Click the links below to access articles from our Winter 2017-18 Quarterly Newsletter. Individual articles are also tagged by issue category.
Cover and Back Page
Click the links below to access articles from our Winter 2017-18 Quarterly Newsletter. Individual articles are also tagged by issue category.
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This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its successful effort to establish the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Peace, disarmament, and civil society groups around the world celebrated the announcement and congratulated ICAN for its landmark treaty accomplishment.
“[ICAN] is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic [health and environmental] consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,”stated the Nobel Committee.
ICAN called the prize “a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.” By employing grass roots organizing and ordinary citizen diplomacy, ICAN, with Nukewatch among its 468 partner organizations from 101 countries, has permanently stigmatized nuclear weapons and their possessor governments, and helped move the world closer to their eventual elimination.
By outlawing all aspects of the Bomb’s possession and use, nuclear weapons join a growing list of prohibited devices that “kill or wound treacherously,” including biological weapons, chemical weapons, poison gas, land mines, and cluster bombs. The new ban treaty was concluded on July 7 when 122 United Nations member states voted in favor of its adoption. Since Sept. 20, 53 individual heads-of-state have signed the treaty, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Nuclear Abolitionists the first step in a government’s process of ratification which is decided by individual national parliaments. It will enter in force 90 days after at least 50 countries have ratified it.
Mexico’s senate voted unanimously Nov. 28 to ratify the treaty. The United States, the most powerful opponent of the ban, called the treaty negotiations “unrealistic,” and the US ambassador to the UN, Gov. Nikki Haley, led a boycott even though the talks were required under an explicit mandate (Art. VI) of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed and ratified by the United States in 1970. Although the UN boycott led by the United States flies in the face of decades of presidential promises to seek “a world without nuclear weapons, the US, UK and France said in a joint statement in July, “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
The Nobel committee’s choice appeared to directly confront the obstructionism by the US and the eight other nuclear armed states. As the Nuclear Threat Initiative noted, “The award was seen as a rebuke to nuclear weapons states and their allies who oppose the treaty.”
The ban treaty prohibits developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, possessing, stockpiling and deploying nuclear weapons, transferring or receiving them from others, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, allowing any stationing or deployment of nuclear weapons on national territories of signatories, and assisting, encouraging, or inducing any of these prohibited acts. And it requires each signatory state to develop “legal, administrative and other measures, including the imposition of penal sanctions, to prevent and suppress” the prohibited activities.
By Hans Kristensen
NATO reportedly has quietly started its annual “Steadfast Noon” nuclear strike exercise in Europe. This is the exercise that practices NATO’s nuclear strike mission with “dual-capable aircraft” [equipped for nuclear weapons] and the B61 tactical nuclear bombs the United States deploys in Europe. In addition to nuclear-capable aircraft from Belgium, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, local spotters have also seen Czech “Gripen” jet fighters and Polish F-16s.
The United States will likely also participate with either F-16s from Aviano AB in Italy or F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath in England. The non-nuclear aircraft from Czech Republic and Poland are participating under NATO’s so-called “Snowcat” (Support of Nuclear Operations with Conventional Air Tactics) program, which is used to enable military assets from non-nuclear countries to support the nuclear strike mission without being formally part of it. Polish F-16s have participated several times before, including in the Steadfast Noon exercise held at Ghedi Air Base in Italy in 2010. This year’s Steadfast Noon exercise is taking place at two locations: Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium and Büchel Air Base in Germany. Both bases each store an estimated 20 US B61 nuclear bombs for use by the national air forces.
This is the second year in a row that the exercise has been spread across two bases in two countries. Last year’s exercise was held at Kleine Brogel Air Base (in Belgium) and Volkel Air Base (in The Netherlands). The multi-base Steadfast Noon exercises often coincide with or proceed or follow other exercises such as “Decisive North” and “Cold Igloo.” There are currently an estimated 150 B61 bombs deployed at six bases in five European countries. Weapons were previously also deployed at England’s Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath but withdrawn sometime between 2004 and 2008. Weapons were also withdrawn from Araxos Air Base (in Greece) in 2001.
Consolidation but not complete withdrawal also happened in Germany and Turkey. In addition to the countries with nuclear-capable aircraft—Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey (note that the status of Turkey’s nuclear role is unclear, but its F-16s are still nuclear-capable), and the United States. There will likely be participation from other NATO countries under the Snowcat program.
NATO is adjusting its nuclear posture in reaction to the newly adversarial relationship with Russia. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review is expected to reaffirm the continued deployment and modernization of US nuclear weapons in Europe. But there is a push from hardliners inside NATO to increase the readiness and planning for the dual-capable aircraft. Others say it is not necessary.
Last month several B-52 bombers were “forward-deployed” to Europe, in support of NATO and many see that as sufficient “signaling” at the nuclear level. Moreover, NATO’s reaction to Russia is focused on providing non-nuclear defense to Europe.
In a broader context, the nuclear exercise has not been officially announced and NATO is very tight-lipped about it because of the political sensitivity of this mission in mainly western NATO countries. The secrecy of the exercise is interesting because NATO only a few weeks ago complained that Russia was not being transparent about its “Zapad” exercise.
—Hans Kristensen directs the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. He wrote this piece Oct. 17 for the FAS online.
By John LaForge
Donald Trump has threatened North Korea with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen,” and speaking to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, he promised to “totally destroy” the country of 25 million. If such cold-blooded threats came from a dictator or a terrorist, the public could brush them off, but the bombasts came from the commander in chief of the largest military force in history, whose annual $700 billion military budget surpasses the combined total of the next eight biggest war departments (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, UK, Japan and Germany).
In 1985, a group of eminent US scientists issued an eye-popping report detailing the likely consequences of a large-scale war with nuclear weapons. The Minneapolis Star and Tribune headline blared from Sept. 13 that year: “Scientists: Nuclear war would mean worldwide famine death of billions.”
That warning seemed to jump off the page. An enlarged copy of the grim reminder has been on the office bulletin board for decades. Back then, the scientists explained, among the consequences of a large-scale nuclear war between the former USSR and the United States. “…the primary mechanisms for human fatalities would likely not be from blast effects, not from thermal radiation burns, and not from ionizing radiation, but, rather, from mass starvation.” The US National Academy of Sciences study said, resulting in nuclear winter and “the loss of one to four billion lives.”
Thirty years later, scientists and doctors dramatically adjusted the mathematics of doomsday taking heed of new information about nuclear weapons-caused firestorms and climate disruption. Left out of those grim calculations was the effect of mass firestorms caused by nuclear weapons being detonated on urban areas. In her book Whole World on Fire (Cornell Univ. Press, 2004), Lynn Eden notes, “For more than 50 years, the US Government has seriously underestimated damage from nuclear attacks.”
“The failure to include damage from fire in nuclear war plans continues today,” Eden wrote. “Because fire damage has been ignored for the past half-century, high-level US decision makers have been poorly informed, if informed at all, about the extent of damage that nuclear weapons would actually cause. As a result, any US decision to use nuclear weapons almost certainly would be predicated on insufficient and misleading information. If nuclear weapons were used, the physical, social, and political effects could be far more destructive than anticipated.”
“For nuclear weapons of 100 kilotons or more, destruction from fire will be substantially greater than from blast. … air temperatures in the burning areas after the attack would be well above the boiling point of water; winds, hurricane force,” Eden reported.
In a 1995 letter to Eden, Harold Brode of the Defense Nuclear Agency, which conducted research on nuclear weapons effects, wrote, “The fact is that fire tends to lead to complete destruction in this context…. Because of the enhanced likelihood of spread in the event of a nuclear explosion in an urban center, fire damage is very likely to far exceed blast damage.”
Today, with the US president threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea’s 25 million people, and with three US Navy aircraft carrier battle groups conducting large-scale exercises in the Asia-Pacific involving over 22,500 personnel, it’s worth recalling that fires from even a very “limited” use of a small number of modern nuclear weapons would create so much soot and ash that the consequent collapse of agriculture could cause the famine death of two billion people.
This was the conclusion of Ira Helfand, MD, who wrote “Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk,” 2nd Edition (November 2013), for the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
What nuclear war planners in the US Navy and the Air Force, or ignorant sociopaths like Mr. Trump ignore or fail to grasp is this (from Whole World on Fire): “Within tens of minutes after the cataclysmic events associated with the [nuclear] detonation, a mass of buoyantly rising fire-heated air would signal the start of a second and distinctly different event—the development of a mass fire of gigantic scale and ferocity. This fire would quickly increase in intensity. In a fraction of an hour it would generate ground winds of hurricane force…”
In April 2014, a group of US atmospheric and environmental scientists published a corroborating paper titled, “Multi-decadal global cooling and unprecedented ozone loss following a regional nuclear conflict.” Its authors, Michael Mills, Owen Toon, Julia Lee-Taylor, and Alan Robock reported that, “A limited, regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which each side detonates 50 15 [kiloton] weapons could produce about 5 Tg [teragrams] of black carbon” from mass fires. A teragram/Tg is 1 million metric tons.
These five metric tons of black carbon, the report notes, “would self-loft to the stratosphere, where it would spread globally, producing a sudden drop in surface temperatures and intense heating of the stratosphere. … The combined cooling and enhanced UV [ultra violet radiation] would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine.” Of course, much of the black carbon would be radioactive as well, causing long-lived contamination of water and agricultural products, and the consequent bio-concentration in the food web.
Mills, Toon, Lee-Taylor and Robock conclude that with this understanding of the impacts of a mere 100 “small” Hiroshima-sized nuclear detonations (actual US bombs are far more powerful), the world should be motivated to demand “the elimination of the more than 17,000 nuclear weapons that exist today.”
By John LaForge
US general says order to launch nuclear weapons can be refused if illegal —Chicago Tribune, Nov. 18
US nuclear commander would balk at any “illegal” order —MSNBC, Nov. 18
General heading Strategic Command says illegal nuclear launch order can be refused
—NBC News, Nov. 18
Top general says he would resist “illegal” nuke order from Trump —CBS News, Nov. 18
Top US general says he would resist illegal nuclear strike order from Donald Trump —The Independent, Nov. 18
All these headlines give the direct impression that a nuclear attack could be legal in some circumstances. But is this possible?
Air Force General John Hyten, commander of Strategic Command, told the Halifax International Security Forum Nov. 18, that an order from the president to launch nuclear weapons can be refused if that order is determined to be illegal. In the face of an unlawful order, Gen. Hyten said, he would tell Trump he couldn’t carry it out. “If it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen?” Hyten asked the gathering. “I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’”
Four days earlier, retired Gen. Robert Kehler, who previously held Gen. Hyten’s top job at Strategic Command, testified likewise to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that nuclear war commanders could “ignore any unlawful order by the president to launch a nuclear strike.”
Generals Hyten and Kehler both said in their unprecedented public comments that the legal principles of “military necessity,” “discriminate destruction,” and “proportionality” all apply to decisions about nuclear attacks. Senator Ben Cardin, D-MD, asked Gen. Kehler if he meant that Strategic Command could disobey a president’s ordering a nuclear attack. “Yes,” Kehler said.
Legal scholar George Delf scolded military and civilian authorities who practice this sort of trivializing of nuclear weapons 30 years ago. In Humanizing Hell! The Law V. Nuclear Weapons (Hamish Hamilton, 1985), Delf wrote, “There is something incongruous about lawyers who spend their working week concerned with routine [matters], and a few spare hours arguing against mass murder and the destruction of civilization.”
That military officers “could” disobey, or “can” refuse unlawful orders are actually understatements in this context. US military service manuals explicitly require military personal to refuse illegal orders. As everyone sworn-in to the service is taught, disobeying illegal orders is mandatory; following them is a crime worthy of court martial. As CNN reported: “Under US military law, troops are obligated to not obey an unlawful order. If they received such an order, they could resign or force Trump to fire them.” During last year’s presidential run, when Trump promised to unlawfully torture prisoners, kill the families of suspected militants, and bomb civilians, “Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook noted on [Nov. 17, 2016] that all US troops have an obligation not to follow illegal orders”—CNN reported.
Certain weapons effects always unlawful
But more importantly, there is a deep and startling absurdity and shocking ignorance in these public nuclear war conversations. Any use of nuclear weapons would be indiscriminate and illegal by definition. Only the uninitiated, uninformed or willfully blind can still imagine that today’s nuclear weapons could be used “proportionately” to produce more military good than evil. The uncontrollable, unlimited, and unfathomable magnitude of nuclear weapons effects have been established as unlawful in countless text books, law journals, government studies and independent analyses.
The use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances would be illegal because international covenants, treaties, and protocols forbid indiscriminate destruction, attacks that are disproportionate to a military objective, and weapons’ effects that “treacherously wound,” harm neutral states, or do long-term damage to the environment.
In her book Thermonuclear Monarchy (WW Norton, 2014) Professor Elaine Scarry of Harvard reminds us that as long ago as 1995, Sweden, Iran and Egypt argued before the International Court of Justice that since nuclear weapons cause disproportionate suffering, they are prohibited by the 1868 Declaration of St. Petersburg and the Geneva Protocols of 1925, 1949, and 1977. The Republic of the Marshall Islands argued that using nuclear weapons would violate the 1907 Hague Conventions prohibiting weapons with effects that cross into neutral states. Both North Korea and India, neither of which possessed nuclear weapons in 1995, wrote to the World Court insisting that it judge them unlawful. India argued that any use of nuclear weapons, including the mere possession of them, is illegal under the Charter of the United Nations and international “rules of proportionality.”
Charles Moxley, in his 813-page study Nuclear Weapons & International Law (Austin and Winfield, 2000) puts this list of treaty violations in perspective: “Nuclear weapons are not illegal just because they violate these laws of war, as exhaustively proven in this volume. They are illegal because they cause widespread and indiscriminate destruction without promoting the purpose of war: resolving conflict … They are not weapons but only wanton machines of symmetric destruction.”
Physical effects: “complete ruin”
What the generals and the congressional bureaucrats fail to grasp in their fantasies of legal nuclear attacks, is the vastness of the difference between conventional and nuclear weapons, and that the latter cannot be used in war without slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians—that is, without committing war crimes. Some uncomfortable background information might be necessary.
Moxley’s Nuclear Weapons & International Law reports that, “A nuclear detonation generates temperatures of 100 million degrees while a dynamite explosive about 3000 degrees.” What this unimaginable heat does to cities is explained by Lynn Eden in her book Whole World on Fire (Cornell Univ. Press, 2004). “Mass fire and extensive fire damage would occur in almost every circumstance in which nuclear weapons were detonated in a suburban or urban area. …damage from mass fire would extend two to five times farther than blast damage.”
In 1977, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 653-page book The Effects of Nuclear Weapons notes with understatement, “persons in buildings or tunnels close to ground zero may be burned by hot gases and dust entering the structure…” In its lengthy consideration of radiation effects, taken from the US Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, the FEMA study says in part, “Among them, apart from genetic effects, are the formation of cataracts, nonspecific life shortening, leukemia, other forms of malignant disease, and retarded development of children in utero at the time of the exposure.” As Ann Fagan Ginger reported in her book Nuclear Weapons are Illegal (Apex Press 1997), “They continue to maim and kill long after they explode in a test or in a war.”
Mass fire, or “firestorm” Eden writes, is “the simultaneous combustion of many fires over a large area, which causes a great volume of air to heat, rise, and suck in large amounts of fresh air at hurricane speeds from the periphery,” Eden notes. “Within ten minutes after the cataclysmic events associated with the detonation, a mass of buoyantly rising fire-heated air would signal the start of a second and distinctly different event—the development of a mass fire of gigantic scale and ferocity. This fire would quickly increase in intensity. In a fraction of an hour it would generate ground winds of hurricane force with average air temperatures well above the boiling point of water (212°F, 100°C). This would produce a lethal environment over a vast contiguous area.”
Eden’s research is worth quoting at length. “The first mass fire in history was created by allied incendiary raids at Hamburg on the night of July 27-28, 1943. Within 20 minutes, two of three buildings within an area of 4.5 square miles were on fire. In three to six hours, this fire so completely burned out an area of more than 5 square miles that the area was referred to by damage analysts as the ‘Dead City.’ Well-documented accounts describe wind speeds of hurricane force within the city. Air temperatures were calculated to be between four and five hundred degrees Fahrenheit, hundreds of degrees above the temperature of boiling water. [Up to] 100,000 people were killed in the attack. A mass fire resulting from a modern nuclear weapon could be expected to burn out an urban or suburban area of considerably larger size in a similarly brief time.”
Delf’s Humanizing Hell! is concise, bold, and direct. “[A]rmed forces are committed by military, domestic and international law not to attack non-combatants. Any government which adopts a defense policy implying such an attack is therefore inciting its own forces to commit war crimes on a gigantic and suicidal scale.”