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‘Let’s help to defuse a nuclear war’

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Picture: Ludovic Marin/Various Sources/AFP – French president Emmanuel Macron, bottom right, speaks about the Ukraine war crisis with French TV host Caroline Roux in front of pictures of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Paris. Russia repeated its position that Western nations, by helping Ukraine, indicated that “they are a direct party to the conflict”

By Kevin Martin

Sixty years ago this month, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was in my mother’s womb. My young, sweet mom was terrified she would never get to see me be born, as the world teetered on the brink of unimaginable calamity.

It’s bewildering to me that nuclear crises bookend my life at this point, especially with my having worked for nuclear disarmament since 1983.

But here we are, perhaps closer to nuclear catastrophe, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled nuclear threats in his disastrous war against Ukraine, than at any time since John Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev found a path back from the brink six decades ago.

Decades of progress in reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world have recently been undercut by backsliding on nuclear weapons treaties, a lack of progress on disarmament (in fact, the opposite, a new arms race with all nuclear states upgrading their arsenals), and hypocrisy on non-proliferation by the nuclear powers.

There are now nine nuclear-armed states – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea – and many more that could go nuclear if they choose to do so. Clearly, humanity has so far failed to deal with the existential threat of the weaponised atom.

A Russian strategic nuclear forces (SNF) officer has a practice session, learning how to operate the mobile Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile at a secret launching centre of intercontinental ballistic missiles in December 1998. The Topol-M is 22.7 metres long and has a diameter of 1.95m. The missile has a range of 11 000km. The solid-propellant three-stage Topol-M missile complex, with a standardised (silo and mobile) missile, became the foundation of the Russian strategic nuclear forces in the 21st century. The strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation consist of ground intercontinental ballistic missiles stationary, and also mobile, earth and railway variants of basing, sea and aviation strategic nuclear arms. Picture: AFP

Moreover, the fact that a single person, the chief executive in those nine countries, on his or her own authority, could initiate a nuclear war that could wipe out all, or most, life on Earth is unacceptable if one has any notion of democracy or the common good.

Harvard professor Elaine Scarry laid this out simply in her trenchant book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom. Why – in our supposedly advanced state of social development as a species – we allow such power to be invested in nine individuals is a question worthy of intense scrutiny, and sorely needed change.

However, the current crisis brings with it the opportunity to re-engage on nuclear disarmament issues at the grass-roots level in order to show our government it needs to get serious about reducing, not exacerbating, the nuclear threat.

My organisation, Peace Action, is part of a coalition called Defuse Nuclear War which is doing just that. This month, with the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the current threat by Russia to use nukes in its faltering war in Ukraine, is a great time to get active.

On Friday, local events were organised in more than 40 cities across the US – including Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Dallas, Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Minneapolis, St Louis, and many more cities – to sound the alarm.

The demands of Defuse Nuclear War are simple and clear:

• End the policy of first use of nuclear weapons;

• Rejoin nuclear arms control and reduction treaties;

• Take US weapons off hair-trigger alert;

• Eliminate all land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles;

• In the US, support Congressional legislation, House Resolution 1185, backing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and,

• Move the money to human needs, not war. At this time of dire threat, we can’t sit back and rely on politicians to get it right.

Kennedy and his advisers almost didn’t in 1962; it was perhaps more luck than skill that averted Armageddon. Please get involved with “Defuse Nuclear War” actions, and invite your family, friends, colleagues and social media audiences to do the same, as we need to broaden our circle.

It may be, as the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock warns, perilously close to midnight, but we can help turn the clock back on nuclear catastrophe if we act together.

Martin is the President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund.

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