Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility has just published an updated report on the effects of a limited nuclear war.
In the updated study reported in Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?, researchers report that the climatic effects of a "limited" nuclear war between Pakistan and India would cut crop production worldwide, putting up to 2 billion people at risk of starvation.
The previous report (Nuclear Famine: A
Billion People at Risk, published in 2012) estimated one billion at risk of starvation under these circumstances. The findings of the study conducted since then "suggest that the original report may have seriously underestimated the consequences of a limited nuclear war."
The updated report concludes (among other things) that there is an "urgent need to move with all possible speed to
the negotiation of a global agreement to outlaw
and eliminate nuclear weapons and the danger
of nuclear war."
Some news outlets are paying serious attention to the updated report, and one of today's headlines read Nuclear War Could Mean 'Extinction of the Human Race' (in CommonDreams.org).
Although Dr. Helfand's report is of great importance we should be very clear - This is not news! The human race has been living under the threat of extinction by nuclear weapons since the early days of the Cold War when the United States and Soviet Union amassed arsenals capable of destroying life on Earth (as we know it). Even today, decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. and Russia (along with the declared and undeclared nuclear powers) have enough deployed nuclear warheads (ready to launch on warning) to destroy civilization and leave the Earth uninhabitable for generations.
My point is that as important as Helfand's report is to our efforts at the global abolition of nuclear weapons, scientists have been studying climatic effects of nuclear weapons for decades. Independent scientists have nearly all concluded that the effects of nuclear weapons on climate would be severe and long-lasting. Steven Starr has written extensively on climatic effects of nuclear weapons. So far, governments have mostly either ignored their findings or done their best to discredit them.
In the case of large-scale nuclear war, beyond the climatic effects are the direct blast and radiation effects, as well as the long-term exposure of surviving populations to radioisotopes resulting from the detonation of nuclear weapons. Aside from the millions (or more) of immediate deaths, countless more people would die in the days, weeks and months that follow from exposure to radiation, and the effects would carry on in the form of blood dyscrasias and cancers. Of course, the destruction of infrastructure, agricultural production and just every aspect of civilization as we know it, would likely cause a near total breakdown of society.
The bottom line is that nuclear weapons are the most vile creation of humankind, and absolutely threaten humanity with extinction so long as they exist. 124 states recognized this, and delivered a joint statement to the United Nations General Assembly in October: "It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances." The only viable course is to abolish nuclear weapons once and for all.
The US government is engaged in research and development toward the goal of building 12 new ballistic missile submarines, known as the SSBN(X), to replace the current OHIO Class "Trident" submarines. They are known as Tridents because of the Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles they carry. Each Trident sub carries 24 Trident missiles, each missile currently armed with approximately four warheads (maximum capacity of 8 warheads per missile).
Each warhead has an explosive yield of either 100 (W76 Warhead) or 475 kilotons (W88 Warhead). The Hiroshima bomb, for comparison, was approximately 15 kilotons. The nuclear firepower carried on a single Trident submarine is capable of destroying an entire continent.
Trident was initially designed, manufactured and deployed during the Cold War. It was intended as a "deterrent" to the nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over, and the US is planning to spend $100 billion just to build the 12 new subs. Essentially, the US is building an archaic, Cold War nuclear weapons system, and seems to have done so without adequately justifying its future mission.
These submarines are intended for one thing only - launching thermonuclear-armed missiles at another nation. Such a strike, however limited it might be, would have devastating consequences on those targeted (and that would include civilians) as well as those in surrounding areas as the effects of nuclear weapons cannot be controlled in space or time. They are weapons of mass murder.
While nations wring their hands with concern over Iran this week (next week it will likely be North Korea once again), the very real danger exists right now with the major nuclear-armed nations. The US and Russia still lead the way (toward omnicide) with the largest nuclear arsenals. It is, therefore, these two nations that must lead the way toward disarmament.
So long as we hold on to Cold War thinking and outmoded concepts like "deterrence", we will continue to sleepwalk toward oblivion. In the US, that involves the continuing rebuilding of the nuclear weapons research, development and production complex, as well as the refurbishing of existing weapons systems and the development of new ones. Meanwhile, we lecture Iran and North Korea to NOT build nuclear weapons.
Will we lead the world (as we do now) toward a continued buildup of nuclear weapons, or will we summon the courage to lead the way toward a nuclear weapons-free future? I firmly believe that our elected leaders will not listen to logic and reason until there is a significant groundswell - led by the people.
Cindy Sheehan recently said that "The power of the people is stronger than the people in power." If that is true and history is any indicator, we need to put together a huge constituency calling on our government to lead the way toward disarmament, beginning with the scrapping of counterproductive and destabilizing programs like the SSBN(X).
Join Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in saying NO To NEW TRIDENT. Right after we ring in the New Year, we will be moving full speed ahead to stop this wasteful $100 billion dollar project and refocusing that money on human needs. Check out our Blog at notnt.org and sign up to be notified of updates and opportunities to get involved.
While you're at it, please join PSR's Humanitarian Threats of Nuclear Weapons Campaign. Please also tell President Obama to send a US delegation to the upcoming (February!!!) conference in Mexico on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.
This is a watershed moment in terms of opportunity to move the world towards nuclear disarmament. The majority of nations in the UN are calling for abolition, while the few nuclear armed powers do everything to hold on to their precious nuclear weapons. It is time for a paradigm shift, and it is up to We the People of the World to demand change. Each of us can and must play a role in creating this change.
Let this be the legacy we leave to future generations - a world free from the fear of nuclear omnicide.
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