December: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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December 1, 2016 – Alex Wellerstein’s Washington Post article, “No One Can Stop President Trump From Using Nuclear Weapons,” concluded that, “When the legal framework for nuclear weapons was developed, the fear was not about an irrational president, but trigger-happy generals,” which was resolved long ago, Wellerstein noted, to mandate civilian control over the military and most importantly its possible firing of nuclear weapons.  Yet he also remarked that, “There is no way today to keep (President) Trump from launching a nuclear attack under the existing system.”  This article was certainly not the first of its kind but it surely helped fuel a continued ongoing debate expressed earlier in a most partisan way by Hillary Clinton’s statement at the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”  More recently at a Nov. 14, 2017 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) titled “Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons,” despite the admonition of chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) that the proceeding was not intended to target the 45th President, “This is not specific to anybody,” many Democrats on the committee were not so reticent in expressing their concerns.  Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) stated that, “We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national interests.” Comments:  Despite seemingly comforting statements during this hearing by Brian McKeon, former Chief Counsel to the Democratic members of the SFRC for 12 years (“Article II of the Constitution mandating the President as sole Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces does not give him carte blanche to take the country to war.”) and General Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command (“The military can refuse to follow what it considers an illegal order, even a nuclear one.”), the entirety of the human species remains deeply concerned about the current very high risk of nuclear conflict involving the U.S.  Even if recent legislation from Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) on “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017” or a future, more bipartisan version of such a bill reached Donald Trump’s desk, it is likely he would veto it and it appears unlikely that Congress could override that veto. Nevertheless, it is time to redouble global efforts to prevent a Nuclear Armageddon.  (Sources:  U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations website and a variety of mainstream and alternative media sources such as Democracy Now and RT.com.)

December 7, 1993 – On this date, U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O’Leary announced her Openness Initiative in “a deliberate effort to rebuild a basic level of trust between the American people and their government that is necessary for a democracy to function.”  As part of this initiative, she released documents describing previously classified U.S. nuclear tests, facts about bomb-grade plutonium, and related information.  The most startling release of information related to human radiation experiments, specifically the 1945-47 injections of 18 human subjects with plutonium.  More details on a wide variety of 48 different radiation experiments conducted on uninformed and/or uneducated members of the public came in a June 1994 press release.  Through the efforts of hundreds of Department of Energy (DOE) staff, private stakeholders, and long-time activists, a years-long effort to find, declassify, evaluate, and substantiate abuses by DOE and their subcontractors were revealed in a number of subsequent reports that were published in the ensuing years of the Clinton Administration. One such report was released in February of 1995.  Titled, “Human Radiation Experiments: The Department of Energy Roadmap to the Story and Records” (document number DOE/EH-0445), this report catalogued dozens of experiments conducted on not only adults but also children from the 1930s to 1970s.  One series of tests, which were conducted on unsuspecting hospital patients including the critically ill, pregnant women and their fetuses, the poor, the middle class, the mentally ill, and institutionalized children, resulted in the injection, irradiation, or other exposure to radioactive elements with the compiled data from the resultant cancers and even radioactive body parts forwarded for final analysis to Los Alamos National Laboratory or other DOE or governmental facilities.  Comments:  Such experiments probably represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of countless, purposeful experiments, tests, and radioactive exposures conducted by representatives of the nine nuclear weapons states and possibly other nations that considered or are today considering acquiring nuclear weapons and/or fissile materials.  This is yet another paramount reason why nuclear weapons and nuclear power should be dramatically reduced and eliminated entirely (except for legitimate medicinal uses or very limited internationally-sanctioned civilian nuclear fusion reactor research) by 2030.  (Source:  Eileen Welsome.  “The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War.”  New York:  Dial Press, 1999.)

December 10, 2017 – Setsuko Thurlow, an 85 year-old hibakusha survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, along with Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, as dual representatives of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), will receive the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway.  ICAN is being rewarded “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons (a reference to the overwhelming approval by U.N. member countries, except the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states, of the July 7, 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons- TPNW).”  ICAN is a coalition of 468 nonprofit organizations in 101 nations founded in 2007.  Comments:  Two years ago, Setsuko Thurlow honored the victims of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima on the 70th anniversary of the attack by remarking that, “Former German President Richard von Weizeker once said, ‘We must look truth straight in the eye – without embellishment and without distortion,’ The truth is, we all live with the daily threat of nuclear weapons.  In every silo, on every submarine, in the bomb bays of airplanes, every second of every day, nuclear weapons, thousands on high alert, are poised for deployment threatening everyone we love and everything we hold dear.  How much longer can we allow the nuclear weapons states to wield this threat to all life on earth?  Let us make the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal:  to abolish nuclear weapons, and safeguard the future of our one shared planet earth.” (Sources:  International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  “Atomic Bomb Survivor to Jointly Accept Nobel Peace Prize on ICAN’s Behalf.”  Press Release, Oct. 26, 2017. http://www.ican.org/campaign-news/atomic-bomb-survivor-to-jointly-accept-nobel-peace-prize accessed Nov.16, 2017 and The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.  “70 Years After Hiroshima, It’s Time to Confront the Past.” Sunflower Newsletter, September 2015.)

December 13, 2001 – The George W. Bush Administration announced that it would withdraw the United States from the 1972 ABM Treaty in six months – the first formal renunciation of an international arms control agreement since 1945.  Months later, in 2002, the President announced he would give the green light to the rapid deployment of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile defense system with the goal of having an initial operational capability by late 2004.  Unfortunately, the 43rd President justified building the GMD system by arguing that the need for strategic missile defense was acute and required exempting the system from many of the mandatory oversight, accountability, and financial transparency procedures that Congress and the Pentagon had learned through decades of experience are critical to successfully developing viable, successful, and effective military systems.  The same can be said for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system which currently has six “operational” batteries deployed.  Both THAAD and the GMD (the latter with a total of 44 deployed interceptors at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California) systems’ exemption from the proven fly-before-you-buy process and track record of extremely limited real world capability (as seen in drastically flawed testing programs) has had an impact on the viability and reliability of missile defense systems that the Pentagon falsely claims are “proven.”  Comments:  Not only have unwise accelerated deployments of strategic missile defenses been incredibly expensive and wasteful of hundreds of billions of tax dollars, before and after President Reagan’s March 23, 1983 “Star Wars” speech, these deployments also helped fuel a renewed offensive nuclear arms race as the U.S., Russia, China, and other members of the Nuclear Club commit to spend trillions in the next few decades on new generations of ICBMs, submarine-launched and mobile land-based ballistic missiles, and air-launched cruise missiles, not to mention accelerated research and development on more exotic and destabilizing nuclear weapons systems.  (Sources:  Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC:  Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 98 and Laura Grego, George N. Lewis, and David Wright. “Shielded From Oversight: The Disasterous U.S. Approach to Strategic Missile Defense.”  Union of Concerned Scientists, July 2016 and U.S. Department of Defense.  Missile Defense Agency. “Elements: Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD).” and “THAAD.” https://www.mda.mil/system/gmd.html and https://www.mda.mil/system/thaad.html both accessed Nov. 15, 2017.)

December 18, 1970 – At the Nevada Test Site in Area 8 on Yucca Flat, the eighth of 12 tests in the Operation Emery series of nuclear blasts, code-named Baneberry, caused an unexpected and unprecedented result for an underground explosion – a significant release of radioactive elements.  The ten kiloton blast, detonated at the bottom of a sealed vertical shaft 900 feet deep, created a fissure near the surface of the shaft cap that resulted in the leak of approximately six percent of the explosive’s radioactive products into the atmosphere.  Hot gas and radioactive fallout rained down on workers at the site but the release not only had a local impact but a global one.  The plume released 6.7 MCi of radioactive material including 80 kCi of Iodine-131 and other toxic noble gases that rose to the upper atmosphere and jet stream settling down later in areas of northeastern California, northern Nevada, southern Idaho, and eastern sections of Oregon and Washington with some radionuclides spreading across the U.S., to Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean.  Comments:  The testing of over 2,050 nuclear devices over the last seven decades by nine nuclear weapons states has inflicted extremely harmful short- and long-term health impacts to global populations especially native peoples and veterans who participated in observing tests at a relatively close range.  Increased cancer rates, groundwater contamination, destruction of land and ocean ecosystems, and other detrimental health and environmental impacts still plague large numbers of people due to nuclear testing.  (Source:  Thomas B. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig.  “Nuclear Weapons Databook:  Volume II, Appendix B.” National Resources Defense Council, Inc. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987, p.169 and “Estimated Exposures and Thyroid Doses Received by the American People from Iodine-131 in Fallout Following Nevada Atmospheric Nuclear Bomb Tests: History of the Nevada Test Site and Nuclear Testing Background.” National Cancer Institute. Chapter 2, September 1997. NIH 97-4264. https://www.cancer.gov.)

December 24, 1950 – Fifteen days after General Douglas MacArthur first requested that President Truman provide him with atomic bombs to turn back a massive Chinese attack on U.N. forces, he upped the ante on Christmas Eve by submitting to the President a more detailed strategic plan calling for a nuclear first strike. MacArthur’s operational plans included a list of 26 targets in mainland China to be hit by atomic blasts.  He also proposed dropping 30-50 such weapons in a path along the Manchurian border to prevent future invasions into North Korea from Red China for sixty years!  In April of 1951, Truman had had enough and he ordered MacArthur to step down as commander of Allied Forces in Korea.  However, top U.S. military planners continued to focus on using nuclear weapons to break the stalemate on the Korean peninsula.  MacArthur’s replacement, General Matthew Ridgway, requested the use of 38 atomic bombs against enemy targets in May of that year.  Comments:  While some would argue that events two-thirds of a century in the past have little relevance today, in fact recent U.S.-North Korean tensions include unfortunately a renewed dose of nuclear threat and bluster, this time on both sides.  The Korean War that was curtailed dramatically after the July 1953 Armistice has nevertheless been reenergized.  There is a desperate need for global intervention to forestall a 21st century Korean War by signing a permanent peace treaty ending the conflict for good.  All parties at risk should be coerced, persuaded, cajoled, or begged to resolve the crisis through an enlarged “1.5 talks” process that expands this small private channel endeavor to a large-scale negotiating protocol shepherded by neutral nations such as Brazil, India, and South Africa.  The alternative could be the species-threatening breach of the nuclear threshold for the first time since 1945 – possibly the beginning of the end for global civilization.  (Sources:  Eric Schlosser.  “Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.”  New York:  Penguin Press, 2013 and numerous mainstream and alternative news media sources.)

Source: https://www.wagingpeace.org/december-month-nuclear-threat-history-4/