A March 15 article in the Washington Post asks, “How much can we justify spending on nuclear weapons?”
My answer is: not at all. But “we” could include a lot of people and groups with different perspectives.
The article’s author, Walter Pincus, queries, “Is it not time to talk realistically about the $200 billion” – yes, that’s with a B – “we plan to spend over the next decade on strategic nuclear weapons and their land- and sea-based delivery systems?”
Good heavens, yes. But “we” here means the U.S. government, in this case the White House (and its agencies) and Congress. And what government officials (elected, appointed, and career) – decide is “realistic” and what I, along with many other reasonable people and concerned citizens, think is realistic in this case seem very far apart, to our collective peril.
For decades I’ve been listening to weapons-mongers in government and industry here inside the Washington Beltway argue that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction has been wildly successful. The Cold-War buildup of massive stockpiles of nukes in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. kept nuclear war from breaking out, they say. But how do “we” know that another policy would not have delivered deterrence?
How can “we” justify the proliferation of nuclear weapons worldwide? For the weapons-mongers, it’s “just business” – if you have the money, they’ll sell you the “systems” you want – no matter how unstable you might be….
How can “we” justify the environmental and human-health costs of nuclear weapons production? Remember Rocky Flats, the Hanford nuclear “reservation,” the U.S. government’s exposure of witting and unwitting human subjects to dangerous levels of radiation? (See this Dept. of Energy Web site for information on some of these problems.)
How can “we” justify the continuing production of radioactive waste while “we” have not sanctioned any permanent means of disposal? (Check here for more information on this problem.)
In the Reagan administration I heard government officials tell me that all I needed was “a shovel” to protect myself from nuclear fallout. At the same time I watched my mother die of what was likely radiation poisoning (suffered at the hands of uninformed physicians in the late 1940s).
On the civilian side, how can “we” justify building up nuclear power generation capability with no permanent means of waste disposal and with woefully inadequate investments in renewable energy production?
The Union of Concerned Scientists, Peace Action, and the Center for Arms Control are among many groups continuing to provide what I consider to be “realistic” responses to the Questions that Mr. Pincus has raised. Check them out.