Do The Freakin Math

Liberals and conservatives alike frequently rely on limited evidence, personal experience, religious beliefs or gut emotions to determine solutions for complex problems. From immigration to global warming - taxes to terrorism - or health care to free trade - analytical study is rare. Science based policy making isn’t the way of Washington. And the consequences are catastrophic. Change is urgently needed. Just do the freakin’ math.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Nuclear disarmament: A cause for war and a waste of time.

The nuclear war that so many people feared during the Cold War (especially where I grew up*) never happened -- arguably because of the existence of nuclear weapons and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine, not the UN.
There were many efforts to control nuclear proliferation.  Some succeeded.  Others failed.
Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001.  Nuclear fears had mostly subsided, but Presidential policy pre 9-11 still focused on early detection and missile defense against a nuclear attack.  Having nukes and missile defenses however didn’t protect us.  But using tactical nukes against a new enemy was still an option.   
Most troubling however was the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, which had no link to 9-11, but was conducted as the first preemptive war with the intention of disarming a suspected nuclear state.   Disarmament was clearly not a path to peace.
In early October 2002 Congress empowered President Bush to go to war against Iraq on his own authority whenever he deemed it appropriate, using whatever means including nuclear weapons if he felt it necessary.  Both Senator’s Kerry and Clinton supported it.   Colin Powel testified before the UN to make a case for going to war by saying “Saddam Husain is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb.”  Public opinion of Americans to go to war jumped from 50% to 63%.
In a recorded interview after the invasion of Iraq, Dick Cheney declared “if there’s a 1% chance of Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response”
Along the way the US threatened Libya to give up its nuclear ambitions.  That turned out to be a big mistake for Kaddafi and his regime.  Even the Ukrainian post-Cold War surrender of all its nuclear weapons might now be seen as a mistake.
Yet some Americans are still hopeful that nuclear weapons will be voluntarily eliminated from every corner of the world.   An increasingly unlikely scenario.
“For a nation to entirely forsake nuclear weapons is like taking part in a boxing match and promising not to throw hooks.”  Tadae Takubo, professor of policy at Japan’s Kyorin University, urging officials to reconsider Japan’s long-standing taboo against possessing nuclear weapons. August 11, 2003.

Even if they could be (and it is feasible) it might not be a good idea.  There is the possibility needing them in the future.    Defending against an asteroid, a hostile visit from another world or some other cosmic threat that might need instant incineration is a possibility.
Proliferation is a problem.   In early March 2015 Senator Lindsey Graham (a possible 2016 GOP Presidential candidate) asked a New Hampshire crowd if they though Al Qaeda would have killed far more than 3000 American’s on 9-11 if they had the capacity to kill a million or more?   He had a good point.  Does anyone doubt they might be seeking such destructive power?
And now, we, or the Israeli government, is very close to starting a second nuclear ‘disarmament’ war.  An action that could spark a far larger world war in hopes of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability.   Even if a preemptive strike stopped Iran’s quest for a bomb and there were no war like Iranian counter measures, many believe such an attack would only ensure Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon to defend it against future aggressions.   And now with growing hostility between Russia and the US over Ukraine there is growing collaboration between Russia and Iran.  It is not out of the question that Iran could buy or borrow such weapons from Mr. Putin if his ambitions for power are as insane as many think they are.   
3-17-15: Washington Times: “What’s the big idea?” by Kim Holmes, distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said “Moscow, not Washington, becomes the key decider of whether Iran does or does not acquire a nuclear weapon.  Russia [or China, or North Korea] may now prefer that Iran not get them, but in the future Moscow’s [or Beijing’s, or Pyongyang’s] interest in enhancing its strategic position in the Middle East may trump its current caution.”
March 15th headline:   Top of FormBottom of Form Putin Was 'Ready For Nuclear Alert’  Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in a prerecorded documentary about Russia's seizure of Crimea, said he was prepared to put Russia's nuclear weapons on alert during tensions over the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea. Putin said in the  documentary that he was 'ready to do this,' when asked if Russia's nuclear forces could be put on standby.  The nearly three-hour documentary, Crimea: Path To The Homeland, was aired on March 15.   Source: crimea-documentary/26901915.html
There should be no doubt that nuclear weapons remain a threat to individuals, nations and the world.  There should also be no doubt that.
1: Even without nuclear weapons, the capacity for mass murder on a scale comparable to nuclear weapons will persist in the form of easier to make, more affordable and harder to trace biological weapons.
2: The use of nuclear materials in energy production, medicine, space travel, and a multitude of other scientific research projects, means dirty bombs and smaller nuclear weapons will continue to be a threat to life, property and the environment as long as humans thrive.
3. Any attempt to ensure global compliance with any level of weapons prohibition on any technological developments (nuclear, cyber, bio, chem, nano…) will be monstrously expensive, prohibitively intrusive, and highly improbable of succeeding.
Our greatest error in thinking was exposed over 60 years ago in Emery Reves book, The Anatomy of Peace.  
Once the mechanics and the fundamental causes of wars – of all wars – are realized, the futility and childishness of the passionate debates about armament and disarmament must be apparent to all. If human society were organized so that relations between groups and units in contact were regulated by democratically controlled law and legal institutions, then modern science could go ahead, devise and produce the most devastating weapons, and there would be no war. But if we allow sovereign rights to reside in the separate units and groups without regulating their relations by law, then we can prohibit every weapon, even a penknife, and people will beat out each other’s brains with clubs.   Emory Reves, The Anatomy of Peace, 1945
In summary, security is not a function of armaments or disarmament.  It is a function of justice.
In that context, one more key point must be considered.  There are essentially 4 categories of treaties. Arms Control, Economic, Human Rights, and Environmental.   Advances in technology are making it easier and easier to detect violations of human rights and environmental standards.  Unfortunately, the same technological advances are making the detection of most weapons or money movements increasingly difficult.  I assert that investing limited resources in the protection of human rights and the environment will bring far greater security to humanity considering the range of other threats we face, than trying to control the spread of weapons or financial resources.   Human rights are profoundly tied to justice.  No justice, no peace, and far less prosperity.    
Time, money and energy expended going down the path of disarmament is not just wasteful at a unique moment in history when none should be squandered.  Recent history demonstrates such disarmament efforts are more likely to be counterproductive in keeping the peace.   The question is ‘Why continue down this path?’   Habit?  Professional investment?   Feelings of moral superiority?  Lack of critical thinking?
I assert that it is far more logical, rational and moral to work for a democratic world federation where the protection of human rights being paramount would create a global social environment where the possession of nuclear weapons will become increasingly irrelevant to security --  as well as a waste of money and manpower to make and maintain them.  
What is the logic in working to pass treaties that cannot be enforced and will most likely lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences if effectively pursued?
The main focus of international attention must move beyond the symptoms of weapons proliferation to its causes. It may seem easier to control supply, yet it is demand that raises the tide of proliferation. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists for Jan-Feb 1999, p. 76, "Book Note" on Kosta Tsipis and Philip Morrison's book, "Reason Enough for Hope."

"We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women."  Thích Nhất Hạnh
"Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."  - George Bernard Shaw
*Disclosure:  If it had not been for the US effort to develop the first nuclear bomb toward the end of WWII, I would never have been born.  My parents met during the construction of the first weapon in Hanford, Washington and my father continued to work in the nuclear industry for 30 years.  After I graduated from Colorado State University with a Biology degree I returned to Washington to teach and worked summers at Hanford for Battelle NW Laboratories Environmental Evaluation section researching the extent of nuclear contamination in soil from the past waste storage facilities and the potential for agriculture losses in the event of a future nuclear accident.  


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