Nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, capable of destroying entire cities and nations in minutes. They are biological time bombs; deadly radioactive residues created by nuclear explosions are dispersed indiscriminately over time and space to kill, sicken and mutate future generations of all living things. They are instruments of genocide; their initial effects kill millions and their longer-term radiological and environmental effects threaten the continued existence of humans and most complex forms of life on Earth.
Nuclear weapons convey an almost mythological degree of power to those who possess them. Nations that obtain nuclear weapons are transformed, within the minds of their neighbors and rivals, into inhuman entities whose intentions are always evil and untrustworthy. Any enemy with a nuclear weapon becomes an absolute enemy.
Nuclear weapons thus act to corrupt and destroy supremely important moral values and the shared human experience which allow nations to live together in peace. Nuclear weapons have turned former allies into implacable foes and have brought us all to the edge of the ultimate disaster, nuclear war. They have made mass murder an option accepted by all.
Nuclear weapons create security demands which destroy democratic traditions and eliminate individual rights. Even a complete police state will be hard pressed to prevent nuclear weapons from being smuggled across its borders or carried into its harbors.
Nations that possess nuclear weapons implicitly threaten all other nations with their use. Possession implies intent. Whether the threat is overt or covert, the threat exists. Terrorists threaten with one or a few weapons; nations threaten with hundreds or thousands of weapons.
Any nation which has a nuclear arsenal actively maintains detailed plans for the use of that arsenal. Thus nations which own nuclear weapons actively plan for the mass murder of the populations of the nations which they consider their enemies. Such plans for nuclear mass murder become codified, given names and become standard operating procedure in the event of nuclear war.
In the U.S., such plans were for many years called the Single Integrated Operational Plan, or SIOP. Eventually it came to be called “the living SIOP” when computers kept it updated 24 hours a day with nuclear strike options. Most recently it has been called CONPLAN or OPLAN. STRATCOM documents state that it is now designed to fulfill a “Global Strike” mission. And there is no doubt that similar plans exist in Russia.
Sixty years of nuclear arsenals have conditioned us to accept nuclear weapons as a normal and necessary part of world affairs. Decades of planning for their use have made us implicitly accept mass murder as the foundation of military doctrine. Meanwhile, denial of the reality of nuclear war has become a way of life.
Hidden in the shadows, hundreds of missiles armed with thousands of nuclear warheads still sit waiting in their underground silos, with their motors powered up and launch crews standing by for orders. Nuclear subs glide silently beneath the oceans, each constantly rotated in and out of positions where they can fire enough warheads to destroy any country on Earth. Nuclear bombs are still positioned in overseas bases in case they are needed for war.
However, here in the US, we have no real national public awareness of the extent and nature of our nuclear arsenal. There has been no public debate or discussion of this issue since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Even as it now appears that the Cold War is returning – without any serious internal political debate, even during a presidential election – there remains a deadly sense of complacency surrounding the subject of nuclear war. We have an uninformed leadership followed by an uninformed electorate, which together seem to be sleep walking towards nuclear extinction.
The entire human population is still held hostage to the whims of ever changing national interests of the United States and Russia. What national goal exists that warrants risking the continued existence of the human species? What about the interests of the other living inhabitants of this planet who will also be wiped out by a nuclear holocaust?
If we wish to continue to exist, we have to change this dynamic. Political and military leaders must be made to understand and admit that their nuclear arsenals cannot in the long-term guarantee anything other than the destruction of the human race.