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During the Cold War it was humanity’s greatest threat. It still is.
Alan Cranston

A World in Denial is a World in Danger

It is totally unacceptable that we were within 15 minutes of all-out nuclear war.
Rep. Curtis Weldon
, R-PA, referring to a 1995 failure of Russia’s early warning system.

We cannot and must not allow ourselves to have the message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fade completely from our minds, and we cannot allow our vision or ideals to fade, either. For if we do, we have but one course left for us. And that flash of light will not only rob us of our vision, but it will rob us of our lives, our progeny, and our very existence.
Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima

The probability of a fatal nuclear detonation is greater now than at any time during the Cold War. As the Russian military deteriorates, and as rogue governments and terrorists seek to acquire nuclear capabilities, the threat continues to grow.
Alan Cranston

As they were during the Cold War, urban population centers remain the most likely targets of a nuclear attack. Now, however, an attack may come without warning from an unknown enemy, to achieve unclear motives.
Alan Cranston

A world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear weaopns…. Nuclear weapons pose an intolerable threat to humanity and our habitat…. Others subscribe to Churchill’s assertion ‘Peace is the sturdy child of terror.’ For me, such a peace is a wretched offspring, a peace that condemns us to live under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety, a peace that codifies mankind’s most murderous instincts….The beast must be chained, its soul expunged, its lair laid waste.
General Lee Butler
, Former Commander, Strategic Air Command, April 28, 1996

Through the release of atomic energy, our generation has brought into the world the most revolutionary force since prehistoric man's discovery of fire. This basic force of the universe cannot be fitted into the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms. For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world. We scientists recognise our inescapable responsibility to carry to our fellow citizens an understanding of atomic energy and its implication for society. In this lies our only security and our only hope - we believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not for death.
Albert Einstein
, January 22, 1947

There are still thousands of warheads loaded on operational systems and standing on high states of alert on virtually hair-trigger posture. And you have to ask yourself: Why is that? Who is the enemy? What is the threat?
U.S. General Lee Butler
, Former Commander in Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command in 1991-92.

Russian Loose Nukes

The danger that Russian nuclear weapons could be used is greater today than during the Cold War. They pose four main risks: an inadvertent launch due to a false alarm, a breakdown of control at the top of the command chain, an unauthorized launch by a rogue commander in the field, and the theft of tactical nuclear weapons.
Bruce Blair,
CDI, Former Minuteman Missilier

It is the nuclear submarines that pose the greatest threat of accidental launch. Anything can happen on such a sub-marine at sea. That is the opinion of sailors, of officers, of generals, of those who have been in atomic submarines.
Admiral Yevgueni Chernov
, Former Commander, Russian Northern Fleet, April 17, 1998

Command and control equipment often malfunctions and on more than one occasion has switched to combat mode....We could launch an accidental nuclear attack on the United States within seconds.
Russian Nuclear Forces Officer
, Quoted in CIA Report, March 1997

Russia could lose control over its nuclear arsenal for lack of funds.
Igor Rodionov
, Then Russian Defense Minister, February 1997

The Terrorist Threat

There were about a thousand offers to sell nuclear materials in Western Europe and Russia in the period 1991-95. In 1995, German police recorded thirty-five cases of offers to buy fissile materials.

For rogue states and for terrorists for whom the United States remains the chief focus of their hatred, a large United States city is and will remain a primary target. Destruction of one or more large urban centers by nuclear weapons would be a tremendous political and economic blow to the United States. An American city would be an ideal hostage for the demands of a terrorist group.

For terrorists or for states which already have a strong desire to retaliate against the United States but who either wish to remain anonymous to prevent reprisal or who wish to extort some concessions from the U.S. government, a crude nuclear device is a logical choice. Components for such a weapon can be smuggled into the United States through one or more of the 4,000 entry points into this country and assembled by technicians or brought by freighter to a U.S. port like New York or Los Angeles. Chances of detection are very low.

Thus, whether nuclear weapons are delivered by missile, ship, or truck, major U.S. cities remain major targets.
Ambassador Jonathan Dean,
Former U.S. Arms Negotiator

One of these days, one of these (rogue) governments fabricates one or two nuclear weapons, and gives them to a terrorist group…The group brings one of these bombs into Baltimore by boat, and drives another one up to Pittsburgh. And then the message comes into the White House. Adjust your policy in the Middle East, or on Tuesday you lose Baltimore, and on Wednesday you lose Pittsburgh. Tuesday comes and we lose Baltimore. What does the U.S. do?
Ambassador Robert Galucci
, Former U.S. Arms Negotiator, Dean of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

Deterrence: Not a Long-term Solution

The sheer folly of trying to defend a nation by destroying all life on the planet must be apparent to anyone capable of rational thought. Nuclear capability must be reduced to zero, globally, permanently. There is no other option.
Queen Noor of Jordan, Patron, Landmine Survivors Network

We remain stuck in the Cold War logic of "mutual assured destruction" (MAD). By this formula, the security of each side depends upon the certain knowledge in Washington and in Moscow that their strategic forces could survive a nuclear attack by the other and answer with a devastating retaliatory strike. Accordingly, each country still maintains roughly 3,000 strategic nuclear warheads poised and ready to launch. These deterrent practices may have been necessary during the Cold War. Today they constitute a dangerous anachronism.
Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn & Bruce Blair,
Washington Post, June 22, 1997

The two nuclear superpowers remain ready to fire a total of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons at each other within half an hour…Both the U.S. and Russia rely on a launch-on-warning strategy - each side is poised to release a massive retaliatory missile salvo after detecting an enemy missile attack but before the incoming warheads arrive - which could be in less than 15 minutes.
Scientific American
Article, November 1997

I remember President Kennedy once stated... that the United States had the nuclear missile capacity to wipe out the Soviet Union two times over, while the Soviet Union had enough atomic weapons to wipe out the Unites States only once... When journalists asked me to comment... I said jokingly, ‘Yes, I know what Kennedy claims, and he's quite right. But I'm not complaining... We're satisfied to be able to finish off the United States first time round. Once is quite enough. What good does it do to annihilate a country twice? We're not a bloodthirsty people.’
Nikita Khrushchev
, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, 1974, p. 530

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin signed an agreement to stop aiming missiles at one another. The Russians set their intercontinental missiles on a "zero flight plan" but the missiles' memory banks still retain their wartime targets. A single order, sent over an automated computer network, would reprogram them for their wartime targets in 10 seconds. If a Russian missile is launched accidentally or illicitly, it would automatically switch back to its primary target, which might be Chicago, a Minuteman silo in Montana, London, Paris, or Beijing. U.S. missiles can be re-aimed at Russia just as quickly.
Bruce Blair,
Testifying before the House of Representatives, March 13, 1997

The proposition that large numbers of nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used - accidentally or by decision - defies credibility. The only complete defense is the elimination of nuclear weapons and assurance that they will never be produced again.
Canberra Commission, 1996 [Link to Canberra Commission in ARCHIVE]

In a couple of decades you’ll have to reckon with the fact that the knowledge of how to [build nuclear weapons] will have spread widely enough for terrorists to create nuclear weapons in their garages. Does the fact that I or my allies possess nuclear weapons deter that terrorist or, say, a little terrorist state. I have quite some experience with terrorists. No, it will not deter them.
Helmut Schmidt, Former Chancellor of West Germany

The consequences of [the failure of deterrence] invokes death on a scale rivaling the power of the creator, poisoning the earth, deforming its inhabitants for generation upon generation.
General Lee Butler, Former Commander-In-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command, February 2, 1998

Increasingly, nuclear weapons are seen to constitute a nuisance and a danger rather than a benefit or a source of strength.
General Andrew Goodpaster, Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Former Staff Secretary to President Eisenhower, Sept. 22, 1994.

To use them against a similarly equipped opponent invites catastrophe; to use them against a non-nuclear opponent is politically and morally indefensible. Their only purpose now is to deter a similarly equipped opponent from using his: their elimination would remove that justification. They have no utility as a military weapon.

The indefinite deployment of the weapons carries a high risk of their ultimate use – intentionally, by accident or inadvertence. Today, with the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the actual and potential proliferation of nuclear wapons to states, or even possibly to groups within states, the risk of intentional or accidental use is higher. If their possession proliferates, that risk will probably increase.

The possession of the weapons by some states stimulates others to acquire them, reducing the security of all. Nuclear weapons are a source of instability in the relations between Russia and the West, within and between the former members of the Soviet Union, between the states of North Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and between nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.
Field Marshall Lord Carver, Former British Chief of General Staff, Sept. 16, 1996

A world without nuclear weapons would not be disadvantageous to the United States. In fact a world without nuclear weapons would actually be a better place.
Les Aspin, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense

The nuclear weapon is obsolete. I want to get rid of them all.
General Charles A. Horner, Former Commander of U.S. Space Command

Facing the Consequences

The explosion of a terrorist’s single nuclear device in a major metropolitan center would trigger an unparalleled humanitarian and environmental disaster. An accidental military launch of multiple warheads could result in a worldwide nuclear holocaust. Medical researchers and military analysts forebode grim consequences.
Alan Cranston

Regarding the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York on Feb. 26, 1993:
Analysis has shown that not only could the van used in the bombing have contained a nuclear device...a very large one would simply have obliterated lower Manhattan in its entirety and wreaked enormous devastation over an area 50 to 75 square miles.
General Lee Butler, December 4, 1996

Estimate of immediate casualties if an intermediate-sized accidental launch occurs involving the 16 missiles on a single Russian submarine: 6,838,000 people would be killed in firestorms in eight U.S. cities - ranging from 3,193,000 in New York to 341,000 in Seattle. Millions more would presumably be exposed to potentially lethal radioactive fallout. The danger of an "accidental" nuclear attack has increased in recent years, threatening a public health disaster of unprecedented scale.
New England Journal of Medicine, April 30, 1998

There’s a very simple reason for focusing on the nuclear issue. Many, many issues are of supreme importance in one way or another, but if we blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons, no other issue is really going to matter. Quite possibly there would be no other human beings left to be concerned about anything else.
Alan Cranston

If used in numbers, atomic bombs not only can nullify any nation's military effort, but can demolish its social and economic structure and prevent their re-establishment for long periods of time. With such weapons, especially if employed in conjunction with other weapons of mass destruction such as pathogenic bacteria, it is quite possible to depopulate vast areas of the earth's surface, leaving only vestigial remnants of man's material works.
Report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Operations Crossroads, June 30, 1947

I do not know with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.
Albert Einstein

A single 20 megaton bomb, exploding a mile above a city the size of Boston, would cause the following:

Within 1/1000th of a second a fireball would envelop the downtown and extend for two miles in every direction from the point below explosion. Temperatures would rise to 20 million degrees Fahrenheit, and everything — buildings, trees, cars, and people — would be vaporized.

At a distance of four miles, winds in excess of 650 miles per hour would level all structures. Deep underground bomb shelters would be crushed. As far as six miles from the center of the explosion intense heat would vaporize metal and glass.

At a distance of 16 miles, the heat would ignite all flammable materials. Fanned by blast winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, a giant firestorm would completely envelop more than 800 square miles. Temperatures would rise to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. The death rate would approach 100%.

Severely limited medical resources would be available to care for the dying. Nearly 70% of doctors in the metropolitan area would be killed or fatally wounded, and another 15% would suffer lesser wounds. Fewer than 1000 doctors would survive uninjured, leaving 1500 seriously injured patients for each doctor. Most remaining medical supplies would be contaminated with radioactive debris. There would be little water and no electricity.

Most victims would not find their way to any care. They would suffer alone, trapped in the wreckage, and untended. And they would die. Even among the half million wounded whose injuries were not necessarily fatal, most would die.

The total toll of this one bomb, including those killed outright and those who died of their wounds within the first month, would be greater than 2,500,000.
Based on New England Journal of Medicine article, 1962, recently updated by one of its authors, with data from Department of Defense and other authoritative sources

At the end of the countdown, there was a blinding electric blue light, of such an intensity I had not seen before or ever since. I pressed my hands hard to my eyes, then, realised my hands were covering my eyes. This terrific light power, or rays, were actually passing through the tarpaulin, through the towel, and through my head and body, for what seemed ten to twelve seconds, it may have been longer. After that, the pressure wave, which gave a feeling such as when one is deep underwater. This was then followed by a sort of vacuum suction wave, to give a feeling of one's whole body billowing out like a balloon.
Observer, Mosaic G1 at Monte Bello, 16 May 1956. [British nuclear test]

The Warnings

Unprecedented warnings by officials most closely linked with nuclear arms negotiations and defense strategy indicate that we are running out of time. If we fail to act soon, the scars of a major nuclear disaster will mark our immediate and distant future.
Alan Cranston

I expect a nuclear bomb to be exploded in a city somewhere in the world in the next five years - if more is not done to prevent it.
Ambassador Thomas Graham, President Clinton's Negotiator on Non-Proliferation Treaty, February 1998

I guarantee that a nuclear weapon will be exploded on the territory of the U.S. in the next 10 years if more is not done to prevent it.
General Charles Horner, Former U.S. Commander of Allied Forces, Gulf War

It’s not a question of whether, but of where and when weapons of mass destruction will be used.
William Perry, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense

A Reason for Hope. A Call for Action.

It is our deep conviction that the following is urgently needed and must be undertaken now:

First, present and planned stockpiles of nuclear weapons should be greatly cut back;

Second, remaining nuclear weapons should be gradually and transparently taken off alert and their readiness substantially reduced both in nuclear weapon states and in de facto nuclear weapons states;

Third, long-term international nuclear policy must be based on the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of nuclear weapons.
Statement by 60 retired Generals and Admirals from the U.S., Russia, 15 other countries December 4, 1996

Today I can declare my hope, declare it from the bottom of my heart, that we will eventually see the time when the number of nuclear weapons is down to zero and the world is a much better place.
General Colin Powell, Secretary of State, and Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, June 10, 1993

Global Leaders Call for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us… The mere existence of modern weapons … is a sources of horror and discord and distrust.
John F. Kennedy, September 25, 1961

We seek the elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
Ronald Reagan, Inaugural Address, January 21, 1985

It is my firm belief that the infinite and uncontrollable fury of nuclear weapons should never be held in the hands of any mere mortal ever again, for any reason.
Mikhail Gorbachev, 1995

A convention on the comprehensive ban of nuclear weapons should be negotiated. Since biological and chemical weapons have been prohibited, there is no reason why nuclear weapons, which are more destructive, should not be comprehensively banned and thoroughly destroyed. All it takes to reach this objective is strong political will.
Jiang Zemin, 1999

Quotes by Ronald Reagan

I can’t believe that this world can go on beyond our generation and on down to succeeding generations with this kind of weapon on both sides poised at each other without someday some fool or some maniac or some accident triggering the kind of war that is the end of the line for all of us. And I just think of what a sigh of relief would go up from everyone on this earth if someday–and this is what I have–my hope, way in the back of my head–is that if we start down the road to reduction, maybe one day in doing that, somebody will say, ‘Why not all the way? Let’s get rid of all these things.’
Ronald Reagan, May 16, 1983

Most of the people have been hearing in political dialog from one side, since we’ve been here in the 3 1/2 years, that I somehow have an itchy finger and am going to blow up the world. And that has all been duly reported by so many of you that that is the tone that the people have been getting. And it doesn’t do me any good to tell you that, having seen four wars in my lifetime, I don’t know of anyone, in or out of government, that is more determinedly seeking peace than I am. And my goal is the total elimination of nuclear weapons. If we can get those fellows back to the table and get them to start down that road of mutual reduction, then they might find out what common sense it would mean to eliminate them."
Ronald Reagan, Press Conference, May 22, 1984

It is my fervent goal and hope…that we will some day no longer have to rely on nuclear weapons to deter aggression and assure world peace. To that end the United States is now engaged in a serious and sustained effort to negotiate major reductions in levels of offensive nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of eliminating these weapons from the face of the earth.
Ronald Reagan, October 20, 1986

As I have indicated in previous statements to the Congress, my central arms control objective has been to reduce substantially, and ultimately to eliminate, nuclear weapons and rid the world of the nuclear threat. The prevention of the spread of nuclear explosives to additional countries is an indispensable part of our efforts to meet this objective. I intend to continue my pursuit of this goal with untiring determination and a profound sense of personal commitment.
Ronald Reagan, March 25, 1988

The Moral Imperative

Nuclear weapons have forced us to consider whether we will be the last generation. They challenge the moral dimension of our humanity. Our technological abilities must not outstrip our moral insights, rendering us less than fully human. For in this age, acting without reliance on the gifts of law, morality and wisdom will be lethal. What right do we have to place all life on the planet at risk in the service of a human construction, the state, when it is presently legally required and within our political means to globally eliminate all nuclear weapons? Nuclear weapons elimination will make all states and their people safer. It is time to assert our right to live in a nuclear weapons free world.
Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute

It has been suggested by American friends that the atomic bomb will bring in Ahimsa [Nonviolence] as nothing else can. It will, if it is meant that its destructive power will so disgust the world that it will turn away from violence for the time being. This is very much like a man glutting himself with dainties to the point of nausea and turning away from them, only to return with redoubled zeal after the effect of the nausea is well over. Precisely in the same manner will the world return to violence with renewed zeal after the effect of the disgust is worn out.

So far as I can see, the atomic bomb has deadened the finest feeling that has sustained for ages. There used to be so-called laws of war, which made it tolerable. Now we know the truth. War knows no law except that of might. The atomic bomb brought an empty victory but it resulted for the time being in destroying the soul of Japan. What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see...
Mahatma Gandhi from The Essential Gandhi, Louis Fisher, ed. (New York: 1962), 3356.

We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount . . . . The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.
General Omar N. Bradley, Chief of Staff, United States Army, Boston, November 10th, 1948

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

If the entire history of mankind were condensed into a single year, our knowledge of how to destroy life on earth with weapons of mass destruction has been acquired in the last thirty seconds. Never again will we lack the knowledge to eliminate the world in a single act of madness. Therefore, we are faced with a dilemma unique in our history. We must not only control the weapons that can kill us, we must bridge the great disparities of wealth and opportunity among the peoples of the world, the vast majority of whom live in poverty without hope, opportunity or choices in life. These conditions are a breeding ground for division that can cause a desperate people to resort to nuclear weapons as a last resort. Our only hope lies in the power of our love, generosity, tolerance and understanding and our commitment to making the world a better place for all of Allah's children.
Muhammad Ali, Former Heavyweight Boxing Champion and Humanitarian

The existence of nuclear weapons presents a clear and present danger to life on Earth. Nuclear arms cannot bolster the security of any nation because they represent a threat to the security of the human race. These incredibly destructive weapons are an affront to our common humanity, and the tens of billions of dollars that are dedicated to their development and maintenance should be used instead to alleviate human need and suffering.
Oscar Arias, Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Laureate

If we fight a war and win it with H-bombs, what history will remember is not the ideals we were fighting for but the methods we used to accomplish them. These methods will be compared to the warfare of Genghis Khan who ruthlessly killed every last inhabitant of Persia.
Hans A. Bethe

Elimination of nuclear weapons, so naive, so simplistic, and so idealistic as to be quixotic? Some may think so. But as human beings, citizens of nations with power to influence events in the world, can we be at peace with ourselves if we strive for less? I think not.
Robert McNamara, Former U.S. Secretary of Defense

Steps Toward Disarmament

Remaining devoted to the idea of further reductions of nuclear weapons up to their total elimination, Russia considers this process a long term one.
General Vladimir Belouse (Ret.), Moscow, 1996

[Not achieving a nuclear test ban] would have to be classed as the greatest disappointment of any administration, of any decade, of any time.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

No treaty, however much it may be to the advantage of all, however tightly it may be worded, can provide absolute security against the risks of deception and evasion. But it can, if it is sufficiently effective in its enforcement and if it is sufficiently in the interests of its signers, offer far more security and far fewer risks than an unabated, uncontrolled, unpredictable arms race.
John F. Kennedy, calling for support for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, 10 June 1963

We have been led to believe that we have come a long way toward world nuclear disarmament. But that is not the case. Our government is not doing all that it could. We must urge our leaders to fulfill the obligations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States must assume world leadership to end once and for all the threat of nuclear war. It is our moral responsibility.
Harrison Ford, Actor and Conservationist