ACTION ALERT: How Risky is US Nuclear Strategy?
November 15, 2011
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
How risky is our current nuclear strategy? Surprisingly, no one knows! If you agree that gaping hole in our national security needs to be plugged, join a former Director of the National Security Agency and other prominent individuals in asking Congress to authorize an objective study of the risk. Sign-on petition is available online.
The risk of a nuclear catastrophe is far greater than we think.
Our ability to reduce that risk is far greater than we imagine.
(November 14, 2011) -- How risky is the United States’ current nuclear strategy? Right now, no one knows! Join a former Director of the National Security Agency and other prominent individuals in asking Congress to authorize an objective study of the risk. The proposed study is a step toward a more reasoned national security strategy.
Why Is This Petition Needed?
Society has repeatedly rejected even minor changes in our nuclear weapons strategy as too risky, even though the baseline risk of our current policy is unknown. The proposed study is a first step toward a more reasoned national security strategy. The need for such a study is supported by the following facts:
• Today's nuclear arsenals total approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons, many with explosive yields ten times greater than those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• Our nuclear war-fighting plans depend on obsolete, Cold War thinking, with hundreds of our weapons still on risky, hair-trigger alert.
• Nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation have added dangerous, new dimensions to the risk.
• The risk of a nuclear terrorist attack is increased by the difficulty of keeping track of thousands of nuclear weapons. In 2007, the US Air Force lost six nuclear weapons for 36 hours, during which time they were improperly guarded. Russian nukes may be at even greater risk.
• A preliminary analysis indicates that our current nuclear posture is as risky as living in a town surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.
• An in-depth study is urgently needed to confirm or correct that preliminary conclusion.
• The National Academies has an outstanding reputation for providing objective, scientifically based advice to our government.
Society's complacency about our nuclear weapons strategy will not change until the risk is brought into clear focus. Congress often asks the National Academies to analyze such important issues, but has not yet done so here. Ratifying a treaty requires ⅔ approval, but a single, motivated Congressional representative could make this happen. Your signing this petition increases the chance that your representative will be the one!
What are the National Academies?
The National Academies is the umbrella organization for the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. These institutions were created by Congress to provide objective advice to the nation on matters of importance.
Does this petition advocate nuclear disarmament?
Although some supporters of the petition advocate nuclear disarmament as a long-term, multi-national goal, ours is a broader path. Some say that eliminating the nuclear threat requires disarmament, while others see working for peace or arms control as the solution. The threat has evolved over 65 years, so the solution is likely to be a long-term process, whose later stages can only be dimly envisioned from our current vantage point. Whatever the eventual solution -- and it may well involve elements from more than one proposal -- we are addressing a necessary first step: getting society to understand the level of risk in our current nuclear strategy.
Isn't the problem too urgent to waste time on a study?
While it might seem obvious that putting fallible human beings in charge of nuclear weapons capable of destroying civilization is a recipe for disaster, society's complacency and inaction show that view is not widespread. Before concrete action will be taken, society first must see the need to reduce the risk posed by our current nuclear strategy.
If requested by Congress and performed by the National Academies, a risk analysis of nuclear deterrence has the potential to bring greater objectivity to the debate over our nuclear posture. The National Academies have frequently been called on by the government to provide objective, impartial advice on similar matters, as exemplified by a current study of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The major difference is that, in the case of nuclear deterrence, it is essential to mitigate the risk before disaster strikes, not afterward.
The National Academies is the umbrella organization for the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. These institutions were created by Congress to provide objective advice to the nation on matters of importance. Unlike an international treaty, which requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate, a single, motivated member of Congress could make this study happen.
Please write to your Representative and Senators today and ask them to take a leading role in requesting a study by the National Academies of the risks of current US nuclear strategy.
Petition Asking Congress to Assess the Nuclear Threat
We, the undersigned, urgently petition our Congressional representatives to request a study by the National Academies on the potential risks posed by nuclear weapons, both from nuclear terrorism and nuclear war. If the level of risk is found to be unacceptable, we also ask our representatives to take immediate and sustained action until the threat is reduced to an acceptable level.
SIGN HERE if you agree that we ought to know the level of risk of our current nuclear strategy. Please enter your name, email address and zip code. We will present the petition to appropriate members of Congress once we have enough signatures to make an impact.
Who supports this petition?
This petition was initiated by Prof. Martin Hellman of Stanford University, and has been signed by the following four prominent individuals:
Adm. Bobby Inman (USN, Retired), former Director of the National Security Agency and Deputy Director of the CIA
Professor Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Laureate in Economics
Professor Donald Kennedy, former president of Stanford University
Professor Martin Perl, Nobel Laureate in Physics
What can I do to help?
Ask friends to sign the petition and to circulate it within their own social circles. You can do that online by emailing them a link to this page. There's a sample email in the next topic below (How can I bring up this topic?).
You can also download a printable version with supporting information that you can circulate. Please return copies with signatures either by mailing them to Prof. Martin Hellman, Packard 152, Stanford, CA 94305-9510, or emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you belong to an organization that works on related issues, please read "Why Should My Organization Support the Petition to Study Nuclear Risk?" and consider asking your group to participate. The petition is a great ice breaker that lets you then bring up your group's specific goals. Just be sure to differentiate the two.
How can I bring up this topic?
If you contact friends by email with a link to this page, here's a possible message you can use:
I've become concerned about a gaping hole in our national security and hope you'll consider signing a petition to fix that. The petition has been signed by a four star admiral who was Director of the National Security Agency, as well as Stanford's President Emeritus Donald Kennedy, so you know it is on a sound basis. If you'd like to see the petition, learn more about it, and possibly sign it, please visit http://nuclearrisk.org/petition.php.
If you circulate the printable version of the petition, that document includes a sample "elevator pitch" that takes the above email introduction a few steps further. That's needed since those potential signers won't have the information on this page. You'll also find it easier to discuss this topic if you read our web page Increasing Your Effectiveness. It will take only a few minutes and repay that effort many times over.
My paper in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "How Risky is Nuclear Optimism?," lays a strong foundation for this petition. In about ten minutes, you'll understand a lot more.