Most of you remember the 1964 classis starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens. The alternate title for the film was "Dr. Strangelove". It's a funny movie, and I still have a copy of it on a CD someplace in the house.
With all the news about the election, there is virtually nothing in the latest newsfeeds about nuclear weapons - until today.
Seventy-five years after the U.S. committed the unspeakable crime of using nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, a historic milestone has finally been achieved: Nuclear weapons have been declared illegal under a new United Nations treaty. On Oct. 24, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) reached the 50-nation ratification threshold needed for entry into force. In 90 days, on Jan. 22, 2021, the treaty will go into effect.
Eighty-four countries have signed the TPNW, and legislatures of 50 countries have now ratified it. Advocates are confident that the remaining signatories will continue to add their ratifications to the agreement. However, the TPNW is not binding on those nations that refuse to sign it. The U.S. and the world's eight other nuclear-armed countries — Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — boycotted the negotiations that created the TPNW and have shown no inclination to accept it.
If the countries that have nuclear weapons don't sign the treaty, what's the point?
Once the treaty is in force, all state parties will need to implement all of their positive obligations under the treaty and abide by its prohibitions. States that haven't joined the treaty will feel its power too — we can expect companies to stop producing nuclear weapons and financial institutions to stop investing in nuclear weapon producing companies. How do we know? Because we have nearly 600 partner organizations in over 100 countries advancing this treaty and the norm against nuclear weapons."
The TPNW entering into legal force could not come at a more critical time. In January of this year, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists turned the "Doomsday Clock" to 100 seconds before midnight due to the existential dangers posed by nuclear weapons and climate change amidst worsening world tensions. Other recent developments have exacerbated the nuclear peril. Russia and the U.S. possess an estimated combined total of over 12,600 nuclear weapons, (90% of the world's nuclear stockpile), many of which are on hair-trigger alert. United States and NATO missile defense systems ring Russia and China, increasing already heightened tensions.
A new U.S. Space Force has been created to attain military domination of space. The U.S. is committed to a 30-year upgrade of its nuclear arsenal at an estimated cost of $1.7 trillion, money that should instead be spent on urgent human needs. Additionally, the Trump administration has threatened to use nuclear weapons against adversaries on several occasions.
(You may remember that Trump asked in an interview early in his term, "it we have nuclear weapons, why can't we use them?".
The U.S. withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the INF Treaty with Russia, and Pentagon policy makers have declared that a limited nuclear war could be waged and won, according to the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. Regarding renewal of the New START Treaty, the U.S. and Russia are currently locked in a stalemate.
Although the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bans nuclear weapons in space, it does not prohibit military activities in space, so Trump's Space Force will remain in force - for now.
Rachel Maddow addressed the issue of nuclear weapons in the book, "Drift"
The United States is planning to spend up to $1 trillion to maintain and overhaul its nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad and aspects of its accompanying infrastructure. The plans include, but are not limited to, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new long range strike bomber, a new set of ballistic missile submarines, a revitalized set of ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and accompanying warheads for each delivery system.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work has asserted that it will cost about $18 billion a year between 2021 and 2035 to maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenal. Based on standard Pentagon estimates, these numbers do not account for cost overruns and are likely too low. Many analysts expect the full price of nuclear modernization and maintenance to near $700 billion by 2039 and total up to $1 trillion over 30 years.
For now, nothing is going to change.
If Putin decides to retire in a few years due to his Parkinson's disease, and with Joe Biden leading our country, it is not difficult to envision the United States and Russia getting back together again to restart their nuclear arms treaty.