A Presidential Speech the World Needs to Hear

“Good evening, my fellow Americans.

“I want to speak frankly with you tonight about a reality that the nuclear powers have so far refused to acknowledge as the arms race goes forward unchecked. We have arrived at a point in history when the destructive power and complexity of our weapons systems have become so overwhelming that their strategic usefulness cancels any good that they could possibly do to maintain security for our own or any other nation. We all know this. President Reagan acknowledged as much when he said back in 1984 ‘a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.’

“The clearest demonstration of this reality is contained in computer models that show how few nuclear detonations would be necessary to plunge the world into a cooling phase so widespread that agriculture would be affected for a decade—in effect, a death sentence for the planet. It would take the use of only 3 to 5 percent of existing U.S. nuclear weapons to loft into the high atmosphere enough dust and ash to circle the earth and make food production impossible. Even a limited exchange between two nuclear powers would amount to planetary suicide. Retaliation, the basis of deterrence strategy, would only hasten the end of all we love.

“This is a major reason why 80 non-nuclear nations have signed the United Nations treaty outlawing the manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapons. None of the nine nuclear powers have signed this treaty, because established political, military and corporate thinking asserts that the power of these weapons have been a deterrent to further global war.

“People of good will may argue that the policy of deterrence has prevented apocalypse. Our challenge is that deterrence is not a steady, stable condition but instead an ever-changing unstable one. The relentless march of ‘we build/they build’ technological competition is constantly providing new weapons delivery systems. These systems are attached to ever more complex electronic monitoring devices, and these devices are in turn attached to fallible humans, the whole enchilada subject to the unspoken paradox of deterrence: in order to never be used, the weapons must be ready for instant use.

“My fellow citizens, no one has more respect than me for the professionalism of the various branches of our military. Our problem is that the prevention of an extinction event like nuclear winter is dependent upon not only our own personnel and equipment making zero mistakes, but also upon the other nuclear powers doing the same—forever.

“But we must face the tragic reality that accidents and misinterpretations are not only possible with technologically complex systems—they are inevitable. This we have learned the hard way, from the Challenger disaster, from Chernobyl, from Fukushima, from the two 737 Max 8 disasters, just to name a significant few. We are caught in a pervasive illusion, a web of denial: we acknowledge that planes can crash and chemical plants can explode, but we do not seem to be able to acknowledge, because we have become so dependent upon it, that the mighty deterrence system of the existing nuclear nations itself could fail if we continue the arms race.

“We need to question our most fundamental assumptions, and if they are about to lead us off a cliff, must we not turn around and begin to take steps away from that cliff?

“Today I, as Commander-in-Chief, am taking the first step backward with three initiatives.

“First, I pledge that the United States will never under any circumstances initiate the use of nuclear weapons.

“Second, as a further confidence-building gesture, I am bringing back to base two of our Trident ballistic missile submarines, and I am ordering our intelligence services to be on the lookout for reciprocal gestures from the other nuclear powers. If we see clear evidence of such gestures, our nation will respond in kind, beginning, I fervently hope, a virtuous circle of military stand-downs and a consequent relaxation of tensions.

“Third, I am calling for an ongoing international conference of military and diplomatic leaders to share with each other the dire implications of a hair-trigger deterrence system and to come up with realistic ways to go beyond it and prevent disaster. I expect the personnel of both nuclear and non-nuclear nations to participate, given that they all have a mortal stake in a positive outcome, and also given that there are many nations who continue to assume that their self-interest and survival requires nuclearization.

“Now I fully realize many citizens and strategic experts will question the usefulness or even the common sense of these proposals. Since the end of the World War Two, a war which coincided with the beginning both of the atomic age and the Cold War standoff with other superpowers, the peace has been kept through overwhelming military strength (the peace between superpowers, that is—there was a great deal of war in many countries during that period, some of which threatened to bring nuclear powers into direct conflict). The United States will maintain this superior strength even as we explore this new landscape where strategic advantage is no longer available by way of more weapons of mass destruction. The same technology which enabled these weapons to be built will also be up to the task of verifying whether nations meet professed commitments that will allow a world free of the scourge of nuclear weapons.

“My final point is that not only have we been overtaken by inconvenient nuclear realities, but also that America must lead in the redirection of the immense resources we have been pouring into nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. The very survival of the planet demands that we transform our own so-called military-industrial complex—and incentivize other advanced countries into doing the same—into a global powerhouse that will provide sustainable energy and prevent rising temperatures from rendering vast reaches of the planet uninhabitable. We have no other choice but to thread the needle between potential global cooling by nuclear winter and the climate emergency of excess carbon dioxide.

“God bless the United States of America, and equally bless the other nations of the world as we work together to move in the direction of a planet that works for all.”

Winslow Myers is author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.