December: This Month In Nuclear Threat History

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December: This Month In Nuclear Threat History

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December 1-12, 2014 – The United Nations Climate Change Summit, COP20/CMP10, a meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol of December 11, 1997 will be held in Lima, Peru. More than 90 percent of world climatologists, ecologists, and environmental scientists have established a strong consensus that climate change – global warming — is an ongoing human-caused catastrophe in the making. While some news media outlets, pundits, and scientists such as The New York Times, James Hansen, Tom Wigley, Ken Caldeira, and organizations like the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions have argued that nuclear power is one alternative to dirty carbon emissions generated by coal-fired plants and dirty Alberta tar sands oil burning, many other experts vehemently disagree. Distinguished climatology professor Alan Robock of Rutgers University has joined a growing chorus of voices that say ‘No’ to the ‘nuclear alternative.’ Robock and others argue that: the position that once switched on, nuclear reactors have absolutely no carbon footprint, is technically correct but factually wrong. The mining and remediation of uranium, a serious environmental and health risk, and the building of large containment domes and the accompanying support and waste storage and transportation requirements result in nuclear power carbon emissions 10-20 times that of wind power. Also, the risk of catastrophic accidents and the unsafe routine operation of nuclear plants has been seen in at least 20 major core melt events (as well as a plethora of other incidents, leaks, and shutdowns) including well-publicized accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, in addition to more obscure but deadly serious events like those that occurred at Lelieveld, Kunkel, and Lawrence.   Dealing with the tremendous amount of highly radioactive waste including reactor cores and spent fuel rods, the vulnerability of plants to terrorist targeting, and the incredible economic unsustainability of nuclear energy, represent key arguments against the so-called ‘nuclear alternative’ to global warming. But, the nuclear proliferation risk of 400+ global nuclear power plants as well as dozens of other military and research nuclear facilities may be the trump card that makes nuclear power not only a false solution to climate change, but a deadly catastrophe-in-waiting that currently threatens our global civilization’s present and future just as much if not more than global warming. (Sources: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website accessed November 7, 2014: unfccc.int/meetings/lima_dec_2014 and Alan Robock, “Nuclear Energy is Not a Solution for Global Warming.” Huffington Post Blog, May 12, 2014: www.huffingonpost.com/alan-robock/nuclear-energy-is-not-a-solution_b_5305594.html )

December 1, 1959 – In Washington, DC, the Antarctic Treaty was signed by the United States, Soviet Union, and ten other nations to internationalize and demilitarize the Antarctic continent in what became the world’s first nuclear-weapons-free-zone (NWFZ). The treaty entered into force on June 23, 1961.   This treaty was an important precedent for other follow-on treaties of a similar vein such as the January 27, 1967 Outer Space Treaty, prohibiting the placement of weapons of mass destruction in orbit, on the moon, or on any celestial body. Nuclear-weapon-free-zones were also established in Latin America (The Treaty of Tlatelolco, 1967), the South Pacific (The Raratonga Treaty, 1985), Southeast Asia (The Bangkok Treaty, 1995), Africa (The Pelindaba Treaty, 1996), and elsewhere.   (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 1-4, 62.)

December 2, 1960 – Without requesting any major revisions, President Dwight Eisenhower approved the first SIOP – Single Integrated Operational Plan – to become effective in April of 1961. One thousand ground zeroes in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, and North Korea were to be targeted with 3,423 nuclear warheads with 80 percent of those strikes directed against military sites.   The resulting fatalities were estimated to be 54 percent of the entire population of the Soviet Union and 16 percent of the People’s Republic of China with a grand total of 220 million enemy dead. The TTAPS nuclear winter study of the early 1980s and subsequent build-on analyses have proven the likelihood that if as few as several dozen nuclear warheads were exploded in a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange or even a so-called limited nuclear war, such as India vs. Pakistan, the global impact of tremendous nuclear firestorms and millions of tons of dust and debris thrown into Earth’s atmosphere by these explosions would cause a significant drop in world temperatures triggering a mass starvation. Billions would die with a strong possibility of accelerated human extinction if larger numbers of nuclear weapons were exploded.   (Source:   Eric Schlosser. “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.” New York: Penguin Press, 2013, p. 206 and Carl Sagan and Richard Turco. “A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race.” New York: Random House, 1990.)

December 8, 1987 – U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to eliminate all ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, which represented an important step toward the denuclearization of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in Europe. The treaty entered into force on June 1, 1988 and was fully implemented on June 1, 1991. Even a fervent Cold Warrior like President Reagan was able to achieve a significant nuclear arms control milestone in his last 14 months in office. Despite the ongoing Crimea-Ukraine Crisis, let’s hope that President Barack Obama, with Congressional support, can finalize an agreement to prevent the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, convince the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (reversing its October 13, 1999 51-48 vote that rejected ratification of the treaty), and push for a more accelerated Global Zero agenda. (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 2, 22.)

December 10, 1950 – In the midst of the Cold War and the Korean Conflict, William Faulkner, an American recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, in his acceptance speech at the City Hall in Stockholm on this date noted, “Our tragedy today is a general and universal fear [of the Bomb]…There is only one question – When will I be blown up?” In the Cold War era, an impressive number of politicians, educators, scientists (Thor Heyerdahl: “We must lose faith in arms as the only means of security, for this time, the risks are total”), authors, celebrities, and actors (Martin Sheen: “Until we begin to fill the jails with protest, our governments will continue to fill the silos with weapons.”), from East and West, spoke out against nuclear weapons. And while the end of the Cold War (1945-91) did bring a substantially reduced risk of nuclear war, especially in terms of popular perceptions, the danger obviously still exists.   While some believe that there are fewer public voices calling for further reductions and the near-term elimination of nuclear weapons, in fact, more and more global citizens are joining the movement.   Recently actor Michael Douglas declared, “The only way to eliminate the global nuclear danger is to eliminate all nuclear weapons.” Queen Noor of Jordan has also promoted Global Zero, “The sheer folly of trying to defend a nation by destroying all life on the planet must be apparent to anyone capable of rational thought.”   (Source: Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech of William Faulkner: www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech.html, accessed November 7, 2014 and Global Zero website accessed November 9, 2014: www.globalzero.org.)

December 18, 1974European Stars and Stripes featured an article, “Ex-GI Says He Used Hashish at German Base,” detailing Corporal Don Meyers’ comments to a Milwaukee Journal reporter while serving at the 74th U.S. Army Field Artillery detachment in the early 1970s, that almost every one of the 200 personnel in his unit were high while handling nuclear weapons. The warheads, 10 to 20 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, were deployed as the payload component for a squadron of Pershing missiles deployed on that NATO base in West Germany. While military drug use is not as serious a problem as it once was, there still exist serious concerns about U.S. and foreign military personnel’ handling of nuclear weaponry and, in broader terms, about the command and control of these potential doomsday weapons. (Source: Eric Schlosser. “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and Illusion of Safety.” New York: Penguin Press, 2013.)

December 22, 2008 – Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News TV, “The President is followed at all times by a military aide carrying the nuclear codes that he would use in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.S. He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.” While the facts about the President’s 24-7-365 access to the nuclear “football” have been well established by many news media sources as well as being dramatized on stage, in films, and on television for some time, it is nevertheless highly disconcerting to realize that miscalculation, false nuclear alerts, irrational decision-making, combined with human infallibility under the dictates of extremely short time constraints, can, despite a plethora of safeguards, fail safes, and verification protocols, credibly result in what the late Jonathan Schell (“The Fate of the Earth”) called, “A republic of insects and grass” – the possibility of human extinction. A short-term mitigating solution, until Global Zero is achieved, is to de-alert U.S., Russian, Chinese, European, Israeli, Pakistani and Indian nuclear arsenals. Give the human race at least 72 hours to think about it and change course before unleashing a nuclear Armageddon. (Source: Numerous news media outlets including Fox News and Democracy Now, 2008 to present.)

December 26, 1975 – The United States realized the implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention, signed on April 10, 1972 and ratified by the U.S., U.K., and Soviet Union on March 26, 1975, on this date when it completed the destruction of its entire stock of biological weapons.   This is one of many precedents for the hoped for future date when Global Zero successfully results in the mutually verified destruction of the last of thousands of nuclear warheads in global arsenals.   (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 100.)


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