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America’s disastrous non-proliferation policy

America’s disastrous non-proliferation policy

Steve Gilman OPINION 2:42 p.m. EDT April 24, 2015

Later this month, the nation states who are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will gather at the United Nations and begin their five-year review conference to assess whether the treaty is meeting its goals. The United States has long viewed this treaty as a key component of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries. This treaty was adopted 45 years ago in the late 1960s.

Now the U.S. government is openly worried that the NPT could fall apart, and it has reason to worry. While the NPT sought to keep states which did not have nuclear weapons from acquiring them, it also required, under Article VI of the treaty, that the states which did have nuclear weapons conduct good faith negotiations to eliminate their existing nuclear arsenals. There is a growing consensus around the world that the nuclear weapons states have not met their obligations under Article VI and do not have any plans to do so.
Indeed, all of the nuclear weapons states have ambitious plans to upgrade and modernize their nuclear forces. Here in the U.S., the administration has put forth a modernization plan that will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

The message to the rest of the world is clear. While President Obama claims that he seeks the security of a world free of nuclear weapons, he actually thinks it is worth spending a trillion dollars to hold on to them. If the U.S., which has the strongest conventional military in the world, wants nuclear weapons, shouldn’t everyone else want them too?

Fortunately, the rest of the world has shown rather remarkable restraint. Over the last 2 years, non-nuclear weapons states have gathered at three international conferences to discuss what will actually happen to the world if nuclear weapons are used and to discuss how to get the states which do have nuclear weapons to take their obligations under the NPT seriously. The most recent conference, in Vienna last December, attracted representatives of 158 countries. They heard reports from scientists and medical doctors detailing the existential threat to human survival posed by the 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. They heard new data showing that even a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan would cause global climate disruption, cut food production worldwide and put more than 2 billion people at risk of starvation. They heard the Red Cross assessment that there would be very little that anyone could do if there were even a single nuclear explosion in a populated area, and no effective response at all to a nuclear war. International law has banned land mines and cluster bombs, chemical and biological weapons, but not nuclear weapons, the most dangerous of all.

Faced with the failure of the nuclear weapons states to meet their obligations under the NPT, the rest of the world can abandon the treaty and begin to develop nuclear weapons. Or they can join in a new effort to enforce the NPT. They can begin the good faith negotiations to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons that the treaty demands. The U.S. should embrace this effort. It should recognize that the world will not indefinitely tolerate a system where some countries get
to have nuclear weapons and others don’t. Possessing nuclear weapons may let us bully the rest of the world in the short run, but it fundamentally undermines our security and will lead to a world with many nuclear powers. The data on limited nuclear war show that even the “successful” use of our nuclear weapons against an adversary abroad will cause catastrophic climate disruption that will devastate our own country. We need to understand that these weapons are suicide bombs, and we who possess them have become a nation of suicide bombers.

Gilman is on the national board of directors of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He also serves on the Western North Carolina PSR chapter’s executive committee with Terry Clark (chapter chair) and Lew Patrie (prior chapter chair). He has presented the “Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War” to several organizations in N.C. over the last 12 months and will be presenting it at MAHEC on April 28.

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PREVENTING WHAT WE CANNOT CURE: Physicians for Social Responsibility is the medical and public health voice working to prevent the use or spread of nuclear weapons and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and the toxic degradation of the environment.