November 3, 2009

By Robert M. Gould, MD, President, SF Bay Area Chapter, Physicians for Social Responsibility

The astonishing award of the Nobel Prize for Peace to Barack Obama is a welcome global affirmation of our President’s strongly stated commitments for new American leadership dedicated to breaking with the unilateralist and militarist agenda of the Bush-Cheney administration. President Obama’s personal story, and his lofty eloquence in reaching out to diverse global communities towards a true partnership for “saving the planet” have raised universal hopes for substantive changes in U.S. policies that would truly benefit all.

If the Nobel Prize has effectively been given for a renewed sense of hope and peace personified by our President, it behooves us to do our part to make real that promise at this critical time.

We at PSR have been especially struck by Obama’s forthright embrace of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, the central aim of The International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) that PSR and our worldwide affiliates within the Nobel Peace Laureate (1985) International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) have been working on steadily for many years. Unique in the annals of modern presidents, Obama’s calls for nuclear abolition in Prague, Russia and most recently at the UN, at the rhetorical level have fundamentally challenged the doctrine of escalation dominance – the desire to at all times possess the overwhelming upper hand of military (nuclear) force at any increasing level of violent confrontation — that has been central to U.S. nuclear strategy since the dawn of the Cold War. Packaged euphemistically for decades as deterrence, this doctrine has rationalized nuclear weapons and related modernization programs and budgets now running at approximately $50 billion a year.

Recognizing the dangers of fresh thinking on the subject, forces of the American Right in sync with the worldviews of the Project for a New Century (PNAC), that had dominant sway during the last Administration, have bitterly counterattacked against even the mildest of disarmament measures, as exemplified by the small cuts envisioned under the current START talks with Russia. From Fox Media and Wall Street Journal Op-Eds through the recent “Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting It Right” white paper of the neoconservative New Deterrent Working Group, there has been unrelenting pressure in opposition to any disarmament deals with the Russians, redeployment of missile defense systems from Poland and the Czech Republic, any Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), any fundamental questioning of nuclear weapons superiority defining national security, period.

In addition, at a time when the same forces have been driving dangerous confrontational policies with Iran over its potential nuclear weapons program, there has been a renewed push on the Obama Administration to expressly support the funding of costly new nuclear weapons programs such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) housed within the framework of a robust Department of Energy (DOE) “Complex 2030.” Such programs, emblematic of the “do as I say, not what I do” perspective of the world’s nuclear powers, are what ultimately encourage the horizontal proliferation of new nuclear states, increasing the threat to all of us.

Central to the issue are the current debates within the Administration regarding the strategic vision at the heart of the soon to be released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which would update the last one of late 2001, utilized by the Bush Administration to permanently place nuclear weapons at the heart of military strategy. The NPR effectively drives the development of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), still based on a counterforce doctrine that informs the targeting of nuclear warheads and missiles against “enemy” weapons and hundreds of millions of innocent civilian populations around the globe. Given that enough nuclear-armed missiles remain on alert, “launch on warning” status, the chance of the world ending in a matter of an hour or so remains with us.

With President Obama raising an alternative vision in his recent speeches, there is an unprecedented and conceivably last real possibility to reverse the inevitable “mutually assured destruction” of a renewed global arms race.

To this end, Daniel Ellsberg has recently underscored the stakes for the planet by his recent revelations of how many deaths have been considered “acceptable” by U.S. political and military leaders in the formulation of the still, essentially unmodified SIOP.

In “A Hundred Holocausts,” it is starkly clear that the consequences of the targeting of the U.S. arsenal could, in DOE-jargon, “safely and reliably” extinguish the lives of at least 600 million people, as indicated in an early 1960’s “For the President’s Eyes Only,” highest level of national security document, when including other victims beyond roughly 325 million Soviet and Chinese deaths anticipated, as shown in the following chart:

Top Secret chart

Since being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama has been characterized by a number of media figures as being “unworthy” given his short tenure and consequent inability to attain the concrete ambitions invoked in his speeches, and that ultimately, the Prize is a “burden” on him, that he is ultimately set-to-fail, given the present coordinates of American political realities, and the presumed impossibility of being able to effectively plot a new course away from where old habits and worldviews lead.

Now is the time for public opinion to register strongly for new directions on nuclear weapons and to challenge all of the assumptions underlying the militarist paradigm that has driven us to too many wars and fiscal ruin, and if unabated, will simply destroy our ability to cope at all with climate change.

The PSR voice for hope and peace is strengthened by the support and engagement of our membership. As we gear up for more programming in 2010, with less foundation financial support, we need “stretch” gifts from our members to ensure a strong and vital chapter. Please support the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of PSR with a gift now.


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