From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Don’t Forget: Nuclear Weapons Are an Existential Threat, Too
Date October 22, 2019 12:05 AM
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[There’s a growing awareness now that climate change is an
existential threat to humanity. But there’s another existential
threat that gets a lot less attention: nuclear war. ]
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DON’T FORGET: NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARE AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT, TOO  
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Olivia Alperstein
October 16, 2019
Foreign Policy in Focus
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_ There’s a growing awareness now that climate change is an
existential threat to humanity. But there’s another existential
threat that gets a lot less attention: nuclear war. _

, Shutterstock

 

There’s a growing awareness now that climate change is an
existential threat to humanity. Inspiring movements are demanding
solutions, and politicians are scrambling to offer them.

That’s good. But there’s another existential threat that gets a
lot less attention: nuclear war. And a new study suggests it’s time
to pay attention — and eliminate nuclear weapons before they
eliminate us.

The study, published this October in _Science Advances_
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“rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals” could rapidly cause a
“global catastrophe.” It examines the possible repercussions of a
nuclear war between India and Pakistan, but it’s relevant to anyone
who lives on this planet — and especially in a heavily nuclear-armed
country like ours.

The study paints a grim picture. In a conflict between Indian and
Pakistan, it says, up to 50 million people would die if 15-kiloton
weapons are used. Almost 100 million would die if 50-kiloton weapons
are used. And about 125 million if 100-kiloton weapons are used.

Casualties would occur not only in the nuclear explosions themselves,
but also due to smoke emissions and other environmental damage
resulting from the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Because of the dense populations of cities in Pakistan and India, even
a war with the lowest-yield weapons could kill as many people as died
in _all of World War II_. But unlike World War II, these casualties
would occur within a _single week_.

“Perhaps for the first time in human history,” the authors
conclude, “the fatalities in a regional war could double the yearly
natural global death rate.”

The study’s release is particularly timely, given that India and
Pakistan are currently locked in another tense standoff
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Kashmir. But the authors also point out that their analysis could be
used to model potential impacts of a nuclear war between any two
nations.

Indeed, India and Pakistan aren’t the only countries increasing
tensions and heightening the risk of a nuclear exchange.

A new nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia is giving
young people like me a firsthand, time travel-free look at the Cold
War era we were too young to experience. This year, President Donald
Trump asked Congress to fund a new so-called “low-yield” nuclear
weapon
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which is touted as being “more usable.”

But if this study shows anything, it’s that _no _nuclear weapon
should be considered “usable.” Any nuclear
exchange _anywhere_ is likely to have catastrophic consequences for
the earth’s climate and human health _everywhere_.

The world can’t afford to ignore these disturbing findings, which
emphasize the urgent need to prevent nuclear conflict and to reduce
— and eliminate — nuclear arsenals.

Pakistan and India have only a fraction of the nuclear weapons
possessed by the United States and Russia — and only a fraction of
their potential destructive power. Right now, the United States and
Russia are currently engaged in a super-high-stakes game of chicken of
their own.

We’ve come very close
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nuclear war in the past. Human health and survival are at stake in
preventing what we cannot cure. No nation on earth can afford the
catastrophic regional and global consequences of _any_ use of
nuclear weapons.

There is no such thing as a small nuclear war. American
decision-makers at every level of government need to heed this
study’s findings and work to advance commonsense policies to reduce
and eliminate the nuclear weapons threat — before it eliminates us.

_Olivia Alperstein is the Media Relations Manager at Physicians for
Social Responsibility. _

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