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U.S. presidential candidates should state their position on nuclear weapons

Candidates should state position on nuclear weapons,   David Wright, The upcoming Democratic Party presidential debate in Ohio provides an opportunity for candidates to address an issue that a majority of Ohio voters want to hear about: their plans for U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

A recent Zogby Analytics poll found that more than 80% of Ohio residents believe it is critical that the candidates state their positions on this issue.

They are right to want to hear the candidates’ views. Ohioans understand that the risk of nuclear war remains one of the greatest threats to civilization, and security experts warn that the potential for a nuclear war is greater than it has been in decades.

The good news is that the next president could make America safer by changing U.S. nuclear policy.

Under current policies, the United States could start a nuclear war by mistake. How? Let me explain the chain of events.

The Pentagon keeps its 400 land-based missiles on hair-trigger alert so they can be launched quickly upon warning of a Russian missile attack before they could be destroyed by incoming Russian missiles. If the military received such a warning, the president would have less than 10 minutes to decide whether to launch U.S. missiles. But that warning is generated by computers based on radar and satellite data, all of which are fallible. Indeed, there have been false alarms over the years due to a range of technical and human errors. This tight time span in which to make a decision increases the risk of starting a nuclear war based on a false warning. U.S. missiles cannot be recalled or destroyed in flight, even if the Pentagon belatedly realized that the warning had been false.

Keeping missiles on hair-trigger alert is not only dangerous, it is also unnecessary. Most U.S. nuclear weapons are hidden at sea on submarines where they are safe from attack, so the United States can wait to see if a nuclear attack is actually happening before it retaliates. Debate moderators should ask the candidates if they would remove U.S. missiles from hair-trigger alert and eliminate the possibility of starting a nuclear war by mistake.

The next president also could reduce the chance that the United States would deliberately start a nuclear war. Current policy permits the United States to use nuclear weapons first in a non-nuclear conflict with Russia, China or North Korea — all of which are nuclear-armed. Doing so would almost certainly provoke a devastating nuclear response against the United States.

Moderators should tackle that topic as well. They should ask the candidates whether, if elected, they would clearly state that the only purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack and establish a policy that the United States will never use nuclear weapons first. Such a policy also would make America safer by making it less likely that our adversaries would attack us with nuclear weapons first out of fear that a U.S. nuclear strike was imminent.

The Zogby survey polled Ohioans about this “first use” issue, too. When asked if there were any acceptable circumstances for the United States to use nuclear weapons first, nearly two-thirds said no.

Finally, the United States has long relied on verifiable international agreements to constrain its adversaries’ nuclear forces. Today the United States and Russia still possess 92% of all nuclear weapons, yet the United States recently pulled out of a longstanding nuclear arms treaty with Russia and has threatened to walk away from the landmark treaty that limits long-range nuclear weapons. Debate moderators should ask the candidates if they are committed to maintaining such agreements, how they would reinvigorate U.S.-Russian negotiations and how they would address North Korea and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Voters want to know, but they will only if debate moderators ask the right questions. The presidential candidates must clarify what they would do, if elected, to reduce the nuclear threat and guarantee national — and international — security.

David Wright, co-director and senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, grew up in Lima and attended Miami University and Ohio State University.

October 15, 2019 - Posted by | election USA 2020

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