doom_clock_5.gif (2567 bytes)5 Minutes to Midnight

The minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” — The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ iconic symbol of how close humanity is to catastrophic destruction — has been moved from seven to five minutes to midnight. The Bulletin’s Board of Directors, in consultation with a Board of Sponsors that includes 18 Nobel laureates, was led to move the Clock forward by the deteriorating state of global affairs. The specific reasons cited for the move include, first and foremost, nuclear weapons, but they also encompass climate-changing technologies and new developments in the life sciences and nanotechnology that could inflict irrevocable harm on the human environment. The Clock was last pushed forward by 2 minutes in 2002, after the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, one of the cornerstones of nuclear arms control.

Moving the hand of the Clock closer to midnight — the figurative end of civilization — draws attention to the increasing dangers from the spread of nuclear weapons in a world of violent conflict, and to the catastrophic harm from climate change that is unfolding. “Nuclear weapons present the most grave challenge to humanity,” the BAS Board asserted in a statement issued 17 January2007, “enabling genocide with the press of a button. ... Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth.”

The BAS statement continues: “The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival. ...

“The current period of globalization coincides with an erosion of the global agreements and norms that have constrained the spread of nuclear weapons since 1970 when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) came into force. The NPT provided standards, set up protocols for inspections and regulation through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and held out a promise of disarmament by the nuclear powers in exchange for restraint by those countries that did not have nuclear weapons. Compliance has always been voluntary, and until the last five years, nearly all governments felt that their interests were served by adhering to the NPT provisions. The 2005 NPT Review Conference, however, ended in failure, without any consensus on the core issues of verification of safeguards on national nuclear programs, the peaceful use of nuclear power, and disarmament. ...

“The five NPT-recognized nuclear weapon states [United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China] have failed in their obligation to make serious strides toward disarmament — most notably, the United States and Russia, which still possess 26,000 of the 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world. By far the greatest potential for calamity lies in the readiness of forces in the United States and Russia to fight an all-out nuclear war. Whether by accident or by unauthorized launch, these two countries are able to initiate major strikes in a matter of minutes. Each warhead has the potential destructive force of 8 to 40 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August 1945. In that relatively small nuclear explosion, 100,000 people were killed and a city destroyed; 50 of today’s nuclear weapons could kill 200 million people. ...

“Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War, following substantial reductions in nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia, the two major powers have now stalled in their progress toward deeper reductions in their arsenals. Equally worrisome, the United States, in its 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, declared that nuclear weapons “provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats,” including chemical and biological weapons, as well as “surprising military developments.” In early 2004, this new concept, which espouses the quick use of even nuclear weapons to destroy “time urgent targets,” was put into operation. That the United States — a nation with unmatched superiority in conventional weapons — would place renewed emphasis on the need for nuclear weapons suggests to other nations that such arsenals are necessary to their security.

“In the face of the major powers’ continued reliance on nuclear weapons, other nations are following suit. ... Even at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy worried about U.S. allies’ acquisition of nuclear weapons technology. In recent years, however, the United States appears focused on denying nuclear weapons only to its adversaries, while accommodating its friends. Yet, as history demonstrates, countries that are deemed allies can quickly become adversaries. And the success of the illicit, Pakistan-based nuclear procurement network, which extended into Europe, shows how even friendly governments can fail to guard against the theft and smuggling of sensitive nuclear technology. ...

“The problem of unsecured fissile material is not confined to Russia, however. More than 1,400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and approximately 500 tons of plutonium are distributed worldwide at some 140 sites, in unguarded civilian power plants and university research reactors, as well as in military facilities. The first report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials in September 2006 focused on the ease with which unauthorized groups, including terrorist groups, could obtain sufficient highly enriched uranium to make nuclear or radiological bombs. ...

“Global warming poses a dire threat to human civilization that is second only to nuclear weapons. The most authoritative scientific group on these issues, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has concluded, ‘Most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.’ ... In coming years, coastal cities will bear the brunt of sea-level rise, as we have already witnessed in New Orleans, compelling major shifts in human settlement patterns. As such, climate change is also likely to contribute to mass migrations and even to wars over arable land, water, and other natural resources. ... Indeed, a ‘business as usual’ scenario — wherein we take no further measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — would raise the global temperature 2.8 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, causing a sea-level rise of about 80 feet. The United States would lose most of its cities on the East Coast: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami, and nearly the whole state of Florida. China would have 250 million displaced people; India, 150 million.

“Because climate change is a global problem, it will require global action. ... If we do not take measures in the next several years to reduce carbon emissions, the costs of disruption from climate change could be as high as 5 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, according to the October 2006 report authored by British economist Nicholas Stern. By contrast, the costs of mitigating climate change could be limited to about 1 percent of global GDP each year.

“Turning back the Clock will depend on humanity’s ability to think in new ways about how to cooperate to achieve common goals. ... We urge immediate attention to climate change and caution those who believe nuclear energy is a problem-free solution. Finally, and most importantly, we call upon policy and opinion leaders, business and civic leaders, and the public to place the dangers of nuclear weapons at the top of their agendas for action. ...

“The terrible and still unprecedented destructive power of nuclear weapons led Albert Einstein to observe, ‘With nuclear weapons, everything has changed, save our way of thinking.’ As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and at the onset of an era of unprecedented climate change, our way of thinking about the uses and control of technologies must change to prevent unspeakable destruction and future human suffering. ...

“The Bulletin’s Clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age, and will continue living, until society adjusts its basic attitudes and institutions. As inheritors and trustees of the Clock, we seek to warn the world that this level of danger has escalated precipitously. ... The Clock is ticking.”

For a detailed list of action items for governments and other information, see:

– PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Bush fiddles with nukes while Putin burns

With President Bush pursuing a new round of U.S. nuclear weapons proliferation, Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a new arms control treaty between the two countries. In a June 27 speech to Russia’s senior diplomatic corps, Mr. Putin also called for ties between the two powers to be on a more equal footing — reflecting irritation at what he sees as an attitude of superiority by the White House.

In April, the Bush administration unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the aging United States nuclear weapons complex, including capacity for large-scale nuclear warhead manufacturing. The administration wants the capability to turn out 125 new nuclear warheads per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires older warheads that it says will no longer be reliable or safe. The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation’s massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War. The overall plan would not be fully implemented until 2030, requiring decades of increased budgets for nuclear weapons.

The plan was outlined to the strategic subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on April 5 by Thomas D’Agostino, head of nuclear weapons programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a part of the Energy Department. The blueprint calls for a modern complex with the ability to design a new nuclear warhead and have it ready in less than four years. Similar proposals in the past, such as for a nuclear warhead to attack underground bunkers, provoked concern that they undermined U.S. policy to stop nuclear proliferation.

One impetus for the plan is a belief that maintaining older nuclear warheads and keeping up a large nuclear weapons industrial complex are technically and financially unsustainable. Last year, a task force led by San Diego physicist David Overskei recommended that the Energy Department consolidate the system of eight existing nuclear weapons sites into one. Under the plan, all U.S. weapons grade plutonium would also be consolidated into a single facility that could be more effectively and cheaply defended against possible terrorist attacks. Overskei said that the cost of security alone for the current complex of plants over the next 20 years was roughly $25 billion.

The administration’s blueprint is facing sharp criticism, both from those who say it does not move fast enough to consolidate plutonium and from those who say restarting warhead production would encourage aspiring nuclear powers to develop their own weapons. D’Agostino acknowledged that the administration was walking a fine line by modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons program while trying to assure other nations that it was not seeking a new arms race.

The credibility of that contention was challenged by Mr. Putin’s call for the United States to open talks on a new arms control agreement to replace the existing START I treaty. Signed on July 31, 1991, five months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, START I remains in force as a treaty between the U.S., Russia and three other Soviet republics that have since totally disarmed their strategic nuclear arsenals. START I reduced the number of U.S. and Russian delivery vehicles to 1,600, with a maximum of 6,000 operational warheads.

The treaty was followed by START II, which banned the use of multiple re-entry vehicles to attack multiple targets with a single missile, but never entered into force. It was subsequently bypassed by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in Moscow on May 24, 2002 by Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush. SORT, which expires at the end of 2012, is more window dressing than arms control. It limit the countries’ operational nuclear arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each, but does not eliminate a single nuclear warhead. Warheads removed from missiles may be stored for re-deployment later. It also has no provision for verification.

Mr. Putin expressed concern about “the current standstill in arms reductions”and called for a new treaty to be signed by December 2009, when START I expires. A new treaty is sorely needed because START I is the only mechanism for verifying U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts. Prospects for a meaningful new treaty are dim.

The Bush administration, instead, is quickly moving in the opposite direction with a new nuclear weapon program known as the “reliable replacement warhead.” Originally described as an effort to update existing weapons and make them more reliable, it has been expanded to a design competition now in progress between the two nuclear weapons labs for a new warhead design.

The U.S. built its last nuclear weapon in 1989 and last tested a weapon underground in 1992. A crucial part of restarting U.S. nuclear warhead production involves plutonium “pits,” hollow plutonium spheres surrounded by high explosives. The pits initiate nuclear fission that triggers nuclear fusion in a thermonuclear warhead (hydrogen bomb).

Pit production at the Energy Department’s former Rocky Flats plant near Denver was shut down in 1989, and the site has been decommissioned. In recent years, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has geared up to start limited pit production and hopes to build a certified pit that will enter the so-called “war reserve” next year. Although Los Alamos would be producing 30 to 50 pits annually by 2012, NNSA claims that is not enough to sustain the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

In his testimony, Mr. D’Agostino estimated plutonium pits would last 45 to 60 years, after which they might result in an explosion smaller than intended. Critics outside the government sharply dispute that conclusion, saying there is no evidence that pits degrade over time and that the nation can keep an adequate nuclear deterrent by maintaining its existing weapons.

The Bush administration’s nuclear arms control policies began with a refusal to submit for Senate ratification a global treaty to indefinitely ban underground nuclear weapon tests. The administration also unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to pursue its version of “Star Wars” in Alaska.

Bush appointees have sidelined key career nuclear weapons experts in the State Department and replaced them with less experienced political operatives who share the White House and Pentagon’s distrust of international negotiations and treaties. The shakeup threw the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of nuclear arms experts with decades of experience, according to documents and 11 current and former officials. Among those who have left is the State Department’s top authority on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is the cornerstone of the international regime to curb the spread of nuclear arms.

Thomas Lehrman, a political appointee who heads the new office of Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism, advertised outside the State Department to fill jobs in his office. In an e-mail to universities and research centers, he listed loyalty to President Bush’s priorities as a qualification. Pres. Bush has repudiated the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s requirement to disarm.

– edited from the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, RIA Novosti (Russia) and Knight Ridder Newspapers
PeaceMeal, July/August 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Pentagon expands nuclear strike plan

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear weapons to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, would expand rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. That year, a spokesman said the United States would "respond with overwhelming force" to the use of WMD against the United States, its forces or allies, and said "all options" would be available to the president.

The first example for potential nuclear weapon use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using "or intending to use" WMD against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations. Another scenario for a possible nuclear preemptive strike is in case of an "imminent attack from adversary biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy."

That and other provisions in the document appear to refer to nuclear initiatives proposed by the administration that Congress has thus far declined to fully support. Last year, for example, Congress refused to fund research toward development of nuclear weapons that could destroy biological or chemical weapons materials without dispersing them into the atmosphere.

The draft document also envisions the use of nuclear weapons for "attacks on adversary installations including WMD, deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons." But Congress last year halted funding of a study to determine the viability of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator warhead (RNEP) — commonly called the bunker buster — that the Pentagon has said is needed to attack hardened, deeply buried weapons sites.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has been a leading opponent of the bunker-buster program, said "they seem to bypass the idea that Congress had doubts about the program." She added that members "certainly don't want the administration to move forward with a [nuclear] preemption policy" without hearings.

The Pentagon draft paper says that to deter a potential adversary from using such weapons, that adversary's leadership must "believe the United States has both the ability and will to pre-empt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective."

Hans M. Kristensen, a nuclear weapons consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "This doctrine does not deliver on the Bush administration pledge of a reduced role for nuclear weapons. It provides justification for contentious concepts not proven and implies the need for RNEP."

– edited from The Washington Post, 11 Sept. 2005
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2005

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Legacy of Life
In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Jim Stoffels
Co-founder and Chairman
, World Citizens for Peace

The following op-ed was published in the Tri-City (Washington) Herald on Sunday, August 7, 2005.

Sixty years ago, the United States of America became the only country on Earth to ever use nuclear weapons against human beings. In the horror of a World War, our country developed, then used the atomic bomb. The bombs exploded on Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9, 1945), with explosive power measured in kilotons — thousands of tons of TNT, were unparalleled in the death and destruction they wrought.

Developed in total secrecy by the wartime Manhattan Project and code-named "Little Boy" and "Fat Man," their effects stunned even the scientists who created them. Never before had single bombs destroyed major cities or taken such a toll in human life. By the end of 1945, with the delayed effects of radiation exposure, more than 200,000 people died from the two bombs.

But those first two were rudimentary by today's standards. In the fear of the ensuing Cold War, our country developed the even more deadly hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bomb, with explosive power measured in megatons — millions of tons of TNT.

During the unchecked nuclear arms race between the United States and former Soviet Union, the combined arsenals of the two powers grew by the mid-1980s to almost 70,000 nuclear weapons. And even though the Cold War ended 16 years ago, the combined nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia still stand at 30,000. (The remaining three of the "Big Five" nuclear powers - Britain, France, and China - have a thousand weapons combined.)

The policy of our government is to maintain our current arsenal of 10,000 thermonuclear weapons in perpetuity, placing in reserve all warheads that are removed from operational status. Two thousand of the operational warheads remain on hair-trigger alert to be launched with only minutes warning. This dangerous and unnecessary Cold War mode of operation has brought us within minutes of accidental all-out nuclear war because of false alarms.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of terror. They terrorize by their very existence to such a degree the International Court of Justice unanimously ruled in 1996 that even the threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law.

The international treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, went into effect in 1970 upon ratification by the United States. The NPT is the cornerstone of both non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament. As interpreted by the International Court of Justice, the treaty legally binds the Nuclear Weapons States to achieve nuclear disarmament. In return, the Non-Nuclear Weapons States agree to forego nuclear weapons.

The NPT Review Conference in 2000 reaffirmed as a bottom line for all peoples of the world that "the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons."

In recent years, with the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, unilateral abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and rejection of the Non-Proliferation Treaty commitment to disarm, 40 years of progress in nuclear arms control has not only been halted but overthrown — by our government!

The current administration is spending more on nuclear weapons now than during the Cold War, as it pursues a policy of "do as I say, not as I do." Instead of providing leadership for a safe and secure nuclear-weapon-free world, the United States is the world's biggest roadblock to nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

This reversal of long-standing (and previously bipartisan) policy is taking place not because of the consent of the American public, but because of our apathy. In a poll earlier this year, two-thirds of those Americans surveyed said that no countries, including the United States, should have nuclear weapons.

Repeat: No countries, including the United States, should have nuclear weapons! As a moral imperative for the future of humanity, those abominable weapons must be abolished.

Today it is time to not only choose life — life in a world free from the terror of nuclear annihilation, but also to stand up and make ourselves heard. Those of us who are parents and grandparents especially have a responsibility to choose this legacy of life to leave our children and grandchildren.