Tuesday 07 April 2009
by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Thousands of people gather in Hradcany Square ahead of US President Barack Obama's speech in Prague. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking ... the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.
- Albert Einstein
Monday in Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, California and a small corner of Canada was Opening Day for the 2009 Major League Baseball season. Last year's World Series winners, the Philadelphia Phillies, began their season the night before with a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves, but will have 161 more chances to make up for it before the last first pitch of the regular season is thrown in Dodger Stadium six months from now.
It is quite possible that Monday was also an opening day of a different kind, one that involves every living thing on planet Earth. There has been a far deadlier game than baseball being played without reprieve every day for more than 60 years. Done the right way and with the right people in the right positions, Monday could become known as the day humanity finally began to stop playing the nuclear game.
"Hours after North Korea's missile test," reported The New York Times on Monday morning, "President Obama on Sunday called for new United Nations sanctions and laid out a new approach to American nuclear disarmament policy - one intended to strengthen the United States and its allies in halting proliferation. 'In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up,' Mr. Obama told a huge crowd in Prague's central square. 'Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread.' And yet, he said, too few resources have been committed to developing a strategy to stop terrorist groups like Al Qaeda that are 'determined to buy, build or steal' a bomb."
"Mr. Obama," continued the Times report, "said that his administration would 'reduce the role of nuclear weapons' in its national security strategy, and would urge other countries to do the same. He pointed to the agreement he reached last week with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia to begin negotiations on reducing warheads and stockpiles, and said the two countries would try to reach an agreement by the end of the year. He also promised to aggressively pursue American ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which in the past has faced strong opposition in Congress. It is a strategy based on the idea that if the United States shows it is willing to greatly shrink the size of its atomic arsenal, ban nuclear testing and cut off the worldwide production of bomb material, reluctant allies and partners around the world will be more likely to rewrite nuclear treaties and enforce sanctions against North Korea and Iran."
The "No Nukes!" cry seems almost quaint with nearly 20 years now standing between today and the end of the cold war, a hold-over from the heyday of the ban-the-bomb movement that flourished during Reagan's time. The facts, however, are precisely as President Obama stated them; the world today is more threatened by the use of nuclear weaponry than at any time in history short of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The two best examples of this grave threat are not Iran and North Korea, contrary to popular belief. North Korea has tested such weapons, and Iran appears bound and determined to possess nuclear arms someday (or at least appears bound and determined to appear bound and determined), but neither country at this time presents the same level of threat to the world as Pakistan and Russia. Both own formidable stockpiles of nuclear arms, if the definition of the word "own" is taken to mean "having nukes within their borders." Their control over these weapons, unfortunately, is the lethal rub.
Estimates vary, but it is believed Pakistan currently possesses somewhere between 60 and 100 nuclear weapons. This is a nerve-wracking reality given the nature of that nation's relations with neighboring India - the two countries have gone to war a number of times already over the disputed Kashmir region and other issues - and given the shaky nature of the Pakistani government.
Specifically, Pakistan's stability is threatened by the wide swath of its population that shares ethnic, cultural and religious connections to the fundamentalist Islamic populace of Afghanistan. It is widely suspected that Pakistan's intelligence services and religiously-devoted civilians have provided aid and support to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, and the constant foment within Pakistan's hard-line Islamic community presents a serious threat to that nation's government.
If the hard-liners in Pakistan are ever successful in toppling the government, several very scary things will happen at once. Nuclear-armed India would be galvanized by the sheer terror of sharing a border with a madhouse, and could quickly be compelled to take military action of some kind, as could nuclear-armed China. If the Pakistani government falls, and all those Pakistani nukes are not immediately accounted for and secured, the specter of loose Pakistani nukes falling into the hands of terrorist organizations would have the entire Western Hemisphere hiding under the bed.
The threat posed by Russia's nuclear arsenal is no less severe, and is in many ways far more insidious and chilling. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons were produced and placed inside Russia. Since the collapse of the USSR and the creation of the Russian Republic, military protection and safekeeping of the radioactive leftovers from the construction of these weapons have fallen into an unimaginable state of disrepair. In many places within Russia, fissionable materials vital to the creation of a bomb are left unguarded, secured by little more than a deadbolt lock.
Anyone with an Internet connection and a modicum of mechanical ability can find plans for building a nuclear device and build one from scratch. The hard part about making a functional homemade bomb is getting hold of the nuclear materials for the bomb's core. To date, and as far as we know, nobody has managed to get this done. But with nuclear materials literally laying unprotected all over the Russian landscape, the danger of someone successfully constructing a nuclear weapon is all too real.
The time has come to remove finally and forever this nuclear scourge from our world. President Obama has put the challenge before the American people, the American Congress and the global community at large. "This goal will not be reached quickly - perhaps not in my lifetime," he told a crowd in Prague this weekend. "We must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can.'"
It's opening day. Let's play ball.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.