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Ask McCain and Obama if they'll work to create a world free of nuclear weapons

ASK THIS | July 20, 2008

Longtime establishment leaders Shultz, Kissinger, Nunn and Perry have issued a call for the world to be rid of nuclear weapons. Obama says that is his goal; McCain hasn't staked out a position. The press, which has long avoided this subject, needs to ask Obama to spell out his plans, and it needs to get McCain on the record.

By Morton Mintz

What would the presumptive presidential candidates do about the nuclear weapons that threaten the planet?

Look at Barack Obama's campaign Web site and you will find this:

Obama will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But he will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. He will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert [my italics] ; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.  

Look at John McCain's campaign Web site and you will find no discussion of whether "a world without nuclear weapons" is a good or bad idea.

Now look at what presidential candidate George W. Bush said in a Washington speech on May 23, 2000:

The United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status—another unnecessary vestige of cold war confrontation. . .For two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. So, as president, I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces.

Finally, look for a news report--good luck!--on whether McCain agrees or disagrees with the hair-trigger-alert policies of Bush 2000 and Obama 2007, or with the "who's who of the national security establishment," as Carla Anne Robbins called it in "Thinking the Unthinkable: A World Without Nuclear Weapons," a New York Times "Editorial Observer" piece on June 30. George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn are "calling on the United States to lead a global campaign to devalue and eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons," Robbins wrote. She continued (the italics are mine):

None of these men (two former secretaries of state, a former secretary of defense and a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee) are given to casual utopianism - or anything casual. They are trying to shock sensibilities.

In two opinion articles in The Wall Street Journal, they described a frightening new world of ever-expanding nuclear appetites, in which traditional deterrence no longer works. They argued that the only way for the United States to rally the cooperation it needs to confront such dangers is with a clear commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

They called for backing that up with policies that have also long been anathema to hawks: including banning all nuclear testing, taking American and Russian missiles off of hair-trigger alert and agreement on "further substantial reductions" in both countries' arsenals....

It is hard to see their proposals as anything but a rejection of President Bush's failed nuclear weapons policy. Mr. Bush's aides have spent eight years ridiculing arms control agreements as "old think" and denying any relationship between what America does with its own nuclear weapons and its obvious inability to constrain others' behavior....

Today--19 years after the Berlin Wall came down--the United States and Russia still have more than 20,000 nuclear weapons, thousands ready to launch within minutes. North Korea may or may not be persuaded to give up its weapons and Iran is mastering the skills it needs to make its own. Many other countries have developed a sudden enthusiasm for nuclear energy—and for fuel programs that could someday help build a weapon. In the midst of all this, the danger that terrorists might buy or steal a weapon, or the makings for one, is also frighteningly real.

It is nothing less than indefensible for the mainstream media to all but kiss off the threat to the planet that the United States and Russia needlessly perpetuate by keeping thousands of planet-threatening nuclear weapons "ready to launch within minutes."

The threat was not kissed off by presidential candidate George Bush in May 2000. But while paying much attention to the portion of the speech in which he advocated Star-Wars capability, the MSM paid almost no attention, at the time or in the eight years since then, to his declaration that "The United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status."

I have yet to hear of a White House reporter asking President Bush such obvious questions as:

  • In May 2000, you said that you "ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces." When did you get the assessment? What was it?
  • How many nuclear warheads have been de-alerted by the United States? By Russia?
  • How many nuclear warheads remain on hair-trigger alert in the United States? In Russia?
  • Why do any nuclear warheads remain on hair-trigger alert in either country?

The American press virtually never misses an opportunity to avoid this subject.

In July 2000, for example, Eugene Habiger, former commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, "There is only one thing that can destroy the United States of America today-and that is Russian nuclear warheads." Former Senator Nunn, co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, testified that progress toward de-alerting "may well be more important to stability and security than the number of nuclear weapons." Leading news organizations did not report Habiger's or Nunn's warnings.

In May 2005, Tim Russert, to his great credit, made "the threat and prevention of nuclear terrorism" the subject of "Meet the Press." Nunn and Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who co-authored the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, were guests.

Russert to Nunn: "What about each side having their nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert?"

Nunn: "Well, that makes no sense, particularly from our security point of view because the Russian's radar system and their warning systems have deteriorated substantially, so there's more chance of an accident now. Here again, you've got to have presidential leadership. These changes are not going to bubble up from the bottom. They've got to come from the top."

Lugar implied that the White House gives a low priority to reducing the nuclear threat: "Every time I call President Bush, he says, 'Well, I'm going to call Condi Rice right away,' or Don Rumsfeld. And he does, and they call people. But if somebody like us around the table was not calling them-you know, that's why our government really works, checks and balances."

I did find news coverage of this edition of "Meet the Press." It was in Izvestia.

A few days later, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara told a conference, "If I were to characterize U.S. and NATO nuclear policies in one sentence, I would say they are immoral, illegal and militarily unnecessary." He described nuclear weapons as "very, very dangerous in terms of the risk of inadvertent or accidental launch." Again I found a story. It was in the Sunday Times of London.

Is it surprising that reducing the nuclear threat is a low priority for the Bush administration when it's no priority at all for major U.S. news organizations?

I've written repeatedly about why thousands of nuclear warheads in hair-trigger status is an issue supremely deserving of serious, sustained press coverage. Take it for what it's worth, my excuse for returning to the subject again and again is the steadfast persistence of indifferent, meager coverage. The disinterest is such that my feedback from reporters and editors has been nil. Here's a list of the pieces:

In May 2004, Nieman Watchdog also posted "Aren't hair-trigger nuclear missiles a target for terrorists?," an article by Bruce G. Blair, perhaps the country's foremost authority on nuclear command-and-control, and now president of the World Security Institute.

Generous critics could fairly accuse me of being tenacious; fair-minded critics could reasonably accuse me of being a nag. On this issue, I don’t mind being redundant.

As published above
Posted by Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
07/23/2008, 03:56 AM

No reasonable mind across the continents, would ever like to deviate from the ideology/ argumentation offered by Morton Mintz in his thought-arresting article. The most irrefutable fact argues the logic that those who seem to have been the proponents of nuclear non- proliferation , have grave responsibilities and commitments to deliver to the international community the practical allegiance to finish or terminate their own nuclear stockpiles/ nuclear war heads that are existing in thousands and thousands.Without showing their prompt deliberations regarding the nuclear disarmament, the super powers' advocacy for convincing others to distance from the ongoing nuclear arms race, would lose its meaning.The Iran- US nuclear dispute is a self-explanatory case in this regard.

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