The Washington, D.C. rumor mill is saying President Barack Obama may “do something” about nuclear weapons before the end of his term.
Among ideas being discussed are early retirement of some of the non-deployed weapons in the arsenal; declaration of a no first use policy; or taking weapons off hair-trigger alert.
The arms control community is pushing for no first use policy, but whatever — any Obama action to reduce the threat of a nuclear weapons exchange near the end of his presidency would be welcome, and largely symbolic.
Saturday, Aug. 6, marks seventy-one years since the United States dropped the first of two nuclear weapons on Japan.
When the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” over an unsuspecting Hiroshima, it killed between 60,000 and 80,000 people immediately with a total death toll estimated at 135,000. The bombing of Nagasaki occurred three days later. Men, women and children were killed indiscriminately.
President Harry Truman made the decision to use the bomb. In the end, he had no questions or regrets. Truman believed in the larger picture of World War II, a conflict in which tens of millions of people lost their lives, dropping the bomb would save lives. More than seven decades later we continue to debate whether bombing Hiroshima was necessary or played any significant role in ending the war.
After signing the New START Treaty with Russia, which entered into force in February 2011, the U.S. Congress embarked on a nuclear weapons modernization process expected to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of money for a weapons system we hope never to use.
What’s an Iowan to do? My friend and colleague Peter Wilk speaks for many of us.
Calling for “No First Use” of Nuclear Weapons
Submitted to the Brunswick (Maine) Times Record
This August 6th and 9th we are once again reminded of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed an estimated 200,000 women, men and children. This past May, President Obama was the first President to visit the site and to commemorate the bombing victims.
While in Hiroshima, President Obama declared, “Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Thousands of members and supporters of Physicians for Social Responsibility completely agree.
Although most of us would rather not think about it, the U.S. and Russia continue to have thousands of nuclear warheads deployed on hundreds of missiles, bombers and submarines. We and the Russians keep over 1,000 of them on so-called “launch on warning” status. These warheads can be launched within minutes and reach their targets around the world within thirty minutes, putting millions of innocent civilians at risk in each of our countries.
The recent military uprising in Turkey reminds us just how unstable our current situation is, with 50 of our nuclear weapons stored in a U.S. airbase there. This airbase was surrounded and cut-off during the most unstable period of that coup attempt.
Perhaps most frightening is that the U.S. maintains a policy of threatening to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a future conflict. Combining this policy with our “launch on warning” stance sets the stage for a potential nuclear war initiated out of fear, anger, miscalculation or accident.
These horrific weapons threaten our own national security rather than enhance it. They are unusable in any meaningful sense of the word, given the global disruption to the world’s climate, food supply and economy that would result. At the same time, they have no value in countering terrorists or cyber-attacks.
Fortunately there are also some positive developments upon which to build. 127 countries have taken the Humanitarian Pledge calling for elimination of nuclear weapons. As a result, the United Nations established an Open-Ended Working Group that has begun meeting to discuss the most promising next steps toward a treaty to ban nuclear weapons around the world.
Meanwhile, the potential humanitarian impact of any use of nuclear weapons is so overwhelming that we in the U.S. must pull ourselves back from the brink by taking an easy step of our own. Since these weapons are in reality unusable, the U.S. should minimize their role in our military planning. President Obama can and should declare that the U.S. is adopting a “no first use” policy – pledging to never again be the first nation to launch nuclear weapons against another.
The U.S led the world into the nuclear age. Now it’s time to lead the world beyond it – to move to safer national security strategies that do not put all that we care about at risk, under the false premise that threatening to use nuclear weapons against others can protect us.
President Obama – your legacy and our lives are at stake. Please complete your presidency by taking a meaningful step to reduce nuclear risks by initiating a “no first use” policy.
On this 71st anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima, let us all pledge “never again” and commit ourselves to do what we can to help make progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
Peter Wilk, MD
Physicians for Social Responsibility — Maine
It’s time to prevent what we cannot cure, and abolish nuclear weapons.