In Feb 2019 Donald Trump, followed by Vladimir Putin, announced withdrawal from The Intermediate range Nuclear Forces Treaty, both accusing the other of violations. The world shudders again. The God of Greed applauds. Currently, the two greatest threats to our survival, Climate Change and Nuclear War, are creations of Homo the Sap.
From 1900 to 2000 the percentage of civilians killed in wars rose from 10 to 75%. Collateral damage is already enormous, but Nuclear War would encompass everybody and everything. Our amazingly-complex species, evolving in an amazingly-complex universe, has achieved the ability and intelligence to save, or to destroy, Life as we know it. To correct the dangerous attitudes of humans like Donald and Vladimir, and too many others, in the limited time we have to guarantee behavioural changes, we need all the help we can muster.
Billions of us humans cherish our current inquisitive, fact-finding-and-analyzing quest to know and improve ourselves and our home, temporary as they are. We have negotiated, over the centuries, treaties and alliances to lessen, nullify, and change threats; but our failure to disown the God of Greed has both weakened and strengthened our resolve. We still need more unity of peaceful purpose, but how do we convince the powerful few who place short-term Greed ahead of long-term Survival?
Origin of Atomic Thought: After some 4 billion years of evolution, a few of us, 2,600 years ago in the Greek city of Miletus on the western Aegean coast of today’s Turkey, abandoned widespread myths to concentrate on examining facts. They were led by Thales, his pupil Anaximander, and Hecataeus. We entered the new, inquisitive, and uncharted territory of science.
This new approach to science spread so, after the expanding Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (600-530 BC) took over Miletus in 540 BC, there was a revolt that was crushed ferociously in 494 BC. Other Greek city states united to, in 474 BC, oust the Persians. Many famed philosophers had fled Miletus to found the colony of Abdera in Thrace. The oldest may have been Pythagoras. In Abdera, Leucippus (480-420 BC), born in Miletus had fled north to Abdera. There he joined Abdera-born Democrates, to found a scientific and philosophical school and wrote “The Great Cosmology”, stating that Matter is composed of Atoms separated by empty Space through which the atoms move. Atoms are solid, homogeneous, indivisible, and unchangeable. Dozens of books on every field of knowledge were written. Philosophers argued that Space is unlimited with enormous numbers of atoms. Sweetness, bitterness, heat, cold, and color are all opinions. Reality exists with atoms and vacuum. There is no finality, no purpose, just an endless dance of atoms.
This line of thought became dormant for centuries until John Dalton in England, 1803-08, converted the Greek atomic philosophy into a scientific theory.
Between 1899 and 1936 several important treaties were signed and provide a background for the nuclear age treaties that followed:
The 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions outlawing poison gas in warfare were signed by all major nations, but violated by Germany in April 1915 at Ypres, Belgium, during WW1. On 25 September Britain retaliated with chlorine during the Battle of Loos and the use of poison gas became widespread by all parties with the UK producing 25,400 tons of it. By 1918 25% of artillery shells were gas filled.
The 1919 Geneva Convention protecting Prisoners of War: These specific rules were refined in the third 1949 Geneva Convention, following the lessons of World War II, as well as in Additional Protocol I of 1977. The status of POW only applies in international armed conflict. Although 196 countries signed on there have been widespread violations, even by the USA in its treatment of Al Quaeda, and Taliban POWs in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
As a POW of the German Luftwaffe for 800 days I can vouch for their correct and polite behaviour unlike the inhumanity of the German Gestapo and SS towards their POWs as well a Soviet and Japanese inhumanity of their captives.
The Luftwaffe did have difficulties in feeding us but did allow in large shipments of UK, Canadian, and USA Red Cross food parcels. Other Allied countries helped in financing this.
Naval Treaties between WWI and II: After WWI Britain’s Royal Navy was the most powerful, followed by the USN then distantly by Japan, France, and Italy. Britain also had control of the German navy which the German crews soon scuttled. In the USA Woodrow Wilson planned to increase the USN to 50 capital ships, highly unpopular with the electorate. Japan started on 4 new warships and the UK planned for 12 new ones.
In 1922, to forestall a new arms race, a conference was convened in Washington, followed by 1930 and 1936 conferences in London that resulted in a 10 year pause in the construction of battleships and battlecruisers and adherence to highly detailed restrictions ending in 1936 after Japan and Nazi Germany had withdrawn.
The Growth of the Nuclear Bomb Club: The concept of a nuclear bomb is credited to Leo Szilard in London in 1933 when he patented his ideas. In 1938 German chemists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, bombarded uranium with neutrons and discovered barium. Nazi Germany then began a nuclear energy project. Warned by a Szilard-Einstein letter, Franklin Roosevelt in the USA authorized the Uranium Committee with $6,000 to commence neutron experiments which led to MAUD (Military Application of Uranium Detonation) under Henry Tizard. The 1939-1946 Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, led by the USA with the support of the UK and Canada, produced the first nuclear weapon. In 1942 Joseph Stalin started a Soviet nuclear weapons project. Japanese scientist concentrated on radar, believing nuclear weapons would take too many years to achieve.
Realizing the suicidal certainty of nuclear weapons most world nation chose to abstain. The 9 who now belong to the Nuclear Weapons Club are (showing year joined and maximum number of believed warheads):
1944 USA 6,450 1949 USSR 6,850 1952 UK 215 1956 Israel 400
1960 France 300 1964 China 280 1974 India 140 1984 Pakistan 150
2006 N.Korea 20
The US has stored 222 nuclear warheads among one base in each of Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey. Canada had 4 in 1963 but returned 3 in 1972 retaining only a low-yield anti-aircraft one. South Africa dismantled its 6 in the early 1990s. Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine gave theirs to Russia. Nuclear warheads peaked 1965 for USA at 31,000, Russia in 1985 at 40,000. They are now limited to 5.000 each.
The USA remains the only country to actually use them. “Little Boy” killed 146,000 people in Hiroshima and “Fat Man” 80,000 in Nagasaki in Aug 1945. Debate continues on the necessity especially the second.
A brief history of nuclear treaties between the major players:
The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty continues to be an important step in the ongoing efforts to reduce or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Iit had one major drawback in that two nuclear powers, France and China, did not sign on, nor did a number of non-nuclear states including Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, because they were close to being capable of going nuclear.
The treaty was a major success for advocates of arms control because it set a precedent for international cooperation between nuclear and non-nuclear states to prevent proliferation.
The 1969 and 1972 Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT 1 & 2), suggested in 1967 by Lyndon Johnson, were 2 rounds of conferences and treaties involving the USA and USSR and aimed at curtailing the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. and were intended to restrain the arms race in strategic (long-range or intercontinental) ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. SALT 1 negotiations commenced in Helsinki, Finland, in Nov 1969. Of the resulting complex of agreements, the most important were the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and The Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitations of Strategic Offensive Weapons. Both were signed in Moscow by President Richard M. Nixon for the USA and Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party.
The 1972 ABM Treaty limited the ballistic missiles that could be used to destroy incoming ballistic missiles (ICBMs), allowing each side only one ABM deployment area and 100 interceptor missiles which prevented either party from defending more than a small fraction of its territory, so kept them subject to the deterrent effect. The agreement froze each side’s number of ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) at current levels for 5 years, pending a more detailed SALT 2.
A problem was the asymmetry between the strategic forces, the USSR having concentrated on missiles with large warheads while the US had developed smaller missiles of greater accuracy. New technologies under development, matters of definition, and methods of verification were also problems.. The treaty set limits on the number of strategic launchers (missiles that can be equipped with multiple, independently-targetable reentry vehicles [MIRVs]). Limits were put on the number of MIRVed ICBMs, MIRVed SLBMs, heavy long-range bombers, and the total number of strategic launchers. The treaty set an overall limit of about 2,400 of all such weapons systems for each side. But, George W. Bush withdrew the USA from the treaty in 2001 with Putin calling the withdrawal a mistake. By leaving, the USA told Russia that it wanted to gain superiority by constructing an anti-ballistic missile shield that would negate Russia’s retaliatory capability, thus subjecting Russia to nuclear blackmail.
Russia responded with new hypersonic ICBMs that cannot be intercepted and now holds nuclear superiority.
The SALT 2 negotiations then opened in 1972 and continued for 7 years. It was signed by Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter in Vienna on June 18, 1979, but the December Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted Carter to stop treaty talks, yet both continued to abide by it. In Geneva in 1982 Ronald Reagan proposed further large reductions for SALT 3 which became START 1 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.
In 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev and Reagan signed The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Gorbachev called it “The first step down the road to a nuclear-free world.” Reagan hoped war itself would become obsolete. In Feb 2019 Trump, followed by Putin, killed the treaty. Trump claims Russia violated it first. Putin claims the US wants an excuse to activate launch sites in Romania and Poland to nullify Russian safeguards against further NATO encroachments. This will force Russia to divert funds from planned social improvements in Russia to target US sites. Russia may also launch its first unmanned nuclear submarine.
In Oct 2016, when the US already had more than enough nuclear warheads to obliterate most of the planet, Barack Obama insisted we dedicate $1 trillion to update over the next 30 years the US nuclear arsenal.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW), passed 07 July 2017, is the first UN-proposed legally binding international agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons, It requires 50 nations to ratify it to come into effect. To date 21 have advised they are in the process. For those nations that are party to it, the treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance and encouragement to the prohibited activities. For nuclear armed states joining the treaty, it provides for a time-bound framework for negotiations leading to the verified and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons program.
In the vote on the treaty text, 122 were in favour, one voted against it (Netherlands), and 1 abstained (Singapore). 69 nations did not vote, among them all of the nuclear weapon states and all NATO members except the Netherlands. The NO voters argued that the huge current infrastructure of the nuclear arms industry had kept the peace for 70 years.
In Feb 2019, within days of Trump and Vladimir withdrawing from INF, Adam Smith, new chair of the US House Armed Services Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would make the world safer: "It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first."
This is sane news the world has yearned to hear, but we must ensure it remains implemented and that the other nuclear-bomb nations follow suit so that it will. Putin implies he agrees. We just need Trust.
Other flash points we must monitor and defeat include the continuing blood-letting quarrel between two nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the plans of members of the Trump administration to sell nuclear abilities to Saudi Arabia.
By the way, in our continued criticism of Donald Trump we do need to pause long enough to thank him for opening dialogue with Kim in North Korea, hoping he remembers that, if you want to gain something you must give something. We left North Korea in such an overwhelming and unnecessary mess that it has an ingrained hatred of the USA. Kim does show signs of wanting to alleviate some of the worst aspects of his totalitarian state, but we must not rob him of his ace as a starting ploy. Slow and patient negotiations could eventually give us what we seek. Sanctions impede, and do not help, progress.
And, Donald, should you not be thanking, not insulting, Iran that has refused to consider weapons of mass even when suffering greatly during invasions from Iraq. Why do you dismiss Iran’s thwarting of UK-USA dominance of its oil and the fact that the USA offered Iran, under the unwelcomed Shah whom we imposed, nuclear weapons? What real justification is there for imposing crippling sanction, withdrawing from the successful Iranian nuclear treaty, and blaming Iran for all the area’s troubles?
Ye Olde Scribe,
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