Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 42, December 1999
New NGO Campaign for De-AlertingOn December 9, a major new NGO campaign for the de-alerting of all nuclear weapons was launched in Washington. The "Back from the Brink" campaign brings together groups and individuals convinced that there is no political or military justification for nuclear weapons to be maintained ready to be launched, and that there is a compelling political and military justification for standing down those weapons. According to Bruce Blair of the US Brookings Institution, speaking at the campaign launch at the National Press Club: "Today Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin have only a few minutes, at best, in which to evaluate reports of an apparent incoming missile strike and decide the fate of the world… This is an intolerably short time which needs to be lengthened because a single bad judgment could be fatal for all of us."
Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), told reporters: "Less than five years ago, on January 25, 1995, millions of people were minutes away from being killed in an inferno caused by a mistaken Russian nuclear launch after their radar detected a US-Norwegian weather rocket that looked like a Trident missile… The black suitcase containing Russian nuclear launch codes was already with President Yeltsin and only several minutes remained in the countdown before the alarm was determined to be false. Next time we may not be so lucky. There have been other US and Russian false alarms."
There is considerable support for de-alerting in the US Congress. A House resolution (H.Con.Res.177) calling for a US de-alerting initiative, introduced by Democratic Representative Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts), has so far attracted 84 sponsors. A former Democratic Senator, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, urged other members of Congress to support the proposal, characterising the current situation, ten years after the end of the Cold War, as absurd in the extreme: "We're still allowing ourselves 15 to 20 minutes to determine whether or not the planet Earth will be extinct… It's like walking along a cliff performing for your girlfriend and saying, 'Look how close I can get to the edge and not fall off.'"
Note: the web address for the "Back from the Brink" campaign is http://www.dealert.org
Reports: Alliance demands nuclear stand down, Associated Press, December 9; New campaign aims to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, 'Back from the Brink' Press release, December 9 (http://www.dealert.org/release120999.htm)
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