Nuclear Weapons

Strategic Posture Commission fails to support a nuclear weapons free world

Congress established the 12 member, bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States in 2008 to “examine and make recommendations with respect to the long-term strategic posture of the United States.” Today, the Commission issued its findings in a report that failed to embrace the opportunity to help chart a path towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

President Obama has repeatedly stated his firm commitment to work toward a nuclear weapons free world. In his speech from Prague in early April, he said,

Now, understand, this matters to people everywhere. One nuclear weapon exploded in one city — be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague — could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be — for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival….

And as nuclear power — as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

However, the Commission’s report seems to reject the possibility of achieving this goal, stating:

President Obama has pledged to work for the global elimination of nuclear weapons, but until that happens, to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable deterrent force. The conditions that might make possible the global elimination of nuclear weapons are not present today and their creation would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order. But this report spells out many steps that can significantly reduce nuclear dangers and that are available now.

With an underlying premise of continuing a world in which there are many nuclear weapons, many of the Commission’s recommendations amount to maintaining the status quo rather than providing a vision for achieving a shift in strategy.

Despite the fact that the American public will not support a return to nuclear weapons testing and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would significantly enhance US and global security, the Commission could come to no agreement on it.

The Commission has no agreed position on whether ratification of the CTBT should proceed. But recognizing that the President has called for the Senate to reconsider U.S. ratification, the Commission recommends a number of steps to enable Senate deliberation, including preparation of a comprehensive net assessment of benefits, costs, and risks that updates arguments from a decade ago.

The Commission’s lack of consensus puts them out of step with President Obama, who stated in his speech from Prague that he would work to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”

President Obama and Russian President Medvedev have already agreed to work together to reduce their nuclear weapons stockpiles and negotiate a new agreement to replace the expiring START treaty. The report is overly cautious in its recommendations for reductions, stating:

The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009. Beyond a modest incremental reduction in operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons, the arms control process becomes much more complex as new factors are introduced.

The public’s support for a change in US nuclear weapons policy to embrace achieving a nuclear weapons free world is important. Through contacting Congress and the White House, we can demonstrate the political will exists for a fundamental shift in thinking about nuclear weapons, and push for an end to the continuation of outdated Cold War policies.

2 replies »

  1. Strategic Posture of the U.S.
    Peter G Cohen

    The Congressional Commission on the Nuclear Strategic Posture of the United States issued its report and suggestions on May 6th. Before looking at the report we should take a fresh view of the current state of our nation.
    Our national nuclear strategy does not exist in a vacuum. To be actionable and appropriate, it must adjust to the realities of our national life. The United States is no longer the superpower that it was in the 1990s. We are now one of the major nations, with a huge military budget that equals that of most of the world’s other nations taken together. We have an enormous debt, import more than we export, fail to invest in the nutrition, healthcare and education of our children or other basic investments in the future.
    Given this new status, it is unrealistic to assume that we can continue to police the world. We can’t afford to maintain a hundred overseas bases. We should no longer cling to the role of protector of Europe, for example, when the EU is quite capable of protecting itself.
    While we think of ourselves as a great nation, we have given away our manufacturing base for cheaper consumer products and corporate profits, leaving our skilled workers too often without productive employment. While we talk about government for the people, we have not yet recovered from an administration that ignored the needs of the people and the nation while serving corporations and their cronies for eight years.
    Now, as we try to renew the industrial and agricultural foundations of our wealth and to direct our investments to the control of global warming and to prepare for the climate changes we cannot avoid, we should also take a fresh look at the strategic posture of our weapons systems.

    The Costs of Nuclear Weapons
    There are two outstanding qualities of nuclear weapons. The first is that their only use is to deter a nuclear attack. The second is that their maintenance alone costs our nation some $50 billion a year.
    The utter devastation and indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons makes them illegal under international law. While we talk about the ‘umbrella’ that they afford to our allies, it is had to imagine that even in war an ally would want to incinerate huge numbers of the enemy’s civilians at the risk of having clouds of radioactive fallout sickening their own people. We might also remember that our closest allies, England and Israel, not being content with our nuclear umbrella, but have acquired their own nuclear weapons.
    As for the cost of nuclear weapons, our preeminence in destruction was estimated by the Brookings Institution project to have cost $5.5 trillion prior to 1996. Adding $50 billion a year for the intervening 13 years, we get a rough estimate of $6.15 trillion that we have invested in these weapons since 1940. These figures do not include the costly cleanup of very radioactive nuclear weapons plants, which will continue for decades.
    There is another cost that should be included in our nuclear balance sheet. Our mining, transporting, enriching, manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons has caused stillbirths, deformities, leukemia, cancers and heart disease in many thousands of Americans. The Department of Energy’s Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act has compensated over 50,000 DoE workers since 2001 and many thousands more, or their surviving families, are awaiting determination. Other programs are compensating thousands of miners and downwinders. There has been no attempt to count or to compensate the unknown millions of Americans who have been exposed to low-level radiation from fallout in almost every county in the nation and suffered cancers and other diseases decades later.
    Our superiority in nuclear weapons continues to cost us dearly.

    The Commission
    Two former Secretaries of Defense, William J. Perry and James R Schlesinger served as chairman and vice chairman of the Commission. Other Commission members were also involved with the defense establishment.
    Like the preliminary report, this final report suffers from a basic contradiction. On the one hand it says that,”the moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia. and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal.” On the other hand, the report calls on the United States to significantly bolster and refurbish the nuclear infrastructure, including, if necessary, designing and building new weapons.
    Thus the Commission speaks with a forked tongue, which reflects the divided opinions of its dozen members, including two former Directors and a former physicist from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Secretary Perry, in contrast, is one of the four former government officials who published the statements in the Wall Street Journal supporting nuclear disarmament.
    In the conclusion of the Executive Summary it says, “As we have debated our findings and recommendations, it has become clear that we have very different visions of what might be possible in the long term. Fundamentally, this reflects our differences over whether the conditions can ever be created that might enable the elimination of nuclear weapons.”
    Unfortunately, this double message will not be lost on other nuclear nations. It says that the U.S. should maintain its deterrent indefinitely, while negotiating reductions. With the U.S. having such an ambivalent strategic posture, it will be difficult to persuade other nations to give up their weapons or their pursuit of them.
    In the real world, no path is without its dangers. It seems unlikely that any nation capable of building and delivering nuclear weapons would want to destroy the U.S. It is also unlikely that a nuclear nation, if it were to be dominated by people desiring to incinerate Americans, would be deterred by the threat of our nuclear weapons stockpile.
    In the larger picture, the threat of a possible nuclear exchange to the survival of life on Earth is a far greater danger than doing without a deterrent that may not be effective. Only by moving decisively toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons can we be rid of the greater danger. Of course, it must be negotiated step by step, and the agreements must be verifiable. Yet the elimination of nuclear weapons is essential to the human future. To be successful, we must develop a clear image of a world without nuclear weapons and a new defense posture based on international cooperation and conventional weapons that is appropriate to our current situation in a troubled world.

    Peter G Cohen, artist and activist, is the author of nukefreeworld.com and numerous internet articles. He has been active on nuclear issues since the 1950s. Peter now lives in Santa Barbara, where he can be reached at