February: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

HISTORY, 8 Feb 2016

Jeffrey W. Mason, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation – TRANSCEND Media Service

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Copyright © Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved

February 1, 1958 – As part of the U.S. strategy of massive (nuclear) retaliation, the United Kingdom agreed to station 60 nuclear-armed Thor intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) at four U.K. military bases.  Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command personnel staffed the bases, but all the nuclear weapons that were provided remained in full U.S. ownership, custody, and control.  These same missiles were put on high-alert status during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and were withdrawn shortly thereafter.  However NATO and Russia have continued to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on European soil not only throughout the Cold War, but in the present day as well.  This includes the tense period of the 2014-15 Crimea-Ukraine Crisis.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahme, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 45.)

February 2, 1998 – General George Lee Butler, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general who was in charge of the Strategic Air Command (SAC)/U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) from 1991-94, became the first commander of U.S. nuclear forces to ever call for their abolition in a speech titled, “The Risks of Deterrence:  From Superpowers to Rogue Leaders,” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  “My purpose in entering the debate was to help legitimize (nuclear) abolition as an alternative worthy of serious and urgent consideration.  My premise was that my unique experience in the nuclear weapons arena might help kindle antithesis for these horrific devices and the policies which continue to justify their retention by the nuclear weapon states…it is distressingly evident that for many people, nuclear weapons retain an aura of utility, of primacy, and of legitimacy that justifies their existence well into the future…(Nuclear weapons) corrode our sense of humanity, numb our capacity for moral outrage, and make thinkable, the unthinkable…our present day policies and plans and postures governing nuclear weapons make us prisoners still to an age of intolerable danger.  We cannot at once keep sacred the miracle of existence and hold sacrosanct the capacity to destroy it…we cannot sit in silent acquiescence to the faded homilies of the nuclear priesthood.  It is time to reassert the primacy of individual conscience, the voice of reason, and the rightful interests of humanity.”  (Source:  General George Lee Butler.  “The Risks of Deterrence:  From Superpowers to Rogue Leaders.”  National Press Club, February 2, 1998.  http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/archive/nucweapons/deter  accessed January 12, 2016.)

February 5, 1958 – A B-47 bomber jettisoned a 7,600 pound Mark-15 hydrogen bomb into a Savannah River swamp off Tybee Island, Georgia after colliding with an F-86 fighter jet.  The weapon, which contained 400 pounds of conventional high explosives and highly enriched uranium, was never recovered despite an extensive two month-long search by U.S. Navy personnel.  Comments:  There have been hundreds, if not more, of Broken Arrow nuclear accidents involving all of the nuclear weapon states – many of which still remain partially or completely classified and hidden from public scrutiny.  If global nuclear arsenals are not dramatically reduced and eliminated as soon as possible, an accident, unintended, or unauthorized (perhaps terrorist-caused) nuclear detonation will likely trigger a nuclear Armageddon.  (Sources: “Broken Arrows:  Nuclear Weapons Accidents.”  http://www.atomicarchive.com/Almanac/Brokenarrows_static.shtml

and National Public Radio.  “For 50 Years, Nuclear Bomb Lost in Watery Grave.”  August 16, 2010.  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18587608 both accessed January 12, 2016.)

February 11, 1971 – The Seabed Arms Control Treaty was opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow and on May 18, 1972, the U.S., U.K., and the Soviet Union deposited their instruments of ratification causing the treaty to be entered into force.  Article I of the treaty prohibited, “placing any nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction as well as structures, launching installations, or any other facilities specifically designed for storing, testing, or using such weapons on the seabed or on the ocean floor beyond a 12-mile coastal zone.”  Comments:  While other treaties like the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1967 Outer Space Treaty, nuclear-free-zone agreements, and other bilateral U.S.-Russian and multilateral accords have reigned in the nuclear threat, much more needs to be accomplished to reduce and eventually eliminate the frightening probability of a nuclear apocalypse.  U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an international fissile materials production prohibition, a U.S-Russian-Chinese or larger multilateral agreement to de-alert land- and sea-based nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, and a Global Zero Treaty should be at the top of the agenda in the first term of the 45th president of the United States.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahme, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 63.)

February 13, 1960 – France exploded the first of 210 nuclear devices at a test site in the Sahara Desert in Algeria.  The test, code-named Gerboise Bleue, had a yield of 60-70 kilotons.  The last nuclear test explosion by the French occurred on November 26, 1991.  Thankfully, France signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on September 24, 1996 and ratified the CTBT on April 6, 1998.  Comments:  More than 2,050 nuclear tests were conducted by the nine nuclear weapon states over the last 70 years causing increased cancer rates, groundwater and ocean contamination, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts that still plague global populations.  (Source:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahme, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 9, 24.)

February 17, 1992 – The U.S., Russia, and Germany agreed to establish an International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) in Moscow to aid Russia and the former Soviet bloc nuclear scientists and engineers providing them with “opportunities to redirect their talents to nonmilitary endeavors [and to] minimize any incentives to engage in activities that would result in the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and missile delivery systems.”  A similar center was set up a few years later in Kiev, Ukraine.  However, in January 2015, as a result of tensions relating to the Crimea-Ukraine Crisis and a rejuvenated Cold War, Russian Federation representatives informed their U.S. counterparts that Russia would no longer accept U.S. assistance to continue funding the centers.   Comments:  It is unfortunate that similar centers have not been established globally, especially in the U.S., China, and in the other nuclear weapons states.  Such centers could redirect 90 percent of conventional and nuclear weaponry research and development into peaceful, civilian areas of investment such as medical cures for cancer, AIDs, and other diseases; improving nonlethal incapacitating weaponry for use by community police forces and military units; dismantling, remediating, and cleaning up civilian and military nuclear plants and storage sites worldwide; developing new economically viable, environmentally safe renewable energy technologies including improved wind, solar, geothermal, and other sources; providing clean water and improved agricultural yields to Third World populations; and resolving political crises and long-lived wars in conflict zones throughout the world including the Mideast, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. (Sources:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahme, editors.  “Arms Control Chronology.”  Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 3, 69 and Bryan Bender.  “Russia Ends U.S. Nuclear Security Alliance.”  The Boston Globe.  January 19, 2015.  https://www.bostonglobe.com/new/nation/2015/01/19/after-two-decades-russia-nuclear-security-cooperation-becomes-casualty-deteriorating-relations/5nh8NbtjitUE8UqVWFlooL/story.html  accessed January 12, 2016.)

February 19, 2003 – Long-time nuclear abolitionist and antiwar advocate retired Rear Admiral Eugene “Gene” J. Carroll, Jr. passed away on this date at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  A naval aviator and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, who served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years before retiring in 1980, spent the rest of his career as a senior staffer, vice president, and director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and independent monitor of the Pentagon – the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.  Admiral Carroll was one of 62 generals and admirals from 17 nations to sign a public statement calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons in 1996.  The former Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policies, and Operations, who earned a master’s degree in international relations from George Washington University, was an excellent orator, published author of op-eds, letters-to-the-editor, and book chapters, and served as the host of CDI’s award-winning “America’s Defense Monitor” PBS weekly documentary television series.  In an article, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence” in Gwyn Prins’ (editor) “The Nuclear Crisis Reader” (New York:  Vintage Books, 1984), Admiral Carroll wrote, “Nuclear deterrence based upon the development of nuclear war-fighting forces is a failed doctrine.  There is no safety, no survival, if both sides continue to build and deploy war-fighting forces designed to prevail in nuclear conflict.  Safety lies ultimately in changing our way of thinking about the role of military power in the nuclear age.  Armed with new insights, rather than new weapons, we then may be able to reduce or eliminate the basic causes of conflict in a vulnerable, interdependent world.”   Three decades later in 2002, the Admiral’s support for the global abolition of these doomsday weapons was as strong as ever, “Far from being the benign artifacts of the Cold War, tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons remain a clear and present danger to human survival.  Unfortunately, the United States continues to invest billions of dollars each year to maintain and enhance the world’s preeminent nuclear arsenal in the mistaken belief that it adds to our national security.”  (Sources:  Douglas Martin.  “E.J. Carroll, 79, Antinuclear Admiral, Dies.”  New York Times.  March 3, 2003.  http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/03/us/ej-carroll-79-antinuclear-admiral-dies-html and Bruce G. Blair.  “Nuclear Recollections.”  The Defense Monitor.  Vol. 32, No. 2, April/May 2003.  http://www.globalzero.org/files/bb_nuclear-recollections_may_2003.pdf  both accessed on January 12, 2016.)

February 28, 2015 – The Helen Caldicott Foundation for a Nuclear Free Future held a two-day symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine beginning on this date.  The symposium addressed one of the most if not the most important issue facing the human species – “The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction.”  A distinguished panel of international experts in the fields of disarmament, political science, existential risk, artificial intelligence, anthropology, medicine, nuclear weapons, nuclear winter, and related subjects addressed a fascinating agenda that included: “What are the human and technological factors that could precipitate nuclear war between Russia and the U.S., how many times have we come close to nuclear war and how long will our luck hold?”  Other seminal topics of the presentations were:  “What are the medical and environmental consequences of either a small or large scale nuclear war?” and “What is the pathology within the present political situation that could lead us to extinction and how can this nuclear pathology be cured?”  Comments:  Several of the speakers mentioned the unbelievably difficult barriers that humanity faces in achieving a permanent global paradigm shift away from not only nuclear deterrence and sustained high levels of nuclear forces but also from the perceived and sustained need for continuing interstate wars, civil conflicts, or military actions against nonstate actors (Global War on Terrorism, etc).  Entrenched interests in the military-industrial-Congressional-weapons laboratories complex are adamantly inflexible and not only unwilling to change but certain their worldview has “won the Cold War” and “kept America safe in the post-Cold War world and the foreseeable future” and that any opposing views (nuclear abolition) are either hopelessly naïve or worse, unpatriotic, overly idealistic, and completely antithetical to the future survival of our nation, our allies, and Western civilization.  Therefore, it will take sustained, long-term committed political work at the grassroots level and in every other arena of human activity (in the fields of economics, philosophy, science, ethics, medicine, popular culture, art, and entertainment) to convince significant actors as well as the mass of humanity to make these seismic shifts before the unthinkable happens – a nuclear omnicide.  (Sources:  Helen Caldicott Nuclear Symposium, Feb. 28-March 1, 2015. http://nuclearfreeplanet.org/symposium-the-dynamics-of-possible-nuclear-extinction-l-february-28-march-1-2015-at-the-new-york-academy-of-medicine.html and “Helen Caldicott Symposium:  Possible Nuclear Extinction.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVud0p4aGRo both accessed January 12, 2016.)

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One Response to “February: This Month in Nuclear Threat History”

  1. Jon says:

    Recognizing, as the article states:

    “Entrenched interests in the military-industrial-Congressional-weapons laboratories complex are adamantly inflexible . . .”

    Isn’t is obvious that in order to achieve the non-nuclear world we truly desire that the people who continue to promote nuclear weapons must be removed from political and military power as the first priority? This is where our attention needs to rest. Once removed, disarmament can follow a sane and logical direction.