John Reuwer: Nuclear weapons are unneeded, unsafe

Editor’s note: This commentary is by John Reuwer, who is an adjunct professor of Conflict Resolution at St. Michael’s College and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Sept. 26 is the International Day for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. In the United States we might ask, why worry about abolishing nuclear weapons? After all, haven’t we lived with them successfully since 1945, and don’t they keep us safe from other states with nuclear weapons? No one would dare attack us since we could destroy them in retaliation, a policy known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). A deeper look beneath the shiny surface of the world of nuclear weapons gives us two important reasons that their abolition may be preferable to our ongoing acceptance of MAD.

First, the club of nuclear nations and the threat of using nuclear weapons is increasing, with only five of the current nine members signed onto the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. President Trump has said he sees no reason South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Japan should not have nuclear weapons. North Korea has threatened the U.S. with its new nuclear weapons, Pakistan and India have been openly fighting in Kashmir, China and the U.S. are fighting trade wars while conducting military exercises in the South China Sea. Russian and U.S. relations are deteriorating while each is modernizing their arsenals, including creating smaller, more usable warheads that can be delivered by stealth aircraft or cruise missiles. Arms control treaties, like the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to forestall Iranian nuclear weapons development, both of which saved us untold tax dollars and reduced the risk of disaster for all of us, are falling by the geopolitical wayside. 

Secondly, even without these new threats, the record of almost-disasters with the 70,000 or so nuclear warheads that mankind built is absolutely frightening. The Pentagon admits to 32 “Broken Arrow” incidents where someone “lost control” of warheads. In addition there have been at least six near-Armageddons. Gen. Lee Butler, former commander of all U.S. nuclear forces said we are only still here by a combination of careful planning, luck, and divine intervention. Robert McNamara said of the Cuban missile crisis, it was only luck that kept us from nuclear war. Luck makes for lousy policy. We’ve done better. Massive in-the-street support for a nuclear freeze in the 1980s, and relentless lobbying by physicians and scientists in the halls of power, led to over 75% of nuclear weapons being dismantled. But almost 15,000 remain, enough to end civilization and much life on the planet. 

We can do better. In 2017, 122 nations adopted the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, which makes the development, testing, production, possession, and transfer of nuclear weapons illegal under international law. The treaty will come into force when it is ratified by 50 nations;  27 have already done so. 

While we wait for that treaty to bring sanity to the world, we can push our government to enact policies that can immediately reduce the risk of Armageddon. The Back from the Brink campaign (BftB) calls for 1) Adopting a position of no first strike using nuclear weapons; 2) Ending the authority of any U.S. president to launch a nuclear attack; 3) taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; 4) Canceling the plan to build a new nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons; and  5) Negotiating a verifiable agreement to reduce and eliminate all nuclear arsenals. Our federal leaders are unlikely to enact these measures without a grassroots push, which luckily is already underway. Many cities and states across the U.S., have adopted resolutions calling our federal legislatures to enact these policies. In Vermont, the cities of Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski have done so already. 

To motivate support for a sane nuclear policy, it is worthwhile to educate ourselves and our neighbors about risks of nuclear weapons. There is an opportunity to do this this week by attending a screening of a new and gripping movie called “The Man Who Saved the World, about Russian missile officer Stanislaw Petrov who in 1983 was in charge of the Soviet hair-trigger alert system when all systems indicated the United States launched five missiles at the Soviet Union. By protocol, he was to initiate a retaliatory strike at the U.S., but could not bring himself to do it. It is very likely we owe this man our lives. Come see his story, and reason for hope.  

The film will be shown on Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski, and at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28 at Main Street Landing in Burlington. 

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Follow the Money Mr. Reuwer. You will see why DC is still building them. The new “Tactical”one’s are designed to fit their new F-35 aircraft. DC is itching for another fight, at the expense of “Main Street”. But first they have to impeach the President and then put someone in that’s more willing to “pull the Trigger”. With all these Nuclear Weapons around the Globe,it’s a accident/deliberate , waiting to happen.

Peter Yankowski

The distance from the top of the ivory tower obscures and blurs the view of a world of realpolitik. Undoubtedly Russia and China would agree with the thought that the United States begin to unilaterally disarm while they built arms……..Makes life simpler for them.

Image 50 or 100 million Chinese soldiers marching through a nuclear free United States as if it were Hong Kong……..What would that do to the freedoms enjoyed by those in the ivory tower?

Tim Vincent

The author makes a very convincing set of points about living under a nuclear black cloud.
BUT, consider this:
The presence of nuclear weapons has very likely prevented large scale conflict.
Skirmishes between India and Pakistan have never escalated to a full scale war.
Probably because both sides realize that would inevitably lead to a nuclear exchange.

Paul Manganiello

Thank you for writing this important commentary. We need to end this nuclear death spiral. It is hypocritical to expect countires such as Iran and N. Korea to rid themselves of developing nuclear weapons while other countries actively possess them. It is even more folly to encourage our “allies” (who in the future may be our adversaries) to development a nuclear program. The only outcome to a nuclear war today is dust. We need to take the short measures you suggest, but we need to get on board the UN ban on nuclear weapons.

Karen McIlveen1

I like Chinese, Middle Eastern and Russian culture and foods but not on a daily basis or through war. If you think many of our opponents are planning on playing nicely with us look to the past and the present for a better future.

John Greenberg

Thanks for the commentary.

Hilton Dier

There should be an international Stanislav Petrov day, and statues of the man in every major metropolitan area in the U.S. and Russia. The occasional bottlenecks in history are profound; we owe everything we know and love to one man.

The point being, we should design a system of international relations with sufficient inherent stability that it never comes down to the judgement of one man.

rosemarie jackowski

While you are laying in bed tonight remember that President Trump has the nuclear codes. Does that make you feel safer?

Glenn W Thompson

Nuclear weapons are perhaps the best deterrent to prevent another major war. No country would want to see the results.

Ken Egnaczak

Unilateral nuclear disarmament: the bb gun answer in a 44 magnum world. Nuclear weapons have been around for well over half a century. This is old technology, the genie is out of the bottle. Security comes from a balance of power, like it or not.

jeffrey Green

So let’s ban nuke weapons….do you “feel” better?….are ya’ really that naive to honestly believe that Russia, China and Iran will destroy all theirs? None of them have ever honored any “agreement”.. Besides, nuke weapons are passe’….There are all kinds of new and deadly chemical weapons…There are small “Dirty Bombs”….there is a HUGE threat of using EMP weapons….electro magnetic pulses as bombs in the atmospehe. A hit on a large scale with an EMP would cripple America for may moths….near impossible to rebuild the grid … fried…shut down all electricity…gone. And then you have the ‘Big Kahuna”….internet warfare. They already try and hack our electic grids. Imagine if LA, DC and NYC lose power for weeks on end. Or? Imagine they hack the whole US financial operational system, and Gov’t, and shut it down for a long time. Nukes are old school. They will never be used. They are World War 2 vintage!!!! EMP’s and internet are your greatest threats now. Get with the times 🙂


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