At a time when bold action is needed to end the twin existential threats of nuclear war and global warming, President Trump’s recent announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty in six months further unravels our prospects for human survival.
Vladimir Putin’s reciprocal announcement to end compliance and to develop new missiles that had been banned under the accord underscores why we need more and stronger arms control treaties to avoid an escalating nuclear arms race.
That was what millions of us thought in the 1980s when protesting against the world stockpile of 60,000 nuclear warheads, especially the destabilizing intermediate-range type deployed in Europe. Physicians for Social Responsibility helped form the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War to educate the public about the catastrophic health effects of nuclear war.
All of our efforts helped pressure the U.S. and Soviet Union into negotiating the INF Treaty, which Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed into law in 1987. The treaty eliminated nearly 3,000 intermediate-range weapons and led to significant reductions in long-range nuclear weapons.
We can learn from this experience. Rather than abandon the INF accord, it should be utilized to negotiate both alleged violations represented by new Russian nuclear systems and U.S. plans to modernize its arsenal and deploy missile defense systems in Eastern Europe that the Russians find threatening. Restarting diplomacy on these contentious issues could improve the prospects for further long-range arms reductions via the New START treaty set to expire in 2021. With intermediate-range missiles also possessed by China, India and Pakistan, the INF Treaty could be strengthened and extended to these nations as well. This would help prevent continuing conflicts between India and Pakistan, such as those that erupted last week, from going nuclear.
However, to effectively de-escalate and reverse the arms race, our nation must commit to a path that leads from nuclear disarmament to final global abolition of these dread weapons. Our government is correct to pursue a negotiated end to the North Korean nuclear threat. But that danger pales in comparison to our administration’s Nuclear Posture Review that would expand the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign and military policy. President Trump has stated that the U.S. is “creating a brand new nuclear force,” including plans for new, “low-yield” nuclear bombs and other weapons expressly designed to facilitate nuclear war-fighting.
Thankfully, several members of Congress have stepped up to the plate with legislation to prohibit funding of weapons that would violate the INF, while others have introduced legislation to block certain new weapons systems called for in the NPR. Most of all, we need to curb U.S. plans to spend up to approximately $6.5 million an hour over the next 30 years to make our weapons more lethal and “usable.”
These resources could instead be diverted to help start up the Green New Deal that our younger generation, fed up with dimming prospects for a planet they can survive and thrive in, have been rightfully demanding. They could also be used to remedy social and economic inequities at home and abroad that lead to conflict. Joining our forces for nuclear abolition, climate protection and socio-economic justice, we might yet have a chance for human survival.
Martin Fleck is the program director for the Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program of the national office of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Robert Gould is past president of the national PSR organization and president of PSR's San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.