By Donald Gilpin
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place on August 6 and 9, 1945, and last week, on the 77th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, about 40 supporters of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) gathered at the Arts Council of Princeton to commemorate the events and to consider the current threat of nuclear arms.
Warning of an accidental nuclear war, with the United States and Russia ready to launch about one thousand nuclear warheads and the Chinese preparing to deploy hundreds of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, Princeton University Professor Emeritus Frank von Hippel urged the audience “to remobilize against the nuclear arms race.”
“Either we get rid of these weapons, or they will get rid of us,” he told the audience.
Von Hippel, a senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs emeritus with Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security (which he co-founded), presented a history of the expansion of nuclear weapons, the growth of the CFPA, born in the early 1980s, and the movement to ban nuclear weapons.
He described a number of dangerous situations since 1945, and said, “It is time for us to light a new fire to reverse the new nuclear arms race that now involves China as well as ourselves and Russia. We need to focus on measures that will reduce the danger of nuclear war.”
Those measures, he said, would include adopting a no-first-nuclear-use policy and getting rid of the 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles that we have in underground silos in the northern Great Plains, ready to be launched on only 10 minutes notice.
The place to start, he told the Princeton audience, would be with reaching out to our U.S. senators and representatives. “We must educate members of Congress that our nuclear posture is dangerous and must be changed,” he said.
Von Hippel concluded in calling for nuclear weapons to be outlawed “in the same way as we outlawed biological and chemical weapons.” The new International Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, already ratified by one-third of the members of the United Nations, gives the rationale, he said: “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.”
Rob Goldston, Princeton University astrophysics professor and board member of the Council for a Livable World, followed up with his “Nuclear Tale of Two Cities” (Tehran and Moscow). He urged the necessity of diplomacy, “applied early and consistently,” and warned that both Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Russia’s expansionist policy are serious threats to their neighbors.
Criticizing the failure of former President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program since Trump took the U.S. out of the Iran Deal (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) in 2018, Goldston said, “We should make every effort to return to the Deal.”
He also called for a number of “strategic stability measures” — nuclear agreements and policies — “that should have been pursued with Russia, rather than letting them fall by the wayside, and should be actively pursued now,” though he pointed out that NATO accession is the right of sovereign countries in resisting threats from their neighbors.
In an August 3 op-ed, CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore quoted U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who warned in an August 1 address to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, “Humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”
Citing a number of “close calls” over the past 77 years, 45 of which he has spent organizing full time for the abolition of nuclear weapons, Moore pointed out, “Dozens of times political leaders around the world have considered using nuclear weapons, including Putin’s recent threats against Ukraine. This is not something remote. We’re close to the cliff and at any moment, as Secretary Guterres said, a miscalculation or misunderstanding could push us over the edge.”