On Aug. 8 President Donald Trump said if North Korea doesn’t stop threatening the U.S. it would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” A spokesman for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responded that this would be met with a “sea of fire.” These counter-threats present the greatest danger of nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. But President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were more levelheaded.
Is a nuclear war inevitable?
Negotiations are underway, but publicly neither Trump nor Kim backs off. If a war breaks out, the more powerful U.S. can destroy North Korea, though U.S. analysts say North Korea has up to 60 nuclear weapons. Would a war be limited to these two countries? Other nuclear powers, such as China or Russia, may weigh in.
In even a limited war we may experience the “nuclear winter” broached by scientists in the 1980s. A nuclear exchange that strikes cities would put so much smoke into the atmosphere that the Sun’s warmth can’t reach us, temperatures drop and the world is plunged into a decade-long nuclear winter — so cold no food can be produced. Millions may die.
If this is what we face, why not get rid of nuclear weapons? Here are a few answers.
First, in “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” (1995) Gar Alperovitz shows that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not necessary, because Japan was already negotiating its surrender with the Soviet Union (at the time a neutral party). This was known to decision-makers in Washington. The real reason to use the bombs was not to defeat the Japanese or save the lives of U.S. troops but to intimidate the Soviets.
Third, not long after the war ended, the Soviets proposed that all nuclear materials be deposited with the U.N. so bombs could not be built. The U.S. disagreed, so it could continue as the strongest power. The Soviets soon had bombs of their own. Thus began the arms race.
Fourth, Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 obligates parties to the treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date … and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” The language is clear, but none of the five nuclear states at the time (U.S., USSR, England, France and China) acted to abolish their nuclear weapons. Now, 46 years later, four more nations have nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. None act to eliminate their weapons. International lawyer Richard Falk, in his book “Power Shift” (2016), calls the Non-Proliferation Treaty a sham.
Fifth, on July 7, 2017, at a U.N. session 122 nations — 63 percent of all countries — adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It prohibits the development, production, possession, testing and use of nuclear weapons. These weapons are unconditionally stigmatized as standing outside international humanitarian law. What is commonly called the “Ban Treaty” will enter into force as soon as it is signed by 50 nations. It opens to signatures on Sept. 20. Several countries, including the U.S., say they will not sign.
The folly continues. Given this sad history, I often think that only the actual use of nuclear weapons by one or more parties will bring the human race to its senses. Must we pay the high price of nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea to turn the world away from these harmful weapons?
A wiser approach is for the United States, which took the lead of introducing nuclear weapons, now to lead the world to abolish them. If the U.S. signs the Ban Treaty, other nations will follow. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is long overdue. These weapons should be abolished before their use abolishes us.
Please sign and share with others this petition calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons: actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-us-to-join-treaty-banning-nuclear-weapons-possession.
LeRoy Moore, PhD, is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Boulder.