The Case for Dismantling the American Nuclear Weapons Program

October 18, 2017

72 years ago the United States detonated the first atomic bomb in human history. Since then, nine nations have built well over 100,000 nuclear weapons. Humanity has been drawn to the brink of nuclear war countless times. 4,000 of those warheads are still active and together they have the potential to force the human race into extinction. But that will not happen on our watch. The United States must not be the nation to threaten the existence of humanity and, therefore, we must immediately dismantle the entire American nuclear arsenal, no strings attached.

The United States is the only country to detonate a nuclear weapon on an enemy. The bombing resulted in the massacre of nearly a quarter of a million innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is one of the most egregious human rights violations in American—and human—history. What’s worse, though, is that in 2017, a single person can exterminate more people in a day than Hitler did in a decade. The United States should never be responsible for, nor have the opportunity to be responsible for, causing the mass loss of life that results from a nuclear attack. The option should be taken off of the table by and for America’s leaders, no matter how many other countries continue their nuclear programs.

Simply maintaining a nuclear arsenal is a dangerous endeavor. On 32 documented occasions, there has been an accident involving a nuclear bomb. These “accidents” are called Broken Arrows. Six bombs have been lost and never recovered. One time, two bombs came loose, dropped out of a B-52, and landed, undetonated, in a small North Carolina town. Another time, a nuclear-armed jet simply rolled off an aircraft carrier and sunk into the ocean, never to be found again. These are highly volatile and extremely dangerous objects that the United States spends $20 Billion a year to babysit. Just one accident that ends in a detonation could have catastrophic consequences. We must take the option for an accident completely off of the table.

The technology that controls the American nuclear arsenal is helplessly out-of-date. The United States government pays Microsoft $9 million every year to keep Windows XP running, so they can use it to control part their nuclear weapons systems. The US Air Force launch control center based in Wyoming is dependent on technology designed in the 60s and 70s that still uses floppy disks to hold humanity-threatening information. Not only is it dangerous to house nuclear information in highly unsecure Windows XP systems, but it is estimated that it will cost the US $352 Billion to modernize the weapons and systems over the next decade. Adding the modernization costs onto an already steep maintenance budget should make budget hawks in both parties flinch.

The best argument in favor of keeping the arsenal and nuclear triad is the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction: no country will launch a nuke, because they will automatically be nuked back. But if an attacker takes millions of lives with a nuclear attack, the response should not be to exterminate the innocent civilians living under the attacker’s regime. Any additional loss of life after a nuclear attack is bad, let alone the loss of life within a citizenry likely living under a maniacal government. A military response does not have to be nuclear. Any nuclear attack will lead to a coalescing of the rest of the world’s armies against the attacking nation. That coalition will be able to wipe out the attacker’s military while saving millions of civilian lives around the world. No matter who launches a nuclear attack against whom, any further loss of life should be avoided. The priority should be for the United States to denuclearize, regardless of other nations. If other nations choose to denuclearize with us, then the world is better for it. But if they don’t, then at least the United States isn’t responsible for any mass extermination of human beings.

Another argument is that giving the presidency the power of the American nuclear arsenal will force voters to choose a responsible candidate to be the president. If there was ever an election to objectively disprove this theory, it was the 2016 presidential election. The current president’s main foreign policy vision is unpredictability. We simply cannot have an “unpredictable” hand hovering above the nuclear codes and, by extension, the very existence of the human race. But even if we had the steadiest possible hand in control, we must be wary of the faults in human judgment. There are no checks or balances on the one person with the nuclear codes in America. A single lapse could spell the end of humanity. The United States must not be responsible for a president going AWOL and ending all life on earth.

For many years I extolled the virtues of Cold War brinksmanship. More recently, I supported the modernization of our country's nuclear weapons program. I’ll admit there is a gut feeling of profound patriotism in having a gargantuan nuclear arsenal. But today, I believe it is time to end the American nuclear weapons program. Every single day that we maintain this arsenal we knowingly roll the dice on the non-metaphorical end of the world. There is a fraction of a fraction of a chance that somewhere there will be a nuclear weapons accident that will cause a chain reaction sending all 4,000 armed ICBMs in the world flying and we will destroy all human civilization in about ten minutes. Currently, the goal of the American military is to maintain this arsenal until the end of time without ever using it. But each day, we roll the dice, and if you keep adding up those days, then, statistically, a global nuclear disaster is bound to happen. The United States should resolve to stop rolling the dice. The United States must not be responsible for the end of the world and, therefore, we must entirely dismantle our nuclear weapons arsenal.