January: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

By |2015-12-31T13:49:00-08:00January 1, 2016|

January 4, 2007 – In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, one of five similarly themed pieces written by these four distinguished leaders, titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” two Republicans – former Secretary of State (1973-77) Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Schultz (who also served as Secretary of State from 1982-89) joined two Democrats – former Secretary of Defense (1994-97) William J. Perry and retired U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (who served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee before stepping down in 1997) – in promoting a growing political consensus that the “world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era.”  The authors wrote that, “…long-standing notions of nuclear deterrence are obsolete.”  They also called for removing U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles from their hair-trigger alert status.  Comments:  Unfortunately, even this powerful bipartisan message did not result in concrete steps taken toward substantial nuclear reductions by presidents Bush and Obama and the Congress.  Follow-on START and Moscow treaty reductions that were implemented seem insignificant especially after recent actions by the Nuclear Club members to modernize and expand their nuclear arsenals.  For example, the Obama Administration recently committed to spending a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities.   Unfortunately, a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and other arms control and reduction scenarios seem less likely since the Crimea-Ukraine crisis of 2014-2015.  With about a year left in office, President Barack Obama could act unilaterally to help reverse this state of affairs by announcing that the U.S. will de-alert one squadron of land-based ICBMs while challenging Russia to do the same or better.  Largely symbolic, such a move, standing down a small portion of our nuclear forces for just 72 hours, could help trigger further reductions and rejuvenate public interest in the global zero imperative. (Source:  “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.”  Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116787515251566636 accessed December 15, 2015.)

January 9, 1987 – Dean Rusk (1909-1994), a former Secretary of State (1961-69) under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who received many awards during his career including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, spoke out against nuclear weapons with a statement that, “Nuclear war not only eliminates all the answers, but eliminates all the questions.”  Comments:  Rusk’s antinuclear comments were not unusual as a plethora of celebrities (Martin Sheen, Stacy Keach), government leaders (George Kennan), whistleblowers (Daniel Ellsberg), scientists (Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein), military leaders (Lord Mountbatten, Air Force General George Lee Butler), and countless others spoke publicly about the dangers of nuclear conflict during the Cold War (1945-1991).  However, with the risk of nuclear war perceived (incorrectly) as dramatically reduced since the Cold War ended, it seemed that less mainstream voices were continuing to speak out.  In fact, it is much more likely that corporate media has tuned out a growing chorus of proponents of nuclear weapons reduction.   Meanwhile, some long-time advocates of global zero continue to make their voices heard.  For example, U.K. Labour Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, a decades-long advocate of antinuclear causes, has publicly reiterated recently that if he was elected prime minister, there would be no possibility of him ever pushing the nuclear button.  (Sources:  Mainstream and alternative media sources including CNN, PBS, RT.com, and Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now.”)

January 10, 1984 – In one of the many known incidences of near accidental nuclear war, U.S. Air Force officers hurriedly parked an armored vehicle atop a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silo at Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming when a computer malfunction resulted in one of the nuclear-tipped missiles being readied for launch.   Comments:  Although U.S. and Russian politicians and strategic military leaders maintain that such incidents are increasingly unlikely with today’s more sophisticated fail safes and software protections, most observers however remained concerned that serious and growing cyber threats still pose an appreciable risk of triggering an accidental or unintentional nuclear war.  This state of affairs represents probably the most powerful rationale for eliminating all global nuclear weapons.  (Source:  Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013.)

January 17, 1966 – Several hours after leaving its air base near Goldsboro, North Carolina, a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber carrying four Mark-28 hydrogen bombs collided in mid-air with a KC-135 tanker aircraft near Palomares, on the southern coast of Spain.  The bomber crashed causing the high explosives jacketing at least one of the thermonuclear warheads to detonate spreading highly radioactive plutonium over a very large area.  A long and expensive search and clean-up operation by U.S. military and civilian authorities was undertaken.  Comments:  Hundreds of nuclear incidents including Broken Arrow accidents have occurred over the decades despite some innovative safety measures pushed on the Pentagon by U.S nuclear weapons laboratories and nongovernmental experts.  Nevertheless, the resulting leakage of nuclear toxins, due to accidents (many still underreported or even completely undisclosed for “national security” reasons) by members of the Nuclear Club have threatened the health and safety of large numbers of world citizenry.  (Source:  Tony Long.  “January 17, 1966:  H-Bombs Rain Down on a Spanish Fishing Village.”  Wired.com, January 17, 2012.  http://www.wired.com/2012/jan-17-1966-h-bombs-rain-down/ accessed December 15, 2015.)

January 22, 2015 – The prestigious Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, an independent, nonpartisan organization established by Manhattan Project scientists in 1945, moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock, founded in 1947, from its 2012 level of Five Minutes to Midnight to the frightening time of Three Minutes to Midnight.  The Bulletin’s press release explained the change with these words, “Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.”  Comments:  Despite a vast proliferation of major and alternative (including social) media sources of information on the nuclear threat over the last few decades, most Americans are either unaware or unconcerned about a threat they believe virtually ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the termination of the Cold War in 1991.  In reality, seventy-plus years after Hiroshima, the nuclear risks to global civilization and the human species are as frighteningly dangerous as ever.  The time for action is now.  Drastic reductions and a time-urgent elimination of all nuclear weapons and nuclear power is a firm, unalterable requirement for human survival. (Source:  http://thebulletin.org/clock/2015 accessed December 15, 2015.

January 28, 1982 – During the height of the Cold War, at a Congressional hearing on defense expenditures held in the Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill on this date, Admiral Hyman Rickover (1900-1986), the founder of the U.S. nuclear navy who was involved in the design and production of the first nuclear-powered submarine engines, the launching of the first U.S. Navy nuclear submarine – the U.S.S. Nautilus in 1955, and the development of the first large-scale civilian power reactor in Shippingport, Pennsylvania in 1957, surprised the audience with strong antinuclear testimony.  Admiral Rickover stated that, “Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth…there was so much radiation…Now when we use nuclear weapons or nuclear power, we are creating something which nature has been eliminating…it’s important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”  After a shocked silence in the hearing room, Rickover added, “Then you might ask me, why do I have nuclear-powered ships?  I’m not proud of the part I played in it…That’s why I’m such a great proponent of stopping this whole nonsense of war.  I think from a long-range standpoint – I’m talking about humanity – The most important thing we could do is…first outlaw nuclear weapons to start with, then we outlaw nuclear reactors, too.”  Comments:  Admiral Rickover was just one of many U.S. and international military leaders during the seventy year nuclear arms race who have spoken out against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.  As concerns about global warming grow stronger daily, those environmentalists who see nuclear power as one solution to the climate crisis should revisit Rickover’s comments at this hearing:  “I believe that nuclear power for commercial purposes shows itself to be more economical, but that’s a fake line of reasoning because we do not take into account the potential damage the release of radiation may do to future generations.”  (Source:  Robert Del Tredici.  “At Work in the Fields of the Bomb.”  New York:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1987, pp. 164-165.)

January 31, 1950 – President Harry Truman agreed with calls by atomic scientists like Edward Teller and particularly military leaders serving on the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that a super bomb (H-bomb) was “necessary to have within the arsenal of the U.S.  Such a weapon would improve our defense in its broadest sense, as a potential offensive weapon, a possible deterrent to war, but (also) a potentially retaliatory weapon as well as a defense against enemy forces.”  Accordingly, on this date, President Truman “directed the Atomic Energy Commission to continue its work on all forms of atomic weapons, including the so-called hydrogen or super bombs.”  However, privately, the President later told his assistant press secretary Eben Ayers that, “We had to do it, but no wants to use it.”  Almost three years later on November 1, 1952, the U.S. detonated its first thermonuclear device, a 10 megaton bomb code-named “Mike” at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  The Soviets followed on August 12, 1953 with a 400-kiloton device exploded at the Semipalatinsk site in Kazakhstan.  Comments:  Those were just two of the over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted above or below ground during the last seventy years by members of the Nuclear Club.   The resulting short- and long-term radioactive fallout from these tests have negatively impacted generations of people, worldwide.   And, with the advent of thermonuclear weapons, thousands of times as powerful as the Hiroshima atomic bomb, the possibility of the destruction of human civilization and the human species itself became a real possibility. (Sources:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahme, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 5-6 and Richard Rhodes.  “Arsenals of Folly:  The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race.”  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2007, pp. 76-77.)