January: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

Paul Chappell at SGI in Washington, DC
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January: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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January 5, 1991 – Shoshone native American leaders Corbin Harney and Chief Raymond Yorrell helped organize, along with other organizations such as Greenpeace, a mass protest of 3,000 people at the Nevada Test Site in response to the approximately 700 U.S. nuclear weapons tests conducted in and around Shoshone and other native peoples’ lands (of the 1,030 total U.S. nuclear test explosions conducted from 1945-1992) during the Cold War.   Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague global populations, most especially indigenous peoples, decades after over 2,000 nuclear bombs were exploded below ground or in the atmosphere by members of the Nuclear Club.  (Sources:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 24 and “3,000 Urge Test Ban,” Desert Voices:  The Newsletter of the Nevada Desert Experience, No. 9, Spring 1991, p. 3.)

January 9, 2013 – An article released on this date by Bob Brewin on Nextgov.com, “Air Force Eyes Return to Mobile Nuclear Missiles,” triggered a number of critical responses by many nuclear experts including Philip E. Coyle, former director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation division (1994-2001), and Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs (NSIA) at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)(2010-2011) who now serves as a Senior Science Fellow at The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC.   Coyle noted that, “The U.S. Air Force needs to be careful not to stir up a hornet’s nest.  Mobile basing or advanced deployment concepts could cause Russia or China to redouble their efforts on mobile basing of ICBMs and set off a new kind of arms race and weaken U.S. defenses.”  Comments:  According to numerous press accounts, including a November 10, 2014 Los Angeles Times article as well as Pentagon press releases, a new nuclear arms race has, in fact, begun.  Russia, which just tested the new Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile this autumn, is planning on spending $560 billion on military modernization over the next six years with one-fourth of that total devoted to modernizing its nuclear arsenal.  The United States, is planning to spend at least $355 billion in the next few years (although analysts like Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterey Institute point out that a more realistic price tag is likely to be a trillion dollars over the next 30 years) to upgrade its strategic forces.   China, North Korea, Pakistan, India, and presumably Israel are doing the same.  Unfortunately, these circumstances equate to an increased likelihood of a nuclear confrontation somewhere in the world, including possibly a full-scale nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia.  (Source:  W.J. Hennigan and Ralph Vartabedian.  “As U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Ages, Other Nations Have Modernized.”  Los Angeles Times.  November 10, 2014.)

January 10, 2000 – Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled a new National Security Concept which eliminated a 1997 conception that allowed for the first use of nuclear arms only “in case of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation.”  The new 2000 nuclear strategy document criticized “the attempt to create a structure of international relations based on the dominance of western countries led by the USA…with the use of military force, in violation of the fundamental norms of international law.”   It also endorsed “the use of all available means and forces, including nuclear weapons, in case of the need to repel an armed aggression when all other means of settling the crisis have been exhausted or proved ineffective.”   Comments:  Despite a formal ending to the Cold War with the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the fact that both the U.S. and Russia still possess thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert status and that those nuclear sabers have been rattled over Ukraine very recently, the world still remains highly at risk of a nuclear Armageddon.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 43.)

January 12, 1954 – President Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced the U.S. policy of massive (nuclear) retaliation “in response to communist aggression anywhere in the world…applied at places and with means of [our] own choosing.”   Comments:  While U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear deterrence is not as heavy-handed as during the heart of the Cold War in the Fifties, a nuclear confrontation between the two nations is a frighteningly real possibility today.   Therefore each nation’s leaders should join a renewed global push to eliminate all nuclear weapons before it is too late.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 27.)

January 14, 1994 – At a strategic summit meeting in Moscow, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin reaffirmed their support for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by calling for the completion of the treaty, “as soon as possible.”  Within a few years, France (January 27, 1996) and China (July 29, 1996) joined the U.S. and Russia in a nuclear test ban moratorium, the United Nations’ General Assembly voted to adopt the CTBT (158-3) on September 10, 1996, and two weeks later, the first world leaders, with President Clinton being the very first, signed the CTBT.  Britain and France became the first declared nuclear weapon states to ratify the treaty by April 6, 1998, but the U.S. Senate rejected ratification on October 13, 1999 by a 51-48 vote.  On April 21, 2000, the Russian Duma approved ratification of the CTBT by 298 votes to 74, with three abstentions.   Comments:  Despite the Ukraine-Crimea Crisis, it is hoped that the new 114th U.S. Congress will recognize that, with an extensive international monitoring system in place as well as improved national technical means of verification,  ratifying the CTBT is essential to U.S.-Russian and global strategic stability.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 16, 18-19, 20, 22.)

January 16, 1984 – In a nationally televised address, President Ronald Reagan stated, “…my dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.”  Comments:  Ten months earlier on March 23, 1983, the President expressed similar sentiments while at the same time announcing a multi-trillion dollar long-term effort to intercept ballistic missiles in the atmosphere or in outer space – the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” as media critics dubbed the plan, which triggered yet another round of destabilizing offensive and defensive nuclear weapons/missile defense developments that continue until this day.  (Source:  President Reagan’s Speech at the White House, January 16, 1984 at www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1984/11684a.htm accessed December 9, 2014.)

January 25, 1995 – The launching of a joint U.S.-Norwegian scientific sounding rocket, the Black Brant XII, weeks after Russian authorities had been notified of the impending mission, almost caused World War III!   The missile, which appeared to Russian radar technicians as matching the signature of a U.S. Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile intended to blind their defenses in preparation for a first strike, triggered a nuclear alert.  Thankfully, a sober, rational President Boris Yeltsin resisted virulent, time-urgent recommendations from at least one of his military advisers to immediately launch a nuclear counterattack.   Comments:   Hundreds of false nuclear alerts and Broken Arrow nuclear accidents over the decades since the dawn of the nuclear age, have taken the world to the edge of global catastrophe.  This state of affairs represents possibly the most powerful rationale for eliminating all global nuclear arsenals.   (Source:  CATO Policy Analysis No. 399, Dr. Geoffrey Forden, March 3, 2001.)

January 26, 2012 – President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, chaired by Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, issued its final report on this date.  The report did not address critical issues such as the tremendous threat of radioactive waste and routine nuclear reactor operations to American’s health and environmental safety (such as groundwater contamination, increased cancer risk, and the threat to the human gene pool).  It did however conclude that, “No currently available or reasonably foreseeable reactor and fuel cycle technology developments including advances in reprocessing and recycling technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenge this nation confronts over at least the next several decades if not longer.”   Comments:  The tremendously out-of-control civilian and military nuclear waste sequestration, remediation, and permanent storage conundrum, as well as the terrorist targeting potential, the economic unsustainability of civilian nuclear power, and the potential for nuclear proliferation points logically to an accelerated phase-out of global civilian nuclear power plants (with a very limited exception possibly for nuclear fusion research) over the next decade.  (Source:  Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, January 26, 2012, www.brc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/brc_finalreport_jan2012.pdf, accessed on December 9, 2014.)

January 27, 1967 – The Outer Space Treaty, prohibiting the placement of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in orbit, on the moon, or on any celestial body, was signed on this date.  The treaty entered into force on October 10, 1967.  Comments:  Although this treaty has served mankind well, there remain suspicions that orbiting nuclear weapons can be easily and quickly deployed by the U.S., Russia, and other powers.  The Russians experimented with the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) during the Cold War.  Unfortunately, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty in 2002 spawned a renewed strategic defensive race and revived asymmetrical responses such as FOBS while also accelerating a push for the modernization of U.S. and Russian strategic offensive arsenals.  As part of the Global Zero push to eliminate all nuclear weapons, the Outer Space Treaty should be broadened to prohibit the launch, transfer or deployment of WMD through the atmosphere and outer space as well.   (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 1.)


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