U.S. Poised to Build New Generation of Nuclear Weapons As World Marks 71 Years Since Atomic Bombing of Japan

Posted Aug. 10, 2016

MP3 Interview with Paul Kawika Martin, political and communications director with Peace Action, conducted by Scott Harris


The people of Japan solemnly gathered again this year on Aug. 6 and 9 to mark the death and destruction wrought by the U.S. dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, effectively ending World War II. This first, second and only uses of nuclear weapons in war killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in the port city of Nagasaki.

While President Barack Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima on May 27, the first by a sitting U.S. president, was a gesture appreciated by many in Japan, recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about nuclear weapons has caused distress and anxiety. The GOP candidate, known for his off-the-cuff remarks and a constant stream of factually inaccurate statements, suggested in March that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear arsenal. He also asked why U.S. military commanders haven't used nuclear weapons since 1945, while refusing to rule out an American nuclear attack in Europe.

As Americans prepare to choose their next president in November, the Obama administration and Pentagon plan to spend $1 trillion to modernize America's nuclear arsenal – including aircraft and submarines over the next three decades – has emerged as an important issue. Prominent scholars and activists have called on Obama in recent months to make good on his 2009 pledge in Prague, to move the world toward nuclear disarmament during his remaining months in office. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Paul Kawika Martin, political and communications director with Peace Action, who was reached in Japan, where he was attending ceremonies commemorating the 1945 atomic bomb attack. Here, Martin discusses the steps that could be taken by the president to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons will ever be used again.

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN: There's a little bit of disbelief here especially on the heels of our current President Obama, who within the first year of his presidency, was the first president to say he wanted to see a world free of nuclear weapons. (He) ended up some minor steps in that direction, including negotiating up a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) which cut our nuclear arsenal by 10 percent with Russia, some nuclear security summits, several of those that he put together to secure nuclear materials and even changing a little bit of the language that we would never use nuclear weapons on a non-nuclear state.

And then lastly, his visit to Hiroshima, which was historic that happened a couple of months ago. So, when looking at a next president, one of which who seems to throw around "Let's nuke them" or "Nuke him" you know, just like it's a slap in the face and not taking nuclear weapons seriously, and nuclear weapons in which scientists say, if several were used at once, could actually end humanity as we know it because of something called nuclear winter. The dust created from several nuclear weapons could block out the sun and actually change or end human life as we know it. To joke around, and use it so freely and clearly not to understand that there was another report where Trump kept saying, "Why can't we just use nuclear weapons? Why can't we just use nuclear weapons?" So clearly a misunderstanding of the power of nuclear weapons and why we should never use it again.

You can contrast that to Hillary Clinton who was head of the State Department, secretary of state, during the time in which we negotiated the new START treaty with Russia, so that's clearly a positive thing. She hasn't come out as strongly as President Obama in her language in she says "in some century" we should get rid of these weapons altogether. But nonetheless, it seems like she has a better understanding on the power and destruction of these weapons that really should never be used again.

BETWEEN THE LINES:Paul, as we mark the 71st anniversary of the dropping of the U.S. nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Obama sits in office, and despite his earlier pledges to work toward nuclear disarmament in the world, it looks like the United States is on track to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. There is growing opposition to this idea of spending this enormous amount of money, and of course, the concern about the destabilizing effect of a whole new generation of nuclear weapons in the United States and what that would trigger in other countries.

PAUL KAWIKA MARTIN:Yes, so the president has made minor steps forward as I had mentioned before in the START treaty, but as he has reduced the number of nuclear weapons – the least of any post-Cold War president – he certainly has a long several steps to go, I think to live up to his speech that he made in Prague about ridding the world of nuclear weapons and his Nobel Peace Prize, which for the most part, was given because of his pledge against nuclear weapons and his pledge to remove troops out of Iraq.

So, one of the things that he did – and our understanding is actually regretful – and doesn't think it's actually been interpreted quite the way he thought is part of the way he got the START treaty passed, through the Senate, which needed to be ratified was an agreement to keep funding of some of the nuclear weapons system. But the current funding, as you mentioned, to upgrade all of our warheads and the delivery systems – bombers, missiles and submarines – is going to cost a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. And that's really something we can't afford, I mean there's people even in the Defense Department; in government this is a bipartisan issue, in which they're looking at these costs at a time where we're supposedly moving toward less nuclear weapons and we're going to spend all this money to refurbish this system just doesn't make sense.

And as you mentioned, some of these weapons can be very destabilizing. So one of the ones that's been put forth is something called the long-range standoff missile which is basically a new nuclear cruise missile. This nuclear cruise missile, if it was launched at someone, you would not be able to tell if it's a nuclear cruise missile or a regular cruise missile. So if we end up putting this weapon together, then any country who sees a cruise missile coming from anywhere couldn't assume then that it's not a nuclear weapon and it could cause an accidental nuclear war.

But also as you mentioned, it could cause buildup specifically in China, maybe North Korea and other countries. So we're hoping that in the next five months of the president's term, that we'll see a couple of steps in that direction, some that are being pushed are something called a "no-first use" policy, which will say we would never use nuclear weapons first. We have several thousand weapons in reserve and we could say that we are going to dismantle a certain portion of those. We could move from our 1,500 strategic warheads and say we're going to unilaterally move down to a thousand, which the Department of Defense says we could easily do. And there's a number of other steps that we could do to move the ball forward and try to keep our pledge in the nonproliferation treaty which says we that we will be moving toward disarmament.

For more information on Peace Action, visit peace-action.org.

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