CFPA Executive Director Rev. Bob Moore submitted the following op-ed for publication on August 3, 2022 .
On August 1, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned in an address to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, “Humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”
As someone who has been organizing full time for the global abolition of nuclear weapons for the last 45 years, I concur wholeheartedly with this grave warning. August 6 and 9 mark the 77th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some say that prudent policies have prevented another use of nuclear weapons in war since then.
But the truth is that on numerous occasions, the world has come awfully close to their use again. For example, we’ve only learned recently that a Russian nuclear submarine commander ordered the launching of a nuclear weapon during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was only luck that a regional commander who happened to be on board overruled him.
People with deep knowledge of nuclear weapons, including former US Secretaries of Defense Robert McNamara and William Perry, and former Commander of US Nuclear Forces Lee Butler, have said that it’s mostly luck that nuclear weapons haven’t been used again.
In the late 1970s, I was a leader in founding the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign to counter the escalating nuclear arms race between the US and the former Soviet Union. Millions of Americans became active in demonstrations, lobbying, referenda.
Then President Reagan responded to the massive pressure by resuming nuclear negotiations with the Soviets. By 1987, the first nuclear reduction treaty in history verifiably eliminated medium range land based nuclear weapons. More nuclear restraint treaties followed through 2010.
However, starting with President George W. Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, most of those treaties were negated up through President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Agreement in 2018.
Moreover, the US, Russia, and China are all beginning a new nuclear arms race under the guise of “nuclear modernization.” For the US, that is estimated to cost $2 trillion and have new nuclear weapons deployed for another 70-100 years.
There are also signs of hope. President Biden extended the New START nuclear reduction treaty for another five years through 2026. The UN’s Nuclear Ban Treaty has been supported by 123 member states, several of which have nuclear weapons deployed on their territory. Verifiably banning nuclear weapons globally is the only way to prevent the nuclear annihilation Secretary General Guterres warned about.
Movement toward that ambitious goal only has a chance of succeeding if millions in the US and around the world undertake renewed activism. It’s the only alternative to relying on “mostly luck” to prevent nuclear annihilation. We, average citizens, as a slogan coined in the 1980s phrased it, must become active today to prevent being radioactive tomorrow.