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Home Articles Flashpoints What Next After New START Ratification

What Next After New START Ratification

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With the entry into force of the New START Treaty at the Munich Security Conference, nuclear disarmament NGO's worldwide have written to the Russian State Duma and the US Congressional committees of Defence and Foreign Affairs, once more urging them to take steps to lower the operational readiness of strategic nuclear weapon systems.

According to the authors of the letter:
"To this day, the US and Russia maintain approximately 2000 warheads each, in a status in which they can be launched in as little as 2 minutes. Twenty years after the cold war has supposedly finished, this makes no sense at all, yet Pentagon and Kremlin strategic planners still refuse to stand down weapons whose use would in all probability terminate not only civilisation, but most complex land-based living things if used to destroy cities.

The entry into force of New START, which for some time looked as if it might not take place at all, gives some hope of further progress to nuclear disarmament - even if it is largely undercut by the massive modernisation program.

Policy - makers are asking 'what can be done next'?

There are a number of things on the table, but the main ones are the fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), currently stalled in the UN Committee on Disarmament, and US ratification of the CTBT. Both of these are important and worthy goals, but look unlikely to progress in the immediate term.

However, progress COULD be made, on lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems - and lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems, so that presidents and senior military have more than a mere 8 minutes maximum to decide on whether or not to unleash the apocalypse - is a step that would do more to assure the security of the world than any other step short of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. It is a relatively easy and cost - free step with massive positive consequences.

We call on Duma and Congress to act to take the apocalypse off the agenda by  taking nuclear weapons off high alert status immediately."

John Hallam (Sydney)  61-2-9810-2598 0416-500-793
Steven Starr +1-573 884 1847
Manuel Padilla (Washington) +1-202-635-2757 ext:118

The text below (attatched in Russian and English versions) has been faxed to Duma and Congressional Committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence.
John Hallam
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fax 61-2-9699-9182



To: Congress and State Duma Committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence

Ellen Tauscher
Rose Gotemoeller
Hillary Clinton
Sergey Lavrov
Anatoly Serdyukov
Russian and US UN Missions

Dear Members of the Russian State Duma and the US Congress, Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers, and Secretaries of State,

First of all, the authors of this letter would like to congratulate you on the New START Treaty's Entry Into Force.

While new START is a modest step - many say,  too modest - toward a nuclear weapons-free world (an objective to which both the US and the Russian governments are committed by article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), rejection of this Treaty would have been a very significant setback for efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons for civilisation and human survival.

However there is much more to be done. Ratification of new START is not at all an 'end point', but merely a step on a road that must lead sooner rather than later to the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons and to their being outlawed under a nuclear weapons convention, as envisaged in the Five Point Plan put forward by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and noted in the NPT 2010 Final Declaration.

An absolutely vital step in reducing the risks posed by large nuclear arsenals to the world, and in reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in security policies, is to increase the time available for decision-making in nuclear crises (or purported crises), by lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapons.
This is often referred to as 'de-alerting'.

Reducing the alert status of nuclear forces was initially recommended in 1996 by the Canberra Commission and repeated in 2006 by the Blix Commission, and again by the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (ICNND).

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged negotiations with Russia to reduce the alert status of US and Russian nuclear weapons systems. As President he took the first step in the Nuclear Posture Review by committing to maximise presidential decision-making time during a nuclear crisis. Reducing operational readiness or 'de-alerting' is the only way to do this.

The operating status of nuclear weapons is the sole subject of two resolutions that regularly pass the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA):
Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapon Systems (most recently adopted 157-3, text attached) and Reducing Nuclear Danger.

It is also mentioned in United Action Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons resolution sponsored by Australia and Japan, (for which both the US and Russia now vote in favour, and  of which the US is also a sponsor) and in the NAM resolution. The global consensus for lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapons could not be clearer.

The risks of maintaining nuclear weapons on high alert are illustrated by a series of terrifying incidents in which the issue has been not the launch of one or two 'rogue' missiles, but the use of the core strategic forces of either the US or Russia.  The world has on a number of occasions been literally saved by the cool nerves and resourcefulness of Russian and US military personnel and presidential aides.

The use, by miscalculation or malfunction, of even a small fraction of the US or Russian strategic arsenals (including 2000 launch-ready, high-alert warheads) would terminate not just civilisation but would threaten the elimination of most humans and many other complex forms of life, as shown by the recent studies performed by Toon, Robock, and others.

A stratospheric soot layer produced by firestorms from the use of those weapons would drastically lower global temperatures and cause catastrophic damage to the Earth's protective ozone layer, causing widespread famine and species extinction. (See Nuclear Winter references).

De-alerting will not  by itself completely eliminate the possibilities of a nuclear first  strike or of nuclear retaliation.  Either would spell  catastrophe for the entire world.  However it does render nuclear weapons use based on miscalculation, malfunction, or incorrect information much less likely, and make further steps to the elimination of nuclear weapons easier.

Until nuclear deterrence itself is  renounced as incompatible with human security and human survival, even  small steps in the right direction will be inadequate to the scope of  the danger in which we have placed ourselves.

De-alerting  should be  accompanied by further steps to lower the role of nuclear weapons in  security doctrines (which de-alerting itself helps to do) and build the cooperative framework for a nuclear- weapons-free world, and  a Nuclear Weapons Convention.  De-alerting would in the meantime substantially  reduce the risk of an accidental nuclear war -- an outcome that should  find favour even with those who continue to be wedded to nuclear 'deterrence'  policy.

Increasing decision-making time by going to lower alert levels has been called for by blue-ribbon commissions of the highest caliber, by Nobel laureates, and by almost all UN member-states in the General Assembly. It is time for the US and Russian governments to heed this call from the whole of the rest of the world, and take the apocalypse off the global agenda. This step, of de-alerting, is the very least that can and should be done immediately towards that end.


John Hallam, People for Nuclear Disarmament Nuclear Flashpoints Project (Letter coordinator), Sydney Australia

Steven Starr, Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR)

Douglas Mattern, President, Association of World Citizens (AWC) San Francisco, Calif, USA,

Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens (AWC)

Alyn Ware,. International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Aaron Tovish, International Director, Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign,
Thomas Magnusson, Chair, IPB (International Peace Bureau) Geneva,

Angelika Beer, Chair,  Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention, EastWest Institute

Prof. Sergei Kolesnikov, Duma Member, Co-President,  International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

Herman Spanjaard, Chair, International Council, IPPNW, (Neth)

Lisa Clark, Beati i costruttori di pace (Blessed Are the Peacemakers), Italy

Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Ret'd) - Disarmament & Security Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand

Robert White  Former Director, Centre for Peace Studies, University of  Auckland, New Zealand.

Barney Richards, New Zealand Peace Council, Kapiti Coast, NZ

Dr Bill Williams, Medical Association for the Prevention of War, (MAPW) Australia,

Jo Vallentine, PND-W.A.,

Giz Watson MLC, Member for North Metropolitan, Legislative Council of Western Australia, Perth, WA,

Pauline Mitchell, Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD) Melbourne,

Brian Turner, Australian Quaker Peace & Legislation Committee,
Dr Marianne Hanson , Reader in International Relations, University of Queensland.

Hiro Umebayashi, Special Advisor, Peace Depot, Japan,

Jill Evans MEP, Rhondda, Wales,

Peter Nicholls, Chair, Abolition2000, UK,

George Farebrother, World Court Project, (WCP)  Sussex, U.K.,

Frank Jackson, Uniting for Peace, UK,

Dominique Lalanne, Abolition2000 Europe, France,

Hans Lammerant, Vredesactie, Antwerp, Belgium,

Ak Malten, Pro Peaceful Energy Use, Netherlands,

Xanthe Hall, PNND Coordinator, Europe, Berlin, Germany,
UtaZapf, Bundestag, Berlin, Germany,

A. Nidecker, IPPNW Switzerland,

Tobias Huber, Music for Peace, Switzerland,

Hallgeir H. Langeland, MP Norway.

Maria Sotiropoulou, IPPNW Greece,

Melina Menelaou, Cyprus Green Party,

Sukla Sen, EKTA, Mumbai, India,

Achin Vanaik, Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace, (CNDP),  Delhi, India,

Wilfred Dcosta, Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)

S.P. Udayakumar, South Asian Community Center for Education
and Research (SACCER), Nagercoil, South India,

SP Udayakumar, Transcend South Asia (TSA), Nagercoil, South India,

SP Udayakumar, Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy,

SP Udayakumar, National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements,

Dr Ranjith S. Jayasekara, Sri Lankan Doctors for Peace and Development, Sri Lanka,

Dr Ronald Mc Coy, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility,

Dr S. Husin Ali, People's Justice Party, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia,  

Mauricio Lozano, Vice-President, Salvadoran Physicians for Social Responsibility, ICAN liaison, El Salvador

Dr. Natalia Mironova, President of the Movement for Nuclear Safety, Chelyabinsk, Russia,

Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, New York,

Dave Robinson, Pax Christi USA, Washington, USA

Rosemarie Pace, Director, Pax Christi Metro New York, NY USA,

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CARES, Livermore, Calif, USA,

David Hartsough, Executive Dirctor, PEACEWORKERS, San Francisco, CA USA

Jennifer Ellington, US Green Party, Washington DC,

Jonathan Mark, Flyby News, Wendell, MA,

Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action, Washington DC,

Mark Pilisuk PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of California,

Alfred Lambremont Webre, Campaign for Cooperation in Space, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Gordon Edwards PhD, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), Toronto,,

Steven Stapes, Rideau Institute, Ottowa, Canada,

Audrey Tobias, Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (VANA), Toronto, Canada,

Helen Chilas, Hiroshima Day Coalition, Toronto, Canada,

'Nuclear Winter' references

1. Owen B. Toon, Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Charles Bardeen, Luke Oman, and Georgiy L.  Stenchikov, Atmospheric effects and Societal Consequences of Regional scale nuclear conflicts and acts of individual nuclear terrorism, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics,vol. , 2007, . 973- 2002.

2. Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Owen B. Toon, Charles Bardeen, and Richard P. Turco, climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts, Atmospheric Chemistry  and Physics,vol. , 2007, . 003-2012.

3.Starr, Steven, High-Alert Nuclear Weapons:The Forgotten Danger, GR Newsletter, Autumn, 2008, pp. - 16.

4. Alan Robock, Luke Oman, and Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Nuclear Winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: still catastrophic consequences, Journal of Geophysical Research  - Atmospheres, vol. 12, no. 13, 2007.

5. Toon O, Robock A, Turco R, The environmental consequences of nuclear War, Physics Today, vol. 61, no. 2, 2008,pp. 7-42.
Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 22:28