Surviving in a Nuclear Armed World

by ROBERT F. DODGE, MD and IRA HELFAND

President Obama speaking in Berlin on Wednesday took the first step in his 2nd term to address the world’s nuclear arsenals. He proposed negotiating the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third of its current levels of 1722 as of September 2012 and reducing nuclear weapons in Europe. While any reductions in nuclear arsenals must be applauded and supported, they must be viewed as only the next step in the mandatory elimination of all nuclear weapons. The devastating potential of these reduced arsenals has the ability to inflict catastrophic damage to our world. There is no “acceptable” level of nuclear weapons that is consistent with the ultimate survival of civilization.

A study by Physicians for Social Responsibility showed that if only 300 warheads in the Russian arsenal got through to targets in American cities, 75 to 100 million people would be killed in the first 30 minutes by the explosions and firestorms that would destroy all of our major metropolitan areas, and vast areas would be blanketed with radioactive fallout.

In addition, the entire economic infrastructure on which we depend to sustain our population would be destroyed. The transportation system, the communications network, the public health and banking systems, the food distribution network — all would be gone. In the months after this war, it is probable that the vast majority of the American population who were not killed in the initial attack would die of starvation, exposure, epidemic disease and radiation poisoning.

The global impact of a nuclear war with the reduced number of weapons proposed by the President was defined in a 2007 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research demonstrating catastrophic climate change due to the release of an estimated 50-100 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere blocking the sun. This would cause severe drops in global temperatures in a matter of days of up to 36 degrees Fahrenheit, devastating agriculture production throughout the world. The ensuing global famine could result in the death of a majority of the human population.

Thus any reduction in nuclear weapons is an important step to securing our future and we must move to realize these reductions now, but zero is the only acceptable number. Each day that we fail to work toward this goal is one day closer to realizing Albert Einstein’s prophecy from a 1946 telegram: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

But we can’t stop there. This effort must lead to multilateral negotiations involving all nuclear weapons states, negotiations that will produce a nuclear weapons convention banning these weapons once and for all. These negotiations will not be easy, and the treaty they produce will have to be a hard-nosed agreement that establishes mechanisms to verify and enforce compliance. We don’t have an alternative.

Some say it is unrealistic to think we can eliminate nuclear weapons. But in truth, it is unrealistic to think we can maintain nuclear arsenals indefinitely and still avoid a nuclear conflict. These are critical unexamined assumptions that demand reëvaluation.

As long as nuclear weapons exist we face a real and imminent danger of catastrophe either by design or accident. It is a matter of sheer luck that we survive. Luck is not a long-term viable security policy. We owe it to our children and future generations to abolish all nuclear weapons. The time to act is now.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes for PeaceVoice.

Ira Helfand is a past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

 
Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman