06 August 2016

Trump paints a scenario that is worse than
the chilling atmosphere of the Cold War

Patrick Comerford,

Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND),

Annual Hiroshima Day Commemoration,

Merrion Square, Dublin,

2 p.m., 6 August 2016

I was in Hiroshima at the height of the Cold War, and returned to Japan as the decisions were being taken to deploy Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe.

We responded then, and we were effective. The missiles were removed, and the women at Greenham Common ensured the missile silos were removed and the land was returned to common land, to open green countryside.

But not since those days have I been so frightened and so fearful about the future, not only of the future for Europe, but the future for the world, the future for future generations.

This week it has been reported that Donald Trump asked a foreign policy expert advising him why the US cannot use nuclear weapons.

Joe Scarborough of MSNBC reported Trump’s remarks on Wednesday [3 August 2016], quoting a source inside the Trump campaign in the Republican Party.

He said a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Trump. “And three times he [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them.”

Joe Scarborough hosts the Morning Joe programme. He reported Trump’s comments 52 seconds into an interview with General Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and a former director of the National Security Agency.

Joe Scarborough then asked General Hayden a hypothetical question. He asked about how quickly nuclear weapons could be deployed if a president were to give approval.

General Hayden replied: “It’s scenario dependent, but the system is designed for speed and decisiveness. It’s not designed to debate the decision.”

There you have it. The system is designed for speed and decisiveness. It is not designed for any debate about the decision.

There can be no debating. There is no time for that.

If a President Trump decided to use nuclear weapons, there can be no questioning. No questioning his wisdom. No questioning his morality. No questioning his sanity.

The generals, and everyone they call on, have to follow orders.

Imagine the war crimes trials afterwards: “I was only following orders.”

That was the defence offered at Nuremberg. And that is a defence that for over 70 years has not been acceptable in international law.

But this is what we can expect if Trump is elected.

General Hayden is no marginal figure. He was the director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009, when George W Bush was President. He was the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, when both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were President.

Trump’s question – “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” – has, like so many of his comments, sent out shock waves. But nuclear experts say it is shocking not just for the statements themselves, but for the uncomfortable truths they expose, perhaps unwittingly, about nuclear weapons.

Last March in an interview, Trump asked rhetorically: “Somebody hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?”

But this latest controversy highlights a paradox that presidents have grappled with throughout the nuclear age: Nuclear weapons are deployed in great numbers, and at tremendous risk, supposedly with the purpose of never being used. That’s why the big nuclear powers disingenuously refer to the “nuclear deterrent.”

Back as long ago as 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, eventually decided nuclear weapons were too destructive to consider. “You just can’t have this kind of war,” he said. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.” Yet Eisenhower considered using nuclear weapons in Korea, and Nixon thought so too in Vietnam.

Even Ronald Reagan recognised this terrible reality and was forced to concede: “A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” and to pledge that “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.”

The United States and other nuclear powers have maintained and expanded their arsenals, enhancing their ability to launch nuclear strikes even as they have concluded that the logic of such a conflict makes using the weapons unthinkable.

The idea became known as mutually assured destruction, with the appropriate acronym MAD, because the countries with nuclear weapons were afraid, and hoped everyone else was too afraid too to use them.

There is a logic that is both flawed and incomprehensible in all this: we are asked to assume that the more willing world leaders are to use nuclear weapons, the less likely they are to do so.

Why are we so shocked about the revelations about the mad and bad Trump this week?

In an interview back in March, he said he would not rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe. And he has encouraged other countries like Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to develop their own nuclear stockpiles.

What an insult to Japan, the only country to have been the victim of nuclear weapons in war.

What an appalling vista for South Korea. If you wrote in Trump for these lines in the movie The Interview, viewers would be disgusted by the bad taste.

As for Saudi Arabia, who does Trump think is bankrolling and supplying ISIS and inspiring its ideologues?

Then last month, shortly after taking up office, the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, sparked her own nuclear controversy. Her new government took a decision to update and replace Britain’s nuclear armoury. When an MP asked her in Parliament whether she was “personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that can kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children,” Mrs May answered with a crisp: “Yes.”

“The whole point of a deterrent is that our enemies need to know that we would be prepared to use it,” she said.

Earlier this year, the US Defence Secretary Ashton B. Carter, revealed how he has struggled with the implications of so-called “nuclear deterrence.”

“You never get quite used to how terrible such a situation would be,” he said.

If Trump can fly off with the Muslim parents of a war victim, if Trump can set his bullies on hecklers in a crowd, if Trump can ask for a crying baby and the baby’s mother to be removed from an audience, how can we trust Trump to keep cool and calm under pressure?

In his poem ‘The Hollow Men’ (1925), TS Eliot spoke of how:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I fear for the world with a Trump presidency. I fear that the world may come to an end, not with a whimper, but with a cataclysmic bang.

Yes, I fear a Trump presidency. But we do not have to be cowered, we do not have to live in constant fear. There are alternatives. And there are things that the Irish Government can do.

The final session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began in Geneva yesterday [5 August 2016]. The meetings, which continue for the next few weeks, are hopefully going to make recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND), and similar campaigns around the world, are encouraging governments to make sure that the ban treaty features prominently in both the summary of the OEWG and in the recommendations.

The first draft of the report notes that the majority of states have called for the start of negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This is the appropriate response to the now widespread recognition of their humanitarian consequences. The report notes that a treaty banning nuclear weapons is “the most viable option for immediate action” and that it would greatly advance the stigmatisation of nuclear weapons.

The report also notes that the majority of states want to “negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

Ireland must push for this to be confirmed as a recommendation of the report and should oppose any efforts to weaken or further qualify these points.

But there is a group of states that do not support a ban treaty. This group includes nuclear-allied states, and they are going to try to influence the report to give the ban treaty a lower priority than other recommendations.

It is vitally important that Ireland is represented at the final session and supports the start of negotiations for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. It is critical that Ireland is present, particularly on the last day [19 August] when there may be a vote on the report.

The Irish Government must also emphasise again its clear support for the UN General Assembly convening a conference in 2017, open to all States, international organisations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination.

This support must be expressed in an Irish statement at the final session.

The report provides clear and concrete measures for all states to carry on the work towards achieving a world that is free of nuclear weapons.

And lastly, there are two other things you can do:

1, Make sure everyone you know in America, everyone you know who has a vote in the Presidential election on 8 November, that there must be an alternative to the evil Trump would bring to a fraught and fragile world.

2, Sign up for the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). Our need for your help, your time, your skills, your support as a volunteer, has never been so great, not since the Cold War was at its height in the 1980s.

In these ways we can respond to the catastrophe of Hiroshima 71 years ago. In these ways we can say “No, Not in my name.” In these ways we can say, “No More Hiroshimas,” “Never Again.”

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He was speaking at Irish CND's annual Hiroshima Day commemoration in Merrion Square, Dublin, on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2016

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