On Aug. 19, just days after the world marked the 74th anniversary of the only use of nuclear weapons in war – the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pentagon began conducting a test of a new generation ground-launched cruise missiles, once prohibited under the 1987 U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces or INF Treaty, that the Trump regime withdrew from on Aug. 2.
Along with President Obama’s 2016 authorization of a $1.7 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next three decades and President George W. Bush’s 2001 withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1972, we’re seeing the rapid disintegration of the nuclear arms control framework that had been in place for decades. Another indication of the new nuclear arms race that appears to be now underway is radioactive explosion in Russia on Aug. 8 that was linked with a failed test of an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jeff Carter, executive director of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility. Here, he talks about the dangers and enormous cost inherent in the revival of a new U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race and his group’s advocacy for congressional passage of a “No First Use” policy on nuclear weapons.
JEFF CARTER: Make no mistake about it. We are right now, most experts agree we are in the most serious crisis in nuclear arms control since the 1980s. Think about it this way: with the recent collapse of the INF treaty and the new START treaty is due to expire in 2021, we would be left at that point without any limits at all on the nuclear arsenals of a nuclear states for the first time since 1972. And for those who remember the days of the Cold War, that was a pretty scary time. And for those who don’t remember, put aside just the expense, the billions and trillions of dollars that we spent in the past and we’re spending now, to – as you mentioned – to modernize nuclear weapons, which could be spent on other things. That’s an important issue.
But the other issue is the real danger that a mistake is made. Even a limited nuclear exchange would have devastating effects to the planet. We’ve made terrific progress since the 1980s, in reducing nuclear stockpiles around the world. We went from a high of over 70,000 active weapons back in 1986 and right now we have about 13,890 total nuclear warheads in the world, which sounds like a lot, and it is. About only about 3,750 of those are active. So these treaties were really instrumental in bringing those numbers down and more importantly, or as important – building trust between particularly the United States and Russia, which holds by far the most of these nuclear warheads. And now that’s all gone.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Jeff, in your view, what is the cause of this falling away of all these great accomplishments in reining in the nuclear arms race? Why are we at this point now?
JEFF CARTER: Well, that’s a great question. I mean, the most immediate problem right now is quite frankly, with the current administration in the White House. We have a national security adviser right now who really views any of these treaties as a unnecessary restraint on U.S. sovereignty. That’s a big problem. We have a president who seems to have very little understanding of what our nuclear weapons do, how dangerous they are. I was just reading the other day, he was talking about using nuclear weapons when killer storms are approaching, that he’d suggested perhaps we could nuke them to dissipate them or something along those lines. It’s a dangerous situation when we have folks in the White House who do understand this stuff, but basically think these treaties are unnecessary and are in favor of building up our nuclear weapons arsenal and other folks who I don’t think really understand the seriousness of the issue.
But make no mistake, Scott, this has been a problem for awhile now. It goes beyond just its administration as you mentioned. You know, we pulled out of the antiballistic missile treaty back in 2002, so we have this history now of, of pulling out of treaties. It’s not only the United States right responsibility, but we do have a lead role in maintaining these treaties. And if we think there’s something in these treaties that needs to be improved – to go to the negotiating table and work those things out. What scares me as much as these treaties going away and the lack of agreements is the fact that we’re not talking. Built into these treaties, something like the INF or new START, there are inspection regimens that are built into these things so we can see what they were doing and they could see what we were doing. So it’s really a scary time right now because the lack of treaties, the lack of discussion and frankly the lack, I think, of taking issues seriously by certain members of the administration have put us in what I would call pretty grave danger.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What can you tell us about the presidential candidates who are running for the White House and any positions they’ve staked down in terms of changing direction when it comes to reining in this new nuclear arms race?
JEFF CARTER: There are some encouraging signs. Of course, mostly we are hearing from Democrats. I know there are a few republicans thinking about getting into the race, but among the Democratic candidates we do have several candidates talking about this issue. Most notably right now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, she is actually the sponsor of something called the No First Use Act in the Senate. This came up during one the presidential debates. As scary as this issue is, for many of us who work in it, it doesn’t necessarily make the front page or resonate as much as some other issues do.
So I was pleased to see that issue come up during the debates. There are a couple of other members of the Senate running for president, Sen. Sanders and Sen. Gillibrand, who were co-sponsors of that legislation. And just to tell you what that No First Use legislation is, it’s actually pretty simple. And a lot of people are surprised that this isn’t our policy to begin with. But “no first use” simply refers to the pledge or policy by a nuclear power. In this case, the United States, not to use nuclear weapons in a conflict unless we are attacked with nuclear weapons by an adversary first. So we think, and many of our colleagues who work on these issues feel that a new first use policy is a really important first step towards getting this issue back under control and heading in the right direction.
For more information visit Physicians for Social Responsibility at psr.org.