Is nuclear deterrence “keeping the peace”? Ask the Ukrainians. March 25, 2022
For decades, American “international security experts” have explained that the nuclear-armed nations retain nuclear weapons “to keep the peace.” On February 24, President Vladimir Putin proved that this is a false narrative, launching a war and precipitating a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s a lesson we should not need to re-learn, after Korea, Algeria, Vietnam, the Middle Eastern wars, Afghanistan (twice), the Falklands, Libya, Iraq, Crimea and Syria.
“Putin is using nuclear deterrence to have his way in Ukraine,” said political scientist Nina Tannenwald in the New York Times.
PSR has condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and called for immediate end to hostilities and nuclear threats. So have the United Nations General Assembly and General Secretary, multiple international health federations including International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), twelve Nobel Peace Laureates, the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Back from the Brink coalition, atomic bomb survivors and countless others.
There is no sense trying to sugarcoat this or search for silver linings. One month after the invasion, Putin’s war is a humanitarian disaster for Ukrainians, and the situation is fraught. The threat of escalation to nuclear weaponry is real and has been vocalized and discussed. On February 27, Putin announced that he’d ordered Russian nuclear forces to assume a “special regime of combat duty”. On March 14, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.” Even in ‘the fog of war,’ it’s clear that the risk has gone up that the nuclear taboo — which has held since 1945 — may rapidly crumble. An additional — and unprecedented — danger comes from nuclear power plants that have been put in harm’s way.
Now that nuclear weapons have re-entered public discourse, PSR is redoubling its efforts, not only to end this war but to decisively end the threat of a nuclear weapons disaster. Since 1961, PSR has called for ridding the world of nuclear weapons. PSR was one of the first U.S.-based organizations to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At least we are consistent!
PSR members, will you help spread the word about abolishing nuclear weapons? Join your PSR colleagues to spread the word in social media and in traditional media. The Nuclear Weapons Abolition Program has posted a “Ukraine resources” section at psr.org, and has created a resources toolkit for PSR chapters and members to use on Instagram (including PSR-specific social media graphics and “unbranded” graphics for allied groups to use). This will help you cut through the noise with clarity on three topics: Putin’s nuclear threats, the nuclear weapons that Ukraine “gave up” in the 1990s, and the public health dangers of military action near nuclear power plants. Watch for more resources coming soon.
IPPNW, ICAN, and 14 other Nobel Peace Laureates have launched a petition on the international Avaaz platform. Over 1,700 PSR members have already signed on and the petition has racked up over 890,000 signatures globally. If you have not already signed on, click here to sign on. If you have already signed, thank you, and encourage friends, family and colleagues to do so. A million signatures is within reach!
Please respond to Ukraine stories in your local media. Nuclear weapons must never be used again! PSR can help with these Tips for Writing a Successful Letter to the Editor. For inspiration, here’s a letter placed by Barbara Warren, MD of PSR-Arizona and an op-ed placed by PSR Board members Mike Martin MD, MPH and Tova Fuller, MD PhD.
This crisis is being overly simplified by Western media and definitely by state-run Russian government media. There are two sides to every story, and this situation centered on Ukraine actually presents a complex matrix of multiple sides of the story. Of course President Putin bears sole responsibility for his decisions. But it is important to recognize that Ukraine itself, the NATO member countries and the United States are far from blameless. As with all wars, ordinary people — not world leaders — are suffering the worst consequences of this folly. The crisis is further complicated by issues of historical context, macro-economics, international law, media bias, hypocrisy, censorship (especially within Russia), racial equity, the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, the climate crisis, food security, European politics and internal American politics.
This moment calls for public education. PSR members and staff have been interviewed on radio, TV and podcasts, appeared on panels for press events and webinars. We’ve seen a sharp uptick in followers for our Twitter handle @psrnuclear. PSR members have also placed op-eds and letters to the editor in the Journal of the American Medical Association and Lancet, as well as general media outlets such as: New York Times, CNN.com, The Nation, Democracy Now, Daily Beast, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Psychology Today, Arizona Daily Star, Asheville Citizen-Times, Inkstick Media and Common Dreams.
For links to all of these and more, see In the News. Please help us spread the word!