Seminar on Lowering the Operational Readiness Status of Nuclear Weapons Systems

By |2014-04-02T22:47:38-07:00July 12, 2011|

On June 24, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation held a seminar in Geneva for invited diplomats and civil society leaders on “The Importance of Lowering the Operational Readiness Status of Nuclear Weapons Systems” at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. The seminar encouraged delegates to the Conference on Disarmament to support efforts to de-alert nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, during the seminar, Mr. Steven Starr (Senior Scientist for the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Associate of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation) and Mr.  Dominique Lalanne (Chair of Abolition 2000 Europe) described the threat of launch-ready weapons to nations and people. They further discussed the connections between lowering the operational readiness status of the nuclear weapon systems and the Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).

In the discussion of the threat of launch-ready weapons, Starr stated that the US and Russia have at least 1739 strategic nuclear weapons that remain on high alert. He illustrated that the total combined explosive power of all deployed and operational US and Russian nuclear weapons are 600 times more destructive than the total combined explosive power of all bombs detonated in World War II. Additionally, he underscored that launch-ready weapons, including land-based ICBMS and sea-based SLBMs, can be launched with only a few minutes warning. This high state of operational readiness makes accidental nuclear war possible through a launch in response to a false alarm or an unauthorized launch. Starr further described the ecological ramifications of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and the U.S. and Russia respectively.  India and Pakistan are believed to each possess 100 nuclear weapons with an average yield similar to the atomic bombs, which destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Starr reviewed recent peer-reviewed studies that predict the detonation of 100 of these weapons, in the megacities of India and Pakistan, would create nuclear firestorms, which would cause 5 million tons of smoke to rise above cloud level, into the stratosphere.  This smoke would block 7% to 10% of warming sunlight from reaching the surface of the Northern Hemisphere; this would create the coldest average surface temperatures in the last 1000 years.  Scientists predict this would cause massive reductions in agricultural production leading to global famine that would kill up to 1 billion people.

The detonation of the launch-ready U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenals would cause up to 150 million tons of smoke to rise into the stratosphere and block up to 70% of sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface. This would create daily sub-freezing temperatures in North America and Eurasia for several years, and produce Ice Age weather conditions on Earth.  This would eliminate growing seasons for a decade on all continents, and cause most humans to perish from starvation.

Regarding the relationship between lowering the operational readiness status of the Nuclear Weapon Systems and the Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), Lalanne expressed his disappointment that the majority of the Nuclear Weapon States refuse to remove their weapons from their high-alert status and commence negotiations on a NWC. He further argued that their resistance is closely associated with their concerns that nuclear deterrence would be jeopardized by de-alerting their nuclear weapon systems. Moreover, he emphasized that the States must realize that the ability to launch an instantaneous nuclear strike is a not a fundamental aspect of nuclear deterrence.  The elimination of launch-ready nuclear weapons is a necessary step towards further significant reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and movement towards the participation of the Nuclear Weapon States in a NWC.

Overall, the speakers informed delegates on the need for the international community to engage in and support multilateral measures to lower the operational readiness status of the nuclear weapon systems.