Editor’s Note: The following commentary, written by Dr. David Hall, was originally published Saturday, July 8, 2017 in the Everett Herald, heraldnet.com. Dr. Hall is an active member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.
President Trump is getting tough. His budget calls for a $56 billion increase in military spending, to be funded by major cuts ranging from environmental protections to community block grants, on top of the already planned trillion dollar rebuild of the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Our president wants to freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons program by threatening all-out war without starting a nuclear war. Everett may soon be within range of North Korean nuclear-armed missiles. But the threat these weapons pose to us is not the direct hit. The single use of a nuclear weapon anywhere could light the fuse to nuclear escalations no one can contain. This is the risk we live with every day.
It’s time to rethink deterrence. At the heart of deterrence doctrine for every nuclear armed nation lurks a continuous threat to incinerate whole countries, and these weapon systems steal vast human resources from programs of human betterment and environmental sustainability.
North Korea’s threats can escalate to war, or they can galvanize the global call to eliminate these horrific weapons. Even a “small” nuclear war could lead to worldwide famine. Nuclear nations must come together first of all to prevent any war. Then we must find common ground to eliminate this civilization-destroying threat. Bully tactics risk catastrophic escalation. Imagine facing U.S. military might from an adversary’s perspective.
Nuclear deterrence has worked since World War II to prevent any nuclear use. The threat of mass slaughter has kept national leaders from launching a suicidal nuclear strike. Recently, however, Russians are feeling the press of U.S. nuclear capabilities and U.S./NATO missile defenses near their borders. President Vladimir Putin has responded with nuclear threats against Europe and the United States.
Nuclear adversaries all fear U.S. nuclear weapons, especially the nuclear-armed Trident submarines that deploy from Hood Canal just 35 air miles from downtown Everett. We in Washington state are at the center of U.S. nuclear weapons threats to other countries. One Trident submarine can be loaded with nuclear firepower sufficient to block the sun and starve billions of people.
U.S. citizens must speak to these fundamental survival issues. Technologies to detect a nuclear attack are primitive in all the other nuclear nations. National leaders with nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert have as little as ten minutes to decide if an incoming threat is real and who it comes from. Military commanders of nuclear weapons have emergency codes if their national leadership is decapitated. Unstable countries and unstable leaders now have command of nuclear weapons. Deterrence will not last forever.
Congress’s trillion-dollar plan to rebuild our entire nuclear weapon complex includes increasing the accuracy and hard-target kill capacity of our nuclear arsenal, which is driving a new nuclear arms race as dangerous as the Cold War arms race that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commits the U.S. to search for an exit from this global game of chicken. The United States has by far the most powerful military in history. It’s on us to break out of the present stalemate. Our brinkmanship generals and many civilian leaders and contractors want war-fighting capabilities whatever the cost, even raising the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used.
Starting at home, and then with Russia, China and other nuclear nations, we need serious high-level conversations that honor our shared human need for security while celebrating our common humanity.
None of us can afford to let nuclear weapons destroy our common future.
Dr. David Hall is past president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. He lives on Lopez Island.