April 21, 2013

Cold War Thinking is Dangerous

April 21, 2013. Commentary by Peter G Cohen. Under the title “Obama’s ‘nuclear zero’ rhetoric is dangerous,” four very distinguished defense experts have warned of the dangers of pursuing nuclear disarmament. They believe that by saying U.S. policy is to create a world without nuclear weapons, Obama is emboldening our enemies and causing our friends to consider building their own nuclear weapons.

US/Russia nuclear weapons

In fact, they believe that all efforts at reducing the nuclear threat and the missiles, planes and submarines to deliver them weaken the ‘nuclear umbrella’ that reassures our allies of our readiness to provide a nuclear deterrent for their safety. They urge that we “modernize all three legs of the triad; ensure the safety and deterrent effectiveness of the weapons in each leg; and restore the critical industrial base supporting these forces.” --Washington Post, March 29, 2013

The problem with the ideas of these Cold War Warriors is that they are attempting to apply the strategies of the past to the present without facing the profound changes that have taken place in the world.

Change 1. As China, Russia and many others have developed their own economies, our relative position in the world is declining. Our effort to maintain the world’s most expensive military in a time of national debt and a stagnant economy is exhausting our treasury and causing the neglect of urgently needed investments at home, a policy that threatens the future of the United States. 

Change 2. This is not 1950. The nations for which we provide a nuclear umbrella are now quite capable of developing their own regional defenses. Even with the best international cooperation, signing a nuclear weapons convention and achieving a nuke-free world will take decades to complete. This gives the “umbrella nations” adequate time to strengthen their conventional arms and build regional defense arrangements. 

Change 3. Climate change threatens the whole world with droughts, floods, fires, violent storms and rising seas. The result will be homelessness and  food shortages in many areas. Maintaining the triad and rebuilding its weapons at huge cost will do nothing to calm climate change. The money, energy, science and construction required to maintain the triad indefinitely would be much better invested in alternative energy development and a hardened national transmission system to efficiently deliver the new energy to areas where it is needed. 

Change 4. We now know that even a relatively modest nuclear exchange would create a cloud of debris that would circle the Earth, creating a nuclear winter and distributing radioactive fallout around the world. As there is no way to control the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons, their use would constitute a Crime Against Humanity and threaten the future of Life on Earth. The nations of the world are becoming aware of this threat and protesting the terrible risk to all life created by the nine nuclear weapons nations.

Conclusion. The world is not made more secure by maintaining any level of nuclear weapons. The U.S., with the world’s greatest conventional forces, is in the best position to lead the way toward nuclear abolition. By outlawing and reducing these weapons, we tell the world that we are concerned and working to preserve Life on Earth.  There is still a long way to go and many challenges to be  overcome. As we negotiate the step by step process of a Nuclear Weapons Convention and  their worldwide abolition, we free our energies and imagination from the sinful incineration of human beings to their preservation in a complex and changing world.

Peter G Cohen is the author of the website www.nukefreeworld.com, which has just been updated. By writing about nuclear weapons and climate change, Peter has a view of national policy informed by an environmental awareness. He lives in Santa Barbara and can be reached at aerie2@verizon.net.

©2013 Peter G Cohen