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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
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.