Commentary by John LaForge
When Donald Trump “Tweeted” something about nuclear weapons last December 23, he was deliberately trivializing the Bomb to make it appear small, the way he makes light of targeting civilians, torturing suspects, deporting millions, shooting someone in the street, beating up critics, and sexual assault. About the nuclear arsenal, the chief Tweeter said, “The US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Trump appears unaware of either the “strength” of the US arsenal, or that much of the world actually is coming to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump either knows almost nothing about nuclear weapons—and broadcasts nonsense about them—or he wants to distract attention from current progress being made toward their abolition, or both.
The same day as his H-bomb screed, Dec. 23, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly approved a groundbreaking resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The vote follows the October 2016 decision by the UNGA First Committee to begin work on the new treaty—a resolution that was opposed by the Obama Administration and several other nuclear-armed governments.
The UN nuclear weapons “treaty ban” talks will proceed in two sessions: March 27 to 31; and June 15 to July 7. During a UN budget committee meeting last December, the US delegation under Obama fought against a funding request for the planned four weeks of negotiations. But under pressure from ban proponents Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, the US withdrew its opposition and the funding was approved.
The Dec. 23 UNGA resolution passed 113 to 35. Putting the lie to Mr. Obama’s 2009 promise that, “the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons,” US delegate Samantha Power voted against the resolution. So did nuclear-armed England, France, Russia, and Israel. But not every nuclear state parroted Obama’s obstructionism. US partners India and Pakistan abstained, as did China. North Korea and Iran voted in favor. Saudi Arabia bucked pressure from the US, its principle arms supplier, and voted Yes. Even Italy voted Yes, despite its being a NATO partner and home to about 80 US B61 H-bombs, still deployed at two of its air force bases.
The US government knows a treaty ban will demolish the manufactured perception that nuclear weapons are legitimate, while already banned landmines, gas, poison, biological and cluster munitions are not. An international ban would also make it politically embarrassing, and legally suspect, for the US and NATO to continue their nuclear war planning.
In a leaked document sent to NATO members in October—before the UNGA First Committee decision—the US urged both opposition to the resolution and a boycott of the negotiations. US marching orders were disobeyed by certain allies and partners including The Netherlands, India, and Pakistan—which all abstained, and by Italy which voted Yes.
The “capability” of the US nuclear arsenal is already redundant, according to Sec. of Defense Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis. In January 2015, Mattis denigrated the Air Force’s 450 land-based missiles, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, “You should ask: ‘Is it time to reduce the triad … removing the land-based missiles?’” Mattis is friends with former Defense Secretary William Perry who has repeatedly called for eliminating the same missiles. They should be scrapped, Perry says, because “They’re not needed.” The same position is advocated by Gen. James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of US nuclear forces, and by Republican Senator and later Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
To “greatly strengthen and expand” the indiscriminate power of H-bombs is strategically irrational, economically bankrupting, and environmentally self-destructive. The Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has studied the subject for four decades, reported in 2014 that just 100 nuclear warheads—if detonated—could plunge the Earth into smoke-shrouded darkness long enough to destroy agriculture and starve billions of people to death. The United States has 7,000 warheads, or 70 times the “strength” to do ourselves in. Trump would do better to greatly strengthen and expand his understanding of nuclear madness.