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If ‘a nuclear war cannot be won,’ then …

White House Joint Statement 2022-01-03
White House Joint Statement, "A nuclear war cannot be won," 2022-01-03

By Spencer Graves

On 2022-01-03, the five leading nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, UK, US) affirmed the 1985 Gorbachev-Reagan statement1 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.2 Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said the words of the five countries do not match their actions: “They write this ‘nice’ statement but do exactly the opposite in reality. They’re in a nuclear arms race, expanding nuclear arsenals … constantly preparing … to start a nuclear war.”3

The statement from the five nuclear weapon states provides a powerful argument for many other actions, such as the following:

1. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then the US Congress should adopt a “No First Use” policy, as envisioned in S.1148 / H.R.669.4 In the current hyper-polarized political environment in the US, do the leaders of either party want a president of the opposition party to have the sole authority to initiate a nuclear war on potentially questionable grounds, following the examples of the leaders of Argentina in 1982, who initiated the Falklands War in a desperate attempt to retain power after their domestic policies had proved disastrous?5

2. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then the US Congress should eliminate funding to “modernize” US nuclear weapons and ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), as proposed, e.g., by the “Invest in Cures before Missiles” (ICBM) bill, S.982 / H.R.2227.6 This US “modernization” effort and similar efforts in Russia and China separately and together increase the risk of a nuclear war.7

3. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then every nation on earth that is not already a party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) should join.8

4. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then every municipality should join the ICAN Cities Appeal9 and follow the example of New York City by also divesting from companies producing and maintaining nuclear weapons.10

5. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then every US citizen should contact his or her elected officials in the US Congress to ask that they support the “No First Use” and ICBM bills mentioned in items 1 and 2 above.

6. If “a nuclear war cannot be won,” then every human with the power to say “No!” should ask his or her (a) municipal officials to follow the example of New York City and (b) national leaders to join the TPNW, to stop doing business with companies engaged in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons11 and delivery systems and impose a “national security tax” on trade with nuclear-weapon states in proportion to the threat nuclear weapons pose to their own future. Such a tax can start small but increase rapidly enough to force a dramatic reduction in trade with nuclear weapon states but slow enough to avoid dramatically disrupting the local economy.

My research on this suggests that in essence every hour begins a new game of Russian Roulette played by the leaders of the world’s nuclear-weapon states with one chance in a million that this will be the hour when a new crisis begins that ends with a nuclear war.12 If this nuclear war only involves India and Pakistan, it will involve between 100 and 200 Hiroshimas lofting smoke to the stratosphere, where it will stay for years, during which crop yields will be dramatically reduced worldwide, and a quarter of humanity will starve to death if they do not die of something else sooner — roughly three hundred Holocausts.13 If the US or Russia is involved, there will be over a thousand Hiroshimas and likely 98 percent of humanity will starve to death if they do not die of something else sooner. If that one in a million chance each hour were constant for 70 years, it would translate into a 40 percent chance of a nuclear war in that period. But the current nuclear “modernization” and hypersonic missile programs are increasing those risks: It’s not a 40 percent chance of a nuclear war in the next 70 years. It’s much higher. This follows from the empirical observation that managers or politicians perceived to be excessively concerned about safety are routinely replaced by others more “cost conscious,” until a disaster occurs. The accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 or Chernobyl in 1986 or the sinking of MV Sewol in 2014 did not threaten the extinction of civilization. The current nuclear “modernization” programs do threaten the extinction of civilization.14

That’s why it’s so important that all who think about this ask their public officials to take these threats seriously, as outlined above.

Spencer Graves is a Vietnam-era veteran, licensed as a Professional Engineer in Missouri (# 015720) with a PhD in statistics and is secretary of the Board of PeaceWorks Kansas City.

©2022 Spencer Graves, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

1   Ronald Reagan (1985-11-21) “Joint Soviet-United States Statement on the Summit Meeting in Geneva” (https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/joint-soviet-united-states-statement-the-summit-meeting-geneva)

3   Brad Lendon and Jessie Yeung (2022-01-04) “China, US, UK, France and Russia pledge to avoid nuclear war”, CNN(https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/04/world/p5-nations-nuclear-pledge-intl-hnk/index.html)

4   Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2021: S.1148 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/1148) and H.R.669(https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/669).

5   Wikipedia, “Falklands War” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falklands_War).

6   Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICBM) Act of 2021: S.982 (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/982) and H.R.2227(https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2227).

7   Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry said that the primary threat of nuclear weapons is a malfunction to the US nuclear command, control, and communications, crudely similar to the Stuxnet virus that destroyed a substantial portion of the Iranian nuclear weapons development program. We should abandon our “modernization” effort and instead focus on reducing the risks of an accidental war. William J. Perry and Tom Z. Collina (2020) The Button: The new nuclear arms race and presidential power from Truman to Trump (BenBella).

8   Wikipedia, “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_on_the_Prohibition_of_Nuclear_Weapons) and “List of parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_parties_to_the_Treaty_on_the_Prohibition_of_Nuclear_Weapons).

9   ICAN Cities Appeal (https://cities.icanw.org/).

10   New York City joins ICAN Cities Appeal“, ICAN (https://www.icanw.org/new_york_city_joins_ican_cities_appeal).

11   Timmon Wallis says that we need the people currently developing, producing and maintaining nuclear weapons instead working on green energy. See Timmon Wallis, Warheads to Windmills: How to pay for a green new deal (NuclearBan.US, 2019; “https://www.nuclearban.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Warheads-Windmills-FINAL-single-file.pdf”).

12   Wikiversity, “Time to nuclear Armageddon” (https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Time_to_nuclear_Armageddon).

13   Spencer Graves (2022-01-01) “Holocaust vs. Omnicide” (https://peaceworkskc.org/nuclear-weapons/holocaust-vs-omnicide)

14   The phenomenon known as “normal accidents” or “system accidents” essentially says that it is humanly impossible to design and manage any complex systems to ultra-high levels of reliability. The 2014 sinking of the Korean ferry MV Sewol in 2014 is particularly instructive in this regard: She was carrying more than double her rated capacity under the command of a substitute captain, after the regular captain, Shin, had officially documented serious problems. Captain Shin later claimed that he had been threatened with termination if he had continued his objections. The supporters of the current nuclear “modernization” programs know that no major accidents had (previously) occurred under their watch. Civilization survived the sinking of the MV Sewol. Civilization may not survive a nuclear war.

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