May 13th 2011

Post-Bin Laden - It Is Time to End the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism for Good

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
The death of Osama bin Laden eliminated the terrorist who most analysts believe was the most committed to -- and capable of -- obtaining and using a nuclear weapon.

But there is only one way to truly eliminate the threat of nuclear terrorism. America must be just as relentless in achieving President Obama's goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the planet as we were in pursuing bin Laden.

Many "hardnosed" politicians and analysts consider the ideal of eliminating all nuclear weapons from the world to be "naive" or "utopian."

I recently returned from a seminar on nuclear policy in Vienna, Austria where presenters included some of the leading experts on the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear disarmament and nuclear terrorism. I came away convinced that the term "naïve" could only be used to describe those who believe that we can continue to live in a world still bristling with nuclear weapons without endangering our very existence.

Last fall the Senate approved the New START arms control agreement with Russia that reduced each side's strategic nuclear arsenal to 1,550 nuclear war heads. That treaty represented a major step forward - following on the original START Treaty negotiated between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Prime Minster Mikhail Gorbechev. But this agreement is only a down payment on the far more fundamental goal of completely ridding the world of all nuclear weapons.

Why is that goal so critical to our long-term survival?

All told there are 25,000 nuclear weapons currently in existence. Ninety percent of these are controlled by the United States and Russia. They include the strategic nuclear weapons that are now subject to the New START agreement, as well as thousands of tactical nuclear weapons that are intended to be used on the battlefield - and many non-deployed nuclear weapons that remain in storage and are not currently targeted at the bases and cities of an adversary.

The remainder are in the hands of the seven additional nuclear nations: China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Currently China, Britain and France have hundreds of war heads each. Israel has 80 warheads. And North Korea has ten.
Notwithstanding the end of the Cold War almost twenty years ago, thousands of war heads remained on alert - targeted at bases and cities in Russia and the United States. From the time a radar-computer system gives one of the two sides warning of an impending attack, the other side has just minutes to decide if it should launch a counter attack or risk defeat and obliteration.

But that is far from the worst of it. Nuclear technology is now 65 years old. The skill and know-how to create a nuclear weapon is widespread. Increasing numbers of nations have sought to enter the nuclear club - most recently North Korea and potentially Iran.
An increasingly unstable regime in Pakistan controls a growing nuclear arsenal.
Worse, al Queda and other terrorist organizations have vowed to obtain and actually use nuclear weapons.

The status quo - the balance of terror - that for six decades prevented a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia is every day being made more unstable by the increasing numbers of nuclear players - and by the potential entry of non-state actors. Far from being deterred by the chaos and human suffering that would ensue from nuclear war - actors like al Queda actively seek precisely that kind of cataclysm.

The more nuclear weapons that exist in the world - and more importantly the more weapons-grade fissile material that can be obtained to build a nuclear weapon - the more likely it is that one, or many more, will actually be used.

In the 1980's the specter of a "Nuclear Winter" helped spur the movement for nuclear arms reduction between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Studies showed that smoke caused by fires set off by nuclear explosions in cities and industrial sites would rise to the stratosphere and envelope the world.

The ash would absorb energy from the sun so that the earth's surface would get cold, dry and dark. Plants would die. Much of our food supply would disappear. Much of the world's surface would reach winter temperatures in the summer.

A recent study published in
Scientific American by scientists Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon -- using modern climatic computer models -- found that even a regional nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan would shroud the entire planet in a cloud of dust for 10 years and would massively diminish world food supply.

The fine dust particles from nuclear fires would rise into the stratosphere where there is no rain to clean the air. As a consequence it would take years to gradually settle to the earth's surface.

Their study assumed that India and Pakistan would each use 50 nuclear weapons. The total of 100 weapons used represents only .4% of the world's 25,000 nuclear weapons. It found that such a war would kill approximately 20 million people from the direct bomb effects and subsequent fires and radiation. Their model shows it would likely kill another 1 billion people - about a seventh of the world's population - from starvation caused by the agricultural collapse.

These effects would happen over a decade. You can imagine that those threatened with starvation would not die quietly. Rather the world would witness an economic and political crisis without any parallel in recorded history.

Robock and Toon tested their model against the actual the effects of volcanic eruptions such as those of Tambora in 1815, Krakatau in 1883 and Pinatubo in 1981. They found that their model replicated observed results. For instance, after the eruption of Pinatubo, sulfate aerosol clouds were carried around the world by winds. As a result global temperatures dropped by an average of .25 degrees Centigrade. In addition, global precipitation, river flow and soil moisture all decreased.

Mt. Tambora's eruption in Indonesia in 1815 was the worst volcanic eruption in 500 years. Dust from the eruption blocked the sun and caused global temperatures to drop by .5 Degrees Centigrade. 1816 was known as the "year without summer." In New England - thousands of miles from Indonesia - even though the average summer temperature dropped only a few degrees, crop-killing frosts happened in every summer month. After each frost, farmers replanted only to see their crops killed the next month.

They also tested their model against the actual firestorms created by the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the fire bombing of Dresden, and the fires caused by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Each actual episode confirmed their result.

Finally, Robock and Toon point to archeological evidence that the collision of an asteroid with Yucatan 65 million years ago created a similar dust cloud that shrouded the earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The Robock-Toon model found that smoke from the imaginary India-Pakistan regional nuclear war would cover every continent within two weeks and would continue to have massive impacts on the global climate for ten years.

The use of nuclear weapons in any part of the world would affect every living creature. Their use is simply unthinkable. Yet the United States and Russia maintain thousands on hair trigger alert. And terrorists who affirmatively desire to cause global Armageddon actively seek their use.

If someone looked back on our generation from the vantage point of a hundred years in the future, they would have a hard time imagining what we were thinking if we allowed the continued existence of weapons that we could never use without endangering our very existence.

That is precisely why a quartet of retired Cold Warriors: former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn - have combined to sponsor a campaign to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

That's also why President Obama has renewed Ronald Reagan's often-forgotten call for a nuclear weapon free world.

Eliminating nuclear weapons will not be easy - and it must be done in a series of steps over a number of years. But there should be no doubt whatsoever that it must be humanity's goal.
Immediate steps include U.S. Senate ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty that would ban all future nuclear tests. The United States signed this treaty years ago, but it has yet to be approved by the Senate. As a practical matter, final U.S. approval is necessary in order to put this treaty into effect. In the short term, given the United State's enormous advantage in nuclear test data, this treaty would freeze in place a U.S. nuclear advantage. Yet it has been opposed by Neocons who want one day to create a new generation of nuclear weapons that they believe may need to be tested.

Our government should also begin a new round of arms reduction talks with the Russians. As a practical matter, non-nuclear states are simply unwilling to accept the view that they should forego the possession of nuclear weapons if the United States and Russia - which control 90% of all the nuclear weapons on the planet - do not meet their obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to continuously reduce their stockpiles.

One of the central components of a strategy to achieve a nuclear weapon free world must be the negotiation of a new international treaty to control and prevent the new production of weapons-grade fissile materials. The know-how to create nuclear weapons will never disappear. But fissile materials - highly enriched uranium or plutonium - that can be used to create these weapons - can be controlled. Nuclear reactors used for peaceful purposes do not necessarily require weapons grade fissile material. Neither of these elements occurs in nature in a form usable to build nuclear weapons. Both must be created by human manufacturing processes that can be monitored and prevented with appropriate international agreements. Current weapons-grade fissile materials could be locked down under international control, and further production could be banned.

The elimination of nuclear weapons is certainly one of the most important issues on the human agenda.

A few years ago a planetary scientist named David Grinspoon wrote a book called,
Lonely Planets. It explores the question of extraterrestrial life.

Toward the end of his book, Grinspoon speculates on the chances of survival for intelligent life in the universe. He argues that every civilization of intelligent creatures must pass through a gauntlet that tests whether the values and political structures of the society are capable of keeping pace with the exponentially increasing power of the society's technology. If its values and political structures
can keep pace with technological change, the society may pass into a phase of enormous freedom and possibility. If it does not, the power of its own technology will destroy it. Perhaps, he postulates, civilizations are like seahorses. Many are born, but only a few survive.

For the first time, sixty-five years ago, human society entered that gauntlet. Our technological growth reached a point of takeoff that for the first time gave us the power to destroy ourselves and all life on our tiny, fragile planet. From that moment on, the race was on.
The next several generations of humans will decide how that race turns out. We won't simply observe it, or describe it; we will decide it. Whatever the future holds will be a result of human decision for which we are all responsible.

We will decide if we pass through that gauntlet or - like our cousins the Neanderthals - become evolutionary dead ends. We will decide if humanity passes into a new era of possibility and freedom - or the human story simply ends.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."