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The Nuclear Peril
T he Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set its doomsday clock to seven minutes before midnight on February 27, 2002. Despite the growing precipitous nuclear crisis since, the clock remains unchanged. The doomsday clock represents the global level of nuclear danger and has been as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the “United States and Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within 9 months of one another” and as far away as 17 minutes in December 1990 when it was redesigned to reflect democratic movements in Eastern Europe signaling the end of the Cold War. Nuclear armageddon still hangs over civilization.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is overly optimistic in leaving the clock at seven minutes to midnight, given the Bush administration’s wanton disregard and reckless withdrawal from important nuclear arms treaties, which manage the risk of nuclear war; the proliferation of nuclear weapons and fissionable material; and the irrational blueprint for the increase and miniaturization of nuclear warheads. The purpose of building smaller but still very powerful warheads is to expand the scope of their usage to any war or pseudo war waged by the U.S. In addition, the United States is embarking on a program to weaponize space that will only provoke potential competitors such as China to add to their own arsenals. The Bush energy policy of transferring dependence on oil to nuclear power poses a number of risks, including a nuclear power plant breakdown, disposal of nuclear waste, and the creation of additional targets for terrorists. One of the least understood perils of nuclear proliferation is the high probability of a nuclear accident as reflected in the number of accidents that have occurred to date but have not yet resulted in the detonation of a nuclear weapon. Primarily because of the actions of the Bush administration, the doomsday clock should be at two minutes to midnight.
The Clock is Ticking
t could be argued that during
the Cold War when both the U.S. and USSR were scrambling to build
bigger and more powerful nuclear warheads and more accurate delivery
systems, the risk was greater than today. During the Cold War, both
the Soviet Union and the United States possessed an absurd overkill
capacity, which spawned the bizarre and demented concept of Mutually
Assured Destruction (MAD) whereby no side would launch a first strike
for fear of massive retaliation. The primary chink in the armor
of MAD was an effort by the United States to build a first strike
capability, that forced both sides to accelerate the decisionmaking
process about whether to push the nuclear button. The new system
was largely automated and was referred to as launchonwarning. The
argument that the world is safer today than during the Cold War
is meretricious because both the U.S. and Russia still have an overkill
capacity and continue to be on a launchonwarning basis with the
additional risk of an aging Russian system that is in a state of
It is impossible to assess the extent to which the various treaties and conventions have reduced the risk of nuclear war, but both sides have partially adhered to the arms control regimes to avoid the menace of annihilation. However, President Bush has already demonstrated his belief that international laws are optional when U.S. interests are at stake. He has also clearly exhibited his contempt for some of the most important arms control treaties whose purpose has been to protect human civilization from the scourge of nuclear war.
During the Cold War, the U.S. and USSR signed the AntiBallistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which prohibited the development and deployment of defensive systems, with the exception that each country was allowed one location, presumably to protect their capital city. The principle of the ABM Treaty has been to avoid the inevitable increase in the nuclear arsenals on both sides in an attempt to overcome the other side’s defensive system.
On June 13, 2002 “Dr. Strangebush” officially withdrew from the ABM Treaty declaring that it impeded the ability of the United States to defend itself from an InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) attack. U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty was in preparation for developing and deploying a Nuclear Missile Defense (NMD). The U.S. government planned to convey to the Chinese that they would not object to China expanding its arsenal as a counterweight to a U.S. missile defense system if China would not object to the U.S. NMD.
Without the ABM Treaty and with the U.S. intention of ignoring the Outer Space Treaty (OST), there is no obstacle to the weaponization of space. The weaponization of space will only provoke other nuclear powers to devise a nuclear strategy to overcome a U.S. defensive system and avoid being at the mercy of the American arsenal. Therefore, abandoning the ABM Treaty and the Outer Space Treaty will lead to a further buildup of nuclear warheads.
A further danger in rescinding the ABM Treaty and deploying weapons in space is the threat posed to Russian spacedbased early warning systems. With U.S. weapons in space, the Russians will be fearful of the vulnerability of their spacedbased monitoring systems resulting in a more nervous trigger finger. The withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and Outer Space Treaty moves the clock to six minutes to midnight.
The lynchpin of the arms treaties regime to guard against nuclear war has been the NonProliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits nonnuclear signatory states from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the five official nuclear powers committing to a reduction in their arsenals. It prohibits nuclear states from transferring nuclear components, devices, and technology to nonnuclear states. Although the United States has not withdrawn from the NPT, it has violated it in significant ways.
In 2000 the NPT Review Conference committed to an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Although a majority of member states at the 2005 NPT conference were seeking an agreement to completely dismantle all nuclear weapons based on the 2000 conference, the U.S. obstructed any progress towards that goal by impeding development of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and 13 other steps to achieve nuclear disarmament. According to David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, “Current U.S. nuclear policy comes down on the side of an indefinite commitment to nuclear weapons.”
A nother deterrent to the development of new weapons and ensuring the reliability of old ones is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all testing of nuclear weapons in order to prevent further developments in weapons technology and specifically the miniaturization of warheads. The miniaturization of weapons would widen the scope of possible usage of nuclear devices to include, for example, the destruction of underground facilities such as the nuclear reactors in Iran. To test these new weapons, the United States and France have developed a sophisticated computer system that allows either country to redesign weapons without an actual physical test.
Although it doesn’t violate the letter of the CTBT, the decision by Congress to launch the Reliable Warhead Replacement program violates its spirit. By developing more sophisticated and miniaturized nuclear warheads, the U.S. is precipitating further development of nuclear technologies by both nuclear and nonnuclear states. Violating the spirit of the CTBT and developing new weapons moves the clock to four minutes to midnight.
With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. had no justification for expanding and upgrading its nuclear arsenal, yet every year the government has spent billions of dollars enhancing its nuclear capability. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists , “As of January 2006, the U.S. stockpile contains almost 10,000 nuclear warheads…. The Defense Department is upgrading its nuclear strike plans to reflect new presidential guidance and a transition of war planning from the topheavy Single Integrated Operational Plan of the Cold War to a family of smaller and more flexible strike plans designed to defeat today’s adversaries.” Bush’s nuclear policy reflects a severely distorted and inaccurate perspective of the global nuclear configuration where only Russia, which is no longer an enemy, even remotely approaches the strength of the U.S. arsenal. It would be suicide for any nation to launch even the feeblest of nuclear attacks against the United States.
The threat of a nuclear accident is possibly the greatest threat to catastrophe. The complexity and number of mechanical, electronic and chemical components in a nuclear arsenal creates the potential for human error. There have been a frightenly large number of near misses, many of which could have moved the doomsday clock to zero. Consider the following accidents (as reported in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , 2006):
- February 1958 at Greenham Common airbase, England, a U.S. Air Force B47 jettisoned two 1,700gallon wingtip fuel tanks just missing a parked B47 armed with nuclear weapons
- February 1958 near Savannah, Georgia, a B47 armed with a nuclear weapon collided with an F86 fighter plane and jettisoned its bomb just before making a landing
- January 16, 1961 an F100 armed with a thermonuclear weapon caught fire scorching the nuclear weapon before it was extinguished
- January 1968 the Defense Department announced that between 1958 and 1968, there had been 13 major aircraft accidents involving nuclear weapons
- In 1973 a Sandia Laboratories report stated that between 1950 and 1968 there had been a total of 1,250 nuclear weapons accidents of varying severity, including cases where the bombs’ conventional high explosives had been detonated
- November 1977 in West Germany, a U.S. Army CH47 helicopter carrying nuclear weapons crashed after takeoff
- Since 1988, 96 U.S. nuclear warhead accidents have been reported
With 27,000 warheads deployed in so many countries, it is virtually inevitable that human or nonhuman error will eventually be responsible for a nuclear accident. Any nuclear accident would be a catastrophe of major proportions, but an accident that triggers a nuclear exchange could precipitate nuclear winter and would sentence life on earth to a very painful death. The possibility of nuclear accidents moves the doomsday clock to two minutes to midnight.
The tragic commentary of an arms buildup, and the nuclear arms buildup in particular, is that leaders in most nations and institutions lack the ability to transcend the historical tendency to resolve disputes by force to a higher plane where negotiations, cooperation, and compromise replace force as the means to settle differences.
It is ironic that Albert Einstein, the person who discovered the theory that led to nuclear weapons, warned that, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”
David Model has been a professor of political science, economics, and sociology for 31 years at Seneca College, King Campus, in Toronto. He has published three books: Lying For Empire: How To Commit War Crimes With A Straight Face (Common Courage Press), People Before Profits: Reversing the Corporate Agenda ( Captus Press), and Corporate Rule: Understanding and Challenging the New World Order (Black Rose Books).
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.