By Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Dr. Ira Helfand
America is home to one of the world’s two most powerful nuclear arsenals. With President-elect Trump’s reckless tweet calling for the U.S. to “expand its nuclear capability,” he has put the world on edge. This came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin called for Russia to strengthen its nuclear arsenal.
Donald Trump is not even in the White House and he is already threatening to upend decades of U.S. nuclear policy and plunge us back into the dangerous arms race that led to the Cold War.
Both Republican and Democratic security experts have described Donald Trump as lacking the temperament to command our nuclear arsenal. And we are already seeing why.
Once Donald Trump is President, he will have absolute authority to initiate nuclear war with no legal check on this power. We can only hope his impulsive tendencies displayed on the campaign trail, and since the election, are not an indication of how Mr. Trump will govern.
It is clear, however, that our long-term response must be a transformational change in U.S. nuclear policy.
For decades, the U.S. has argued that even a few nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations would pose an unacceptable risk, but “responsible” states like the U.S. having these weapons is acceptable.
By transferring thousands of nuclear weapons to the control of a leader who appears temperamentally unsuited to command them, the U.S. has proven how fundamentally flawed that policy is.
Many in the medical and scientific community have long argued there are no “right hands” with nuclear weapons. A large-scale use of nuclear weapons will kill most of the human race. Recent studies have shown that even a very limited nuclear war, involving less than 0.5 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, would cause worldwide climate disruption and precipitate a global famine that could put some two billion people at risk. No individual should ever possess such destructive power.
Opponents claim some leaders can be trusted with this terrible power, but they assumed we would always elect leaders who understand the grave responsibility that comes with it. The election of Donald Trump, in tandem with Vladimir Putin holding power in Russia, has shown how shortsighted that assumption is. With vast nuclear arsenals in the control of such leaders, we must finally acknowledge that no risk is acceptable when it comes to nuclear weapons. Our nuclear policy must be an urgent quest to eliminate these weapons.
Working together with the current nuclear states to move toward a nuclear-free world will not be easy, but it is both possible and essential to a safe and prosperous future.
Each nuclear state has their reasons for thinking these arsenals are necessary to protecting their national security and place on the world stage.
Trump claims an aggressive nuclear policy is justified until the world “comes to its senses,” but it already has. There is a growing consensus in support of nuclear arms reduction and as our next president, he must answer that call.
First, the United States must make a fundamental decision to seek the national security that can only come from a nuclear-free world. This would lay the foundation for the real progress needed. The U.S. must begin by abandoning its intention to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to enhance its nuclear arsenal.
Second, the U.S. must clearly commit to never using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations and never use nuclear weapons first.
Third, the U.S. must work with Russia to explore mutual steps to allow our two countries to take our weapons off hair-trigger alert to lessen the danger that they are inadvertently fired in response to a false warning of attack by either side.
Finally, the U.S. must embrace the international movement for a treaty to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons. The United Nations voted overwhelmingly in October to commence negotiations for such a treaty in 2017. The U.S. should join this process and use the resulting treaty as leverage to bring the other nuclear nations into negotiations to reduce and eliminate their arsenals, with all the necessary verification mechanisms in place.
With every day, President-elect Trump demonstrates the danger of an unthinking approach to foreign policy is. We join Republicans and Democrats in hoping this rhetoric from Trump does not signify a return to an outdated approach to nuclear weapons.
Now more than ever, the U.S. must work with world leaders to reduce the current nuclear stockpiles and pave the way to a nuclear-free world. We have the opportunity to leave our children a more secure future. We cannot afford to plunge the U.S. back into a dangerous arms race and new Cold War.
U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern represents the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts. Dr. Ira Helfand is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
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