Nuclear Disarmament a Victim of the 2016 National Security State

by Loring Wirbel
Citizens for Peace in Space
Colorado Springs, Colorado

The Paris attacks of November 13 and the subsequent domestic terrorism events in Colorado and California killed more than just civil liberties in the waning days of 2015. Nuclear disarmament and arms control—already on life support since the NATO standoff with Russia began—has been universally snubbed, defeated and ignored. It’s bound to be a grim presidential-election year to come.

The U.S. and Russia maintain close to 15,000 nuclear warheads, split almost evenly between the two countries. President Obama pledged in his first year of office to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons by a third. But Michael Sainato said in a December 1 blog item in Huffington Post that Obama had done almost nothing to practically reduce those numbers. The Federation of American Scientists said he had done the least to implement arms reduction of any president in the nuclear era. In fact, a new nuclear arms modernization effort for land ICBMs, sea ICBM and bombers began under Obama that will cost the U.S. $963 billion—nearly $1 trillion—between now and 2040. And Obama is not encouraged to think otherwise. The Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs, the house organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, was a special issue on the history of Obama’s foreign policy. Editor Gideon Rose ridiculed Obama for daring to believe in nuclear disarmament in 2009, and praised the realism of the new Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter.

Meanwhile, ever since Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet on the Turkish border in late November, Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared almost fervent in wanting to expand nuclear forces and exercises around the Russian border. After conventional surface-to-air missiles were brought into Syria in early December, Russian military sources hinted that some SAM batteries might switch to low-yield tactical warheads. In a December 3 speech to the Duma, Putin said he would not be satisfied with economic sanctions against Turkey, and that “we are prepared to take other measures.” Earlier, Putin leaked information to state media about a secret Russian project to develop a nuclear torpedo. NTV and Channel One carried a photo of a document from a Kremlin meeting on a long-range submarine-launched nuclear torpedo under development called Status-6. The torpedo could be launched by a drone sub. All indications are that the ‘leak’ was made with full Kremlin approval.

This attitude did not find favor with all of Russia’s former affiliated states. The nation of Kazakhstan in particular, which used to play host to the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, was one of the strongest proponents of further nuclear reductions at a conference held in Berlin at the end of November. Ukraine, also, has been increasing its talk in favor of nuclear arms reduction, though this obviously is related to its disputes with Russia over Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

The U.K. and France both revived talks about nuclear force modernization in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, even though nuclear weapons would hardly prove useful against the ISIS threat. In fact, the only nuclear-armed state that seemed to show reserve was China. Despite its blustering after standoffs with U.S. ships in the South China Sea, China spent the fall smoothing relations with Taiwan, and being cautious about hyping its nuclear capability. China quietly sent signals to the North Korean regime that now was not a good time to perform additional missile and warhead testing. China may want to increase its influence globally, but it seemed prepared more than any other nation to treat its nuclear arsenal as a separate weapons reserve that should not be touted in the current shaky global environment. This is not only a change from the typical tough-guy talk of Prime Minister Xi Jinpeng, but a complete turnaround from the era when former Chairman Mao Zedong referred to nuclear-armed states as “paper tigers.”

So what can U.S. activists expect in the coming election year? If the ruckus surrounding David Cameron’s speech in the U.K. Parliament December 2 on bombing Syria is any indication, the world is going through a time similar to 1979-80 or 2001-02, when most citizens seemed ready for war. But this also leads to a stronger movement away from bellicose talk, as is already emerging in both the U.K. and France. U.S. activists will have to beware of silencing themselves to make their own messages more palatable. In the Democratic Party, the Sanders campaign will probably pay lip service to nuclear arms reduction, though the Clinton campaign may need more nudging in the face of unified Republican clamorings for barring refugees, increasing spot-checks of citizens and silencing dissent in the name of national security.

Nuclear weapons will not be first on the agenda of everyday citizens, either, as attention will be steered to tactical weapons, drones, militarized police and the like. Anti-nuclear activists will have to remind citizens that more than 15,000 nuclear weapons remain on alert worldwide, many on hair-trigger alert. NORAD’s underground city under Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, mothballed for a few short years, has gone back to active status since the terror threats increased. Yet it should be obvious that nuclear weapons will play little role in challenging terror attacks or isolated military-style massacres within the U.S.

The coming year will be the type to try the souls of all peace activists, particularly since national-security specialists love to use fear and terror as organizing tools. We must not turn our gaze out of fear or seek ‘safe spaces’ in a world that has become an atrocity exhibition. Instead, we must face fear head on, and use it to empower us into action, moving beyond fear into love and understanding. This applies even more so to nuclear dread. The nukes are still here, and can be used at any time. They remain an existential threat in a world gone mad. In the nervous and fear-soaked atmosphere of 2016, we must not remain silent about civil liberties threats, regional tactical wars, or the dangers of modernized nukes. It is time to raise our voices even louder against the background noise of fear and dread.

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