Rick Wayman delivered this talk at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s side event at the United Nations in Geneva on April 24, 2018 entitled “The Trump Nuclear Policy: The Nuclear Posture Review’s Threats to the NPT and Humanity.”
I have a lot to say about the Nuclear Posture Review and the other statements, documents, and tweets that together comprise U.S. nuclear weapons policy under President Trump. We have a limited amount of time, though, so I’ll focus on three concepts that come through in the U.S. document.
In the introduction to the NPR, and repeated later in the body of the document – and subsequently repeated in official statements the US has made – the authors write, “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”
The glasses they are looking through are very, very dark. Because what they propose over and over in this document is a readiness and a willingness to use nuclear weapons, including to use nuclear weapons first. They unashamedly say that they are ready to resume nuclear testing in response to “geopolitical challenges.”
I dedicated my life to achieving the abolition of nuclear weapons after hearing two survivors of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima speak when I was 23, just before my two countries of citizenship – the U.S. and UK – invaded Iraq under the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction.
To this day, some of the people I admire most in the world are hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who openly share the unimaginable suffering imposed upon them when nuclear weapons were used on their cities. One of my personal and professional role models was Mr. Tony de Brum, who passed away last August from cancer, a fate that has befallen so many of his fellow Marshall Islanders following 12 years of brutal atmospheric nuclear testing by the U.S. I’ve spoken with nuclear testing survivors from many countries around the world, and their stories are real.
That is reality. To see the world as it is, we must look into their eyes.
In the NPR, the U.S. accuses Russia and China of arms racing. The U.S. does not explicitly admit in the document that it is also a part of this nuclear arms race. But last month, President Trump said in the context of U.S.-Russian relations, “Being in an arms race is not a great thing.” He also identified the U.S.-Russia arms race as “getting out of control.”
I think he’s right. There is a new nuclear arms race, and it is out of control. Nuclear weapon designers at the United States’ Los Alamos National Laboratory have welcomed what they are calling the “second nuclear age.”
If we allow it to continue along this path, we will inevitably create new generations of victims. There is, of course, the risk of nuclear weapons being used. But lasting damage to humanity is caused at every level of nuclear weapons production. From uranium mining, to the production of plutonium, to the precarious storage of highly radioactive waste for tens of thousands of years, innocent victims are created by the arms racers.
When I was little, I used to watch the local news with my parents in the evening. Starting when I was five years old, Fernald was often the lead story. All I knew then was that people were really sick, and it was a scandal. It was only as an adult that I learned that, just a short drive from my family’s home, there was a uranium processing facility called the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center. They made materials for nuclear weapons. They contaminated the drinking water of local residents with uranium, and at one point released 300 pounds of enriched uranium oxide into the environment.
That was just one site in one country that was part of the Cold War nuclear arms race. Are we really doing this all over again? Will my 8 year-old daughter hear about radioactive contamination on the radio as I’m driving her to school?
At this rate, I’m afraid the answer might be yes.
In the NPR, the authors write, “For decades, the United States led the world in efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons.” Notice the use of past tense. They didn’t say that the United States “has led,” “is leading,” “will always lead” – they said that it “led” – meaning that that era has come to an end.
Two months ago, President Trump talked about the brand new nuclear force that the U.S. is creating. He said, “We have to do it because others are doing it. If they stop, we’ll stop. But they’re not stopping. So, if they’re not gonna stop, we’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before. And I hope they stop. And if they do, we’ll stop in two minutes. And frankly, I’d like to get rid of a lot of ’em. And if they want to do that, we’ll go along with them. We won’t lead the way, we’ll go along with them… But we will always be number one in that category, certainly as long as I’m president. We’re going to be far, far in excess of anybody else.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that quote. But let’s stick with the concept of leadership, and Trump’s idea that the U.S. is not going to be a leader – it is going to be a follower, no matter where it is being led.
It’s hard to argue with President Obama, who said that “as the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons, the United States has a moral obligation to continue to lead the way in eliminating them.” Yet here we are, unilaterally surrendering our leadership.
Speaking of morality, I had the honor of meeting Pope Francis last November at the Vatican, when he stated categorically about nuclear weapons that “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.” A bold moral statement, and one that I agree with.
The Nuclear Posture Review drips with the threat of use of nuclear weapons. It seeks to justify, rationalize, and shift blame for the United States’ continued possession and development of new nuclear weapons.
There is no excuse. The language in Article VI of the NPT is not perfectly objective, but even the most liberal interpretation of “at an early date” could not conclude that multiple generations is an acceptable timetable. Every state party to the NPT has a legal obligation to negotiate in good faith to stop this madness.
Many states have begun to fulfill this obligation through their participation in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. For the others, it’s still not too late to change direction.