Nation Topics - Nuclear Arms and Proliferation
News and Features
Axis of Incoherence
The burgeoning Far East crisis has exposed the bankruptcy of US Korea
Alfred Hitchcock was fond of McGuffins--meaningless plot devices on
which the characters obsess while the real, gruesome story moves on
On a sparkling Indian summer day fifteen years ago, I was waiting in
front of the Pyongyang Hotel with a British documentary producer.
Pitt: I'd like to talk for a moment about Iraq's nuclear weapons
Senator Russ Feingold had hoped the Senate Democratic leadership would
challenge George W. Bush's decision to withdraw the United States from
the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. At the least, he had expected senior
Democratic senators with track records on arms control to defend the
agreement between the United States and Russia that since 1972 has
underpinned efforts to curb the arms race. In a Senate where Democrats
are still hypercautious about questioning the Bush White House on
defense issues, however, Feingold stood alone.
"I wanted the leadership to take a lead. But when we contacted [majority
leader Tom] Daschle's office, they just weren't interested," said the
Wisconsin Democrat. Feingold knew that meant it would be impossible to
get the Senate to block withdrawal from a treaty it had approved 88 to 2
in 1972. Still, he said, "I did not want the Senate to be silent on
this." Three days before the June 13 expiration of the treaty, Feingold,
chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution,
rose on the Senate floor to remind his colleagues of the constitutional
requirement that decisions regarding treaties be made by the President
"with the advice and consent of the Senate" and of the Founders'
intent--as explained in Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary
Practice: For the Use of the Senate of the United States--that
"Treaties being declared, equally with the laws of the United States, to
be the supreme law of the land, it is understood that an act of the
legislature alone can declare them infringed and rescinded."
"It is clear to me, Mr. President, as it was to Thomas Jefferson, that
Congress has a constitutional role to play in terminating treaties,"
Feingold declared. "If advice and consent of the Senate is required to
enter into a treaty, this body should at a minimum be consulted on
withdrawing from a treaty, and especially from a treaty of this
magnitude, the termination of which could have lasting implications on
the arms control and defense policy of this country."
When Feingold sought unanimous consent to debate a resolution making
that point, however, Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Senate
Judiciary Committee, objected. That ended any hope for a Senate
challenge to Bush. Meanwhile, GOP leaders in the House blocked an
attempt by Dennis Kucinich to assert that chamber's authority to
preserve the treaty.
The failure of Daschle and other Senate Democrats to stand with Feingold
illustrates how, post-September 11, the loyal opposition frequently
chooses loyalty to misguided Administration initiatives over necessary
opposition. But if Senate Democrats are unwilling to fight the power,
Feingold hopes a judge will do so. He has asked for Senate approval to
accept pro bono legal assistance so he can join a lawsuit filed June 11
in the US District Court in Washington by Kucinich and thirty other
House members who object to the President's unilateral decision. Peter
Weiss, lead lawyer for the lawmakers, says that if it succeeds, Bush
would be forced, retroactively, to seek Congressional approval of the
Feingold's participation in the suit is important, as a judge could
decide he has better standing than a House member in a legal matter
involving interpretation of the requirement that a President seek the
consent of the Senate. Still, the suit is a long shot. A federal judge
backed a 1979 attempt by the late Senator Barry Goldwater to block
termination of a defense treaty with Taiwan, but an appeals court
overturned that ruling and the Supreme Court refused to take the case.
That does not deter Kucinich. "The basis of this whole government is the
Constitution. When an Administration comes to power in a manner that is
extraconstitutional, as the Bush Administration did, it becomes all the
more essential that we insist upon the legitimacy of the founding
documents, on the sacredness of those documents," says Kucinich.
"Washington has become a very vulgar place, but the Constitution is
In this issue, on the twentieth anniversary of the June 12, 1982, march
of a million people in Manhattan's Central Park protesting nuclear arms,
we publish an appeal calling on the public to demand that the United
States commit itself, together with the other nuclear powers, to the
abolition of nuclear weapons--and to take prompt, concrete steps toward
that goal. The appeal will be introduced in Congress by Representative
Ed Markey as a resolution on June 11.
As it happens, the cloud of nuclear danger is blacker at this moment
than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. Nuclear danger has
spread, as it was destined to as long as the United States and the other
cold-war-era nuclear powers insisted on holding on to their arsenals.
Now the grim drama is being played out in a new locality, South Asia.
The hatred is not ideological but religious and ethnic. The millions of
potential victims are not the rich and powerful but the poorest of the
poor. The antagonists, partitioned in 1947, are twins from a single
zygote. Nuclear suicide would also be fratricide.
The United States, which actually did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki what the
South Asians so far only threaten to do to each other, and which for
more than a half-century has been the trailblazer in the development and
rationalization of nuclear weapons, cannot condescend to the newcomers
to the game. At the end of May the United States announced that it will
be building a plant for the construction of brand-new nuclear weapons,
to be ready for use in 2020. And George W. Bush has announced that
deterrence no longer works--"pre-emptive" attacks will be the order of
the day for our military. Such are the actions of the US officials now
on their way to South Asia bearing scenarios showing the awfulness of
nuclear war and counsels of "restraint."
But all that doesn't prevent us from noticing that India and Pakistan
are writing new chapters in the book of nuclear folly. When India tested
five nuclear weapons in 1998 and declared itself a full-fledged nuclear
power, it proved, in the words of its Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh,
that there was to be no "nuclear apartheid" in the world. Now it seems
bent on proving that there is no apartheid for nuclear madness either.
One of South Asia's distinctive contributions to the field is a
flippancy in discussing nuclear danger, adding a new dimension to Hannah
Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil." Early in the crisis, General
Padmanabhan, India's army chief, commented, "If we have to go to war,
jolly good! If we don't, we will still manage." Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg,
retired chief of Pakistan's armed forces, commented, "I don't know what
you're worried about. You can die crossing the street, hit by a car, or
you could die in a nuclear war. You've got to die someday, anyway." Die,
yes, but must we all be killed?
Around the same time, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that
Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, should not use nuclear
weapons because "I'm sure he doesn't want to kill all the Pakistanis."
Of course, it would not be Musharraf but Indian Prime Minister Atal
Behari Vajpayee and Defense Minister Fernandes who would kill all the
Pakistanis, in retaliation. Have they reflected that a threat to kill
all Pakistanis is a threat of genocide, the gravest of all crimes
against humanity? There was no sign that they had. The world should tell
Meanwhile, the human imagination, brought once more to the brink,
fitfully tries--and mostly fails--to take in the news that 12 million
people (according to a Pentagon estimate) might die immediately in a
nuclear war in South Asia. Millions more would die slowly. (One
television station labeled the story with the logo "Nuclear
Distraction." Presumably, the danger of nuclear war was breaking its
concentration on the squabbles between the FBI and the CIA over
September 11 warnings.)
Yet from South Asia there also came at least one voice that offered the
imagination something to hold on to, a way to begin to grasp the awful
prospect--the voice of novelist Arundhati Roy. Her foreign friends asked
why she doesn't leave New Delhi. Doesn't she think the threat of nuclear
war is real? "It is," she answered, "but where shall we go? If I go away
and everything and every one--every friend, every tree, every home,
every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved--is
incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love? And who will love me
And so she and friends have decided to stay. "We huddle together. We
realize how much we love each other. And we think what a shame it would
be to die now. Life's normal only because the macabre has become normal.
While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, the old generals and
the eager boy-anchors on TV talk of first-strike and second-strike
capabilities as though they're discussing a family board game. My
friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... The dead bodies choking the river. The
living stripped of skin and hair.... We remember especially the man who
just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like
that. As stains on staircases.... The last question every visiting
journalist always asks me: Are you writing another book?
"That question mocks me. Another book? Right now? When it looks as
though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature--the
whole of human civilization--means nothing to the fiends who run the
world? What kind of book should I write?
"It's not just the one million soldiers on the border who are living on
hairtrigger alert. It's all of us. That's what nuclear bombs do. Whether
they're used or not, they violate everything that is humane. They alter
the meaning of life itself."
If the world can attune itself to this voice, it will abolish nuclear
weapons, and there will be no nuclear war.
Calls for an end to nuclear weapons are growing--including in
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
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
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
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.
A more virulent nuclear era has superseded the perils of the cold
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