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Nuclear weapons an expensive, life-threatening matter

Guest columnist: Nuclear weapons an expensive, life-threatening matter

Terry Clark, GUEST COLUMNIST 10:20 a.m. EST November 20, 2015

Do you know that the United States and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert, ready to be fired in less than 15 minutes? Not much is being done to change this situation. There have been multiple close calls of launch or explosion of nuclear weapons. We are at risk of nuclear weapons being used by accident, misjudgment or terrorists. The results will be horrific. Physicians for Social Responsibility emphasizes that a billion people could die as a result of even a limited nuclear war, such as one between India and Pakistan. This in part would be due to lingering radiation as well as starvation due to civil disruption and crop failures related to dust blocking the sun’s rays.

War, especially all-out war, is no longer possible. There will be no winners if nuclear weapons are used. Billions of people will die, including many in the United States. Thus with the existence of nuclear weapons there must be new ways of addressing conflicts. War is not an option. President Obama recognizes this as reflected by his persistence in working out a negotiated deal with Iran which includes their agreed-upon halt in development of nuclear weapons.

There has been progress in reducing nuclear weapons from 60,000 warheads between Russia and the U.S. in the mid 1980s to 17,000 now. However, the U.S. and others of the nine nuclear weapons possessing countries are modernizing or increasing the number of weapons. The US and Russia are paying only marginal respect to their obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. We have bans on chemical weapons and land mines. Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction that are not banned.
It is difficult to think about nuclear weapons. We think: “What could I do anyway about nuclear weapons?” We are mostly concerned with our daily lives or by the national or international crisis of the moment. The current crisis is the violence perpetrated by ISIS, and it is tempting to simply say “go to war and eliminate ISIS.” I hope we are learning that war is not a lasting answer. It is encouraging to see that the Obama administration is pursuing negotiation regarding the Syrian crisis to be held in Vienna amongst 12 countries. Yes, we need to talk with the “bad guys” such as Russia and Iran as well as the “good guys.” It requires more courage and intelligence to pursue negotiations than to send in troops.

Why does the U.S. have so many nuclear weapons and why are we modernizing the arsenal and weapons- producing complex at the cost of about $1 trillion? Some argue that nuclear weapons are needed for deterrence. Yet no sensible person can argue that we need so many weapons. The most powerful driving force for a huge arsenal is the influence of money involved in the military industrial complex. Surveys show that 13 of the leading nuclear weapons manufacturers combined spent $81 million per year lobbying U.S. legislators. These same companies combined received an incredible $334 billion over two fiscal years. Every dollar invested in lobbying and campaign contributions resulted in about a $1,000 return in federal contracts.

The existence of nuclear weapons is a life-threatening matter. As a country we need to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons. We need to expand our use of negotiations. As individuals, we need to divest our money from corporations that build nuclear weapons. For example, find out if your retirement plan invests in weapons-producing corporations and, if so, direct them to find an investment for you that does not invest in these companies.

Terry Clark, MD, is chairperson, Western North Carolina Chapter, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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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.