In May 2010 nations will gather in New York City for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. This will be the year that the pressure will be on to set binding and enforceable targets for reducing and ultimately eliminating the signatories' nuclear arsenals. Of course, it will not be as simple as that since there are nations that are not signatories to the NPT that have developed nuclear weapons, the proverbial flies in the ointment.
No matter who currently has nuclear weapons, the entire world is at risk the longer nations maintain their arsenals. Some arsenals, such as the United States' and Russia's, are so massive as to be ludicrous. As of 2009, just the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile was estimated at 5,200 nuclear warheads, 2700 of those "operational" (in other words deployed and ready to go). Do we really need that many nukes to "deter" another nation from attacking us???
The fact is that even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons would have disastrous consequences for those people living in the immediate vicinity as well as people around the world. Aside from nuclear winter scenarios calculated during the Cold War, even a partial exchange between two smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan would be disastrous on a global scale. Besides killing most of their people, and making the land in and around their nations uninhabitable (and unsafe) for those remaining, the huge volumes of soot released into the atmosphere would likely cause dramatic loss of stratospheric ozone (which protects us from ultraviolet light) and also cause massive crop failures.
So what's a nuclear power to do??? Besides the immediate actions of taking weapons of alert status, removing warheads from weapons and a host of other actions that would serve to reduce the risk of either accidental or intentional launch, the nuclear powers must tackle the long term (hopefully not too much longer) goal of disarmament as stated in the NPT. To do so will require the leadership of the two largest nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia.
The next U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, the document that lays out the role that nuclear weapons will play in U.S. military and foreign policy, will be (finally) released on March 1, 2010. What this document has to say will be critical going forward towards the NPT Review Conference in May. It is clear that President Obama and the Pentagon are not in agreement on some issues, one of them being whether the U.S. should commit a no-first use of nuclear weapons policy. Issues like this one are key to showing good faith and ratcheting down tensions.
We should hope that the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review will not open with a statement like this one that begins the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (Page 7):
Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important to achieve strategic and political objectives.
Much can happen between now and March 1st, and President Obama is getting it from all sides - those who want to continue the status quo that has carried over from the Cold War, as well as those (including military and security experts) who say that the only solution to the threats posed by nuclear weapons is their elimination. The path to their elimination begins with reducing our reliance on them. It requires imagination and a re-thinking of their place (do they have one?) in "achieving strategic and political objectives."
The President made a pledge in Prague:
I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.Hold him to it! Take a couple minutes to send President Obama an email asking him to be sure that the Nuclear Posture Review states a no first-use policy and that the U.S. will not build any new nuclear weapons. And when you are done, consider phoning The White House to make the message even stronger. You can personalize your email at Peace Action's Website, and you can also find The White House phone number there.
Don't you think that the best nuclear posture is a relaxed one?