April: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

By |2015-03-31T16:19:48-07:00March 31, 2015|

April 3, 1978 – Norwegian scholar and explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), as a protest against warfare and the nuclear threat, particularly in the Middle East, burned his reed ship “Tigris” after his fourth and final transoceanic voyage, in which his crew of ten sailed from the Tigris River to the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, and back, some 4,200 miles in five months.  Afterward, at a press conference he stated, “We must wake up to the insane reality of our time.  We are all irresponsible unless we demand from the responsible decision makers that modern armaments must no longer be made available to people whose former battle axes and swords our ancestors condemned.  Our planet is bigger than the reed bundles that have carried us across the seas, and yet small enough to run the same risks unless those of us alive open our eyes and minds to the desperate need of intelligent collaboration to save ourselves and our common civilization from what we are about to convert into a sinking ship.”  (Source:  Heyerdahl Burns “Tigris” Reed Ship to Protest War.”  Azerbaijan International, Spring 2003.  http://www.azer.com accessed March 6, 2015.)

April 5, 2009 – In a speech in Prague, the newly elected, first ever African-American President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced his administration “is seeking a world without nuclear weapons.”  The rhetoric was stirring and powerful:  “If we believe the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then we’re admitting that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.”   Comments:  While several other U.S. presidents, including most prominently Jimmy Carter, have pronounced similar sentiments, either while in office or after leaving the presidency, President Obama’s speech was so heralded globally, that he later won the Nobel Peace Prize.  However, as the years passed since this speech, it became clear that the President has not followed through on this promise.  His overall record in the Global Zero imperative is not particularly impressive.  His administration’s nuclear cooperation agreement with India, a continued embrace of dangerous, cost-ineffective, and environmentally hazardous civilian nuclear power (which does actually generate greenhouse gases during the production and decommissioning phases of plant operations, in addition to representing a deadly proliferation and terrorism risk), and the unwillingness to de-alert a small portion of the U.S. nuclear triad as a challenge to Russia to follow suit, are just some of the examples of these failures.  In an era when new, more efficient and entirely reliable international sensing technologies make verification 100 percent certain, it is extremely disappointing that the President has not pushed for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed by President Clinton in 1996 and ratified by the Russian Duma thereafter.   This administration has not lobbied for a fissile materials cutoff agreement, or pushed the envelope for more accelerated strategic warhead reductions below the 1,550 level of the 2010 new START I Treaty.  While President Obama has held nuclear security summits and resisted calls to bomb North Korean or alleged Iranian nuclear weapons sites, he has recently surrendered to neo-con hardliner’s calls to spend a trillion dollars or more by 2045 to build a new generation of nuclear weapons including new launch platforms, upgrade the nuclear laboratories, and generally continue the seventy year old nuclear arms race along with Russia and China.  (Source:  “Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague.”  April 5, 2009.  http://www.whitehouse.gov accessed March 6, 2015.)

April 7, 1958 – Four years after announcing the U.S. policy of massive retaliation, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was concerned that the U.S. had become “prisoners of our strategic concept” and “caught in a vicious circle.”  It was the beginning of a U.S. strategic shift of a new, less provocative policy of flexible response and counterforce strategy.   Yet, key military leaders thought that the current strategy hadn’t gone far enough.   General Curtis LeMay, head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC), wanted to deploy higher yield nuclear warheads on his aircraft – a sixty megaton bomb as powerful as 4,000 Hiroshima-sized weapons.   (Source:  Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.” New York:  Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 199-202.)

April 11, 1950 – Thirteen crew members aboard a U.S. B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber died when the plane crashed near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico shortly after takeoff.  The aircraft was carrying a nuclear warhead with its core component stored separately.  On impact a fire destroyed the outer casing of the bomb and its high explosives detonated when exposed to the burning fuel.   Comments:  This is just one of dozens of acknowledged as well as a potentially greater number of still classified nuclear accidents and Broken Arrows that have occurred involving the arsenals of the Nuclear Club nations.  (Source:  Aerospace Web, http://www.aerospaceweb.org accessed March 8, 2015.)

April 11, 1963 – Pope John XXIII, in an encyclical pronouncement, “Pacem in Terris,” stated that, “Nuclear weapons must be banned…While it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance…Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race.”  (Source:  “Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ of John XXIII” http://w2.vatican.va accessed March 6, 2015.)

April 13, 2014 – At a press conference in Berlin, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the world has 15 years to stave off a devastating, inevitable, and deadly catastrophe caused by decades of continuing human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.   Comments:  Relying on increased use of flawed, dangerous, economically and environmentally unsustainable civilian nuclear power, instead of pushing for a dramatic increases in green energy sources like geothermal, solar, and wind power, as a solution to global warming, is analogous to arguing that human security is enhanced by ever-growing arsenals of nuclear weapons.  For Global Zero to be successful, the nuclear threat represented not only by nuclear weapons and their proliferation but also by civilian nuclear power, must be eliminated.  The nuclear peace dividend from this effort will not only be enough to clean-up thousands of global nuclear contamination zones but also to immediately increase government and nongovernment funding on accelerated global warming reversal.   Putting some of our eggs in the “nuclear basket” is not a viable insurance policy when it comes to climate change.   It is, in fact, a suicide pact.   (Source:  “Fifteen Year Climate Countdown.”  http://www.350nyc.org/15-year-climate-countdown accessed on March 6, 2015.)

April 22, 2008 – On ABC-TV’s Good Morning America program, U.S. presidential candidate (and later President Obama’s Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton pledged that if Iran launched a nuclear attack on Israel, the U.S. would retaliate against the Iranians, “In the next ten years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”  Comments:  Risky, high-profile nuclear saber-rattling persists among leaders, American and otherwise, many of whom have also publicly professed a desire to see nuclear weapons eliminated some day.  But it is clear that such nuclear threats sabotage short- and long-term global efforts to build confidence that a world without nuclear weapons will include all nations without exception (even the closest U.S. ally – Israel) in a world that is also without war as a means to settle disputes.  (Source:  David Morgan.  “Clinton Says U.S. Could ‘Totally Obliterate’ Iran.”  Reuters News, April 22, 2008.  http://www.reuters.com accessed March 6, 2015.)

April 24, 2014 – The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), located in the Pacific Ocean region, an area of the world where hundreds of nuclear weapons tests were conducted by the U.S., Great Britain, and France for half a century, 1946-96, brought a lawsuit against the nine nuclear-armed nations at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court, as well as in U.S. federal district court in northern California.   The lawsuit accused members of the Nuclear Club of violating their obligations under international law to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and to commit to total nuclear disarmament under the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other multilateral agreements.   While the case is still pending in the ICJ, on February 13, 2015 George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Jeffrey White granted the U.S. motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the RMI, although a party to the NPT, lacked standing to bring the case and that the lawsuit was barred by the political question doctrine.  Comments:   Fortunately, the history of jurisprudence illustrates that it is often true that judicial rulings lag behind public sentiment.   A growing global consensus that nuclear weapons represent a clear and present danger to the human species may yet convince those in charge to acknowledge their catastrophic violation of international legal norms and reverse course before it is too late.  It’s just a question of when.  (Sources:  NAPF’s Sunflower Newsletter and various news media outlets.)

April 25, 1982 – In a New York Times Magazine article, retired U.S. Admiral Noel Gaylor warned that, “Everyone understands that nuclear weapons are the most deadly things ever invented by man.  If they were ever to be used, the chances are overwhelming that they would be used in great numbers.  And that would mean the slaughter of innocents in the hundreds of millions, the end of Western civilization, perhaps the end of a livable world.”