Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

by Dan Schlitt, Local Contact
Friends Committee on National Legislation

When the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to ‘preventive wars’ and to destruction even more terrible than the destruction of life. The politicians do not appreciate the possibilities and consequently do not know the extent of the menace.

— December 1944 letter from Albert Einstein to physicist Niels Bohr

The prediction of a race for nuclear weapons came true on the part of the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Other consequences happened in slow motion. France and the United Kingdom eventually joined the nuclear club. Other nations slowly followed. Small conventional wars occurred with the threat of nuclear weapons in the background. Only in the past decade (with the war on Iraq) did a ‘preventive war’ based on rumors of nuclear weapons come to pass.

We were fortunate that there was a movement that took advantage of the slowness and went in the opposite direction. Atmospheric testing came to an end. A broad international nonproliferation treaty was negotiated and placed in operation. A series of strategic arms reduction treaties (START) between the United States and the Soviet Union, and now Russia, slowly reduced the strategic nuclear weapons of the two countries.

We are now at a turning point however. We have a president who is publicly committed to moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons. He is joined in this by many faith leaders and many members of Congress and former Secretaries of State. On the other side, there are strong forces in Congress and the country not only resisting the reduction in our nuclear arsenal, but committed to increasing it.

The ratification of the New START treaty by the previous Senate is a base to build on. A next step is the ratification of the “Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” by the Senate. Testing is a requirement for the development of new weapons. This treaty will strongly inhibit the development of new weapons by the current nuclear weapons states and by new nuclear-armed countries.

The U.S. was the first to sign the treaty in 1996 but the Senate has not ratified it. The treaty is not in full effect because it has not been ratified by the United States and seven other countries. Some of them are waiting for the U.S. to ratify it. The international monitoring system under the treaty has been operating for more than a decade. It has successfully detected all six nuclear tests conducted during that time. However, the on-site verification inspections that are an essential feature of the treaty cannot take place until the treaty is in full force.

The treaty is essential to moving toward a nuclear weapon free world. For example, India—which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty—is threatening to resume testing.

A second thing which needs support is the operation and funding of two programs, the “International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation Program” and the “Global Threat Reduction Initiative.” The first protects nuclear materials and warheads at more than 100 sites, mostly in Russia. The second removed highly enriched uranium from 10 countries – enough to produce 16 nuclear weapons. These programs reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. We are fortunate that Representative Jeff Fortenberry has taken the lead in preserving the funding for these programs.

Third, we need to reduce the spending on our own nuclear arsenal. We spend billions of dollars each year on this system to keep up, renovate and replace parts of the system. Everything from ballistic missile submarines and bombers to uranium processing facilities.

Of the roughly 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world, including around 5,000 operational strategic weapons, the United States and Russia have the bulk of them. If we are to make progress toward a nuclear weapons-free world, we must reduce these stockpiles. The “New START Treaty” makes some progress. But the numbers of weapons we have are far beyond any conceivable need and don’t justify the cost. Nevertheless, there are members of Congress who want to increase spending on them. In summary, here are the things that you can do to make this change possible:

Tell our Senators that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is important for our national security and they should vote to ratify it.

Tell our members of both houses of Congress that United States leadership in efforts to secure stockpiles of weapons grade nuclear materials is essential and they should provide the funds for this. Thank Representative Fortenberry for his efforts on this issue.

Tell our members of both houses of Congress that in this era of tight budgets we don’t need 1,500 deployed strategic nuclear weapons and to support proposals to cut tens of billions of dollars from this budget.

Tell the administration and Congress that diplomacy is the best way to solve conflicts over nuclear weapons with countries such as Iran and North Korea and to stop the loose talk in Congress that undercuts these efforts.

Click here for a list of Nebraska's elected officials.

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