What will it take to rid the world of the nuclear threat?
1. Renounce pressing the button
We live at a time when candidates for President are expected to admit in public that they would commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale if called upon to do so. To even question this willingness is somehow considered a sign of ‘weakness’ and renders one ‘unfit for office.’
Pressing the nuclear button, no matter what the circumstances or supposed justification for doing so, would mean killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians, whether or not the weapons also destroyed any intended military targets.
Pressing the button would also mean almost certain retaliation against the US, resulting in many more deaths of US citizens. And there is absolutely no knowing whether the launch of nuclear weapons, no matter who launches them or what the reason, would lead to all-out nuclear war and the end of human civilization as we know it, if not the end of all life on earth.
To rid the world of this existential danger requires the courage of a political leader to renounce the whole idea of ‘pressing the button.’
2. Affirm existing obligation to disarm
The US is a founding signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which commits all nuclear-armed nations to negotiate “in good faith” and “at an early date” the complete elimination of their nuclear weapons. In 1995, when other countries at the UN raised doubts about the nuclear-armed nations ever fulfilling this commitment, the US gave its “unequivocal undertaking” that it was committed to eliminating its nuclear weapons, but gave no timetable for doing so.
Since then, the US and the other 4 nuclear signatories to the NPT (UK, France, Russia and China) have been playing games with the rest of the world, pretending to negotiate disarmament while all the while continuing to build up and “modernize” their nuclear arsenals for the long term.
The US President must re-affirm our commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons and to state this with absolute clarity and conviction.
3. Stop funding nuclear weapons
President Trump has increased spending on nuclear weapons and is using it to develop new types of more “usable” nuclear weapons. But under Obama, plans were already underway for more than $500 billion of new nuclear weapons upgrades and “modernization” over the next 30 years. This is on top of more than $50 billion being spent on nuclear weapons programs every year – that’s $1.5 trillion over 30 years, not counting inflation.
If we are serious about eliminating nuclear weapons before they eliminate us, we should not be spending any of this money on maintaining and upgrading our nuclear arsenal. There are literally trillions of tax dollars at stake here – money we urgently need to address climate change and other social needs.
The President must work with Congress to put a halt on all funding for nuclear weapons programs, other than those needed to carry out the process of eliminating these weapons.
4. Sign the Nuclear Ban Treaty
The 2017 Nuclear Ban Treaty, or “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)” calls for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons from all countries. Signing the new treaty as such is merely a re-affirmation of the commitment already made when signing the NPT over 50 years ago.
Implementation of the Nuclear Ban Treaty requires ratification of the treaty by congress, and in between signing and ratifying the treaty there is ample time to see how other nuclear-armed nations respond and to negotiate, as appropriate, the details of the disarmament process.
No one is expecting the United States to eliminate its nuclear weapons without assurances and guarantees that the other nuclear-armed nations will do likewise. But the United States was the first country to acquire nuclear weapons, the only country to ever use them, and the first country to develop and deploy each and every advance in nuclear weapons technology. The US must, therefore, take the lead in getting the other nuclear-armed nations to disarm by making a firm commitment to do so ourselves.
The President of the United States must sign this Treaty to demonstrate to the world that we are serious about the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
5. Remove from operational status
The first commitment required of all countries who ratify the Nuclear Ban Treaty is to remove their nuclear weapons from “operational” status. Only four of the nine nuclear armed nations (UK, France, US and Russia) actually have nuclear weapons that are currently “operational”. China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have nuclear weapons in their stockpiles, but they are not “deployed” on submarines or bombers or missile launchers, ready to use at a moment’s notice and threatening the entire world every minute of every hour of every day with potential extinction.
The US maintains submarine-launched nuclear weapons that have been continuously on patrol at sea for decades now, ready to launch at any moment. We also have ICBM missile launchers on stand-by and poised to “launch on warning” in case of a suspected incoming missile attack. This is hugely dangerous and wholly unnecessary.
An important step in ridding the world of the nuclear danger is to take all nuclear warheads out of their missiles and other launch vehicles so they are less likely to be launched, on purpose or by accident.
6. Negotiate timetable to disarm
Once the nuclear weapons are safely out of harm’s way, they can be disarmed, dismantled and disposed of. The actual steps to disarmament are well-known and have been done many times before as a result of other treaties during the Cold War. Monitoring and verification of the disarmament process is also something that has been tried and tested very successfully over previous decades. The International Atomic Energy Agencies (IAEA) has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that nuclear materials are rendered incapable of exploding, whether on purpose or by accident.
The highly radioactive nuclear material that remains, like the waste products of nuclear power stations, will need to be safely dispersed and protected for centuries to come. That again is an IAEA responsibility.
The US must commit, along with the other nuclear-armed nations, to a legally-binding, time-bound plan for the complete elimination of its nuclear weapons.
7. Dismantle weapons by 2030
There is no agreed deadline as yet for dismantling nuclear weapons and ridding the world of this existential threat. The US needs to take the lead in setting out a timetable for the final elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.
The longer nuclear weapons remain, the greater the risk that they will be used. So the sooner the US dismantles its own nuclear weapons, the better. Realistically, it will be difficult to negotiate a timetable for eliminating all nuclear weapons in less than 10 years.
10 years is considered the minimum time it will realistically take to dismantle all nuclear weapons. We cannot wait a moment longer than that to prevent a nuclear disaster. That means the process must be started as soon as possible and completed by 2030!