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"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

Posts Tagged ‘nuclear disarmament

Nuclear weapons: the Razor’s Edge

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Our officials have a big problem: during the Cold War, they created tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and now, faced with the threat that terrorists could make dirty bombs out of unsecured nuclear materials, and the spread of nuclear weapons to less stable countries like North Korea, they don’t know how to get rid of them. It’s a mess. In Russia and in the United States, the waste created and dumped during those years will cost billions and billions of dollars to clean up, and no profit to be made from it. According to David Culp, the people in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, to say nothing of people in Congress, are so tired of talking about the insurmountable problems posed by the mounting waste that they don’t even want to think about it anymore. But unfortunately, they are still producing it.

President Obama has puzzled supporters and critics alike, ever since he made his fabulous commitment in Prague in 2009 to move to eliminate nuclear weapons and then knuckled under to Republican pressure to start modernizing the stockpile, at terrific expense, if he hoped to have their votes for the NewSTART treaty with Russia.

Last February, news leaked out, and spilled all over the Internet, that the President had convened a meeting of top Pentagon heads to analyze the safety of reducing the stockpile even further than NewSTART levels. Disarmament folks got all excited, but then the mollusk clamped shut around this pearl, and nothing more was said. In April, the President’s budget continued to fund modernization, a project expected to cost more than $80 billion over the coming decade.

Huh? What happened to the disarmament president now, we whined? It was a heartbreaking setback.

But in fact, Obama had not actually said that he was planning on holding further negotiations with Russia. Indeed, he said nothing in response to the rumors, and the “implementation” document, as it was called, remained classified. It was an election year, and perhaps campaign politics dictated that it was not a good time to throw an atomic debate into the mix. That was Culp’s interpretation. In a talk at the Quaker House in Santa Fe on June 16th, the lobbyist on nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) presented an optimistic picture of past and potential future progress in the disarmament arena.

Since the end of the Cold War, he said, we have reduced our arsenal by 75 percent. We stopped the Reliable Replacement Warhead and the Robust Nuclear Penetrator. By we, he said, he meant grassroots voices, especially those of the people in New Mexico.

And now we’re going to stop the B-61, he said, distributing paper and pens for writing letters to our Senator, Tom Udall.

I recently wrote an article for La Jicarita, a northern New Mexico publication on regional environmental politics, in which I took a dim view of NNSA’s recent budget proposal that includes massive funding for the refurbishment of this warhead, at a projected cost of $10 billion. This, while Congress votes to cut people off Food Stamps! In the light of this exorbitant budget proposal to perpetuate the nuclear machinery at any cost, Culp’s optimism seemed shockingly unrealistic. But he’s been doing this work for more than 20 years.

Then this morning in Berlin, President Obama stepped out and confirmed that he is still working to curtail nuclear proliferation, and that he plans to negotiate with the Russians about further reductions of the two nations’ respective stockpiles.

Obama met with Putin just a few days ago, so one might infer that Obama had checked out Putin’s response before making this powerful public commitment.

Obama spoke of the conclusions of Pentagon officials involved in the “implementation” discussion that had sparked the February mania amongst disarmament watchdogs.

Even more important, perhaps, than the specifics about disarmament, whose fulfillment we must yet await — and the opposition is lining up as we speak; a debate between right-wing analysts will be held this evening entitled “Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget is a Gift to our Enemies” — was Obama’s overarching theme, that we live in the world together, and that we must find ways to create opportunity for everyone:

“For we are not only citizens of America or Germany — we are also citizens of the world.  And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.  We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous.

“I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experienceOur alliance is the foundation of global security.  Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy.  Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.  When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do.  So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.”

These words are the beginning of a vision of the world as one interrelated unit that is essential if we are to get out of the box of fear and hatred of one another, competition and wished-for supremacy, and begin to work together for a better, safer world.

If nuclear proliferation and global warming don’t stimulate an urgent will for the nations of the world to overcome our differences and subscribe to a single mission, to rescue the world from the razor’s edge on which it wobbles perilously, then surely there is no hope for humankind.

Just at the critical moment, Obama has done his part to reframe the debate into one of larger vision. “We must care about people we don’t even know,” and “see ourselves as bigger than our own experience.” It’s a big leap from Manifest Destiny and the American exceptionalism we’ve heard in some of Obama’s speeches here at home. This is a wider embrace, and though it may be hard for some of us to see ourselves as allies with our erstwhile fanatic enemy, allowing ourselves to think of the citizens of Germany and America as people who share a common past is an exercise that may one day make it possible for both sides of the aisle to join hands in recognition that we are all citizens of one country.

Is Washington ready to embrace this shared mission in a spirit of hope and possibility? Is the world ready to join us?

And what about the pundits, and the critics, and the watchdog organizations, the disarmament advocates as well as the deterrence proponents? Is it possible for us to rally in support of these fine words, this high-minded intent, instead of disintegrating into opposition?

It all remains to be seen. We know what Obama is up against. I’d like to take him at his word and rally behind him. Now is the time to stop blaming him for what he has been unable to do, and acknowledge that his intention is true. Without widespread public support, he will go down in history as a president who tried.

We need him to be a president who succeeded.

I look forward to your comments!

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