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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way | The Nation

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Gone Nuclear: How the World Lost Its Way

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Undoing the Damage

About the Author

George Perkovich
George Perkovich is Vice-President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and is the author of...
Randall Caroline Forsberg
Randall Caroline Forsberg is Ann and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York....
Mary Kaldor
Mary Kaldor is professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of...
Richard Falk
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, is the United Nations Human...

Also by the Author

A DECADE after the end of the cold war, the peril of nuclear destruction
is mounting. The great powers have refused to give up nuclear arms,
other countries are producing them and terrorist groups are trying to
acquire them.

POORLY GUARDED warheads and nuclear material in the former Soviet Union
may fall into the hands of terrorists. The Bush Administration is
developing nuclear "bunker busters" and threatening to use them against
nonnuclear countries. The risk of nuclear war between India and Pakistan
is grave.

DESPITE THE END of the cold war, the United States plans to keep large
numbers of nuclear weapons indefinitely. The latest US-Russian treaty,
which will cut deployed strategic warheads to 2,200, leaves both nations
facing "assured destruction" and lets them keep total arsenals (active
and inactive, strategic and tactical) of more than 10,000 warheads each.

THE DANGERS POSED by huge arsenals, threats of use, proliferation and
terrorism are linked: The nuclear powers' refusal to disarm fuels
proliferation, and proliferation makes nuclear materials more accessible
to terrorists.

THE EVENTS of September 11 brought home to Americans what it means to
experience a catastrophic attack. Yet the horrifying losses that day
were only a fraction of what any nation would suffer if a single nuclear
weapon were used on a city.

THE DRIFT TOWARD catastrophe must be reversed. Safety from nuclear
destruction must be our goal. We can reach it only by reducing and then
eliminating nuclear arms under binding agreements.

WE THEREFORE CALL ON THE UNITED STATES AND RUSSIA TO FULFILL THEIR
COMMITMENTS UNDER THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY TO MOVE TOGETHER WITH THE
OTHER NUCLEAR POWERS, STEP BY CAREFULLY INSPECTED AND VERIFIED STEP, TO
THE ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS. AS KEY STEPS TOWARD THIS GOAL, WE CALL
ON THE UNITED STATES TO:

§  RENOUNCE the first use of nuclear weapons.

§  Permanently END the development, testing and production of nuclear warheads.

§  SEEK AGREEMENT with Russia on the mutual and verified destruction of nuclear weapons withdrawn under treaties, and increase the resources available here and in the former Soviet Union to secure nuclear warheads and material and to implement destruction.

§  STRENGTHEN nonproliferation efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, finalizing a missile ban in North Korea, supporting UN inspections in Iraq, locating and reducing fissile material worldwide and negotiating a ban on its production.

§  TAKE nuclear weapons off hairtrigger alert in concert with the other nuclear powers (the UK, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel) in order to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use.

§  INITIATE talks on further nuclear cuts, beginning with US and Russian reductions to 1,000 warheads each.

TO SIGN THE STATEMENT, GO TO URGENTCALL.ORG OR SEND NAME,
ORGANIZATION/PROFESSION (FOR ID ONLY) AND CONTACT INFORMATION TO URGENT
CALL, C/O FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM, 11 DUPONT CIRCLE NW, 9TH FLOOR,
WASHINGTON, DC 20036. WE NEED TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS, MADE TO URGENT
CALL, TO DISSEMINATE THIS CALL. PLEASE MAIL TO THE SAME ADDRESS.

THIS CALL WAS DRAFTED BY JONATHAN SCHELL, THE HAROLD WILLENS PEACE
FELLOW OF THE NATION INSTITUTE AND THE AUTHOR OF THE FATE OF THE
EARTH
; RANDALL CAROLINE (RANDY) FORSBERG, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE
FOR DEFENSE AND DISARMAMENT STUDIES AND AUTHOR OF THE "CALL TO HALT THE
NUCLEAR ARMS RACE," THE MANIFESTO OF THE 1980s NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREEZE
CAMPAIGN; AND DAVID CORTRIGHT, PRESIDENT OF THE FOURTH FREEDOM FORUM AND
FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SANE.

Also by the Author

We must contain terror and protect its victims through extending human rights law.

New types of violence are on the rise, and the only exit route is political.

Also by the Author

By ignoring the UN Security Council resolution’s mandate authorizing intervention, NATO may have destroyed the prospects for future legitimate uses of the principle of “responsibility to protect.”

If both sides embrace the fragile cease-fire with leaps of imagination and faith, Israelis and Palestinians could chart an escape route from the inferno.

With the election of George W. Bush, US nuclear policy started going backward. Regaining control of Congress could get us back on track.

RANDALL CAROLINE FORSBERG

The mainstream military analysts who shaped US nuclear policy during the cold war wanted thousands of nuclear weapons to create a nuclear "ladder of escalation." The ostensible purpose of the nuclear tripwire was to prevent another conventional confrontation like World War I or World War II. Great power wars of conquest and empire date back millennia. How could we prevent such a war indefinitely? The analysts reasoned that the best way to prevent a conventional war that could go nuclear was deliberately to make escalation from conventional war to nuclear war all but unavoidable.

But by the early 1990s, all fears of a major conventional war between East and West had disappeared--the Warsaw Pact disbanded, the Soviet Union dissolved, Soviet troops gone from Eastern Europe, Germany unified and Russian armed forces in ruins. Why, then, did the United States and Russia keep thousands of nuclear weapons?

One reason probably lies in the partial successes of antinuclear efforts. Huge cuts in US and Russian nuclear arsenals were actually made at the end of the cold war . The cuts began with the treaty to ban intermediate-range nuclear forces (the INF Treaty) and the START I Treaty. The INF Treaty did not apply to very large numbers of weapons, but it banned all US and Russian missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 miles. The START I Treaty provided for the verified destruction of intercontinental missiles and aircraft that had carried thousands of warheads.

Equally important but virtually unknown to the public, in August 1991, in reciprocal unilateral steps, George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev ordered the withdrawal of nearly all of the so-called tactical (short-range) nuclear weapons from service with ground, air and naval forces around the world. In the United States, this involved an estimated 10,000 weapons, and in Russia about 6,000. These weapons were the nuclear "tripwire" that would have made any major conventional East-West war go nuclear.

In the mid-1990s decisions were made in Moscow and Washington not to produce any new types of nuclear delivery vehicles (missiles or aircraft). The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China permanently ended or suspended all nuclear weapons tests, and plans were made for deeper cuts in the remaining roughly 10,000 nuclear warheads in the active US and Russian arsenals (a total of around 20,000, down from 50,000 at the peak of the nuclear arms race). By 1995 all of the goals of the 1980s nuclear freeze movement had been achieved, and the deep cuts in nuclear stockpiles meant to follow the freeze were under way.

All progress came to a halt, however, with the Republican takeover of the US Senate, where nuclear treaties must be ratified. With arch-conservative Jesse Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, additional nuclear arms reduction agreements negotiated under Clinton were rejected. Then, with the election of George W. Bush, US nuclear policy started going backward. At the direction of Bush's ultra-conservative team (Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney), the United States ended the ABM Treaty, launched a big program to put weapons in space, allocated funds to develop and produce new types of nuclear weapons and expand related facilities, and refused to negotiate any further verified destruction of nuclear warheads withdrawn from service in the United States or Russia. The United States put the world on notice that it might resume testing nuclear weapons and announced that it would consider using nuclear weapons against countries that do not have such weapons.

This tragically counterproductive nuclear policy includes virtually everything a would-be Third World proliferator might consider an enticement, challenge or provocation to acquire nuclear weapons. Far from strengthening US security in any way, the Helms-Bush actions of the last decade actually encouraged the proliferation of nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan in 1998, as well as the more recent steps toward proliferation in North Korea and Iran.

In recent years, along with many other longtime activists, I have struggled to find a way to alert the public to this terrible turn of events and mobilize opposition. But the messages seem to have been falling mostly on deaf ears. Even in the religious community, long a source of powerful opposition to the nuclear arms race, the issue no longer resonates.

Why? Part of the answer lies in the success of antinuclear efforts. More than half of the arsenals have been eliminated, including the weapons most likely to start a nuclear war. At the same time, the end of the cold war and the new relationships between Russia and Western nations have created a sense that there is no real danger of a nuclear war. And we must recognize that the danger today is, in fact, less than it was in the mid-1980s, at the peak of US and European popular antinuclear movements.

But the thousands of nuclear weapons on intercontinental missiles that remain in service are still on alert and could still be launched on a false warning of attack. Those most at risk are the people who live in or near large cities in the United States and Russia. US nuclear policy has already triggered new nuclear weapons programs in Russia and China, which are likely to lead to further buildups in India and Pakistan. Apart from North Korea and Iran, new proliferators could emerge, and we could still lose the long struggle against widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Though not much debated, nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation policy divides Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate. The way to get back on track in this area, as in many others, is to win back control of Congress and then again press our case for nuclear disarmament measures.

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