The status quo grows more untenable by the day. The situation is said by experts to be more precarious than at any time in the past 75 years when humans have lived with the dangers of atomic and nuclear bombs. Experts warn that the issue of annihilation is not if, but when it will happen, unless significant changes are made in the spread of these weapons and the systems for controlling and preventing them from ever being used. The prospects of reforms are not good, but that must change. The obstacles are formidable but not quite impossible to overcome.
This reality explains why most of us, present company included, rarely engage with the topic. Denial plays a big part, as does the fact that controlling these weapons is not a local issue. Responsibility for controls are largely delegated to military and other experts by national administrations, Democratic and Republican. Jonathan Schell, in “The Fate of the Earth” (1982), noted that it’s as if there is a monster in the room and yet we have managed to divert our attention from it.
Fortunately, there are a few well-regarded individuals and institutions seeking ways to lower the risks that these weapons will ever be used and, most fanciful of hopes, that they might, someday, be retired.
Yes, you are reading a REAL wellness-focused essay, a look on the bright side of life-based philosophy. My focus is promoting mental and physical wellbeing via the use of reason, the joys of exuberance, the disciplines of athleticism and the art of securing maximum liberty. But alas, what good is any of that if, by madness or accident, one or more of 15,000 existing thermonuclear warheads does what all are designed to do, namely, explode?
For half a century, I’ve promoted lifestyle strategies of a positive nature aimed at becoming and remaining well, as long as possible. How long is possible depends on countless variables–I’ll mention just three:
1. Those related to self (i.e., genetics, lifestyle, timely and effective medical care) that are somewhat under our control;
2. Those related to nature (i.e., super-volcanos, mega-tsunamis, solar flares, earthquakes, global pandemics, asteroids) over which we have no control; and
3. One related to human miscalculation (i.e., thermonuclear explosions) over which existing safeguards are, for a host of reasons, under dubious controls.
Sam Harris, in a recent podcast, described the ever-present threat of nuclear war as the greatest risk we face. The last 75 years in which humans have lived with the bomb have been marked by near-suicidal folly, reckless stupidity and moral oblivion. In “The Logic of Doomsday,” Sam and his podcast guests Robert Perry (former Secretary of State) and Lisa Perry discuss the history of nuclear weapons, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the present threat of accidental nuclear war, nuclear terrorism, unilateral disarmament, the psychology of deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, cybersecurity, details of command and control, nuclear proliferation, the steps we could take toward safety, strategic missile defense, nuclear winter and other topics. I highly recommend this podcast.
Of course, just because the world might end in a week, day or minute does not mean it’s a waste of time to pursue REAL wellness. After all, our luck might hold. To those who follow arms control efforts, the consensus is that it’s a wonderment we’re dodged the biggest bullet imaginable for 75 years. The comic book-worthy Rapture will never happen but something much worse is far more plausible and not unlikely.
When you look at the facts, you’ll realize that it’s almost beyond belief that it has not happened, already. The future is very bright, but not in a good way.
It may not sound like it, at first, but being conscious about the risks of nuclear war, intentional or accidental, should be on the REAL wellness agenda as a matter of concern. Specifically, in addition to our personal wellness pursuits, it’s sensible to know the risks of nuclear Armageddon and ways those risks can be abated somewhat. By the policies and politicians we support, we can collectively have some influence, however slight our individual efforts.
JFK warned that we must devise ways to prevent “that slender thread holding the nuclear sword of Damocles from being cut by accident or miscalculation or madness.” He believed that no one individual should have sole ability to start a nuclear war on his/her own.
Heads of state in nine countries (i.e., the US, UK, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) have the power to initiate such a conflagration. Worse, in the country with more nukes than all other nations combined, our president is the only one with such authority–no one could counter his order to use such weapons. It’s little consolation that he considers himself a stable genius, since only he believes either claim.
FACTS CONCERNING NUCLEAR WEAPONS
* Together the United States and Russia control more than 90 percent of nuclear warheads, Russia with an estimated 6,500 warheads, the US with 6,185.
* Between 1945 – 2019, the US conducted 1,030 nuclear tests; Russia 715.
* The US and Russian military budgets for nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare between 2013 to 2022 reflects the reality that full-scale conflict between these two countries guarantees mutually assured destruction.
* The Nuclear Security Index rates North Korea and Iran the highest risks among nations that possess nuclear material.
The number of parties in control of nuclear warheads (nine at present) is a greater concern than the number of warheads, given the unstable nature of global politics.
(Source: Statista, Nuclear Weapons–Statistics & Facts, Erin Duffin, 2/7/20.)
THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK
University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in 1945 created the Doomsday Clock. They did so using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The Clock time is based upon an annual assessment of the threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors. The latter includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.
It is currently set at 100 seconds to midnight.
INITIAL STEPS THAT MIGHT REDUCE RISKS OF ACCIDENTAL OR OTHER USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
* No president should have sole and absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons. Donald Trump, on his own, could summon the nuclear football, open binders of attack options and relay orders to the National Military Command Center. Orders would go to missile control officers – ICBMs are primed on hair-trigger alert – and 30 minutes later explosions would occur over targets. Eliminating the president’s sole power to launch nukes, committing to no first use as national policy, eliminating ICBMs (costly and essentially useless except for first strike capability) are much favored steps. Other include:
* Promote public education about the nature and existential risks of nuclear catastrophe due to miscalculation, technical malfunction and/or political blunders.
* Eliminate work on strategic defenses–trying to distinguish live incoming missiles from a flood of decoys won’t succeed, according to experts, including Secretary Perry.
* Elect presidents and other leaders who understand these issues and are committed to trying to reduce nuclear risks.
* US policy should be not to wait for treaties to be worked out and confirmed–begin now to reduce redundant/excess weapon capacity.
* Support organizations that promote these and additional ends, including the San Francisco-based Plowshares Fund.
Secretary Perry’s granddaughter Lisa, head of an organization that promotes nuclear weapon reforms and containment strategies, says “there is a world in which these changes can happen.” A dialogue and subsequent demands as potent as the current surge for racial justice and police reforms are needed to raise awareness of the existential threat greater today than at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962.
Secretary Perry told Sam Harris in “The Logic of Doomsday” podcast that every day that he went to work at the White House during the last few days of the Cuban Missile crisis, he did not expect to be alive at the end of the day. Looking back, the consensus among experts is that the risks of nuclear war during that time was about 50/50.
The 50/50 odds that prevailed in 1962 are better than the odds experts are giving today that humanity will manage to avoid the cataclysmic calamity of nuclear weapon detonations.
ï»¿At age 25 in 1972, Bruce Blair was assigned as a Minuteman missile launch officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. His office was an underground bunker, his job–to execute a nuclear strike if so ordered. This experience and years of study, research and work thereafter convinced him that command and control structures of the major powers presented unnecessary risks of accidental nuclear war. In an article in today’s Washington Post, reporter Emily Langer notes that Dr. Blair devoted the rest of his professional life to reducing the nuclear threat… through rigorous analysis of the command-and-control system…
In 1999, Bruce Blair received a MacArthur genius grant. He was highly regarded by activists as well as military and intelligence officials here and in Moscow. He was a proponent of removing weapons from hair-trigger alert status- and by physically separating warheads from missiles. His goal was to add time to the process in order to reduce the chance of error. The Washington Post story provided this information:
“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Dr. Blair organized a letter signed by 10 former nuclear launch control officers declaring that they did not believe then-Republican nominee Donald Trump, if elected to the White House, should be granted the nuclear codes. He has shown himself time and again to be easily baited and quick to lash out, dismissive of expert consultation and ill-informed of even basic military and international affairs – including, most especially, nuclear weapons, the letter read. Donald Trump should not be the nation’s commander in chief. He should not be entrusted with the nuclear launch codes. He should not have his finger on the button.”
(Source: Emily Langer, Bruce Blair, “Leading Voice For Nuclear Arms Control, Dies at 72,” Washington Post, July 21, 2020.)
The Post article is highly recommended, as are other sources of information about the remarkable Secretary Perry and the late Dr. Bruce Blair.