COLUMBIA — After years of gathering research and making presentations before the United Nations, MU Professor Steve Starr contends that government officials are unaware of the most recent research done on the environmental consequences posed by nuclear weapons.
Starr was asked to speak again on Oct. 25 as part of the U.N.'s October nongovernmental organization military issues presentations. His speech focused on the dangers of harboring nuclear weapons.
Starr supports his claims using environmental research that predicts the consequences of two scenarios: a "regional nuclear war" fought with "100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons" and a war between the United States and Russia fought with "high-alert nuclear weapons."
“The weapons on high-alert in the U.S. and Russia combined have 25 times the power of all the bombs detonated in human history,” Starr said.
"Do the people in charge of the weapons have any real idea that these weapons will likely kill everyone on the planet if they are detonated in conflict?" Starr asked in an e-mail.
His doubts are based on his personal experience at a news conference held by an American and a Russian chief negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Starr said when he asked if the negotiators were aware of the regional war research he presented to the U.N., both responded they were "not familiar with the studies."
"This is critical information about the potential these weapons have to eliminate most if not all humans. Shouldn't they be required to know this?" Starr said.
The 62-member House Armed Services Committee oversees the Department of Defense and authorizes its policy and budget requests.
Lara Battles, House Armed Services Committee press secretary, would neither confirm nor deny that the committee was unaware of recent research.
“Members of the House Armed Services Committee are aware of the potentially devastating environmental consequences, beyond the direct human casualties, of even a limited nuclear war," Battles said. "Ensuring that the United States maintains a credible deterrent to discourage any adversary from starting such a conflict and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons are critical priorities.”
The Strategic Forces Subcommittee is responsible in part for examining evidence on strategic weapons and reporting to the Armed Services Committee.
Charles Fant, press secretary of subcommittee member Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said the congressman and other members of the committee know of the research "generally."
"Whether they are familiar with this specific piece of research, I can’t say," Fant said.
When presented the research, Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., had no comment. Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., would not go on the record. The 10 other members of the subcommittee could not be reached for comment.
Starr said a large part of the reason nuclear weapons continue to be produced and maintained is because of a lingering sentiment of fear between Russia and the U.S.
“The problem is that we’re stuck in the Cold War mentality," he said. "We had high-alert nuclear weapons by the 1970s. We had 30 years of non-use, and it creates a kind of apathy.”
That apathy is what makes people consider the possession of nuclear weapons to be safe. But Starr suggests that ownership itself is even dangerous. He says false alarms can and have occurred, and there is always the possibility of sabotage. Until a dialogue can occur about the real dangers of nuclear weapons, and the two largest players — the U.S. and Russia — can re-evaluate their decisions, Starr said it will be difficult to make progress.
“It’s not really politically correct to talk about the danger of American nuclear weapons," he said. "I see that as unfortunate."