FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Let’s Reduce the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

At present, nuclear disarmament seems to have ground to a halt.  Nine nations have a total of approximately 15,500 nuclear warheads in their arsenals, including 7,300 possessed by Russia and 7,100 possessed by the United States.  A Russian-American treaty to further reduce their nuclear forces has been difficult to secure thanks to Russian disinterest and Republican resistance.

Yet nuclear disarmament remains vital, for, as long as nuclear weapons exist, it is likely that they will be used.  Wars have been fought for thousands of years, with the most powerful weaponry often brought into play.  Nuclear weapons were used with little hesitation by the U.S. government in 1945 and, although they have not been employed in war since then, how long can we expect to go on without their being pressed into service again by hostile governments?

Furthermore, even if governments avoid using them for war, there remains the danger of their explosion by terrorist fanatics or simply by accident.  More than a thousand accidents involving U.S. nuclear weapons occurred between 1950 and 1968 alone.  Many were trivial, but others could have been disastrous.  Although none of the accidentally launched nuclear bombs, missiles, and warheads―some of which have never been found―exploded, we might not be as lucky in the future.

Also, nuclear weapons programs are enormously costly.  Currently, the U.S. government plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to refurbish the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex.  Is this really affordable?  Given the fact that military spending already chews up 54 percent of the federal government’s discretionary spending, an additional $1 trillion for nuclear weapons “modernization” seems likely to come out of whatever now remains of funding for public education, public health, and other domestic programs.

In addition, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to more countries remains a constant danger.  The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 was a compact between the non-nuclear nations and nuclear-armed nations, with the former forgoing nuclear weapons development while the latter eliminated their nuclear arsenals.  But the nuclear powers’ retention of nuclear weapons is eroding the willingness of other nations to abide by the treaty.

Conversely, further nuclear disarmament would result in some very real benefits to the United States.  A significant reduction in the 2,000 U.S. nuclear weapons deployed around the world would reduce nuclear dangers and save the U.S. government enormous amounts of money that could fund domestic programs or simply be returned to happy taxpayers.  Also, with this show of respect for the bargain made under the NPT, non-nuclear nations would be less inclined to embark on nuclear weapons programs.

Unilateral U.S. nuclear reductions would also generate pressures to follow the U.S. lead.  If the U.S. government announced cutbacks in its nuclear arsenal, while challenging the Kremlin to do the same, that would embarrass the Russian government before world public opinion, the governments of other nations, and its own public.  Eventually, with much to gain and little to lose by engaging in nuclear reductions, the Kremlin might begin making them as well.

Opponents of nuclear reductions argue that nuclear weapons must be retained, for they serve as a “deterrent.”  But does nuclear deterrence really work?  Ronald Reagan, one of America’s most military-minded presidents, repeatedly brushed off airy claims that U.S. nuclear weapons had deterred Soviet aggression, retorting:  “Maybe other things had.”  Also, non-nuclear powers have fought numerous wars with the nuclear powers (including the United States and the Soviet Union) since 1945.  Why weren’t they deterred?

Of course, much deterrence thinking focuses on the safety from nuclear attack that nuclear weapons allegedly provide.  But, in fact, U.S. government officials, despite their vast nuclear armada, don’t seem to feel very secure.  How else can we explain their huge financial investment in a missile defense system?  Also, why have they been so worried about the Iranian government obtaining nuclear weapons?  After all, the U.S. government’s possession of thousands of nuclear weapons should convince them that they needn’t worry about the acquisition of nuclear arms by Iran or any other nation.

Furthermore, even if nuclear deterrence does work, why does Washington require 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons to ensure its efficacy?  A 2002 study concluded that, if only 300 U.S. nuclear weapons were used to attack Russian targets, 90 million Russians (out of a population of 144 million) would die in the first half hour.  Moreover, in the ensuing months, the enormous devastation produced by the attack would result in the deaths of the vast majority of survivors by wounds, disease, exposure, and starvation.  Surely no Russian or other government would find this an acceptable outcome.

This overkill capacity probably explains why the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff think that 1,000 deployed nuclear weapons are sufficient to safeguard U.S. national security.  It might also explain why none of the other seven nuclear powers (Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) bothers to maintain more than 300 nuclear weapons.

Although unilateral action to reduce nuclear dangers might sound frightening, it has been taken numerous times with no adverse consequences.  The Soviet government unilaterally halted nuclear weapons testing in 1958 and, again, in 1985.  Starting in 1989, it also began removing its tactical nuclear missiles from Eastern Europe.  Similarly, the U.S. government, during the administration of U.S. president George H.W. Bush, acted unilaterally to remove all U.S. short-range, ground-launched nuclear weapons from Europe and Asia, as well as all short-range nuclear arms from U.S. Navy vessels around the world―an overall cut of several thousand nuclear warheads.

Obviously, negotiating an international treaty that banned and destroyed all nuclear weapons would be the best way to abolish nuclear dangers.  But that need not preclude other useful action from being taken along the way.

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
Dave Lindorff
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
July 09, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 Exposes the Weakness of a Major Theory Used to Justify Capitalism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail