As members of Physicians for Social Responsibility, we want to encourage each of you to write to a member of Congress about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
The horrific direct effects of a nuclear attack on urban populations are well-known, particularly to those old enough to remember the Cold War and the imminent possibility of global annihilation.
Yet we still have more than 17,000 of such weapons in the world today. In addition to the madness of keeping such weapons pointed at a potential foe, equally armed, there are many risks just due to the possession of nuclear weapons in their silos, submarines or aircraft.
Gen. George Lee Butler, commander of the U.S. nuclear force in the early 1990s, stated: “The capacity for human error, human failure, mechanical failure, misunderstanding (is) virtually infinite.”
Current revelations about the deficient functioning of personnel operating our land-based nuclear forces and cheating on competence examinations is disturbing. It is clear that the firing of the previous commander of nuclear forces in October has not solved the problem.
A study and analysis by the Physicians for Social Responsibility released last fall describes the effects of a “limited” nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.
First, of course, would be the deaths of millions of people. Then more than 5 million tons of soot released into the atmosphere would destabilize weather patterns to such an extent that agriculture, especially in China with its population of 1.3 billion, would be seriously damaged, causing widespread famine. This would harm economic stability worldwide and political stability in many areas.
Further, computer modeling shows there would be damage to corn, rice and wheat production even here, particularly in our Midwestern corn and soybean belt. Food prices would rise markedly; worldwide this “nuclear famine” would put up to 2 billion people at risk. This global extent of a “faraway” nuclear war has not been realized sufficiently and is little-known by the public.
Therefore, it remains essential to control the possession and spread of nuclear weapons and materials. Although treaties between by the U.S. and Russia have decreased the total number, more than 1,500 weapons on each side remain on high alert. This is by far the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons globally; overkill capacity is evident.
Also, we have some 4,700 nuclear weapons in active storage that require maintenance regularly, with “modernization” and redesign continuing at a rapid pace. Despite a marked decrease in the size of this active stockpile from 10,600 in fiscal 2000 to 4,700 in fiscal 2012, the annual cost for this ongoing expense has gone from $4.6 billion to $7.5 billion.
Now, with the new information on the potential for nuclear famine, the need to gain control of these weapons becomes even more urgent. Our Latin American neighbors by treaty outlawed the possession of nuclear weapons many years ago; these countries remain free of such weapons to this day, setting an excellent example.
In October 125 nations joined in a statement at the U.N. calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Next month most of these countries will meet in Mexico to discuss further the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and the need to abolish these weapons. More than 100 nations have signed such a treaty and will meet to discuss further restrictions.
Despite President Obama’s talk about a world free of nuclear weapons, the U.S. has actively opposed these initiatives. The U.S. should attend the Mexico meeting and embrace this new movement to rid the world of the danger of nuclear war.
Accomplishing this goal will require active and continuing demands by the American people on their representatives, and on the media that will report their actions. Despite our complacency as the world power, we will otherwise continue to face imminent and worldwide catastrophe.