuclear forces.
The Nuclear Posture Review also focuses on Russia’s supposed willingness to launch "limited" nuclear strikes to win conventional wars, which, of course, makes the Russians seem particularly insidious. But consider what the latest (December 2014) iteration of Russia’s military doctrine actually says about when Moscow might contemplate such a step: "The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, and also in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy."
Reduced to its bare bones this means that countries that fire weapons of mass destruction at Russia or its allies or threaten the existence of the Russian state itself in a conventional war could face nuclear retaliation. Of course, the United States has no reason to fear a massive defeat in a conventional war – and which country would attack the American homeland with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons and not expect massive nuclear retaliation?
Naturally, the Nuclear Posture Review also says nothing about the anxieties that the steady eastward advance of NATO – that ultimate symbol of the Cold War – in the post-Soviet years sparked in Russia or how that shaped its military thinking. That process began in the 1990s, when Russian power was in free fall. Eventually, the alliance would reach Russia’s border. The NPR also gives no thought to how Russian nuclear policy might reflect that country’s abiding sense of military inferiority in relation to the United States. Even to raise such a possibility would, of course, diminish the Russian threat at a time when inflating it has become de rigueur for liberals as well as conservatives and certainly for much of the media.
Russian nuclear weapons are not, however, the Nuclear Posture Review’s main focus. Instead, it makes an elaborate case for a massive expansion and "modernization" of what’s already the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal (6,800 warheads versus 7,000 for Russia) so that an American commander-in-chief has a "diverse set of nuclear capabilities that provide… flexibility to tailor the approach to deterring one or more potential adversaries in different circumstances."
The NPR insists that future presidents must have advanced "low-yield" or "useable" nuclear weapons to wield for limited, selective strikes. The stated goal: to convince adversaries of the foolishness of threatening or, for that matter, launching their own limited strikes against the American nuclear arsenal in hopes of extracting "concessions" from us. This is where Strangelovian logic and nuclear absurdity take over. What state in its right mind would launch such an attack, leaving the bulk of the U.S. strategic nuclear force, some 1,550 deployed warheads, intact? On that, the NPR offers no enlightenment.
You don’t have to be an acolyte of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz or have heard about his concept of "friction" to know that even the best-laid plans in wartime are regularly shredded. Concepts like limited nuclear war and nuclear blackmail may be fun to kick around in war-college seminars. Trying them out in the real world, though, could produce disaster. This ought to be self-evident, but to the authors of the NPR it’s not. They portray Russia and China as wild-eyed gamblers with an unbounded affinity for risk-taking.
The document gets even loopier. It seeks to provide the commander-in-chief with nuclear options for repelling non-nuclear attacks against the United States, or even its allies. Presidents, insists the document, require "a range of flexible nuclear capabilities," so that adversaries will never doubt that "we will defeat non-nuclear attacks." Here’s the problem, though: were Washington to cross that nuclear Rubicon and launch a "limited" strike during a conventional war, it would enter a true terra incognita. The United States did, of course, drop two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities in August 1945, but that country lacked the means to respond in kind.
However, Russia and China, the principal adversaries the NPR has in mind (though North Korea gets mentioned as well), do have just those means at hand to strike back. So when it comes to using nuclear weapons selectively, its authors quickly find themselves splashing about in a sea of bizarre speculation. They blithely assume that other countries will behave precisely as American military strategists (or an American president) might ideally expect them to and so will interpret the nuclear "message" of a limited strike (and its thousands of casualties) exactly as intended. Even with the aid of game theory, war games, and scenario building – tools beloved by war planners – there’s no way to know where the road marked "nuclear flexibility" actually leads. We’ve never been on it before. There isn’t a map. All that exists are untested assumptions that already look shaky.
Yet More Nuclear Options
These aren’t the only dangerous ideas that lie beneath the NPR’s flexibility trope. Presidents must also, it turns out, have the leeway to reach into the nuclear arsenal if terrorists detonate a nuclear device on American soil or if conclusive proof exists that another state provided such weaponry (or materials) to the perpetrator or even "enabled" such a group to "obtain nuclear devices." The NPR also envisions the use of selective nuclear strikes to punish massive cyberattacks on the United States or its allies. To maximize the flexibility needed for initiating selective nuclear salvos in such circumstances, the document recommends that the U.S. "maintain a portion of its nuclear forces alert day-to-day, and retain the option of launching those forces promptly." Put all this together and you’re looking at a future in which nuclear weapons could be used in stress-induced haste and based on erroneous intelligence and misconception.
So while the NPR’s prose may be sleep inducing, you’re unlikely to nod off once you realize that the Trump-era Pentagon – no matter the NPR’s protests to the contrary – seeks to lower the nuclear threshold. “Selective,” “limited,” “low yield”: these phrases may sound reassuring, but no one should be misled by the antiseptic terminology and soothing caveats. Even "tactical" nuclear weapons are anything but tactical in any normal sense. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki might, in terms of explosive power, qualify as "tactical" by today’s standards, but would be similarly devastating if used in an urban area. (We cannot know just how horrific the results would be, but the online tool NUKEMAP calculates that if a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb, comparable to Fat Man, the code name for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, were used on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I live, more than 80,000 people would be killed in short order.) Not to worry, the NPR’s authors say, their proposals are not meant to encourage "nuclear war fighting" and won’t have that effect. On the contrary, increasing presidents’ options for using nuclear weapons will only preserve peace.
The Obama-era predecessor to Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review contained an entire section entitled "Reducing the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons." It outlined "a narrow set of contingencies in which such weaponry might still play a role in deterring a conventional or CBW [chemical or biological weapons] attack against the United States or its allies and partners." So long to that.
The Shopping List – and the Tab
Behind the new policies to make nuclear weapons more "useable" lurks a familiar urge to spend taxpayer dollars profligately. The Nuclear Posture Review’s version of a spending spree, meant to cover the next three decades and expected, in the end, to cost close to two trillion dollars, covers the works: the full nuclear "triad" – land-based ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ones, and nuclear-armed strategic bombers. Also included are the nuclear command, control, and communication network (NC3) and the plutonium, uranium, and tritium production facilities overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The upgrade will run the gamut. The 14 Ohio-class nuclear submarines, the sea-based segment of the triad, are to be replaced by a minimum of 12 advanced Columbia-class boats. The 400 Minuteman III single-warhead, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, will be retired in favor of the "next-generation" Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, which, its champions insist, will provide improved propulsion and accuracy – and, needless to say, more "flexibility" and "options." The current fleet of strategic nuclear bombers, including the workhorse B-52H and the newer B-2A, will be joined and eventually succeeded by the "next-generation" B-21 Raider, a long-range stealth bomber. The B-52’s air-launched cruise missile will be replaced with a new Long Range Stand-Off version of the same. A new B61-12 gravity bomb will take the place of current models by 2020. Nuclear-capable F-35 stealth fighter-bombers will be "forward deployed," supplanting the F-15E. Two new "low-yield" nuclear weapons, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, and a sea-launched cruise missile will also be added to the arsenal.
Think of it, in baseball terms, as an attempted grand slam.
The NPR’s case for three decades of such expenditures rests on the claim that the "flexible and tailored" choices it deems non-negotiable don’t presently exist, though the document itself concedes that they do. I’ll let its authors speak for themselves: "The triad and non-strategic forces, with supporting NC3, provide diversity and flexibility as needed to tailor U.S. strategies for deterrence, assurance, achieving objectives should deterrence fail, and hedging." For good measure, the NPR then touts the lethality, range, and invulnerability of the existing stock of missiles and bombers. Buried in the review, then, appears to be an admission that the colossally expensive nuclear modernization program it deems so urgent isn’t necessary.
The NPR takes great pains to demonstrate that all of the proposed new weaponry, referred to as "the replacement program to rebuild the triad," will cost relatively little. Let’s consider this claim in wider perspective.
To obtain Senate ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty he signed with Russia in 2010, the Nobel Prize-winning antinuclear advocate Barack Obama agreed to pour $1 trillion over three decades into the "modernization" of the nuclear triad, and that pledge shaped his 2017 defense budget request. In other words, President Obama left President Trump a costly nuclear legacy, which the latest Nuclear Posture Review fleshes out and expands. There’s no indication that the slightest energy went into figuring out ways to economize on it. A November 2017 Congressional Budget Office reportprojects that President Trump’s nuclear modernization plan will cost $1.2 trillion over three decades, while other estimates put the full price at $1.7 trillion.
As the government’s annual budget deficit increases – most forecasts expect it to top $1 trillion next year, thanks in part to the Trump tax reform bill and Congress’s gift to the Pentagon budget that, over the next two years, is likely to total $1.4 trillion – key domestic programs will take big hits in the name of belt-tightening. Military spending, of course, will only continue to grow. If you want to get a sense of where we’re heading, just take a look at Trump’s 2019 budget proposal (which projects a cumulative deficit of $7.1 trillion over the next decade). It urges big cuts in areas ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to the Environmental Protection Agency and Amtrak. By contrast, it champions a Pentagon budget increase of $80 billion (13.2% over 2017) to $716 billion, with $24 billion allotted to upgrading the nuclear triad.
And keep in mind that military cost estimates are only likely to rise. There is a persistent pattern of massive cost overruns for weapons systems ordered through the government’s Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP). These ballooned from $295 billion in 2008 to $468 billion in 2015. Consider just two recent examples: the first of the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, delivered last May after long delays, came in at $13 billion, an overrun of $2.3 billion, while the program to produce the F-35 jet, already the most expensive weapons system of all time, could reach $406.5 billion, a seven percent overrun since the last estimate.
If the Pentagon turns its Nuclear Posture Review into reality, the first president who will have some of those more "flexible" nuclear options at his command will be none other than Donald Trump. We’re talking, of course, about the man who, in his debut speech to the United Nations last September, threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea and later, as the crisis on the Korean peninsula heated up, delighted in boasting on Twitter about the size of his "nuclear button." He has shown himself to be impulsive, ill informed, impervious to advice, certain about his instincts, and infatuated with demonstrating his toughness, as well as reportedly fascinated by nuclear weapons and keen to see the U.S. build more of them. Should a leader with such traits be given yet more nuclear "flexibility"? The answer is obvious enough, except evidently to the authors of the NPR, who are determined to provide him with more "options" and "flexibility."
At least three more years of a Donald Trump presidency are on the horizon. Of this we can be sure: other international crises will erupt, and one of them could pit the United States not just against a nuclear-armed North Korea but also against China or Russia. Making it easier for Trump to use nuclear weapons isn’t, as the Nuclear Posture Review would have you believe, a savvy strategic innovation. It’s insanity.
How Donald Trump’s Policies Have Brought Us to the Brink of World War 3
On February 7, 2018, the U.S.-led coalition in Syria conducted air and artillery strikes against what were believed to be pro-government forces in response to an “unprovoked attack” launched by these pro-regime troops. Not long after, reportsbegan emerging that significant numbers of Russian personnel were included in the over 100 dead and wounded. While Russia denied this at first, eventually, the accepted version of events on both sides was that there were some Russian nationals who did lose their lives in Syria. These Russians are arguably mercenaries and contractors, not official troops.
This is not the first time the U.S.-led coalition has struck pro-government forces in Syria. Aside from Donald Trump’s grandiose strike on a Syrian airbase in April of last year, U.S. forces also conducted multiple strikes against Syrian and Iranian-backed forces as these factions began to encircle the American military’s presence at a base in al-Tanf.
Donald Trump has famously relaxed the Obama-era restrictions on calling in airstrikes, meaning commanders on the battlefield can call in airstrikes at their disposal without any oversight. Previously, an airstrike could not be launched on a whim and was required to go through certain protocols before it could be delivered. Now, even associated forces can call in American airstrikes on the battlefield. The most infamous example of this is when Iraqi commanders called in a U.S. strike that ended up killing well over 200 civilians in a single bombardment.
Barely a week after Trump’s Syria strike in April, the U.S. military dropped a $450,000 bomb in Afghanistan dubbed the “Mother of all bombs” (MOAB). It soon transpired that the decision to drop the bomb was not made by Trump himself as commander-in-chief but by Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
It’s time to ask yourself: Are you comfortable with commanders on the battlefield calling in airstrikes even if those airstrikes could potentially kill personnel on the ground belonging to another nuclear power?
Last Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan told the Nation that “Congress has never authorized force against Syrian, Turkish, Yemeni Houthi, Russian, Iranian, or North Korean forces. Yet reportedly, a secret administration memo may claim the legal justification to do just that: attack Syrian, North Korean, and other forces without any congressional authorization.”
According to Lawfare, a lawsuit required the government to reveal a list of documents relating to the April Syria strike, but not the actual documents themselves. The court-ordered directions forced the government to reveal that the seven-page secret memo Pocan was referring to was drafted up by administration lawyers on April 6, 2017, just before Trump’s infamous strike. The government’s declarations revealed that only a few of the words on one of the memo’s pages are classified, and they are related to facts, not legalities. Still, the administration refuses to disclose the memo to the public, claiming the document is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
“I am also concerned that this legal justification may now become precedent for additional executive unilateral military action, including this week’s U.S. airstrikes in Syria against pro-Assad forces or even an extremely risky ‘bloody nose’ strike against North Korea,” Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) said last week.
In early February, the Pentagon released its much anticipated 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. From the Washington Post’s Katrina vanden Heuvel’s assessment:
“The review reaffirms the United States is ready to use nuclear weapons first in an alarmingly wide range of scenarios. It remains ‘the policy of the United States to retain some ambiguity regarding the precise circumstances’ that might lead to a nuclear response. The United States reserves the right to unleash nuclear weapons first in ‘extreme circumstances’ to defend the ‘vital interests’ not only of the United States but also of its ‘allies and partners’ — a total of some 30 countries. ‘Extreme circumstances,’ the review states explicitly, include ‘significant non-nuclear attacks,’ including conventional attacks on ‘allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure.’ The United States also maintains a ‘portion of its nuclear forces’ on daily alert, with the option of launching those forces ‘promptly.’
The U.S. has an active stockpile of at least 4,000 nuclear weapons, rivaled only by Russia. According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a “limited” regional exchange of nuclear weapons could force one billion people to the point of starvation, and a week-long “regional” encounter could kill far more than died during World War II.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Heuvel correctly summarized the current nuclear strategy:
“In sum, the United States is building a new generation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, will deploy more usable nuclear weapons in ‘forward’ areas, remains committed to possible ‘first use’ of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear attacks in defense of 30 countries, retains missiles on active alert ready to launch, is skeptical of the possibility of any progress in arms control and is hostile to the global movement to make nuclear weapons illegal. All this as tensions with Russia and China rise, relations with North Korea remain literally explosive, and the nuclear deal with Iran stays under constant assault from the president.”
One thing we do know is that the U.S. is openly considering nuclear strikes in response to cyber-attacks, which could be conducted by anyone from lone-wolf hackers to Iran, North Korea, Russia, or China. We also know that the Trump administration has been weighing a “limited” strike on North Korea for some time now, even as North and South Korea pursue a peaceful dialogue of their own. Even now, the U.S. continues to position nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers around the Korean peninsula. The B-2 is the most advanced bomber in the United States air force, capable of dropping the military department’s biggest bomb, which weighs in at around 14,000 kilograms.
This is a recipe for disaster. Donald Trump isn’t bringing the troops home and focusing on “making America great again.” According to the Department of Defense, American troop deployments to the Middle East had increased 33 percent by the end of last year.
It’s time for both sides of the political coin to confront their delusions and face reality. Donald Trump is by far the most hawkish, trigger-happy president to have ever been sworn into office, which is no easy feat considering his predecessors. His policies are leading the United States down a dangerous path that could see a miscalculated strike on Syria, Russia, Iran, North Korea, or even China — whether by mistake or by design. Considering that strikes have already been underway in Syria against the Syrian government and its allies, including Russia, these policies are likely to lead to something far more explosive down the line.
Written by @realdariuss
Which countries possess nuclear weapons?
Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
How many nuclear weapons are in the world today?
There are approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. 9,400 nuclear weapons are active in military arsenals. The rest are retired. 4,000 nuclear weapons are considered "operationally available." 1,800 nuclear weapons are on high alert and can be launched in fifteen minutes or less.
How would people be impacted by a nuclear attack?
A nuclear attack on any city would be a humanitarian catastrophe. One nuclear weapon could potentially wipe out an entire city. The heat and blast effects would indiscriminately kill tens of thousands to tens of millions of civilians depending on the city's density and the explosive power of the warhead.
The 15-kiloton atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima immediately killed 70,000 people and injured approximately 75,000 people. By the end of 1945, 140,000 people in Hiroshima had died. The 21-kiloton atomic bomb that the United States dropped on Nagasaki immediately killed 74,000 people and injured 75,000 people. 90,000 people in Nagasaki were dead by the end of 1945.
Today's strategic nuclear weapons are between 6 to 333 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A modeled humanitarian impact of launching 300 Russian nuclear weapons against U.S. cities. The study found 75 to 100 million people would die within 30 minutes.
In the event of a nuclear attack, physicians and health professionals would not be able to deliver medical assistance to immediate survivors. Physicians and relief agencies such as the International Committee on the Red Cross warn that a meaningful emergency response to the use of nuclear weapons on any city is impossible. A nuclear attack would destroy a city's health care infrastructure, kill the majority of health professionals, and render transportation and communication systems unusable.
Using nuclear weapons have long-term impacts on global health and the environment. Scientific research shows that a regional war using less than one percent of the global nuclear stockpile would drastically disrupt the climate and put two billion people at risk of severe malnutrition.
Are nuclear weapons legal?
The nuclear-armed countries party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are legally obligated to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament and eliminate their nuclear weapons. However, all nine nuclear-armed countries are working to perpetuate and upgrade their nuclear weapons programs rather than fulfill their existing legal disarmament obligations. The United States plans to spend $1.2 trillion over 30 years to substantially improve the capability of its nuclear arsenal.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017 to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty by comprehensively prohibiting nuclear weapons. The TPNW makes it illegal for parties of the treaty to use, develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, receive, threat to use, station, install, or deploy nuclear weapons. The treaty will officially enter into force after fifty countries sign and ratify the treaty.
Who has control over using nuclear weapons?
Nine individuals have total authority to use nuclear weapons. In the United States, current nuclear launch procedures leave the President's power to use nuclear weapons unchecked. Since 1945, any U.S. President could single-highhandedly order and execute a nuclear war killing tens of thousands to tens of millions of people in under fifteen minutes.
How much do Americans pay to perpetuate the U.S. nuclear weapon program?
In 2016, total expenditures for the U.S. nuclear weapons program was $57.6 billion. Nuclear weapons cost Americans $6.57 million per hour.
The enormous cost of the nuclear weapons spending risks growing. Congress is debating a $1.2 trillion plan to extensively upgrade the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal.
America's Immoral and Unethical Use of
Every year during the first two weeks of August the mass news media and many politicians at the national level trot out the "patriotic" political myth that the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan in August of 1945 caused them to surrender, and thereby saved the lives of anywhere from five hundred thousand to one million American soldiers, who did not have to invade the islands. Opinion polls over the last fifty years show that American citizens overwhelmingly (between 80 and 90%) believe this false history which, of course, makes them feel better about killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians (mostly women and children) and saving American lives to accomplish the ending of the war.
The best book, in my opinion, to explode this myth is The Decision to Use the Bomb by Gar Alperovitz, because it not only explains the real reasons the bombs were dropped, but also gives a detailed history of how and why the myth was created that this slaughter of innocent civilians was justified, and therefore morally acceptable. The essential problem starts with President Franklin Roosevelt's policy of unconditional surrender, which was reluctantly adopted by Churchill and Stalin, and which President Truman decided to adopt when he succeeded Roosevelt in April of 1945. Hanson Baldwin was the principal writer for The New York Times who covered World War II and he wrote an important book immediately after the war entitled Great Mistakes of the War. Baldwin concludes that the unconditional surrender policy
was perhaps the biggest political mistake of the war…. Unconditional surrender was an open invitation to unconditional resistance; it discouraged opposition to Hitler, probably lengthened the war, costs us lives, and helped to lead to the present aborted peace.
The stark fact is that the Japanese leaders, both military and civilian, including the Emperor, were willing to surrender in May of 1945 if the Emperor could remain in place and not be subjected to a war crimes trial after the war. This fact became known to President Truman as early as May of 1945. The Japanese monarchy was one of the oldest in all of history dating back to 660 B.C. The Japanese religion added the belief that all the Emperors were the direct descendants of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. The reigning Emperor Hirohito was the 124th in the direct line of descent. After the bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9 of 1945, and their surrender soon thereafter, the Japanese were allowed to keep their Emperor on the throne and he was not subjected to any war crimes trial. The Emperor, Hirohito, came on the throne in 1926 and continued in his position until his death in 1989. Since President Truman, in effect, accepted the conditional surrender offered by the Japanese as early as May of 1945, the question is posed, "Why then were the bombs dropped?"
The author Alperovitz gives us the answer in great detail which can only be summarized here, but he states, "We have noted a series of Japanese peace feelers in Switzerland which OSS Chief William Donovan reported to Truman in May and June . These suggested, even at this point, that the U.S. demand for unconditional surrender might well be the only serious obstacle to peace. At the center of the explorations, as we also saw, was Allen Dulles, chief of OSS operations in Switzerland (and subsequently Director of the CIA). In his 1966 book The Secret Surrender, Dulles recalled that 'On July 20, 1945, under instructions from Washington, I went to the Potsdam Conference and reported there to Secretary [of War] Stimson on what I had learned from Tokyo — they desired to surrender if they could retain the Emperor and their constitution as a basis for maintaining discipline and order in Japan after the devastating news of surrender became known to the Japanese people.'" It is documented by Alperovitz that Stimson reported this directly to Truman. Alperovitz further points out in detail the documentary proof that every top presidential civilian and military advisor, with the exception of James Byrnes, along with Prime Minister Churchill and his top British military leadership, urged Truman to revise the unconditional surrender policy so as to allow the Japanese to surrender and keep their Emperor. All this advice was given to Truman prior to the Potsdam Proclamation which occurred on July 26, 1945. This proclamation made a final demand upon Japan to surrender unconditionally or suffer drastic consequences.
Another startling fact about the military connection to the dropping of the bomb is the lack of knowledge on the part of General MacArthur about the existence of the bomb and whether it was to be dropped. Alperovitz states,
MacArthur knew nothing about advance planning for the atomic bomb's use until almost the last minute. Nor was he personally in the chain of command in this connection; the order came straight from Washington. Indeed, the War Department waited until five days before the bombing of Hiroshima even to notify MacArthur — the commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific — of the existence of the atomic bomb.
Alperovitz makes it very clear that the main person Truman was listening to while he ignored all of this civilian and military advice, was James Byrnes, the man who virtually controlled Truman at the beginning of his administration. Byrnes was one of the most experienced political figures in Washington, having served for over thirty years in both the House and the Senate. He had also served as a United States Supreme Court Justice, and at the request of President Roosevelt, he resigned that position and accepted the role in the Roosevelt administration of managing the domestic economy. Byrnes went to the Yalta Conference with Roosevelt and then was given the responsibility to get Congress and the American people to accept the agreements made at Yalta.
When Truman became a senator in 1935, Byrnes immediately became his friend and mentor and remained close to Truman until Truman became president. Truman never forgot this and immediately called on Byrnes to be his number-two man in the new administration. Byrnes had expected to be named the vice presidential candidate to replace Wallace and had been disappointed when Truman had been named, yet he and Truman remained very close. Byrnes had also been very close to Roosevelt, while Truman was kept in the dark by Roosevelt most of the time he served as vice president. Truman asked Byrnes immediately, in April, to become his Secretary of State but they delayed the official appointment until July 3, 1945, so as not to offend the incumbent. Byrnes had also accepted a position on the interim committee which had control over the policy regarding the atom bomb, and therefore, in April, 1945 became Truman's main foreign policy advisor, and especially the advisor on the use of the atomic bomb. It was Byrnes who encouraged Truman to postpone the Potsdam Conference and his meeting with Stalin until they could know, at the conference, if the atomic bomb was successfully tested. While at the Potsdam Conference the experiments proved successful and Truman advised Stalin that a new massively destructive weapon was now available to America, which Byrnes hoped would make Stalin back off from any excessive demands or activity in the post-war period.
Truman secretly gave the orders on July 25, 1945 that the bombs would be dropped in August while he was to be in route back to America. On July 26, he issued the Potsdam Proclamation, or ultimatum, to Japan to surrender, leaving in place the unconditional surrender policy, thereby causing both Truman and Byrnes to believe that the terms would not be accepted by Japan.
The conclusion drawn unmistakably from the evidence presented, is that Byrnes is the man who convinced Truman to keep the unconditional surrender policy and not accept Japan's surrender so that the bombs could actually be dropped thereby demonstrating to the Russians that America had a new forceful leader in place, a "new sheriff in Dodge" who, unlike Roosevelt, was going to be tough with the Russians on foreign policy and that the Russians needed to "back off" during what would become known as the "Cold War." A secondary reason was that Congress would now be told about why they had made the secret appropriation to a Manhattan Project and the huge expenditure would be justified by showing that not only did the bombs work but that they would bring the war to an end, make the Russians back off and enable America to become the most powerful military force in the world.
If the surrender by the Japanese had been accepted between May and the end of July of 1945 and the Emperor had been left in place, as in fact he was after the bombing, this would have kept Russia out of the war. Russia agreed at Yalta to come into the Japanese war three months after Germany surrendered. In fact, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 and Russia announced on August 8, (exactly three months thereafter) that it was abandoning its neutrality policy with Japan and entering the war. Russia's entry into the war for six days allowed them to gain tremendous power and influence in China, Korea, and other key areas of Asia. The Japanese were deathly afraid of Communism and if the Potsdam Proclamation had indicated that America would accept the conditional surrender allowing the Emperor to remain in place and informed the Japanese that Russia would enter the war if they did not surrender, then this would surely have assured a quick Japanese surrender.
The second question that Alperovitz answers in the last half of the book is how and why the Hiroshima myth was created. The story of the myth begins with the person of James B. Conant, the President of Harvard University, who was a prominent scientist, having initially made his mark as a chemist working on poison gas during World War I. During World War II, he was chairman of the National Defense Research Committee from the summer of 1941 until the end of the war and he was one of the central figures overseeing the Manhattan Project. Conant became concerned about his future academic career, as well as his positions in private industry, because various people began to speak out concerning why the bombs were dropped. On September 9, 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, was publically quoted extensively as stating that the atomic bomb was used because the scientists had a "toy and they wanted to try it out…." He further stated, "The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment…. It was a mistake to ever drop it." Albert Einstein, one of the world's foremost scientists, who was also an important person connected with the development of the atomic bomb, responded and his words were headlined in The New York Times "Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb." The story reported that Einstein stated that "A great majority of scientists were opposed to the sudden employment of the atom bomb." In Einstein's judgment, the dropping of the bomb was a political — diplomatic decision rather than a military or scientific decision.
Probably the person closest to Truman, from the military standpoint, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy, and there was much talk that he also deplored the use of the bomb and had strongly advised Truman not to use it, but advised rather to revise the unconditional surrender policy so that the Japanese could surrender and keep the Emperor. Leahy's views were later reported by Hanson Baldwin in an interview that Leahy "thought the business of recognizing the continuation of the Emperor was a detail which should have been solved easily." Leahy's secretary, Dorothy Ringquist, reported that Leahy told her on the day the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, "Dorothy, we will regret this day. The United States will suffer, for war is not to be waged on women and children." Another important naval voice, the commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest J. King, stated that the naval blockade and prior bombing of Japan in March of 1945, had rendered the Japanese helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary and immoral. Also, the opinion of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was reported to have said in a press conference on September 22, 1945, that "The Admiral took the opportunity of adding his voice to those insisting that Japan had been defeated before the atomic bombing and Russia's entry into the war." In a subsequent speech at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945, Admiral Nimitz stated "The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war." It was learned also that on or about July 20, 1945, General Eisenhower had urged Truman, in a personal visit, not to use the atomic bomb. Eisenhower's assessment was "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing … to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting [negotiations], was a double crime." Eisenhower also stated that it wasn't necessary for Truman to "succumb" to Byrnes.
James Conant came to the conclusion that some important person in the administration must go public to show that the dropping of the bombs was a military necessity, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, so he approached Harvey Bundy and his son, McGeorge Bundy. It was agreed by them that the most important person to create this myth was Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. It was decided that Stimson would write a long article to be widely circulated in a prominent national magazine. This article was revised repeatedly by McGeorge Bundy and Conant before it was published in Harper's magazine in February of 1947. The long article became the subject of a front-page article and editorial in The New York Timesand in the editorial it was stated "There can be no doubt that the president and Mr. Stimson are right when they mention that the bomb caused the Japanese to surrender." Later, in 1959, President Truman specifically endorsed this conclusion, including the idea that it saved the lives of a million American soldiers. This myth has been renewed annually by the news media and various political leaders ever since.
It is very pertinent that, in the memoirs of Henry Stimson entitled On Active Service in Peace and War, he states, "Unfortunately, I have lived long enough to know that history is often not what actually happened but what is recorded as such."
To bring this matter more into focus from the human tragedy standpoint, I recommend the reading of a book entitled Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6, September 30, 1945, by Michiko Hachiya. He was a survivor of Hiroshima and kept a daily diary about the women, children and old men that he treated on a daily basis in the hospital. The doctor was badly injured himself but recovered enough to help others and his account of the personal tragedies of innocent civilians who were either badly burned or died as a result of the bombing puts the moral issue into a clear perspective for all of us to consider.
Now that we live in the nuclear age and there are enough nuclear weapons spread around the world to destroy civilization, we need to face the fact that America is the only country to have used this awful weapon and that it was unnecessary to have done so. If Americans would come to recognize the truth, rather than the myth, it might cause such a moral revolt that we would take the lead throughout the world in realizing that wars in the future may well become nuclear, and therefore all wars must be avoided at almost any cost. Hopefully, our knowledge of science has not outrun our ability to exercise prudent and humane moral and political judgment to the extent that we are destined for extermination.
John V. Denson
No More Nuclear Bombs
America did not need to use Atomic Weapons
I am Death
The Distroyer of Worlds
122 Nations Create Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Today July 7, 2017, the United Nations concluded the creation of the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in over 20 years, and the first treaty ever to ban all nuclear weapons. While 122 nations voted yes, the Netherlands voted no, Singapore abstained, and numerous nations didn’t show up at all.
The Netherlands, I’m told by Alice Slater, was compelled by public pressure on its parliament to show up. I don’t know what Singapore’s problem is. But the world’s nine nuclear nations, various aspiring nuclear nations, and military allies of nuclear nations boycotted.
The only nuclear country that had voted yes to begin the process of treaty-drafting now completed was North Korea. That North Korea is open to a world without nuclear weapons should be fantastic news to numerous U.S. officials and media pundits apparently suffering traumatic fear of a North Korean attack — or it would be fantastic news if the United States were not the leading advocate for expanded development, proliferation, and threat of the use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. ambassador even staged a press conference to denounce this treaty when its drafting was initiated.
Our job now, as citizens of this hapless world, is to lobby every government — including the Netherlands’ — to join and ratify the treaty. While it falls short on nuclear energy, it is a model law on nuclear weapons that sane human beings have been waiting for since the 1940s. Check it out:
Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:
Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;
Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly;
Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly;
Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;
Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;
Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;
Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
Not bad, huh?
Of course this treaty will have to be expanded to include all nations. And the world will have to develop a respect for international law. Some nations, including North Korea and Russia and China, may be quite reluctant to give up their nuclear weapons even if the United States does so, as long as the United States maintains such enormous dominance in terms of non-nuclear military capacities and its pattern of launching aggressive wars. That’s why this treaty has to be part of a broader agenda of demilitarization and war abolition.
But this treaty is a big step in the right direction. When 122 countries declare something illegal, it is illegal on earth. That means investments in it are illegal. Complicity with it is illegal. Defense of it is shameful. Academic collaboration with it is disreputable. In other words, we have launched into a period of stigmatizing as something less than acceptable the act of preparing to annihilate all life on earth. And as we do that for nuclear war, we can build the groundwork for doing the same for all war.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
April 4, 2017 was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s remarkably prescient speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence," in which he laid bare the relationship between US wars abroad and the racism and poverty being challenged by the civil rights movement at home. "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government." Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated exactly one year later.
In that speech, he also said:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
King also said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
In just over a week, we've experienced two shocking US military strikes and an alarming increase in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Two days after major newspapers reported that a chemical attack had occurred in a village in Syria, killing and injuring many civilians, the US launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase -- its first direct military attack against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This despite the fact that there had been no investigation by any international agency that might confirm that a chemical weapons attack had occurred or who was responsible -- and in violation of international law. This bombing was unquestioningly welcomed by most of the mainstream media and Democratic leadership in Congress. Bombing, apparently, is considered "presidential."
On April 13, seemingly out of the blue, the US dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on an ISIS/Daesh cave complex in Afghanistan. This Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB -- misogynistically called the "mother of all bombs" was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by the United States on the battlefield. What signal was being sent? And to whom?
The next day, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced the successful field test of a B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb at the Nevada Test Site.
Meanwhile, amidst speculation about a potentially imminent nuclear weapons test by North Korea, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen to the highest level in decades, as US and North Korean officials posit threats and counter-threats of preemptive military strikes. Even hawkish former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned, "We have the potential for a nuclear war that would take millions of lives. So I think we have to exercise some care here."
This isn't the only nuclear flashpoint. Tensions between the United States/NATO and Russia have risen to levels not seen since the Cold War, with the two nuclear giants confronting each other in Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Syria, and an accelerated tempo of military exercises and wargames, both conventional and nuclear, on both sides.
At the moment, Donald Trump has a warm and fuzzy view of Chinese President Xi Jinping, but at the same time, the US is facing off against China in seas where other Asian nations are contesting Chinese territorial claims. And India and Pakistan remain locked in a nuclear arms race amid mounting diplomatic tensions.
While our ability to discern what's actually going on is shrouded in an unprecedented web of intrigue and a blizzard of propaganda, there can be no doubt that the dangers of wars among nuclear-armed states are growing.
But I don't want to talk about Donald Trump. I want to talk about continuity in US nuclear weapons and national security policies. Donald Trump's ability to launch massive military strikes on a whim while threatening global annihilation, within the first 100 days of his presidency, is only possible because of the vast military-industrial complex he inherited.
On December 22, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump ominously tweeted: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." In a February 2017 interview, President Trump said: "It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."
Trump's initial budget request signals his administration's intention to prioritize reliance on the nuclear threat. While it's only a small portion of his proposed $54 billion increase in military spending, the $1.4 billion increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear weapons research and development, is a proportionally higher increase at 11 percent than the 8 percent increase the Pentagon would get.
In an increasingly volatile world, this is consistent with US national security policy in the post-World War II and post-Cold War eras, despite dramatically changed geopolitical conditions.
During the 1980s, fear of nuclear war was by far the most visible issue of concern to the American public. In the early '80s thousands of people rallied and were arrested in nonviolent acts of anti-nuclear protest. Yet following the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons -- especially US nuclear weapons -- fell off the public's radar screen.
Meanwhile, deeply embedded in the military-industrial complex, Pentagon planners and scientists at the nuclear weapons labs conjured up new justifications to sustain the nuclear weapons enterprise. Following the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991 Colin Powell, then-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared:
You've got to step aside from the context we've been using for the past 40 years, that you base [military planning] against a specific threat. We no longer have the luxury of having a threat to plan for. What we plan for is that we're a superpower. We are the major player on the world stage with responsibilities … [and] interests around the world.
In 1997, nearly 10 years after the Cold War ended, President Bill Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive-60, reaffirming the threatened first use of nuclear weapons as the "cornerstone" of US national security, and contemplating an expanded role for nuclear weapons to "deter" not only nuclear but chemical and biological weapons. The Bush doctrine of "preventive" war was a continuation and expansion of programs and policies carried out by every US administration, Republican or Democrat, since 1945, when President Harry Truman, a Democrat, oversaw the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
His soaring rhetoric notwithstanding, President Obama left office with the United States poised to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, the submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them, and the infrastructure to sustain the nuclear enterprise indefinitely.
Over the past couple of years, the US has conducted a series of drop tests of the newly modified B61-12 gravity bomb at the Tonopah test range in Nevada. The Russian foreign minister has declared these tests "provocative." The B61-12 has a "selectable" yield, making it up to four times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. It has a new tail kit which provides precision guidance. This capability, along with the selectable yield, raises concerns that it could be considered more militarily usable. Each new bomb will cost more than twice its weight in solid gold. And of the 480 B61s slated to become B61-12s, approximately 180 will be deployed at six NATO bases in Europe.
More than a quarter of a century since the end of the Cold War, nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, more than 90 percent held by the US and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity and the biosphere. Recent studies show that a nuclear war involving 100 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs dropped on cities could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history. A drop in average surface temperatures, depletion of the ozone layer and shortened agricultural growing seasons wouldlead to massive famine and starvation, resulting in as many as 2 billion deaths over the following decade.
The good news is that much of the world has come to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. In December 2016, over vociferous objections by the United States and Russia, the United Nations General Assembly voted to hold negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination. Incredibly, here's how the President Obama's UN Ambassador Robert Wood explained the US objection: "... a treaty banning nuclear weapons will not lead to any further reductions because it will not include the states that possess nuclear weapons. Advocates of a ban treaty say it is open to all, but how can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them."
The first week of the negotiations took place at United Nations headquarters in New York the last week of March, with 130 countries participating. On the opening day, Trump's US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley held a press briefing outside the conference hall. Flanked by nuclear allies including the UK and France, and claiming to represent almost 40 UN member states, Haley -- proudly identifying herself "first and foremost" as a mom, a wife and a daughter, who wants to keep her family safe -- announced that they will be boycotting the negotiations.
To realize the full value of a "ban" treaty, we must demand that the nuclear-armed states recognize the existing illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons under international law protecting civilians and the environment from the effects of warfare. The governments of these states must finally act to meet their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law, and participate in good faith in the negotiations as unanimously mandated by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 Advisory Opinion.
However, it's unlikely that much progress will be made on nuclear disarmament until there is a significant trend toward demilitarization in general. In 2015, the US spent $596 billion on its military -- more than twice as much as China and Russia together, and more than one-third of all the world's countries combined.
The bottom line is that security must be fundamentally redefined. Instead of "national security" -- security of the nation-state -- premised on the threat of overwhelming military force and nuclear annihilation, we need a new concept of human security, defined by a previous head of the United Nations Development Program as "the security of people, not just of territory; the security of individuals, not just of nations; security through development, not through arms; security of all the people everywhere -- in their homes, in their jobs, in their streets, in their communities and in their environment." This new concept of human security is "universal, global and indivisible."
Addressing nuclear dangers must take place in a much broader framework, taking into account the interface between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons and militarism in general, the humanitarian and long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, and the fundamental incompatibility of nuclear weapons with democracy and human well-being.
Nuclear disarmament should serve as the leading edge of a global trend towards demilitarization and redirection of military expenditures to meet human needs and protect the environment.
We must reject the apocalyptic narrative and summon the imaginations of people everywhere to envision a vastly different future. There is no inevitability to the course of history, and a mobilized citizenry can redirect it toward a positive future.
Progress towards a global society that is fairer, peaceful and ecologically sustainable is interdependent. We are unlikely to get far on any of these objectives without progress on all. They are not "preconditions" for disarmament, but, together with disarmament, are preconditions for human survival. In our relationships both with each other and the planet, we are now hard up against the choice Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned about 50 years ago: nonviolence or nonexistence.
By Jacqueline Cabasso
"That's what nuclear bombs do, whether they're used or not. They violate everything that is human; they alter the meaning of life. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?"
-- Arundhati Roy
"...Nuclear weapons-modernization programs in the U.S. and Russia continue to violate the spirit—and, I believe, the letter—of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
-- Lawrence Krauss
By their purported test of a hydrogen bomb early in 2016, North Korea reminded the world that nuclear dangers are not an abstraction, but a continuing menace that the governments and peoples of the world ignore at their peril. Even if the test were not of a hydrogen bomb but of a smaller atomic weapon, as many experts suggest, we are still reminded that we live in the Nuclear Age, an age in which accident, miscalculation, insanity or intention could lead to devastating nuclear catastrophe.
What is most notable about the Nuclear Age is that we humans, by our scientific and technological ingenuity, have created the means of our own demise. The world currently is confronted by many threats to human wellbeing, and even civilizational survival, but we focus here on the particular grave dangers posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
Even a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons on the other side’s cities, could result in a nuclear famine killing some two billion of the most vulnerable people on the planet. A nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia could destroy civilization in a single afternoon and send temperatures on Earth plummeting into a new ice age. Such a war could destroy most complex life on the planet. Despite the gravity of such threats, they are being ignored, which is morally reprehensible and politically irresponsible.
We in the United States are in the midst of hotly contested campaigns to determine the candidates of both major political parties in the 2016 presidential faceoff, and yet none of the frontrunners for the nominations have even voiced concern about the nuclear war dangers we face. This is an appalling oversight. It reflects the underlying situation of denial and complacency that disconnects the American people as a whole from the risks of use of nuclear weapons in the years ahead. This menacing disconnect is reinforced by the media, which has failed to challenge the candidates on their approach to this apocalyptic weaponry during the debates and has ignored the issue in their television and print coverage, even to the extent of excluding voices that express concern from their opinion pages. We regard it as a matter of urgency to put these issues back on the radar screen of public awareness.
We are appalled that none of the candidates running for the highest office in the land has yet put forward any plans or strategy to end current threats of nuclear annihilation, none has challenged the planned expenditure of $1 trillion to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and none has made a point of the U.S. being in breach of its nuclear disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the presidential debates it has been a non-issue, which scandalizes the candidates for not raising the issue in their many public speeches and the media for not challenging them for failing to do so. As a society, we are out of touch with the most frightening, yet after decades still dangerously mishandled, challenge to the future of humanity.
There are nine countries that currently possess nuclear weapons. Five of these nuclear-armed countries are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (U.S., Russia, UK, France and China), and are obligated by that treaty to negotiate in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. The other four nuclear-armed countries (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) are subject to the same obligations under customary international law. None of the nine nuclear-armed countries has engaged in such negotiations, a reality that should be met with anger and frustration, and not, as is now the case, with indifference. It is not only the United States that is responsible for the current state of denial and indifference. Throughout the world there is a false confidence that, because the Cold War is over and no nuclear weapons have been used since 1945, the nuclear dangers that once frightened and concerned people can now be ignored.
Rather than fulfill their obligations for negotiated nuclear disarmament, the nine nuclear-armed countries all rely upon nuclear deterrence and are engaged in modernization programs that will keep their nuclear arsenals active through the 21st century and perhaps beyond. Unfortunately, nuclear deterrence does not actually provide security to countries with nuclear arsenals. Rather, it is a hypothesis about human behavior, which is unlikely to hold up over time. Nuclear deterrence has come close to failing on numerous occasions and would clearly be totally ineffective, or worse, against a terrorist group in possession of one or more nuclear weapons, which has no fear of retaliation and may actually welcome it. Further, as the world is now embarking on a renewed nuclear arms race, disturbingly reminiscent of the Cold War, rising risks of confrontations and crises between major states possessing nuclear weapons increase the possibility of use.
As citizens of a nuclear-armed country, we are also targets of nuclear weapons. John F. Kennedy saw clearly that “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.” What President Kennedy vividly expressed more than 50 years ago remains true today, and even more so as the weapons proliferate and as political extremist groups come closer to acquiring these terrible weapons.
Those with power and control over nuclear weapons could turn this planet, unique in all the universe in supporting life, into the charred remains of a Global Hiroshima. Should any political leader or government hold so much power? Should we be content to allow such power to rest in any hands at all?
It is time to end the nuclear weapons era. We are living on borrowed time. The U.S., as the world’s most powerful country, must play a leadership role in convening negotiations. For the U.S. to be effective in leading to achieve Nuclear Zero, U.S. citizens must awaken to the need to act and must press our government to act and encourage others elsewhere, especially in the other eight nuclear-armed countries, to press their governments to act as well. It is not enough to be apathetic, conformist, ignorant or in denial. We all must take action if we want to save humanity and other forms of life from nuclear catastrophe. In this spirit, we are at a stage where we need a robust global solidarity movement that is dedicated to raising awareness of the growing nuclear menace, and the urgent need to act nationally, regionally and globally to reverse the strong militarist currents that are pushing the world ever closer to the nuclear precipice.
Nuclear weapons are the most immediate threat to humanity, but they are not the only technology that could play and is playing havoc with the future of life. The scale of our technological impact on the environment (primarily fossil fuel extraction and use) is also resulting in global warming and climate chaos, with predicted rises in ocean levels and many other threats – ocean acidification, extreme weather, climate refugees and strife from drought – that will cause massive death and displacement of human and animal populations.
In addition to the technological threats to the human future, many people on the planet now suffer from hunger, disease, lack of shelter and lack of education. Every person on the planet has a right to adequate nutrition, health care, housing and education. It is deeply unjust to allow the rich to grow richer while the vast majority of humanity sinks into deeper poverty. It is immoral to spend our resources on modernizing weapons of mass annihilation while large numbers of people continue to suffer from the ravages of poverty.
Doing all we can to move the world to Nuclear Zero, while remaining responsive to other pressing dangers, is our best chance to ensure a benevolent future for our species and its natural surroundings. We can start by changing apathy to empathy, conformity to critical thinking, ignorance to wisdom, denial to recognition, and thought to action in responding to the threats posed by nuclear weapons and the technologies associated with global warming, as well as to the need to address present human suffering arising from war and poverty.
The richer countries are challenged by migrant flows of desperate people that number in the millions and by the realization that as many as a billion people on the planet are chronically hungry and another two billion are malnourished, resulting in widespread growth stunting among children and other maladies. While ridding the world of nuclear weaponry is our primary goal, we are mindful that the institution of war is responsible for chaos and massive casualties, and that we must also challenge the militarist mentality if we are ever to enjoy enduring peace and security on our planet.
The fate of our species is now being tested as never before. The question before us is whether humankind has the foresight and discipline necessary to forego some superfluous desires, mainly curtailing propensities for material luxuries and for domination of our fellow beings, thereby enabling all of us and succeeding generations to live lives worth living. Whether our species will rise to this challenge is uncertain, with current evidence not reassuring.
The time is short and what is at risk is civilization and every small and great thing that each of us loves and treasures on our planet.
The authors are affiliated with the Santa Barbara based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
The 9 nuclear armed states have conducted 2,058 nuclear weapons tests. Testing for radioactive isotopes in the Pacific ocean show the greatest amounts are still from the "atmospheric" nuclear weapons testing halted over 53 years ago. All nine nuclear weapons states are currently upgrading and improving their nuclear weapon arsenals. In fact, the United States plans to spend $348 billion over the next 10 years maintaining, upgrading, and replacing parts of its nuclear weapons "enterprise."
Unicorn Horn Inc strongly opposes all forms of nuclear weapons testing, and urges the United States Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was signed by the United States in 1996 but never ratified.
We also call on the United States and other nuclear-armed countries to stop the new nuclear arms race, now underway, that threatens the entire human race. These actions spur countries like North Korea to continue to seek these devastating weapons. As former Secretary of Defense William Perry wrote in his new book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, "Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security—they now endanger it."
We call upon the United States and the other eight nuclear-armed states—including North Korea—to join with 139 nations who have signed the Humanitarian Pledge to work toward a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. In February, 2016 national governments will meet in Geneva to conduct talks to develop new laws on nuclear weapons. It is beyond time for the international community to prohibit nuclear weapons, just as chemical and biological weapons have been prohibited.
The United States should start by freezing spending on new nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles and encouraging the other nuclear-armed states to halt the nascent nuclear arms race. The United States of America could also sign onto the Humanitarian Pledge in support of a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons worldwide, and with other nations, engage in diplomacy with North Korea to encourage restraining its nuclear weapons program.
It is essential for the U.S. to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which the US signed back in 1996), and make bilateral arrangements with Russia for deep cuts to our nuclear arsenals, which account for over 90% of the nuclear weapons on the planet. The United States will be part of an "Open Ended Working Group" on nuclear disarmament which will convene in Geneva in February, 2016. This provides an excellent opportunity to further meaningful disarmament initiatives.
P. Brooks McGinnis
Founder Unicorn Horn Inc.
With nuclear weapons, what could possibly go wrong? The short answer is: Everything.
Nuclear weapons could be launched by accident or miscalculation. There have already been several close calls related to false warnings nearly leading to actual launches, which would most likely have led to retaliatory responses. These false warnings are all the more dangerous for the US and Russia knowing that each side keeps hundreds of nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to be launched in moments of an order to do so.
The mere possession of nuclear weapons and the prestige in the international community associated with such possession is an inducement to nuclear proliferation. There are currently nine nuclear-armed countries. How much more dangerous would the world become if there were 19, 29 or 99?
Nuclear weapons are justified by a hypothesis about human behavior known as nuclear deterrence. It posits that a nation (with or without nuclear weapons) will not attack a nation that threatens nuclear retaliation. But nuclear deterrence is not foolproof and it does not provide physical protection. The security it provides is entirely psychological. It fails if one side does not believe that the other side would really engage in nuclear retaliation. It fails if one side is not rational. It fails in the case of a terrorist group in possession of nuclear weapons that does not have territory to retaliate against and additionally may be suicidal.
Nuclear deterrence may provide some weak, uncertain and unreliable protection against other states, but it provides no protection against terrorists. Thus, terrorists in possession of nuclear weapons are any state’s worst nightmare, including nuclear-armed states. In light of such dangers, it would make sense to seek to reduce nuclear arsenals to the lowest possible number of weapons (on the way to zero) so that any that remained could be more effectively guarded and kept from the hands of terrorist groups.
It is also true that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the 190 parties to the treaty to negotiate in good faith for effective measures to end the nuclear arms race at an early date and to achieve complete nuclear disarmament. The obligation to negotiate in good faith for nuclear disarmament also applies to the four nuclear-armed countries that are not parties to the NPT (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) through customary international law.
Since it is clear that much could go wrong with nuclear weapons, including some weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, it is surprising that there is so much complacency around the issue. This complacency is fuelled by apathy, conformity, ignorance and denial. Without citizen engagement, pushing on political leaders to act, it is likely that the world will witness nightmarish nuclear terror, either of the state variety or that actually brought about by terrorists in possession of nuclear weapons. Apathy and denial have the potential to corrode and dissolve our common future.
For the present, the nine nuclear-armed countries all have plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals, despite the immorality, illegality and waste of resources involved in doing so. The US alone is planning to spend $1 trillion on modernizing its nuclear arsenal over the next three decades. Where is the humanity in seeking to devote resources to improving nuclear weaponry and delivery systems when there are so many human needs that are going unfulfilled?
Nuclear weapons are not a solution to any human problem, and they raise the specter of the devastation of civilization and the doom of the human species. What could possibly go wrong? Shouldn’t good citizens just ignore nuclear dangers and leave them in the hands of whoever happens to be leading the nuclear-armed countries? That would actually be a continuation of the status quo and would be no solution at all.
We must recognize that we are living at the edge of a nuclear precipice with the ever-present dangers of nuclear proliferation, nuclear accidents and miscalculations, nuclear terrorism and nuclear war. Instead of relying on nuclear deterrence and pursuing the modernization of nuclear arsenals, we need to press our political leaders to fulfill our moral and legal obligations to negotiate in good faith for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. That is, we need to break free of our acidic complacency and commit ourselves to achieving a nuclear zero world.
by David Krieger 12-15-15
Prevention is the only cure
Nuclear weapons have underpinned U.S. national security strategy since the early days of the Cold War. For more than half a century, the United States has relied on its nuclear arsenal to deter attacks against its territory, extend deterrence to its allies, and limit the amount of damage that an adversary could inflict if deterrence were to fail. Because of their enormous destructive potential, however, nuclear weapons have also been one of the most controversial elements of U.S. military power. As a result, the size and shape of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, along with the core tenets of U.S. nuclear strategy and doctrine, have been continuously debated for decades.
Today, the United States has far fewer nuclear weapons than it did during the Cold War. It also relies on these weapons far less than it did in the past.
1 Nevertheless, the controversy surrounding them has not gone away. Critics of the status quo maintain that U.S. nuclear forces are ill suited to address many of the challenges that concern policymakers most, such as the threat from non-state actors, the proliferation of sophisticated military technology, and, most worrisome of all, the interaction between the two. They argue, therefore, that the United States should make a number of modifications to its existing policies, programs, and posture. Some potential changes include, for example, fielding a somewhat smaller arsenal than the 2011 New START Treaty allows, abandoning the triad of strategic delivery systems that has been in place for more than half a century, withdrawing the last tactical nuclear warheads that remain stationed in Europe, and perhaps even adopting a minimum deterrence strategy that would require no more than a few hundred operational weapons.2 In theory, these measures 1 Department of Defense (DoD), Nuclear Posture Review Report (Washington, DC: DoD, April 2010), p. 15.
2 According to the New START Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation, both sides will be limited to 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, 800 deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles, and 1,550 deployed strategic warheads by February 2018. 2 CSBA | THE COST OF U.S. NUCLEAR FORCES or others like them could allow Washington to shed unnecessary capabilities and set an example that others might follow.
3 Notably, though, the main rationale for many of these recommendations has been shifting over the past several years from the realm of strategy to the world of resources. Simply put, several studies have suggested that one reason to cut back U.S. nuclear force structure or scale back modernization efforts would be to save money, and that reason is arguably overshadowing most others. As one recent report argues, “The Departments of Defense and Energy are in the process of making long-term, multi-billion dollar decisions about how many new missiles, submarines, bombers and nuclear warheads the nation will build and deploy over the next 30 years. These plans should be reevaluated before major budget decisions are locked in.”
4 Why are resource-based arguments for nuclear reductions receiving more emphasis? Three reasons stand out. First, changes in the security environment are beginning to cast doubt on the decreasing relevance of nuclear weapons. With the decline of great power competition and the rise of non-state threats, the complex dynamics of nuclear deterrence appeared anachronistic during the early part of the post-Cold War era. Consequently, the United States has been able to substantially reduce its nuclear stockpile, defer the introduction of new delivery systems, and maintain a prohibition on the development of new warheads. Yet nuclear dangers now appear to be increasing in many corners of the world. In Europe, for example, Russia has been placing greater emphasis on nuclear weapons as tools of political intimidation and potentially warfighting as well.
5 Not only have Russian officials recently been making a series of nuclear threats against neighboring nations, but Moscow has also been violating its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
6 In Northeast Asia, China is still far from becoming a nuclear peer competitor of the United States or Russia, but is steadily working to improve its arsenal, to include developing new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and equipping some of its existing intercontinental 3 For recent studies that advocate some of these positions, see Global Zero, Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure, and Posture, Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report (Washington, DC: Global Zero, May 2012); Benjamin Freedman, Christopher Preble, and Matt Fay, The End of Overkill: Reassessing U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2013); Tom M. Nichols, No Use: Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); and Barry Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh, Protecting U.S. Security by Minimizing the Role of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, May 2015).
Although the measures outlined in these and other reports could be taken unilaterally, most proponents suggest that they should be implemented as part of negotiated reductions if possible, especially with Russia, which remains the world’s other nuclear “superpower.” 4 Tom Z. Collina and the Arms Control Association Research Staff, The Unaffordable Arsenal: Reducing the Costs of the Bloated U.S. Nuclear Stockpile (Washington, DC: Arms Control Association, October 2014), p. 6. See also Steven Pifer, “Nukes, Dollars, and Sense,” The National Interest, March 10, 2014; and Angela Canterbury and Kingston Reif, “It’s Time to Rein in Nuclear Spending,” Defense One, September 25, 2014. 5 See, for example, Jacob W. Kipp, “Russia as a Nuclear Power in the Eurasian Context,” in Ashley J. Tellis, Abraham M. Denmark, and Travis Tanner, eds., Strategic Asia 2013–14: Asia in the Second Nuclear Age (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2014); and Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, “Nuclear Incoherence: Deterrence Theory and Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Russia,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 37, No. 1, 2014. 6 Paul Sonne, “As Tensions Rise with West, Russia Increasingly Rattles Nuclear Saber,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 2015; and Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty,” New York Times, July 28, 2014. www.csbaonline.org 3 ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). Meanwhile, North Korea might have the ability to field much larger and more capable nuclear forces than many observers had anticipated.
7 In South Asia, both India and Pakistan are pursuing a variety of new nuclear capabilities, some of which—such as Islamabad’s short-range nuclear delivery systems—are heightening the risk of a regional war.
8 Finally, in the Middle East, questions remain about the longer-term impact of the recent agreement between Iran and the so-called “P5+1” on regional stability and the likelihood of additional proliferation.
9 Second, just as the security environment is growing more complex, particularly when it comes to the nuclear dimension, the fiscal constraints on the United States are becoming more severe.
In August of 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA), which put in place budget caps for the defense and non-defense portions of the federal discretionary budget. For the Pentagon, these budget caps are roughly $1 trillion less than it had been planning to spend from Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 to FY 2021. Since the BCA was enacted, Congress has twice modified the level of the budget caps, raising the defense and non-defense budget caps for Fiscal Years 2013 to 2015. But the budget caps remain at their original level for FY 2016 and beyond.
As a result, the United States is being forced to make difficult decisions when it comes to the types of capabilities it fields and its capacity to respond to threats.
This has also created a “zero-sum game” when it comes to defense spending; that is, any funding allocated for maintaining, upgrading, or replacing nuclear forces will come at the expense of the funds needed to sustain or improve conventional forces, and vice versa.
10 Third, limits on national security spending are occurring at a time when virtually every component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is due for modernization. For instance, the backbone of the U.S. nuclear deterrent is the strategic triad of bombers, land-based ICBMs, and SSBNs.
11 At present, the United States maintains two types of nuclear-capable bombers: B-52H bombers that can release air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) from outside the range of enemy air defenses and stealthy B-2 bombers that can drop gravity bombs directly over targets in welldefended areas. Both the standoff and penetrating components of the bomber leg will need to be recapitalized if they are going to be retained, however, given the age of the platforms and the weapons they carry. The United States also has nearly 450 Minuteman III ICBMs in hardened silos that are scattered across five states. Yet the Minuteman III was first deployed over 7 Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: DoD, April 2015); and David Albright, Future Directions in the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Three Scenarios for 2020 (Washington, DC: Institute for Science and International Security, February 2015). 8 Evan Braden Montgomery and Eric S. Edelman, “Rethinking Stability in South Asia: India, Pakistan, and the Competition for Escalation Dominance,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 38, Nos. 1–2, 2015. 9 Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, “The Iran Deal and its Consequences,” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2015. 10 See Todd Harrison, Analysis of the FY 2015 Defense Budget (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014).
*For an overview of the U.S. strategic triad and planned modernization programs, see Evan Braden Montgomery, The Future of America’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2013).
CSBA | THE COST OF U.S. NUCLEAR FORCES four decades ago, and while the missiles have been preserved and upgraded, current plans call for their replacement by 2031 due to a combination of age and a reduced ability to conduct test launches as the inventory continues to decline in size. Lastly, the United States has a fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs, which were each built to carry 24 Trident-II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). These SSBNs are reaching the end of their service life, however, which has already been extended from 30 to 42 years, and the Navy cannot delay a replacement any longer without abandoning its current requirement of having 10 boats operationally available at all times. Along with rebuilding the triad, the Departments of Defense and Energy are also planning to field dual-capable F-35s that can deliver tactical nuclear weapons, upgrade communications networks that allow the national command authority to exercise command-andcontrol over nuclear forces, conduct life extension programs to replace critical components on existing warheads, consolidate many of those warheads into a smaller number of interoperable weapons, and revitalize the aging physical infrastructure that is needed to monitor and maintain the nuclear arsenal.
12 The goal of modernizing U.S. nuclear forces has been reaffirmed by the Obama administration on multiple occasions, including the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the 2013 Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, and, most recently, the 2015 National Security Strategy, which declared that the United States “will protect our investment in foundational capabilities like the nuclear deterrent.”
13 Yet there are widespread doubts that it will be able to pay the bills that are now starting to come due—and those doubts will only grow larger in the decade ahead. As the independent National Defense Panel noted in its final report, “The Department of Defense is committed to a recapitalization of the triad, which under current budget constraints is unaffordable, especially considering that the nuclear deterrent’s supporting infrastructure, command and control systems, and other enabling capabilities also require expensive renovations.”
14 According to Frank Kendall, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, the Pentagon would require an additional $10–12 billion per year beginning in FY 2021 to support its planned nuclear modernization efforts.
15 In sum, the claim that nuclear weapons are becoming obsolete is starting to appear less credible given events around the globe. At the same time, arguments for nuclear reductions based on their cost seem more compelling at first glance, particularly as the Pentagon is asked to 12 Maintaining the physical infrastructure to monitor and maintain the nuclear arsenal is of particular concern because the United States has not fielded a new nuclear weapon since the late 1980s and has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992. 13 DoD, Nuclear Posture Review Report; DoD, Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States Specified in Section 491 of 10 U.S.C. (Washington, DC: DoD, June 2013); OSD, Quadrennial Defense Review 2014 (Washington, DC: DoD, 2014); and National Security Strategy (Washington, DC: The White House, February 2015), p. 8. 14 William J. Perry and John P. Abizaid, Co-Chairs, Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future: The National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2014), p. 50. 15 Marcus Weisgerber, “Pentagon: We Can’t Afford to Replace Aging ICBMs, Bombers, Subs,” Defense One, April 14, 2015, available at http://www.defenseone.com/management/2015/04/ pentagon-we-cant-afford-replace-aging-icbms-bombers-subs/110134/.
www.csbaonline.org 5 do more with less and is finding it increasingly difficult to fund all its other priorities. Yet the notion that nuclear weapons represent a major burden on national security spending stands in stark contradiction to the longstanding assumption that these weapons provide “more bang for the buck.”
As then Deputy Secretary of Defense (now Secretary of Defense) Ashton Carter explained to an audience several years go, “nuclear weapons don’t actually cost that much.”
16 This apparent inconsistency stems in part from the fact that the actual cost of U.S. nuclear weapons has long been shrouded in ambiguity. For instance, in his seminal volume on nuclear weapons spending before and during the Cold War, Stephen Schwartz observed that “the United States spent vast amounts on nuclear weapons without the kind of careful and sustained debate or oversight that are essential both to democratic practice and to sound public policy.”
17 Over the past several years, however, several studies by non-governmental and governmental organizations have been released, all of which have tried to put a price tag on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Yet these studies vary widely in the assumptions they use, the costs they include, and the timeframes they assess. As a result, they reach very different conclusions. Given the complexity of the nuclear enterprise as well as the speculative nature of some modernization programs, this lack of consensus is hardly surprising.
Nor is it particularly helpful when it comes to answering the central—albeit sometimes implicit—question at the heart of these studies: how much money could the United States actually save through nuclear reductions?
The purpose of this report, therefore, is to provide an in-depth accounting of what U.S. nuclear forces cost and to explicitly address how much could potentially be saved by cutting those forces.
To do so, the remainder of the report is divided into three main chapters. Chapter 2 reviews a number of existing cost estimates and explains why they reach such different conclusions. Chapter 3 presents detailed cost estimates for U.S. forces looking out over the next two and half decades. Chapter 4 outlines and assesses a number of potential cost-savings options.
Ultimately, this report finds that the Pentagon will indeed require as much as $12–13 billion per year in additional funding to support nuclear maintenance and modernization during the 2020s, when spending on U.S. nuclear forces will peak.
At most, however, nuclear spending will still account for only 5 percent of total defense spending, even if the BCA budget caps are extended indefinitely.
Moreover, plausible options to reduce spending levels within the next five years—when the budget caps are slated to remain in effect—would only account for a small fraction of the difference between the president’s current budget proposal and existing spending caps.
In other words, nuclear reductions would not provide much savings when those savings are needed most.
*Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter at the Aspen Security Forum at Aspen, Colorado, July 18, 2013, available at:
*Stephen I. Schwartz, “Introduction,” in Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1998), p. 1.