“I consider the deterrent to be critical because we don’t ever want those weapons used. So either the deterrent is safe and secure, it is compelling, or we actually open the door for something worse, whether it be a technical accident or political accident. So to me it’s an absolute priority.” Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, 12 January 2017
In just a week, Donald Trump will be given the ability to launch US nuclear weapons. 6800 American bombs, several thousand of which are ready to be launched in minutes, under the control of a man who has bragged about committing sexual assault, called Mexicans rapists, and said he will bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”. This is a man who is not interested in international law. A man who is already violating the laws he will swear to uphold on 20 January.
Trump has said a lot about nuclear weapons, from suggesting he’d be okay with Japan or Saudi Arabia developing their own bombs, to suggesting that he’d be prepared to use nuclear weapons in Europe. Some suggest that his nominee for Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, might be able to change, or at least influence, the direction Trump is going on nuclear weapons. He could even move to a sole purpose doctrine — only retaining nuclear weapons to deter the nuclear weapons of others. However, even for a four-star general with 44 years in the military, these battles will be hard fought. Many stand to benefit from the trillion dollar nuclear weapon modernisation plans. And as we’ve seen, money trumps everything.
As of 20 January, the Donald will have the codes to launch US nuclear weapons. And not just the weapons stored in missile silos in the middle of America, he will also gain the authority to authorize use of nuclear weapons stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. And don’t forget the nuclear weapons constantly circling the earth on submarines.
Too much power
Every one of these nuclear weapons, if used in a populated area, would cause catastrophic harm for generations. Recent studies have shown that even a very limited nuclear war, using only a couple hundred of the 14,900 nuclear weapons in existence, could cause devastating climate problems and lead to a global famine that could impact two billion people. No one should have the power to cause such widespread destruction.
Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said “there are no right hands for the wrong weapons.” Given that the orange-coiffed real estate celebrity is about to assume leadership in the US, the rest of the world needs to seize the opportunity to do everything they can to make sure the conditions that justify keeping these weapons are changed. And in March, countries will begin negotiations to do just that.
Support the ban
A nuclear ban treaty won’t immediately impact the policy of nuclear armed countries like the US. However, it will change the context these policies are seeking to address. A new treaty that makes it illegal to use or possess nuclear weapons will reinforce existing agreements on non proliferation while also creating the framework needed to eliminate these weapons from arsenals. For those outside of the US, the upcoming nuclear ban treaty negotiations are a way to impact future nuclear policy decision making in nuclear armed countries like the US, and perhaps a way to send a clear message to the president elect that these weapons are not acceptable for anyone, ever again.