This article was originally published by Truthout.
Everyone can agree that chemical weapons are terrible weapons. When used, they kill indiscriminately and cause their victims to suffer and die horrible deaths. The use of chemical weapons in Syria resulted in US threats to strike the Syrian regime with cruise missiles. Fortunately, this response to the use of chemical weapons was averted, as it might well have caused even more death, injury and displacement for the Syrian people. With pressure from their ally, Russia, the Syrian government agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and turn over its stock of chemical weapons for destruction.
Chemical weapons are dangerous and deadly weapons, but they are not the worst weapons created by humans. By any measure, the worst weapons are nuclear weapons. They kill by blast, fire and radiation, and they are capable of causing a nuclear winter and sending the globe into an ice age. Even the two relatively small nuclear weapons (by today’s standards) used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki each thoroughly destroyed a city. The nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima killed some 90,000 people immediately and 145,000 by the end of 1945. The nuclear weapon dropped on Nagasaki killed some 40,000 people immediately and 75,000 by the end of 1945.
People are continuing to die from the effects of the use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also from the radiation released by the atmospheric and underground testing of far more powerful nuclear weapons subsequently. The effects of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either time or space. They are weapons that cause stillborn births and birth defects in succeeding generations, as well as genetic mutations. Like chemical weapons, they are weapons that violate international humanitarian law, the law of warfare, because they cannot discriminate between soldiers and civilians and they cause unnecessary suffering.
So, with last-minute collaboration by the US and Russia, the unexpected outcome was that Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons. This demonstrates the power of the US and Russia working cooperatively on solving global problems. Of course, there are many more such problems to work through, including pollution of the oceans and atmosphere, climate change, human rights abuses, starvation, epidemic diseases and the list goes on. There is not a single serious global problem that can be solved by any one nation alone, no matter the strength of its military power.
Further, the unexpected success in Syria opens the door to moving from chemical weapons to nuclear weapons. There is an obstacle, though, with nuclear weapons, and that is that the foxes are guarding the nuclear hen houses. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, Russia, France and China) are the initial five states to develop nuclear arsenals, to test these weapons and to threaten their use. They are also the five nuclear weapon states designated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty that have agreed to negotiate in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.
Understanding that the US and Russia aren’t pursuing their own nuclear disarmament obligations with the same vigor that they are pursuing Syria to give up its chemical weapons, it makes sense that they need pressure from below, from their citizens as well as from people throughout the world, to take the lead in ending the nuclear weapons threat to humanity. Join us at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in putting pressure on the US and Russia to lead the world in negotiating in good faith for a Nuclear Weapons Convention (similar to the Chemical Weapons Convention) to ban nuclear weapons and set forth a plan for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of all nuclear weapons.
On the way to that goal, and as a follow-up to their success with Syria, it would be a large step forward for the US and Russia to throw their weight behind a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone, long a goal of the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The possibilities for US-Russian cooperation for a more decent world order are exciting. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to fan these sparks of hope.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). His most recent book is ZERO: The Case for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.