After weeks of partisan wrangling in Congress over something called “the nuclear option,” many Americans who follow politics may be surprised to learn that the real nuclear option is being discussed by representatives of 180 nations in New York City, beginning today.

The ultimate weapon has slipped from consciousness.  Its immense and long-lasting destructiveness, killing and maiming for generations, doesn’t seem to scare us anymore.  It’s just a macho name for a political maneuver.

There has been scant mention in the U.S. press of these formal discussions on the 1970 international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  Two events in the hours before it opens have provided some visibility: an earnest if unfocused demonstration in New York, but especially a short-range missile test by North Korea.

The U.S. would like to keep the attention on North Korea and Iran, but other nations are at least as interested in what the U.S. is and is not doing.

While insisting that other nations refrain from obtaining nuclear arms, the Bush administration has withdrawn pledges made by the U.S. at the last conference in 2000 to join the comprehensive test ban treaty, and sign a verifiable treaty banning production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.  The Bush administration also has plans for new nuclear weapons systems, and is arguably already engaging in nuclear war in Iraq with depleted uranium weapons.

In addition, other nations believe the U.S. has not destroyed stockpiles of nuclear arms sufficiently nor aided the Soviet Union in destroying theirs.  All of this first of all means that after months of preparation, the conference doesn’t even have an agenda, because of the conflict between the U.S. and other nations.

“If one state begins to reject commitments it made at past review conferences, other states may start to reject prior commitments. The non-proliferation treaty will quickly erode,” said Daryl Kimball, head of the independent Arms Control Association.

The Guardian has a full story here:,12858,1474609,00.html

Nuclear weapons are not metaphors left over from the Cold War.  They exist in quantity, and they are still dangerous.  The threats of terrorists with dirty bombs or “rogue nations” with a few true nukes are vaguely recognized.  But those huge thermonuclear arsenals have not disappeared. A RAND study says that accidental nuclear arms attack between the U.S. and Russia is not only still possible, it is more likely than it was during the Cold War.

There are numerous very serious problems involved in the existence of aging weapons, of so much fissile material and nuclear waste that will be lethal for thousands of years.

But the Bush administration has stopped addressing these problems, and is moving towards nuclear rearmament, breaking the actual and implied promises the U.S. made in order to get other nations to pledge not to become nuclear powers.  
Now with the U.S. bullying smaller nations, they have more incentive than ever to acquire nuclear arms.

 The North Korea situation is increasingly volatile.  According to U.S. defense intelligence, North Korea will soon have missiles capable of reaching the West Coast of the U.S. Others, like former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, claim they have missiles with that range already.  It’s also believed that North Korea is set to conduct nuclear weapons tests, and again, some believe they already have nuclear capability.

These facts, McNamara says, mean that the U.S. has no military options to deal with North Korea.  Yet the Bush administration continues to engage in more recriminations and name calling than negotiation.  
   Two quotes from another Guardian story:

Last Thursday George Bush labelled the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, a “dangerous person” and a “tyrant”.

A day later the official North Korean news agency quoted the North Korean foreign ministry as calling Mr Bush a “hooligan, bereft of any personality as a human being, to say nothing of stature as president of a country. He is a half-baked man in terms of morality, and a philistine whom we can never deal with.”,2763,1474671,00.html

The history of the Bomb in America (reported for example in a new book by Gerard DeGroot: THE BOMB, A LIFE) has been characterized by public silence and private dread.  Government lies and secrecy, plus the active policy of considering questions about nuclear weapons to be unpatriotic, joined with the natural inability to deal with the enormity of nuclear weapons, to create a sense of political denial for much of time since 1945.  Meanwhile, unconscious fears and distrust of government and science found expression in the arts and popular entertainment, from Dr. Strangelove and The Day After to the “bug-eyed monster movies,” the alien invasion and post-apocalyptic future genres of science fiction.

President Kennedy’s eloquent pursuit of a partial test-ban brought these emotions into public, and for a decade or so, the impetus was on the side of ending the threat of nuclear weapons.

But under the radar and outside the public eye, the momentum may have reversed.  It is up to us to pay attention to this conference, as a sign that we still want a world without nuclear weapons.  Their Cold War rationale has vanished.  Because of the radioactivity they unleash, they kill and main the innocent, the unborn, the planet including ultimately the people who use them.  If there is an issue for the culture of life, it is radioactive weapons, nuclear and depleted uranium.  

It’s not like we don’t have problems enough without them.

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