In his recent op-ed piece in support of nuclear deterrence, Col. J. Karl Miller soundly rejects the call for international nuclear disarmament by the late Adm. Noel Gayler, former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command and sixth director of the National Security Agency.
In doing so, Col. Miller uses what is known by some nuclear war analysts as the "conventional weapons fallacy."
In discussing the merits of nuclear weapons he said: "Historically, I suspect the developments of the spear, crossbow, gunpowder, machine gun, tank and high-explosive bombs and missiles were condemned as barbaric amid calls for their banishment from the field of combat."
This comparison of nuclear weapons to weapons of the past is patently absurd. Years ago, Carl Sagan described a single, typical, 2-megaton strategic nuclear warhead as having "the explosive power of the entire Second World War but compressed into a few seconds of time."
Col. Miller also suggests that because there have been no nuclear explosions since the Nagasaki attack 66 years ago that we can depend on nuclear deterrence policies to protect us in the future.
It is important to remember that 66 years is a nanosecond in the stream of history, and we must seriously question whether or not the madness of threats of mutually assured destruction can possibly operate into the intermediate and distant futures without a catastrophic conclusion.
Today, U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles are on hair-trigger alert and have launch-to-landing times of under 30 minutes. These weapons threaten to murder many millions of innocent people and promise to have unimaginable economic, climatic, environmental, agricultural and health consequences worldwide.
According to nuclear disarmament expert Steven Starr of Columbia, U.S. scientists predict that a nuclear war fought with 1 percent of the explosive power contained in the Russian and U.S. arsenals would cause global nuclear famine.
A large war between those countries would leave the world uninhabitable, with more people being killed in a brief period than in all the wars of recorded history.
Despite its catastrophic potential, nuclear deterrence is believed by some, though wrongly, to protect nuclear weapon states, their allies and their citizens.
On the contrary, nuclear deterrence does not provide genuine, stable security and is plagued with a host of problems including the following, which are taken from the Santa Barbara Declaration developed by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:
1. Its power to protect is a dangerous fabrication. The threat or use of nuclear weapons provides no protection against attack.
2. It assumes rational leaders, but there can be irrational or paranoid leaders on any side of a conflict.
3. Threatening or committing mass murder with nuclear weapons is illegal and criminal. It violates the fundamental legal precepts of domestic and international law, threatening the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people.
4. It is deeply immoral for the same reason it is illegal — it threatens indiscriminate and grossly disproportionate death and destruction.
5. It diverts human and economic resources desperately needed to meet basic human needs around the world. Globally, approximately $100 billion is spent yearly on nuclear forces.
6. It has no effect against non-state extremists who govern no territory or population.
7. It is vulnerable to cyber attack, sabotage and human error, which could result in a nuclear strike.
8. It sets an example for additional countries to pursue nuclear weapons for their own deterrent force.
Before another weapon is used, nuclear deterrence must be replaced by humane, legal and moral security strategies.
People in the U.S. and throughout the world need to demand that the nuclear weapon states and their allies reject false notions of deterrence security and negotiate without delay a comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, reciprocal, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons.
As Gen. George Lee Butler, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command has said: "We are not condemned to repeat the lessons of 40 years at the nuclear brink. We can do better than condone a world in which nuclear weapons are accepted as commonplace."
"The price already paid is too dear, the risks run too great. The task is daunting, but we cannot shrink from it. The opportunity may not come again."
Bill Wickersham is an MU adjunct professor of peace studies and a member of the Missouri University Nuclear Disarmament Education Team. His free online book about nuclear disarmament education can be retrieved at www.confrontingnuclear war.com.