My Turn: Trump’s nuclear policy tweets threaten humanity

For the Monitor
Published: 12/29/2016 12:14:59 AM

Donald Trump’s recent comments about nuclear weapons have the diplomatic and political world astir, and for good reason.

On Dec. 22, Trump tweeted that “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” These remarks are terrifying coming at a time when the Pentagon and the Obama administration have already embarked on plans to spend up to $1 trillion for a new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Trump followed up the next day by telling a reporter, “let it be an arms race” ... as if that would be a good idea.

It is no exaggeration to say that an exchange of nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia could wipe out human existence. Scientists tell us that even a small exchange, say between India and Pakistan, could have such dramatic effects on agriculture that 2 billion people would die from famine.

It is essential for Congress to put some restraint on the incoming president before it’s too late. Upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees for secretary of defense and secretary of state will provide an early opportunity.

These are suggestions for the senators’ consideration.

Gen. James Mattis, the nominee to head the Pentagon, and Rex Tillerson, the Exxon-Mobil CEO nominated to be the nation’s top diplomat, should be acquainted with the views of former secretary of defense William Perry, who has already warned that the danger of nuclear war is now greater than during the Cold War.

Perry, whose career includes substantial business and academic achievements in addition to military service, opposes the planned deployment of new and more “usable” B-61-12 warheads in Europe and development of provocative new cruise missiles. Instead of replacing our land-based missiles, which are kept on hair trigger alert, Perry has called for phasing them out.

Recognizing the dangers posed by these new weapons, as well as exorbitant costs when so many domestic needs are pressing, senators should ask both Mattis and Tillerson if the new administration will break from the Obama administration’s $1 trillion nuclear weapons commitment and oppose development and deployment of these weapons.

Given his apparent regard for retired generals, the senators should call Trump’s attention to the views of Gen. Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, and Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Both have urged the U.S. to take urgent steps toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Retired Gen. James Cartwright, another former commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, also has advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons and urged the United States to unilaterally reduce its nuclear arsenal to 900 nuclear weapons, half deployed and the other half held in reserve.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says that neither it nor any other institution can meaningfully respond to the devastation caused by the detonation of even a single nuclear weapon. One hundred and twenty seven of the world’s nations have signed the “Humanitarian Pledge,” signaling their commitment to nuclear weapons abolition. The vast majority of the world’s nations, angry that the nuclear powers have not fulfilled their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, recently mandated multilateral negotiations at the U.N. for a treaty eliminating the world’s nuclear weapons.

The senators should ask Mattis and Tillerson if the new administration will heed these warnings and support multilateral nuclear disarmament.

It’s one thing to shoot from the hip on Twitter. It’s quite another when you have the authority to launch a nuclear war. If Trump does not yet have the wisdom to figure out the difference, we will have to call on his Cabinet members to get through to him before it’s too late.

(Judy Elliott is a member of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group, a project of N.H. Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee’s N.H. Program. She lives in Canterbury.)

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