It's Time to End
the Nuclear Weapons Threat
by David Krieger*, May 25, 2000
The US and Russia have made progress in reducing
nuclear weapons from their Cold War highs, but we still have a
long way to go. There remain some 35,000 weapons in the world,
and 4,500 of these are on "hair-trigger" alert.
If a single nuclear weapon were accidentally launched,
it could destroy a city but that’s not all. With current
launch-on-warning doctrines, an accidental launch could end up
in a full-fledged nuclear war. This would mean the end of civilization
and everything we value – just like that. The men and women
in charge of these weapons could make a mistake, computers or
sensors could make a mistake – and just like that our beautiful
world could be obliterated. We can’t let that happen.
Along with Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Marian Wright Edelman, Mohammad Ali, Harrison Ford, and many others,
I have signed an Appeal to World Leaders to End the Nuclear Weapons
Threat to Humanity. This Appeal calls for some sensible steps,
such as de-alerting nuclear weapons. Just this step alone would
make the world and all of us much safer from the threat of an
accidental nuclear war while we pursue a world free of nuclear
President Clinton recently said, "As we enter
this new millennium, we should all commit ourselves anew to achieving
a world free of nuclear weapons." I think the American people
need to encourage the President and our representatives in Congress
to assert US leadership in achieving such a world. We owe it not
only to ourselves, but to our children, grandchildren and all
But what should we do?
First, the Russians have proposed cutting the number
of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons down to 1,000 to 1,500
each. We have responded by saying that we are only prepared to
go to 2,000 to 2,500 weapons. But why? Isn’t it in the security
interests of the American people to decrease the Russian nuclear
arsenal as much as possible? We should move immediately to the
lowest number of nuclear weapons to which the Russians will agree.
Second, we should be upholding the Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty instead of seeking to amend it. By limiting
the number of defensive interceptor missiles, as the ABM Treaty
does, we prevent a return to an offensive nuclear arms race. An
effective missile defense system may work in the movies, but experts
say it has very little chance of working or of not being overcome
by decoys in real life. I certainly wouldn’t bet the security
of my children’s future on building an expensive missile
defense system that would violate the long-standing ABM Treaty.
Third, we should declare a policy of No First Use
of nuclear weapons. There is no conceivable reason for attacking
first with nuclear weapons or any other weapon of mass destruction
and that should be our policy.
Fourth, we should be engaging in good faith negotiations
with Russia and the other nuclear weapons states to achieve a
treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. That’s what we promised
in the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,
and recently reaffirmed at the 2000 Review Conference for this
Treaty. If we want the non-nuclear weapons states to keep their
part of the non-proliferation bargain and not develop nuclear
weapons, we’d better keep our part of the bargain.
When President Clinton goes to Moscow in early
June to meet with President Putin, I’d like to see him come
back with an agreement to dramatically reduce nuclear dangers
by taking our respective nuclear arsenals off "hair-trigger"
alert, by re-affirming the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, by agreeing
on policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons, and by beginning
negotiations in good faith on an international treaty for the
phased elimination of nuclear weapons under strict and effective
international control. If Presidents Clinton and Putin would take
these steps, they would be real heroes of our time. And we could
use some real life heroes.
* David Krieger is President
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.