June 12, 2010

By Robert M. Gould, MD

We at PSR, as much of the world, welcomed the opportunities for substantive change represented by the election of Barack Obama, especially in regard to the President’s signal and eloquent oratory in support of a world without nuclear weapons. The follow-on “New START” agreement with Russia, while calling for only minimal cuts in deployed nuclear warheads, can still be appropriately viewed as what has been characterized as a “New Spring” that charts a new direction and momentum in arms control and the U.S.-Russian relationship. As such, PSR believes it is a priority to obtain the 67 Senate votes needed to ratify the new Treaty, and to hopefully parlay the results of that effort into the follow-on challenge to obtain U.S. ratification of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

However, in spite of the space afforded by President Obama’s leadership and vision, there remain significant obstacles in the way of translating hopefully successful ratification campaigns into a world significantly safer from nuclear annihilation. The much-anticipated new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released by the Administration at the beginning of April 2010 moved notably away from the Bush Administration’s 2001 NPR embrace of a permanent role for nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign and military policy. However, the new NPR is still tied to the strategic doctrines of nuclear “deterrence” and “escalation dominance” that underscore an expanded and robust U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program at the Department of Energy (DOE) complex.

In fact, Obama’s proposed budget calls for a substantive increase in current nuclear weapons programs.  This was ostensibly offered in part to placate conservative opponents of arms control and disarmament treaties who pushed throughout the last administration for an explicit new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) nuclear weapons program that would sabotage global nonproliferation efforts. Although lacking the scope of the RRW, the programs supported by the new NPR will lead to a performance upgrade of nuclear weapons, rationalized by Orwellian calls for improved “safety” and “reliability,” to better carry out their genocidal purposes. Moreover, the Administration subsequently has announced that it is still keeping open the option of starting-up a new nuclear weapons program such as RRW, while supporting a new “Prompt Global Strike” initiative aimed at complementing U.S. nuclear capabilities with a very rapid and lethal non-nuclear missile system. Together, these policies weaken disarmament efforts as they to seek to maintain U.S. global military reach and dominance well into our century, and minimize the “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear arsenals.

During the April Nuclear Security summit in Washington DC, and for most of May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the UN (Rev Con), the U.S. focused almost exclusively on the real and latent proliferation hazards posed by North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs. For most of the Rev Con, the U.S. resisted efforts to establish a Nuclear-Free Zone in the Mideast, and to develop a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), steps championed by PSR and our IPPNW affiliates, that would outlaw nuclear weapons in a manner analogous to the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons. Finally, at the close of the UN conference, the U.S. signed on to a consensus document that included proposals for re-examining these issues in the future, effectively further delaying critical disarmament pledges made at prior Review Conferences that have been ignored for years by the NWS.

While pushing for strong sanctions on Iran, the Obama Administration has continued to be virtually silent on the critical proliferation dangers of its own unbridled promotion of nuclear power as “greenhouse solution” that has characterized its energy and climate change policy. Emblematic of this has been the Administration’s continued strong support of the commercially lucrative U.S.-India nuclear deal that would allow India, a non-Party to the NPT, to receive advanced civilian nuclear technology that would effectively free-up resources for India’s nuclear weapons programs that are off-limits for international inspection.

Under the deal, India would also be allowed to develop reprocessing technologies that could permit the diversion of plutonium to weapons programs. With recent reports indicating that China is prepared to support Pakistan in apparently less-extensive but parallel nuclear efforts, it appears that the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and related terrorist spin-off operations are likely to progress unabated in a very unstable part of the world.  As reported in a December 2009 article published in Scientific American, even a regional nuclear conflict could have dire global consequences, such as a global cooling that could lead to over a billion worldwide deaths from severe climate/crop disruption and malnutrition.

We are simply running out of time for half-measures based on strategies that don’t really amount to more than maintaining the illusory benefits of relatively short-term continued U.S. military superiority at the cost of addressing real global human needs, including averting the impending tragedies of global climate change or a planet blown to bits. It’s really time for the U.S., and our President to match the audacity of his “hope” with our deeds, and have our country finally truly lead a movement for nuclear abolition that can simultaneously open up so many other possibilities for planetary survival.