Nuclear weapons are an existential threat to humans and other forms of complex life. The possibility of nuclear annihilation should concern us enough to take action to abolish these weapons. The failure of large numbers of people to take such action raises vitally important questions. Have we humans given up on our own future? Are we willing to act on our own behalf and that of future generations?
Nine countries possess nuclear weapons, and the predominant orientation toward them is that they provide protection to their citizens. They do not. Nuclear weapons provide no physical protection. While they may provide psychological “protection,” this is akin to erecting a Maginot Line in the mind – one that can be easily overcome under real world conditions, just as the French Maginot Line was circumvented in World War II, leading to the military defeat and occupation of France by German forces.
Following a recent test of a nuclear-capable Minuteman III missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Colonel Craig Ramsey, the flight test squadron commander, commented that “efforts like these make nuclear deterrence effective.” Perhaps they do so in Colonel Ramsey’s mind, but no one knows what effects such tests have on the minds of potential nuclear adversaries. We can say with certainty that such tests would not deter terrorists in possession of nuclear weapons, since the terrorists would have no territory to retaliate against. It should be noted as well that U.S. leaders are generally highly critical of similar missile tests by other nations, and do not view these tests as providing an effective deterrent force for them.
We know from the damage that was caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that these weapons kill indiscriminately and cause unnecessary suffering, both crimes under international humanitarian law. Any threat or use of these weapons would be immoral as well as illegal. Nuclear weapons are also extremely costly and draw scientific and financial resources away from meeting human needs. As long-distance killing devices, they are also cowardly in the extreme.
Are those of us living in the most powerful nuclear weapon state sleepwalking toward Armageddon? Are we lemmings heading toward a cliff? Are we unable to awaken from a nuclear nightmare? We must wake up and demand the good faith negotiations for nuclear zero promised in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved 30 seconds ahead and now stands at 2.5 minutes to midnight. We have been warned many times and in many ways. Yet, we remain stuck at the brink of nuclear catastrophe. The people need to step back from the brink and insist that their leaders follow them in moving away.
U.S. nuclear policy puts the future of humanity in the hands of a single leader with the codes to initiate a nuclear war. Should that leader be unstable, unbalanced, erratic or insane, he or she could initiate a nuclear war that would leave the world in shambles, destroying everyone and everything that each of us loves and holds dear.
The stakes are very high and the challenge is one we ignore at our peril. I encourage you to join us at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in working to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, a world we can be proud to pass on intact to our children, grandchildren and all children.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is the author and editor of many books on peace and nuclear weapons abolition, including “Speaking of Peace: Quotations to Inspire Action.”