Arms Control

Nuclear security begins at home

Security begins at home. The US and Russia must begin truly dismantling their own nuclear fleets, proliferation elsewhere pales in comparison to the damage likely should these two major powers ever flex their nuclear muscle. Instead of pointing fingers elsewhere, the US should look to its own nuclear danger.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists l KENNETTE BENEDICT | 29 MARCH 2012

Everyone seems to be talking about Iran these days. Foreign affairs watchers, policy makers, and Middle East experts are all speculating about when Iran will get a nuclear bomb, about what the United States should do to stop Iran, about what the United States should and should not tolerate from Iran, and about how neighboring countries will act if Iran does succeed in making a nuclear weapon. These issues have been disputed for more than 30 years -- and regularly covered in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. But alarmist talk has lately reached a fevered pitch.

To hear some experts today, you'd think Iran was on the brink of blowing up the world. But hyper-inflated language about the danger from Iran ignores a fundamental reality: Iran has no nuclear weapons -- let alone an arsenal with the capacity to blow up the world. That dubious distinction belongs to the United States and Russia. Between them, the two nations possess nearly 19,000 nuclear weapons of all kinds, with 1,000 on each side ready to be launched from land, sea, and air within minutes of the order being given. With just one turn of the key, missileers in the United States could at this moment launch 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles with the capacity to destroy much of Russia -- including some 120 million people. 

So, why aren't the chattering classes talking about these nuclear weapons?...

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The new abolitionists: Hugh Gusterson

A thoughtful review of a less thoughtful but interesting book that seeks redemption for 5 key figures of the Cold War. The human question: can great harm be undone by late-in-life conversion to the moral high ground, has no real answer. Is it good that these pro-nuclear zealots have changed their tune and now seek global zero? Of course it is. Is it enough to excuse their contribution to the dangerous nuclear mess we find ourselves in? That is a much harder question to answer, one that many will have strong feelings about.

But, as the article says, these are not heroes of the anti-nuclear movement:

In a 400-page book that surveys the entire history of the nuclear age, less than one page is devoted to the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s. The preeminent intellectual associated with that movement, Jonathan Schell, published a book called The Abolition  in 1984. Randall Forsberg, architect of the Nuclear Freeze, is nowhere mentioned in Taubman's book; nor is Helen Caldicott, the movement's most prophetic figure... the movement led by Forsberg, Caldicott, and other activists helped shift the national discourse on nuclear weapons, making the near-breakthrough of Reykjavik possible.

These are men who were part of the problem having a "McNamara" moment. The true heroes, some dead now, some still hard at it, don't always get the credit they deserve for standing between the bomb and the total destruction of life on this planet. They, and the legacy they leave, are still out there - warning the world we must end nuclear danger. They are not in this book, but they are out in the world, standing firm, speaking truth to power. Look for them there, even while you read this book showing that the moral imperative may be stronger, after all, than human weakness, fear, and love of power.

Hugh Gusterson l Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  30 March, 2012

Philip Taubman's new book, The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb, recounts the story of five front-rank Cold Warriors who have become nuclear abolitionists in their old age. They are: Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon's national security adviser and secretary of state, 85; George Schultz, President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, 88; Bill Perry, President Bill Clinton's secretary of defense, 82; Sam Nunn, former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 72; and Sidney Drell, a scientific adviser to the US government and physics professor at Stanford University, 85. In their professional careers, each contributed in important ways to the nuclear arms race.

Kissinger dismissed arms controllers' attempts to prevent the "MIRVing" of nuclear missiles (putting nuclear weapons on intercontinental ballistic missiles). At key points in the Vietnam War and the Yom Kippur War, he signaled a US willingness to use nuclear weapons. And, as an academic, Kissinger sought to make nuclear threats more credible.

Schultz went on live national television to defend the Reagan administration's nuclear arms buildup immediately following ABC's broadcast of the movie The Day After, a nuclear war docudrama viewed by almost 100 million Americans. And, at the 1986 Reykjavik summit between Reagan and the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev, Schultz whispered to Reagan, "You are right," when Reagan rebuffed an offer to abolish nuclear weapons because it would also have restricted work on missile defense (Taubman, 257).

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Where Does Nuclear Disarmament Go From Here?

Huffington Post l Lawrence WittnerLawrence Wittner
  4 January, 20100


With U.S. Senate ratification of the New START treaty on December 22, supporters of nuclear disarmament won an important victory. Signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev last April, the treaty commits the two nations to cut the number of their deployed strategic (i.e. long-range) nuclear warheads to 1550 each -- a reduction of 30 percent in the number of these weapons of mass destruction. By providing for both a cutback in nuclear weapons and an elaborate inspection system to enforce it, New START is the most important nuclear disarmament treaty for a generation.

Nevertheless, the difficult battle to secure Senate ratification indicates that making further progress on nuclear disarmament will not be easy. Treaty ratification requires a positive vote by two-thirds of the Senate and, to secure the necessary Republican support, Obama promised nearly $185 billion over the next decade for "modernizing" the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex and nuclear weapons delivery vehicles. Even with this enormous concession to nuclear enthusiasts -- a hefty "bribe," in the view of unhappy arms control and disarmament organizations -- Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican point man on the issue, continued to oppose New START and ultimately voted against it. So did most other Republican Senators, including Mitch McConnell (Senate Republican leader) and John McCain (the latest Republican presidential candidate). Leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, including Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, also opposed the treaty. As a result, New START squeaked through the Senate by a narrow margin. With six additional Republicans entering the Senate in January, treaty ratification will become much harder.

So where do the possibilities for progress on nuclear disarmament lie in the future?

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Government Report: Rich White Men Are Most Likely to Survive Nuclear Blast

It's hard to know whether to laugh or to cry at this hard look at the surreal protocols recommended in the new government pamphlet- “Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation." There is something so appallingly cynical in suggesting a nuclear attack would be, according to the pamphlet, pretty much survivable. As long as you quickly hid in the middle of a building... that wasn't on fire... for a day, or two, or maybe longer. Oh, and remembered to brush off your clothes. Or, just removed them.

There would be no way to communicate after a nuclear blast, no co-ordinated rescue, no adequate medical treatment. To suggest otherwise is simply politics. And even though many fall into the preferred survival category of "rich, white men," a nuclear blast would not spare the Republicans who held the New Start Treaty hostage until they got $billions to "refurbish" our nuclear arsenal. The one we are supposedly getting rid of.

Nuclear war spares no-one. Especially not the survivors. We need real nuclear disarmament. No more lies about "duck and cover." And an end to the ungovernable proliferation danger of continued use of nuclear power.

Truthout-Alternet l Ira Chernus 17 December, 2010

Good news! You’ve got a pretty good chance of surviving a terrorist’s nuclear blast in your city -- especially if you’re a rich white man. Women, ethnic minorities and lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to be “stricken by psychiatric disorders,” and once they start going crazy they’re less likely to survive.

That’s just one of the startling revelations in the new second edition of “Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation,” a 130-page report produced, thanks to your tax dollars, by the Obama administration's National Security Staff Interagency Policy Coordination Subcommittee for Preparedness and Response to Radiological and Nuclear Threats. (I’m not making this up, honest.)

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Read the pamphlet:

Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation

How to Survive a Nuclear Attack

Shelter in place for how long exactly? And who will be there to provide accurate information? Notice that the example of people outside L.A. carefully avoids mentioning people in L.A.

One of the unspoken problems of the aftermath of a nuclear bombing is the same as in a nuclear accident- it's not that evacuation plans don't exist, it's that they are not implementable. There is no realistic expectation of avoiding massive casualties in the event of a nuclear attack, or a nuclear meltdown. It is irresponsible, as we struggle to get the Republican side of the government to accept the necessary goal of nuclear disarmament, to suggest that staying inside your home or an office building will really protect you in the long run.

Instead of handing out misleading panaceas to reassure americans that nuclear attacks are survivable, we should put our focus on preventing them by working towards peaceful solutions to the problems facing us.

CBSNews l 16 december, 2010

Touching on a subject most people prefer to avoid, the Obama administration is planning to educate the public about dealing with the effects of a nuclear bomb. 

"We have to get past the mental block that says it's too terrible to think about," W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agencytold the New York Times. "We have to be ready to deal with it." 


Martin Hellman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford and co-inventor of public key cryptography, who has been focusing on nuclear deterrence for the past 25 years, said that a baby born today, with an expected lifetime of 80 years, faces a greater than 50-50 chance that a nuclear weapon attack will occur unless the number of weapons and available weapons-grade material is radically reduced. 

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Senate agrees to take up New START treaty

Los Angeles Times l Michael Muskal     December 15, 2010

Debate on the proposed nuclear arms treaty with Russia is to begin today, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says the reading of every word of the bill aloud, as some Republicans had threatened as a stalling tactic, is not essential. Earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the threat 'a new low in putting political stunts ahead of our national security.'

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Jury Reaches Verdict in Disarm Now Plowshares Trial

Please support them in anyway you can. This is the time to make your voices heard. It is time to see the dawn of a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Disarm Now Plowshares: News Release

Tacoma, Washington, Monday, December 13, 2010: 

The federal criminal trial of five veteran peace activists that began December 7 ended today after the jury found them guilty on all counts. The five defendants, called the Disarm Now Plowshares, challenged the legality and morality of the US storage and use of thermonuclear missiles by Trident nuclear submarines at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base outside Bremerton Washington.

In their defense the peace activists argued three points: the nuclear missiles at Bangor are weapons of mass destruction; those weapons are both illegal and immoral; and that all citizens have the right and duty to try to stop international war crimes from being committed by these weapons of mass destruction.

The five were charged with trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property and felony conspiracy to damage property. Each defendant faces possible sentences of up to ten years in prison...

...eight Trident nuclear submarines home ported at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor each carry 24 Trident D-5 nuclear missiles. Each missile carries up to eight warheads, each one having an explosive yield of up to 475 kilotons, over 30 times the destructive force of the weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Additionally, Bangor is home to SWFPAC where nuclear warheads are stored ready for deployment.  Located just 20 miles west of Seattle, it is home to the largest single stockpile of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, housing more than 2000 nuclear warheads.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the 2,364 nuclear warheads at Bangor are approximately 24 percent of the entire U.S. arsenal, more than the combined nuclear warheads than China, France, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan.

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Public Mobilization for a Nuclear-Free World

FPIF3977645942_ea770d55fc.jpgLawrence Wittner has written a wake-up call article about nuclear disarmament. He points out, that while there is a lot of discussion, there is little real action happening around it. 

"Global public opinion is strikingly antinuclear. In December 2008, an opinion poll conducted of more than 19,000 respondents in 21 nations found that, in 20 countries, large majorities — ranging from 62 to 93 percent — favored an international agreement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Even in Pakistan, the one holdout nation, 46 percent (a plurality) would support such an agreement. Among respondents in the nuclear powers, there was strong support for nuclear abolition. This included 62 percent of the respondents in India, 67 percent in Israel, 69 percent in Russia, 77 percent in the United States, 81 percent in Britain, 83 percent in China and 87 percent in France."   

A growing number of people world-wide support the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons, but the activism of earlier decades is largely missing. One of the most telling points he makes is that this public support must be not only strengthened, but re-activated. He suggests that people need to be reminded of the true issues surrounding nuclear weapons:

Nuclear weapons are suicidal.

There are no safe havens from a nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons possession does not guarantee security.

There is a significant possibility of accidental nuclear war

As long as nuclear weapons exist, there will be a temptation to use them.

His point is well taken.

New Terms for a Common Understanding of De-Alerting: Launch Before or After Nuclear Detonation

Our new Board Member, Steven Starr, and others have written a paper the lack of a common understanding in the issue of de-alerting nuclear weapons. This is important. Clarity is the first step towards understanding and coming to a consensus.


The discussion of de-alerting has been complicated by the absence of a common understanding and description of how the United States and the Russian Federation might employ their nuclear arsenals during the initial phases of a nuclear exchange. A resulting lack of universally agreed terminology has hindered diplomatic efforts to lower the operational status of nuclear forces and thus reduce the possibility of accidental, unauthorized or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons.

The authoritative report, Reframing Nuclear De-Alert (published in 2009 by the EastWest Institute and sponsored by the governments of Switzerland and New Zealand)made it clear that differences in language and translation, combined with military secrecy, have created a confusion of definitions and terms even among experts. Thus the report made its first objective, ". . . to define the issue to reconcile differing views of the de-alert concept that may themselves hinder attempts to reduce the readiness of nuclear weapons."

What's Next for the Nuclear Disarmament Movement?

Lawrence S. Wittner  |  Foreign Policy in Focus 

"...from the standpoint of the activist groups that had pulled together the popular mobilization for nuclear abolition, the NPT conference resolution was a serious disappointment. Highlighting the fact that the resolution largely restated past commitments, many leading activists emphasized its failure to break new ground.

"This is an action plan for treading water," observed Jackie Cabasso, a key figure in the UFPJ disarmament group. Similarly, the Abolition Caucus of NGOs argued that "the gap between reassuring rhetoric about nuclear disarmament and real programs to rid the world of nuclear weapons" remained "unacceptably wide." Even so, noted John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, "the voices of civil society and of a growing number of countries were heard louder than ever," and "these voices will not be stilled."


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Nuclear Power is not the Answer