My Turn: Resolution on nukes aims to pull us ‘back from the brink’

For the Monitor
Published: 3/20/2019 12:10:05 AM

For millennia, groups, tribes and nations have attempted to gain a weapons advantage over those they feared or wanted to conquer. Obviously, throughout history this has fueled a perpetual drive for countries to develop superior weapons that can inflict as much devastation and mayhem on the enemy as possible. Possessing superior weapons has been decisive in battle after battle and war after war – until now, that is.

In the relentless search for ways to destroy and kill, we have now developed nuclear warheads with a shocking capacity to annihilate. There is an irony, though. These weapons are so destructive that we can’t use them without destroying ourselves. With the intention of making ourselves more secure, we have strapped ourselves into our own suicide vest. Nuclear weapons can annihilate our perceived enemy. However, if we trigger them, we are dead. We have forgotten arms strategy during the Cold War was based on the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). If one side uses nuclear weapons, the other side will retaliate, and then we will proceed to decimate one another along with the rest of the world.

Ronald Reagan began his presidency as a super hawk who expanded our nuclear arsenal dramatically and apparently believed that a nuclear war was winnable. However, during his tenure as president, he went through a remarkable transformation and ultimately negotiated one of the biggest arms reduction treaties ever. In doing this he also laid the ground work for a subsequent arms control treaty signed by George H.W. Bush. Reportedly, Reagan’s about face was precipitated by his becoming aware of the devastation that would happen not just to the enemy but also to America were a nuclear war to erupt.

In the years since Reagan, we have lost the insight he attained and forgotten the threat under which we live. As a country we have embarked on a trillion-dollar-plus upgrade of our nuclear weapons that will precipitate a new arms race. We have turned our back on non-proliferation treaties and have not taken critical steps to keep our nuclear vest from detonating accidentally.

Approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons exist today, with the vast majority owned by the U.S. and Russia. In the event of a nuclear war between these two countries, each warhead would produce fires hotter than the surface of the sun. With thousands of these explosions, the earth would become a giant fireball. Beyond the massive destruction, the ensuing explosions and fires would release 150 million tons of soot into the atmosphere. The soot would block out the sun causing temperatures to drop 15 to 50 degrees. Ecosystems would collapse, and food production would stop. Most humans who survived the explosions and fires would die of starvation.

By error, we have nearly detonated our suicide vest numerous times. In 1995, the Russians believed that a U.S. submarine had launched a ballistic missile off the coast of Norway. They immediately rushed to put their forces on full alert, including having their president, Boris Yeltsin, ready to launch a retaliatory strike. What the Russian radar had actually detected was a U.S.-Norwegian scientific rocket whose purpose was to study the aurora borealis.

Another near miss occurred in 1979, when the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) computers showed there was a large Soviet missile attack underway. U.S. bombers were readied for takeoff and fighter-interceptors were off the ground when it was discovered that someone had inserted a training tape of a Soviet strike into a NORAD computer, which simulated a Soviet attack. It’s hard to comprehend that the human error of inserting a training tape into the wrong computer could have left the planet smoldering. A computer search will offer numerous other examples of how human, computer and radar error have almost catapulted us into a nuclear inferno.

William J. Perry, former secretary of defense, now believes that nuclear weapons no longer enhance our security but endanger it. When asked how we have avoided nuclear war up until now, his response was “dumb luck.” Considering all the near disasters to date, it is clear that dumb luck will eventually fail us.

A large coalition of groups and individuals has organized to pull us “back from the brink” ( It sees the first steps as:

■Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.

■Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S president to launch a nuclear attack.

■Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

■Canceling the plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons.

■Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

These initial steps won’t eliminate all risks of Armageddon, but they will start to pull us “back from the brink.” The N.H. House of Representatives is now considering House Concurrent Resolution 7 (HCR 7), which calls on the president and Congress to adopt as policy a no first use of nuclear weapons and to cancel the investment of hundreds of millions of tax dollars into the development of smaller yield nuclear weapons, which experts believe greatly increases the likelihood of their use. Be a part of pulling “back from the brink” by urging your representative to support this resolution.

(Gray Fitzgerald lives in Concord and is the author of “The Bible Confronts the Bible.”)

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