* According to a recent article inThe U.S.
News and World Report, although fear of a nuclear attack is far
less these days, the danger of an accidental launch is still
present. During the Cold War, some U. S. policy makers were
concerned about the dangers of a huge nuclear arsenal on hair-
trigger alert, but most accepted the risks as an unavoidable
price of deterring a massive surprise attack.
With the ending of the Cold War and the signing of the
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, nuclear arsenals in
the U. S. and Russia have been cut by about one-third. Thousands
of short-range tactical weapons have been mothballed and long-
range bombers taken off standby alert. Presidents Clinton and
Yeltsin further agreed, in 1994, to stop targeting strategic
missiles at each other's country, although these missiles remain
capable of being retargeted in minutes While many Americans now
feel a lot safer, in fact, the danger of nuclear catastrophe has
barely lessened. Both Russia and the U.S. still keep thousands
of strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, ready to be
fired at a half-hour's notice.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin knows all about the
potential for a disastrous mistake. In 1995, a Norwegian
meteorological missile set off Russia's early warning system.
The Norwegians had given notification, but it had not been passed
to the Russian high command. Yeltsin and top generals came close
to retaliating against what they thought could possibly be a
surprise U.S. attack. Only the fact that the scientific rocket
headed out to sea prevented a mistaken nuclear response with just
moments to spare. And the risk of a horrible mistake icontinues
to grow with the increasing political and economic turmoil in
Russia. A recent Russian defense minister warned that defense
spending cuts were eroding the integrity of Russia's safe
guarding over its own nuclear weapons.
The Clinton administration is, for the first time, formally
reviewing options for taking U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals
off hair-trigger alert, increasing the amount of time needed to
launch missiles. It would be possible to monitor compliance
through on-site inspection or satellite images. De-alerting
missiles would not only make the world safer, but might lead to a
further disarmament that could eventually succeed in dismantling
the nuclear balance of terror.
* The story of Mordechai Vanunu, a
whistle-blowing nuclear technician now in an Israeli prison, will
be told on Wednesday, January 28, at 7:00 P.M., at Cloud Cliff
Cafe, 1805 2nd St., Santa Fe. The speaker is Sam Day, writer,
editor, and peace activist, coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to
Free Mordechai Vanunu.
Vanunu, a nuclear technician employed by Israel's secret
nuclear weapons program, is serving an 18-year sentence for
telling British newspapers about the program. Israeli agents
lured him to Rome and kidnapped him; he is now in his tenth year
of solitary confinement, in a cell measuring six by nine feet.
Vanunu is the subject of an international campaign calling for
his release, and for Israel's acknowledgment of its never-
declared nuclear arsenal. Amnesty International, the Jewish
Peace Fellowship, Terry Anderson and other former Middle East
hostages, and Joseph Rotblat, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace
Prize, are among those calling for his release.
Sam Day has himself served state and federal prison terms
for non-violent civil disobedience at U.S. military and nuclear
installations. In 1992 he received the Martin Luther King Peace
Award of the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation. The lecture is
sponsored by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and The Los
Alamos Study Group.
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