Asking who 'Wins' the Helsinki Summit makes us all lose

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 MON 16 JULY 2018


Commentator after commentator in the mainstream media and political establishment are pressing Donald Trump to be 'tough' on Putin. Some prescriptions such as that from Senator John Mc Cain, that Trump should 'hold Putin to account' over election interference verge on the irresponsible if not the downright suicidal. Others, envisaging a summit as some kind of gladiatorial contest, in which issues are to be settled by mortal combat, say Trump is a rank amateur taking on Mohammed Ali.

All this is precisely upside – down. While we might wish Trump were more informed and 'professional' than he is, summits are not a contest in which the object is to 'win'. Above all they are not a zero-sum game. They are a meeting of minds in which healing is supposed to take place, vexed issues are supposed to be unlocked and unblocked, and the details are supposed to be worked out later between more specialised negotiators behind closed or semi-closed doors. Trump being 'played' by Putin is the very least of the worlds worries. But what kind of 'music' will come from the playing really does matter. Will it be harmonious or clashing discord?

Its as well to remember exactly what is at stake in this, and in any, US-Russia summit.

Russia and the US between them hold over 90% of all the nuclear warheads that there are.

A nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States is, according to the opinion of many who are very much qualified to make this judgement, as likely or more likely to take place than at any time even during the cold war.

Such an exchange, were it to take place, would destroy what we call 'civilisation' and kill most humans within an hour or so leaving those who were not vaporised immediately to freeze in the dark.

What is, potentially at stake, is the survival of civilisation and humans as a species.

Stakes such as who 'won' or who gets to control Crimea, or Syria, (except insofar as it might lead to a wider conflict), or even Novichok, are quite simply irrelevant in the light of the overwhelming imperative of Human Survival and the survival of civilisation. And it is this that must be on the table in Helsinki.

And 'compromises' on secondary issues – and the above are all 'secondary' issues – are well worthwhile to secure global strategic stability, meaning that nobody gets vaporised, and civilisation survives.

A range of commonsense nuclear risk reduction measures have been suggested for discussion, and these should be priorities for discussion:

--Nuclear weapon systems on both sides are currently held in a state such that they can be launched in 'a few dozens of seconds'. The time taken to launch nuclear weapons, and the time available for presidential decision making needs to be increased.
--Both countries should make commitments to 'no first use' of nuclear weapons
--Decades ago, the US and Russia committed to establish a joint data exchange centre, in which information on ICBM and other missile launches could be exchanged jointly manned by US and Russian personnel. Both governments have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to do it but it has never happened. It should happen.
--Overall military to military communication needs to be improved or restored.

Nuclear risk reduction measures are detailed on the website of the Abolition 2000 working group on nuclear risk reduction of which the author of this press-release is a co-chair:
http://www.abolition2000.org/ en/nuclear-risk-reduction/

Another initiative which would be useful is the extension of the New START arms limitation treaty. Further down the track more mutual reductions in nuclear weapon systems should take place.

Finally, both governments should aim, as per their Article VI commitments under the NPT and as per the TPNW, to eliminate their nuclear arsenals completely. Only then can the threat of the end of civilisation and of humans as a species be completely removed from the global agenda.

John Hallam
Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner
People for Nuclear Disarmament
Human Survival Project
https://www.facebook.com/ Human-Survival-Project- 388802504634024/
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