In the Nuclear Age, the potential exists to end civilization and destroy complex life on Earth. In the 20th century, we moved from homicide to genocide to the potential for omnicide – the death of all.
A new documentary film, Countdown to Zero, by the producers of An Inconvenient Truth, stresses one core principle of the Nuclear Age: The only safe number of nuclear weapons in the world is zero. Nuclear weapons do not make us safer; they leave us standing on the precipice of nuclear catastrophe.
What is still needed, however, is a sense of urgency and a plan to get from where we are, in a world with some 20,000 nuclear weapons, to zero.
President Obama, who favors a world without nuclear weapons, says, “This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime.” Secretary of State Clinton has says that the goal may be reached “in some century.”
In the meantime, the US continues to rely upon nuclear weapons for its security and continues to spend more than $50 billion annually on its nuclear weapons program, including modernizing its nuclear arsenal. The US plans to spend $80 billion on improving the US nuclear weapons infrastructure over the next decade and $100 billion on improving nuclear weapons delivery vehicles. That does not seem like a serious path to zero. It seems instead like a path for maintaining nuclear “superiority.”
The problem with nuclear weapons is not just that terrorists or rogue states may acquire and use them. The problem is that any state has nuclear weapons, including the nine states that currently do: US, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Nuclear weapons in any hands, including our own, pose a significant threat to humanity.
A plan to get to zero nuclear weapons will require negotiations on a new treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons. Such good faith negotiations are a requirement of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Other indicators that the US is serious about achieving zero nuclear weapons would include:
Ceasing to provide special favorable treatment to parties outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as the US-India Nuclear deal.
Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and urging other countries to do so, so that the treaty may enter into force.
Stopping to press for strategic advantage – weapons modernization, missile defenses, space weaponization, global strike force, etc.
Recognizing publicly the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal as a starting point for achieving a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East.
Taking all nuclear weapons off a quick-launch or launch-on-warning posture.
Adopting a policy of No First Use of nuclear weapons, with no exceptions, changing the current policy of reserving the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states not in compliance with the NPT.
Getting to zero will require US leadership and a sense of urgency. How is that to happen? In the way any significant change has always occurred; it will require the people to lead their leaders. That means that each of us has a role to play.
We can start by supporting ratification of New START, the new agreement between the US and Russia, lowering the number of nuclear weapons on each side to 1,550 each. This is a step in the right direction. It is a necessary step, but not sufficient.
Here are three steps you can take today to become part of the ongoing solution:
First, educate yourself. Sign up at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s website, www.wagingpeace.org, to receive our free monthly newsletter, The Sunflower.
Third, educate others. Speak out and be a force for ending complacency on this most critical of all issues confronting humanity. Encourage others to see Countdown to Zero and to also sign up for The Sunflower and the Action Alert Network at www.wagingpeace.org.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.