NUCLEAR ARSENALS: THE NEW ARMS RACE
A nuclear war would have no victors. Nevertheless, the nuclear-weapon states are modernizing their arsenals and developing “small nuclear weapons”.
At the beginning of February 2019, Donald Trump suspended the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This treaty, struck between the Soviet Union and the US in 1987, banned and eliminated ground-launched intermediate-range (500 to 5,500 km) nuclear missiles deployed between the Atlantic and the Ural Mountains. President Trump justified his decision by claiming that Russia had already violated the treaty by developing cruise missiles with a range of 2,600 kilometers. Meanwhile, Russia accused the US and NATO of violating the treaty by installing a missile defense shield and by using combat drones. Consequently, President Vladimir Putin also pulled Russia out of the treaty.
The end of the INF Treaty poses a new threat specifically for Europe, as intermediate range missiles are not capable of crossing the Atlantic. However, this development could also open up new opportunities: “What would happen if Europe were to leave the geopolitical and nuclear policy of deterrence of the last decades behind once and for all?” asks Sascha Hach, long-time board member of the German section of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Price and the 2016 Nuclear Free Future Award. “We Europeans could create a neutral Europe, ending nuclear participation in NATO. This could enable a nuclear weapons-free Europe.”
In July of 2017, ICAN helped to draft a UN treaty banning nuclear weapons: 122 member states voted for the treaty, 81 countries have signed it, and 37 have ratified it (as of press time) – so far without the participation of any of the nuclear weapon states or NATO members. A principle reason for this is the involvement of NATO states in nuclear war preparation. One such example is the US military base in Büchel in Germany, where combat-ready nuclear bombs are still deployed. The nuclear threat persists, although it is often ignored by politicians, the media and the public. According to the Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, the nine nuclear powers possessed 13,895 nuclear warheads between them at the beginning of 2019. That is 600 warheads less than in the previous year – however, still more than enough to wipe out all life on Earth.
Despite this, the political thinking of our world leaders is not in synch with the efforts of ICAN and others. In 2009, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, spoke of his vision for a nuclear weapons-free world. However he allocated more than one trillion US dollars to so-called “modernization” of the US nuclear arsenal. Then, under Trump, the US and Russia – the world’s two nuclear super powers – suspended the INF Treaty. Neither country requires new supplies of plutonium or highly enriched uranium, since, after deploying more than 70,000 nuclear warheads in the 1980s, they disarmed three quarters of them, but never destroyed the majority of the fissile materials.
In its February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the US signaled its intention to have the capability of reacting to nuclear as well as “non-nuclear strategic attacks” with nuclear weapons. To that end, the US government is developing small tactical nuclear weapons, which could be deployed much more precisely, effectively lowering the threshold for a nuclear first strike.
While the US may talk of “small” nuclear bombs, these “small” bombs still have the destructive power of a Hiroshima bomb – the weapon that instantly killed an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people on August 6th, 1945. A similar number of people are estimated to have died in the weeks and months after the attack. A study by IPPNW shows what a nuclear war would entail: A regional war with only 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs would result in a global famine and up to two billion subsequent deaths.
The only alternative to this scenario is a world without nuclear weapons. More and more people are actively working toward this goal. “Mayors for Peace”, an organization established in Japan in 1982, has been advocating since then for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. As of March 2020, 7,869 cities in 163 countries had joined the organization.
NO MONEY FOR BOMBS
Through its campaign “Don’t Bank on the Bomb”, ICAN is investigating the financial sources behind nuclear weapons construction. Between January 2017 and January 2019, banks invested 900 billion US dollars for this purpose. Just ten financial institutions were responsible for about half of this sum: Vanguard, BlackRock, Capital Group, State Street, Verisight (now called Newport Group), T. Rowe Price, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. However, this business model is becoming more and more stigmatized: ABP, the fifth largest pension fund worldwide, with assets of 500 billion US dollars, is excluding nuclear weapons manufacturers from its investments. KBC, a banking group with eleven million customers, has cut all financial ties with nuclear weapons manufacturers. Deutsche Bank declared it would no longer finance nuclear weapons production, much like other financial institutions in the US, the UK and France. All of us can ask our banks whether they grant loans to corporations dealing in nuclear weapons.
● IPPNW Study: Nuclear Famine. Two Billion People at Risk, as PDF at ippnw.org/nuclear-famine.html
● Links: mayorsforpeace.org; icanw.org; dontbankonthebomb.com; armscontrol.org
● “Nukes Ready To Fly” by Andrew Barr and Richard Johnson, National Post, 2012: nationalpostcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/fo0505_nuclearweaponsw1.pdf