Short answer: the U.S. and NATO believe nuclear war is not only winnable, but can be fought like conventional war
The public must now struggle not only with the Trump administration’s “alternative facts,” but also with unreported facts on what’s going on with nuclear weapons.
You may not know that right now most of the world’s nations are meeting at the UN starting Thursday (June 15) to develop a plan to eliminate nuclear weapons and to finally address the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The gathering follows a series of international meetings that began in 2014 in Vienna to address the escalating threat.
A number of recent worldwide shifts are again causing great concern: heightened tension around the Russia-Ukraine border (where NATO troops are stationed) and the installation of missile defences in South Korea in response to North Korea’s nuclear missile launches.
The UN General Assembly approved a resolution last October to launch negotiations on an agreement that would supersede the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The motion was adopted by 113 UN member states; 35, including Canada, voted against it; 13 abstained after the U.S. pressured NATO members not to participate in the final negotiations, which will continue until July 7 in New York.
Initially, Canada explained its non-participation by arguing member states would be more likely to come to an agreement if the focus were on the specific problem of cutting off trade in fissile material used to manufacture weapons. In fact, none of the states that possess nuclear weapons is participating in the discussions. Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, argues that “the negotiation of a nuclear-weapon ban without the participation of states that possess nuclear weapons is certain to be ineffective.”
But there have been decades of teasing apart details on a nuclear ban, and things have gone backwards, if anything.
Experts like MIT scientist Theodore Postol write that the U.S. and NATO members believe that a nuclear war is winnable and can be fought like a conventional war.
Currently, the nine largest nuclear states together possess approximately 15,395 weapons, with the U.S. and Russia accounting for more than 93 per cent of that total.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs, both small compared to modern arsenals, killed 250,000 and 70,000 people each.
The explosive force of the Hiroshima bomb was 15 to 16 kilotons of TNT, whereas today’s bombs are in the range of 100 to 550 kilotons (up to 34 times more deadly).
By comparison, the blast yield of the largest non-nuclear bomb on the planet, the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) just dropped on Afghanistan, is a fraction of the size, only 0.011 kilotons.
When the Cold War ended around 1991, many believed the nuclear threat was over. It’s daunting, and tragic, to consider that all nuclear stockpiles could have been dismantled then. Instead, militarized economic powers have taken the world in the opposite direction.
Silence is the strategy. NATO does not disclose details about its nuclear weapons even though member states signed on to a commitment to transparency in 2000. Lack of reporting leaves the global public largely unaware that countries remain on high alert, ready to launch within minutes, or that submarines capable of carrying as many as 144 nuclear warheads are roaming the oceans.
Even a small-scale nuclear war between two countries like India and Pakistan involving 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs would lead to “nuclear winter” and likely human extinction.
In the Middle East, Israel, which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is therefore not subject to any regulations and inspections, has maintained ambiguity about its nuclear program, but ominously refers to its Samson Option – namely, that Israel would use nuclear weapons even if it means self-destruction.
By contrast, there is much focus on Iran’s nuclear program even though Iran has signed the NPT and UN inspectors (and Israel’s Mossad) have stated that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.
Canada has its own checkered history with nuclear weapons.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester B. Pearson promoted the “peaceful” atom while pushing CANDU reactors and uranium sales to the U.S. and the UK knowing they were being used for nuclear weapons. Much of the uranium came from Pearson’s own electoral riding in Elliot Lake. Serpent River First Nation members who worked the uranium mines were not informed about the dangers of radiation and many died from cancer.
What can be done about this insanity? Canadians can start by saying no to Canada Pension Plan’s $451 million investment in 14 nuclear weapons corporations.
Judith Deutsch is former president of Science for Peace.