May/June 2022Vol. XXXIV No. 5

No New Cold – or Hot – War!

Jonathan A. King, Robert P. Redwine, Nasser Rabbat, Nazli Choucri

The Increased Danger of Nuclear War

The world is awash in nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. This stark statement includes Russian missiles, British missiles, French missiles, Pakistani missiles, Indian missiles, Israeli missiles, and U.S. missiles and bombers. Given the heightened tension over the Russian military attack on Ukraine, certainly every military person in the line of command for missile launch in every nuclear-armed nation is on alert and experiencing high adrenaline and high anxiety. Not since the Cuban missile crisis have we had a time in which an inadvertent, accidental, or intentional launch of nuclear missiles is so likely. Then it involved only two major powers; not so, today.

Once launched, the missiles cannot be called back. Any launch from a NATO country will trigger launches from Russia; launches from Russia may well trigger retaliation from NATO or the US. Millions of people would be obliterated in the first seconds after the detonations and many millions more would die in the subsequent months.

Calls for a ceasefire in the current crisis are critical. This ceasefire cannot be to gain advantage for Russia, or NATO, or the U.S. It is to reduce the danger of a nuclear exchange which would be irreversibly catastrophic. And, of course, with respect to the Ukrainians, a ceasefire is the surest path to reducing the loss of life and suffering.

We in the U.S. must first take responsibility for our own nation’s actions and policies. The U.S. administration has unilaterally withdrawn from key nuclear disarmament treaties, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002 and most recently in 2020 the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This is one source of deepening military insecurity expressed by the Russian government.

Our government needs to return to the bargaining table with Russia, China, and North Korea, among other nations. It must hammer out treaties to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons uses.

The U.S. has nuclear bombs stored in five countries in Europe. Multiple Ohio class submarines are always at sea. Just one of these submarines, armed with 12 missile launchers and each missile armed with eight independently-targeted warheads, can obliterate every large city in Russia or China. Of course, such a launch would in all likelihood lead to a Russian response with missiles that would obliterate every major city on the East Coast of the U.S. The insanity of the situation is almost beyond belief.

The nuclear deterrent policy with its “mutual assured destruction,” is certainly the biggest, most compelling and most dangerous policy error in human history. These missiles don’t increase national security, protect us from terrorists, get us to work, house us or clothe us, or help produce items that do. However, they are enormously profitable to the manufacturers, paid with many billions of our tax dollars.

Avoiding nuclear apocalypse requires: a) supporting an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine; b) rejoining the ABM and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaties, which reduce the most acute of the nuclear weapons risks; c) U.S. adoption of “No First Use” of nuclear weapons as a clear national policy; d) Congressional votes against increased appropriations aimed at upgrading our nuclear weapons capacity; and e) the United States taking a leading role in calling for the nuclear-armed powers to sign and begin putting into force the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.