November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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November 1, 1952 – The U.S. exploded its first thermonuclear device, code-named “Ivy Mike,” near the island of Elugelab in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  It produced a yield of approximately 10 megatons – more than 700 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  The blast left a crater deeper than the height of the Empire State Building.  Today, the victims of dozens of nuclear tests in the Pacific, evacuated and removed from their ancestral lands, then returned sometimes prematurely to suffer serious health and environmental impacts, have banded together with anti-nuclear scholars, activists, and sympathetic legal authorities to file the Nuclear Zero lawsuits against the nine members of the Nuclear Club.  In April of 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed the lawsuits against the nuclear armed powers, including the United States, in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands and in U.S. district court in San Francisco.  The resolutions, alleging that the nuclear powers have not fulfilled their international nuclear disarmament promises, have been endorsed by many governments, prominent individuals, and organizations including the June 23, 2014 Statement of Support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 5 and “The Sunflower Newsletter” produced by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Issue #204, July 2014, www.wagingpeace.org)

November 7-8, 1991 – As a result of a nuclear review announced in the July 1990 London Declaration, NATO unveiled a new strategic concept which specifically stated that, “the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated by [NATO] are remote.”  Comments:  Despite the later elimination of the Soviet Warsaw Pact anti-NATO alliance and accommodations made between NATO and Russia in the subsequent post-Cold War years, today both the Alliance and Russia still deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, which credibly might be inadvertently used by unauthorized individuals during ongoing crises such as the Ukraine-Crimea dispute of 2013-14.   False alerts might also trigger the unexpected use of these weapons, again during especially tense crisis situations occurring near the borders of Russia and NATO.   These factors explain the critical need to completely denuclearize Europe and the region.   (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 35.)

November 9, 1979 – In the so-called “Training Tape Incident,” computers at NORAD’s National Military Command Center at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex as well as at the Alternate National Military Command Center at Fort Ritchie, Maryland showed that a massive Soviet missile attack had been launched against the United States triggering the U.S. land-based ICBM force to go on immediate alert and the president’s “doomsday plane” to be launched.  Thankfully, Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites were unable to confirm the fictional Soviet missile launches.  It was later determined that a training tape had inadvertently been loaded into NORAD’s computers.  TASS, the official Soviet press agency later criticized the error, warning that, “another such episode could have irreparable consequences for the whole world.”  (Source:   Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013.)

November 15, 1957 – “We are facing a danger unlike any danger that has ever existed!” warned a full-page advertisement in the New York Times.  The warning was pronounced by a newly created organization – The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) which was launched on this date.   By the summer of 1958, SANE grew to 130 chapters with 25,000 members and by the 1960s and 1970s the organization expanded its membership significantly.  In November 1987, SANE merged with the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign to form SANE/FREEZE (later called Peace Action).  Norman Cousins and Clarence Pickett were the first chairman and co-chairman, respectively, of the organization (1957-64).  Later chairman and directors included many prominent scholars and thinkers including Seymour Melman and Sanford Gottlieb, among others.  The latter went on to become the narrator of the Center for Defense Information’s documentary public television series:  “America’s Defense Monitor” which produced programs that explored anti-nuclear themes, military overspending, as well as the peaceful resolution of conflict.    (Source:  SANE, Inc. Records [Document Group 58] housed at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania accessed online on October 7, 2014.)

November 19, 2013 – The Dutch parliament adopted a resolution “to end the nuclear task,” in other words, to eliminate all NATO stocks of deployed or stored tactical or strategic nuclear weapons located on the territory of The Netherlands by the year 2023.  Comments:  Europeans are increasingly recognizing that nuclear deterrence may not be as stabilizing and permanent as they have been lead to believe by NATO and U.S. “experts.”  Increasingly, the momentum to denuclearize their national territories and circumvent a possible nuclear conflict, nuclear terrorist attack including the use of “dirty bombs,” or even a catastrophic nuclear accident, is growing.  (Source:  IKV, Pax Christi, “Netherlands Now on the Unstoppable Path toward Denuclearization.”  November 2013.)

November 21-22, 1975 – The aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, commanded by Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr. (who later became one of the directors of the Center for Defense Information, an organization that opposed excessive military expenditures and supported nuclear weapons reductions including Global Zero) and the cruiser Belknap collided off the coast of Sicily creating fires on both ships that killed eight sailors.   Admiral Carroll quickly declared a Broken Arrow nuclear incident when it was discovered that nuclear weapons were present on both ships.  The fires reportedly burned within 40 feet of several W-45 nuclear warheads, a weapon to be deployed on the Terrier SAM missile.  Although technical failsafe safeguards most probably would have prevented a nuclear explosion from occurring, had those warheads been engulfed by fire a conventional explosive detonation would have ruptured the warhead casings resulting in the radioactive contamination of the vessel.  This is yet another example of countless instances of nuclear accidents and incidents occurring during the last 70 years of the nuclear era. (Source:  Andrew Rosenthal.  “Fire Threatened A Ship’s A-Bombs.”  New York Times, May 25, 1989.)

November 24, 1961 – The United Nations General Assembly’s 16th Session declared in Resolution No. 1653 that, “any state using nuclear or thermonuclear weapons is to be considered as violating the charter of the United Nations, acting contrary to the law of humanity, and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”  (Source:  Documents of the U.N. General Assembly, www.un.org/documents/ga/res/16/ares16.htm  accessed October 7, 2014.)

November 29, 2007 – The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. had not given Pakistanis the technology to prevent unauthorized use of any of its then estimated arsenal of 50-60 nuclear warheads.   This technology, known as Permissive Action Links or PALs, had been used to safeguard U.S. nuclear weapons since the 1960s and 1970s.  U.S. Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, “I don’t see any indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy.”   But, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, a large source of scientists for the Pakistani nuclear program, said, “It’s a source of worry that secret institutions are seized with religious fervor.”   Comments:  Because of extreme secrecy and lack of transparency regarding global nuclear weapons, it is not credibly known whether this information was, in fact, true.  It is even possible that this state of affairs exists today, at least for some of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.   (Source:  Peter Wonacott.  “Inside Pakistan’s Drive to Guard Its A-Bombs.”  Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2007.)

November 30, 1950 – After Chinese entry into the Korean War, U.S. President Harry Truman threatened nuclear retaliation at a news conference on this date:  “There has always been active consideration of its [A-Bomb] use.  I don’t want to see it used.  It is a terrible weapon and it should not be used on innocent men, women, and children who have nothing to do with this military aggression.”  Comments:  But President Truman didn’t equivocally rule out the future use of the Bomb and presidential threats to use nuclear weapons continued into the Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, and other presidential administrations.  (Source:  Craig Nelson.  The Age of Radiance.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2014, p. 244.)


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