Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons threaten our very existence, but much of the time they are out of sight and out of mind. Their primary mission is as a deterrent to war, but because nuclear war-fighting strategy is based on Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), their potential use can only be described as suicidal. Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic and even a limited regional nuclear war would have global consequences.

Nuclear weapons are no longer a deterrent. We cannot use them for fear of destroying the planet. President Obama, echoing the words of Ronald Reagan, has called for their complete elimination from the face of the earth. And yet our U.S. State Department continues to lead us into confrontations with Russia that invite unthinkable disaster.

Even their very existence is vastly problematical. As an editorial in our neighboring La Grande, Oregon, Observer reminded us: “…just one accident, one miscue with one weapon would translate into a disaster beyond anything our nation has seen since the advent of the atomic age.”

The 2009 documentary movie, Countdown to Zero, traces the history of the atomic bomb from its origins to the present state of global affairs: nine nations now possess nuclear weapons capabilities. The movie describes the very real possibilities of an act of terrorism, a diplomatic misunderstanding, or a simple accident. It’s just a matter of time. An important point: the key components of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) or plutonium are easy to shield with lead, so terrorists could transport them with little risk of detection.
The end of the Cold War has made these weapons obsolete, a fact reflected in our dangerously deteriorating command and control system.

Humans are fallible. In August, 2007, six nuclear-armed missiles were unknowingly flown on a B-52 heavy bomber from North Dakota to Louisiana, in a complete breakdown of mandatory security rules. Laxness has crept into our nuclear force command. As its mission has become obsolete, it has become a backwater for USAF military careers, as indicated by recent failed inspections and the recent dismissal of two senior commanders of nuclear forces. Then-Secretary-of-Defense Chuck Hagel visited the ballistic missile command headquarters in January, 2014, in an effort to boost morale. On January 15, 2014, 34 Air Force nuclear missile launch officers were removed from duty for cheating on routine proficiency tests.

And now we have the example of airline copilot Andreas Lubitz, who intentionally crashed a passenger jetliner into the French Alps in March, 2015, thus demonstrating the possible disastrous consequences of a demented mind in charge of many lives.

Even low-tech human works are fallible, as suggested by the collapse of the newly constructed Teton Dam in neighboring Idaho in 1976, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and killing 11 people.

The Plowshares Fund estimates that the U.S. is on track to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade.

Do we really need to be maintaining a stockpile of extremely dangerous weapons that many military experts believe are irrelevant to today’s threats? Should we not support the bold move by the tiny Marshall Islands in April, 2014, taking the nine nuclear weapons countries to the International Court of Justice to enforce compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and eliminate all nuclear weapons?

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