The real nuclear threat

The real nuclear threat

On the 63rd anniversary of Hiroshima, abolition of nuclear weapons has become a mainstream position

By John Grula 07/31/2008

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We heard a lot recently about the nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran. The Bush administration is the main promoter of these alleged threats, but given that we now know its claims about Iraq’s nuclear arsenal were completely bogus, this should remind us to treat all the administration’s allegations with a great deal of skepticism.

The North Korean and Iranian nuclear threats have been greatly exaggerated. For example, the only test of a nuclear device so far by North Korea (in October 2006) was clearly a dud. The explosive force of this test produced only about 3 percent of the energy released by our first nuclear test way back in 1945. North Korean officials told China to expect a blast of four kilotons, but it is estimated to have had a yield of only half a kiloton. North Korea’s third-rate technologies also undermine the capabilities of its long-range missiles.

With respect to Iran, just last December all 16 US intelligence agencies concluded that this nation halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The current controversy about Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts fails to acknowledge that Iran has every right to pursue this technology for peaceful purposes under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory nation.

Moreover, even if it were the case that Iran someday intends to develop nuclear weapons, it would be due mainly to the fact that its main adversary in the Middle East, Israel (which has not signed the NPT), already has a nuclear arsenal of probably 100 to 200 warheads. Iran’s argument for acquiring nuclear weapons would be no different from that of all the other nuclear powers. That is, its perceived foes (in Iran’s case, Israel and the US) have nuclear weapons, and therefore Iran needs them for the time-honored reason of deterrence. Rather than singling out Iran, the international community should work toward a Middle East in which the entire region is free of nuclear weapons.

This is the only way to ensure lasting peace in this highly volatile part of the world.

But what’s good for the Middle East is also good for the rest of the world. Nuclear weapons need to be totally eliminated from our planet, and it’s not just peace activists who are saying this. Now former Cold Warriors from various Republican and Democratic administrations are taking the same stand. On Jan. 15, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece titled “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” written by none other than George Shultz (Reagan’s secretary of state), Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State under Nixon and Ford), William Perry (Clinton’s secretary of defense), and Sam Nunn (ex-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee). They have received support for their project from at least 14 other former secretaries of state and defense, including James A. Baker III and Colin Powell. Nuclear abolition is now a mainstream position.

More important than Iran and North Korea, a much greater nuclear threat derives from the weaponry built by the US and Russia during the Cold War that ended 17 years ago. Probably the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War is the thousands of nuclear missiles deployed by both sides that are still on hair-trigger alert — and could deliver total devastation to the other nation within minutes. According to Shultz and company, one of the first things the US and Russia should do is “take steps to increase the warning and decision times for the launch of all nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, thereby reducing the risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks.”

It so happens Pasadena-area Congressman Adam Schiff is taking the lead in crafting legislation to address this issue and other nuclear threats. Last month Schiff authored an amendment to the defense authorization bill which will require the secretary of defense to conduct a study of the best way to verifiably remove American and Russian nuclear missiles from hair-trigger alert. This amendment was approved by the House of Representatives, and it now moves on to a House-Senate conference committee.

Congressman Schiff has also co-authored an amendment, recently passed by the House, which would bolster our ability to defend against nuclear terrorism by strengthening the Department of Energy’s nuclear forensics capabilities. In addition, during the last year Schiff introduced several bipartisan bills, such as the Ending Nuclear Trafficking Act, which will significantly expand our ability to stop nuclear proliferation and secure nuclear materials around the world.

As we approach the 63rd anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9), Schiff’s efforts represent the kind of leadership we need to ensure such horrific disasters never happen again. Encourage him by voicing your approval to his local office at (626) 304-2727. Also, call local Congressman David Dreier at (888) 906-2626 and tell him to support Schiff’s forward-looking legislation on nuclear weapons issues.

John Grula is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.

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