Should anything trigger the use of nuclear weapons?
Program Director, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
The next President of the United States has an awesome responsibility for the security of the entire world. He (or potentially she) can either lead us toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons, or he can continue to claim that they are essential for US security and ensure their almost inevitable use—whether deliberately or through tragic error.
During the US vice presidential debate on Thursday, October 2, moderator Gwen Ifill asked Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin “What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?”
Neither candidate answered the question. Gov. Palin spoke vaguely about the lethality of nuclear weapons and made an inaccurate statement about US nuclear policy. “Nuclear weaponry,” she said:
“of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period. Our nuclear weaponry here in the US is used as a deterrent. And that’s a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.”
Not only is there is no “safe, stable way” to use nuclear weapons, given their intolerably destructive nature, but US nuclear policy defines a number of situations in which national leaders might use or threaten to use nuclear weapons preemptively or in response to a non-nuclear attack. Such policies are extremely dangerous; they violate the norms of international law; and they provoke other countries into considering the acquisition of their own nuclear arsenals.
Sen. Biden also sidestepped the question about the use of nuclear weapons and gave an incomplete answer about the importance of arms control. “Barack Obama” he said “…reached across the aisle to my colleague, Dick Lugar, a Republican, and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.’ They put together a piece of legislation that, in fact, was serious and real.” He also spoke about the importance of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
His answer, while it demonstrated his expertise in nuclear policy, stopped short of expressing what both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain have said during the campaign: that the world will be safer without nuclear weapons. As a number of senior American statesmen have argued over the past year, any individual arms control measures need to be seen as steps toward the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
The answer to Ms. Ifill’s question is simple and irrefutable. We must never allow anything to trigger the use of nuclear weapons, because if we use them they will destroy all of us — our adversaries, our allies, and ourselves. There can be no responsible owners of nuclear weapons. Because of their inherent destructiveness, the mere existence of nuclear weapons threatens the future of all humanity.
Increasing knowledge of how to construct nuclear weapons, increasing availability of the materials with which to make a bomb, increasing numbers of people desperate enough to use the bomb, and, most important, a lack of international resolve to banish the bomb from the arsenals of the world, make the use of nuclear weapons inevitable if the next US President and the international community do not act decisively. IPPNW, through the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has called for negotiaton and adoption of a Nuclear Weapons Convention that would eliminate all the world’s nuclear weapons.
You can learn more about nuclear weapons and what would happen if they are ever used again here [nwarmedicalcons.pdf]. You can learn how to become part of the solution and become an ICAN supporter here [www.ippnw.org/Program/ICAN].
Most important, please tell both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain that there are no responsible owners of nuclear weapons, only responsible leaders who will take the necessary steps to abolish these weapons of mass extermination from the world.
Please let us know how you feel about the remarks of the Vice Presidential Candidates and our opinion of their responses by commenting on this post.