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It’s Time to Ban Nukes for Good

It’s Time to Ban Nukes for Good

Olivia Alperstein

September 26 is International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, a day designated by the United Nations to draw attention to one of its oldest goals: achieving global nuclear disarmament. Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) honors the occasion by calling once again for the total abolition of nuclear weapons. We are committed to working for a nuclear-free world, and we are proud to join our partners and allies in envisioning a better, safer future.

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Here in the United States of America, it’s time to ban the Duopoly for the greater good.

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As someone who went on his first anti-nuclear march 60 years ago, I support the elimination of nuclear weapons. But it can’t be done in isolation: Nukes are a symptom of deeper, unresolved problems. They exist in a security vacuum. If nukes are eliminated, nations will produce other God-awful weapons to take their place.

The problem is we live in a lawless world. We need to support the creation of enforceable international laws where nations can resolve their differences in just and peaceful ways. Unfortunately, leaders in many countries, the US especially, thrive on external enemies – it gives them more power. And, of course, war is immensely profitable. It’s no coincidence that the US is the world’s #1 arms dealer and has also uniquely failed to ratify a whole range of international treaties.

And, depressingly, the hawk mentality is bipartisan. It isn’t just Trump and the Republicans who love war.

But we can do things as individuals. A good starting point is to think of yourself as a citizen of the world first. My priority is my species and my planet. To the extent that the US threatens both with its obscene nuclear arsenal and callous indifference to climate change, it does not have my loyalty.

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Okay, first, a disaster is an accidental catastrophe. The use of bombs and nuclear weapons has overwhelmingly not been accidental. Second, nobody is talking about banning bombs. Third, nobody realistically thinks the nuclear powers are going to give up their nuclear weapons. And fourth, trying to conflate bombs and nuclear weapons with nuclear power (of all kinds) is as fatuous as lumping witch dunkings, waterboardings and hydropower disasters together as an argument against all of them. (And hydropower has killed and displaced far more people than nuclear power has.) At the very most, the reactor meltdown disasters cited are an argument against kinds of reactors that can have meltdowns, but that is only a subcategory of nuclear power.

“14,500 nuclear weapons remain.”

And the Megatons to Megawatts program destroyed enough bomb fuel to make another 17,000 ICBM-class warheads.

“That’s enough to completely destroy the earth tens of thousands of times over.”

So less than fifteen thousand bombs could completely destroy the Earth tens of thousands of times over. That would mean on average, each bomb could completely destroy the Earth at least once. Does this seem likely? There were over 500 atmospheric nuclear detonations during the bomb test era, with a total yield around 480 megatons (average yield–about 60 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb). Does anyone recall the Earth being completely destroyed more than 500 times over?

“We fight for a nuclear ban so future generations won’t have to,”

Who is “we”? I see the author is listed as the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at the Progressive Congressional Caucus Center. Is she speaking for them? Is this actually an institutional apparatus of The Congressional Progressive Caucus, or is this just a group that lobbies the CPC? Is The Congressional Progressive Caucus calling for a total nuclear ban? Including nuclear power?

I doubt any country which has nukes will ever entirely give them up. Nukes and their missile delivery systems represent a measure of security for such countries in a world in which they rightly fear, not all other countries can be trusted. Maybe the best solution for us is exactly what we have: lotsa weapons causing no one sane to have the guts to start using them. So we really only need to worry about insane leadership.

I wish that was not so spot-on.

We must not lose sight of the challenge, the magnitude of the problem. We are now moving dangerously towards nuclear war. Every argument against nuclear weapons that can be made has been made, every tactic that can be tried has been. Yet, here in the second decade of the 21st century we are facing into nuclear war. There is much talk about a new Cold War. But the period 1945-1991 was the peace.

The world has experienced periods of peace (or relative peace) throughout history. The Thirty Years Peace between the two Peloponnesian Wars, Pax Romana, Europe in the 19th century after the Congress of Vienna, to name a few. They all ended: followed by war. The Congress System finally collapsed in 1914 with the start of World War One. That conflict was followed by the League of Nations. It did not stop World War Two. That was followed by the United Nations and other post-war institutions. But all the indications are they will not prevent a third world war.

The question is: how to convince leaders of the danger? First we need to ask: why do humans keep coming back to war? The pattern of history is clear. Power (manifested as interest) has been present in every conflict throughout history – no exception. It is the underlying motivation for war. Other cultural factors might change, but not power.

Interest cuts across all apparently unifying principles: family, kin, nation, religion, ideology, politics - everything. We unite with the enemies of our principles, because that is what serves our interest. It is power, not any of the above concepts, that is the cause of war.

It is the one thing we will destroy ourselves for, as well as everyone else. When core interests are threatened and existential threat looms nations go to war. There can be no compromise on these. As a result every civilization/nation eventually gets the war it is trying to avoid: utter defeat. This applies as much today as any other time in history. Deterrence doctrine is irrelevant in the 21st and will ultimately fail us. Deterrence can no longer prevent the scenarios where Mutual Assured Destruction will be resorted to. We will soon face the scenario that (unlike the Cuban missile crisis) one protagonist will not be able to step back from the brink, blindly stumbling into a situation they cannot de-escalate. All that is left is Deterrence’s fall-back position – annihilation.

Leaders and decision-makers delude themselves, thinking they can avoid their fate – they can’t. If survival is threatened, there is no alternative to war, however destructive. This is possibly the last chance.