As most of us are aware - whether dimly or keenly - the United States has the capability to deliver its nuclear missiles three ways; we can launch intercontinental ballistic missiles from missile silos on our soil, from submarines, and from bombers and jet fighters. But, in this age of austerity, the rationale for using three modes of attack has come under, well, attack. After all, only one - submarines – is needed (if you’re the type of person who believes in nuclear weapons, that is). Not only are they the most accurate, but they’re nearly impervious to first strike and counterattack because of their mobility.
To the Pentagon, though, that idea’s time hasn’t quite come. On February 24, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that, despite other budget cuts, the Pentagon would keep the nuclear triad intact.
Still, inevitably the economy will begin to pull legs out from under the triad. In the interim, we can speed up the process by constructing what the Executive Director of the Los Alamos Study Group, Greg Mello, calls “building the infrastructure for nuclear disarmament, economic justice, and environmental protection.”
Nuclear weapons just don’t frighten many Americans anymore. Much of the public mistakenly thinks that, except for nuclear terrorism, nuclear weapons haven’t been a threat since the Cold War ended. Besides, President Obama is on the case, isn’t he? Nuclear weapons no longer seem to have the power to mobilize a significant sector of the public like they did during the Nuclear Freeze movement, which, in 1982, culminated in what’s been estimated as a million-people-strong demonstration in Central Park, New York City.
Unable to mobilize support on its own, nuclear disarmament needs to piggyback on a cause, or causes, more “sexy” or at least timely. Thus, counter the nuclear triad with one hinted at by Greg Mello. In other words, nuclear weapons, the increasing economic divide between the rich and poor, and global warming and environmental degradation (including species extinction, not to mention overpopulation) constitute what might be called an Existential Threat Triad (or, more palatably, a Sustainability Triad).
There’s no shame in bundling. You’re no doubt familiar with the concept from how your Internet, TV, and phone service are provided by one company and billed as one. Though seldom acknowledged, fundamental religions - from Christianity to Islam - also make use of the principle. They lure young people into religion by issuing a call to arms in support of, for example, pro-life to jihad, thus offering religion and politics in one package.
The time has come for us to integrate the fight against all threats to life - and its quality - on earth. Otherwise, we’re just left playing whack-a-mole as one threat is damped down and another rises to fill the void.
Russ Wellen is a nuclear-weapons researcher and analyst. He also serves as the editor of the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.