Monday, April 8, 2019

A United Church of Christ (UCC) Resolution on Preventing Nuclear War

"Earthrise" (William Anders, 1968)


I am feeling hopeful today.

I just returned from a gathering of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC). Being together with people from 218 different congregations, with close to 41,000 members, and seeing them all work together, reminded me of the enormous potential in the Church to bring about the better world we all seek.

At the gathering, I was reminded that in just over 2 months the full UCC will convene for its bi-annual meeting in Milwaukee. And that's particularly important to me because of a resolution on preventing nuclear war that will be brought forward at that gathering.

The "Resolution Calling for the United States to pull “Back From The Brink” and Prevent Nuclear War" calls for action in five areas:

* renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first;
* ending any president’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack;
* taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert;
* cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and
* actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

There are already people at work on those five areas in the US government and in governments around the world. For instance, there are four bills currently making their way through Congress:

And there is the global nuclear ban treaty currently advancing in the United Nations.

The reason, in my opinion, that the UCC resolution is particularly important lies in this sentence: If passed, "[t]he 32nd General Synod of the United Church of Christ will request that all churches, associations, conferences, and associated bodies of the United Church of Christ consider how to implement this resolution with the support and encouragement of the Covenanted Ministries." Nationally, the UCC consists of approximately 4,956 congregations with 853,778 members. These are people deeply committed to their relationships with each other and with God -- they meet weekly to worship, to socialize, and to get stuff done -- and they care profoundly about God's Creation. I can't think of another single group with more awesome potential to make a change in the fate of the Earth.

So: if you are a member of a UCC congregation, please share the news of this resolution with others and encourage them to support it at the Milwaukee meeting in June.

And if you are a member of some other denomination, you might want to begin to ask: what can our churches be doing to pull us "Back From The Brink"?

(Read more about the "Back From The Brink" campaign.)


John F. Kennedy: "... the fate of the world and the future of the human race, is
involved with preventing a nuclear war." ("Back From The Brink" campaign)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Even REPUBLICANS Can Support These Bills to Control Nuclear Weapons


Something we can all agree on:
"No one wins a nuclear war"


The only thing standing between current efforts in Congress to rein in nuclear weapons and success is a few Republic senators. Is it possible that the needed support will materialize?

This morning, the New York Times called attention to these ten Republican senators who stood up for principle and the Constitution against the President on the issue of the emergency declaration:

Lamar Alexander (TN)
Roy Blunt (MO
Susan Collins (ME)
Mike Lee  (UT)
Mitt Romney (UT)
Jerry Moran (KS)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Rand Paul (KY)
Rob Portman (OH)
Marco Rubio (FL)
Pat Toomey (PA)
Roger Wicker (MS)

(See "Senate Republicans’ Declaration of (Semi-) Independence.")

You might want to communicate with one or more of these senators and thank them for taking this action. (Even if you don't come from the state they represent.) And while you're at it, you can encourage them to co-sponsor the following bills that are designed to re-assert the Constitutional authority of Congress ... related to war, national security, treaties, the military, and the budget:


(1) Bill Restricting President from Ordering Nuclear First-Strike

Re-asserts Congressional authority over decision to declare war (including a decision on a first-use nuclear strike).

House bill: HR. 669 - "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress."

Senate bill: S. 200 - "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress."

(At this writing, the co-sponsors on these bills number: 52 in the House, 13 in the Senate.)


(2) No First Use Bill

Would institute as US policy that the US shall not use nuclear weapons first.

House bill: H.R.921 - To establish the policy of the United States regarding the no-first-use of nuclear weapons

Senate bill: S.272 - A bill to establish the policy of the United States regarding the no-first-use of nuclear weapons

(At this writing, the co-sponsors on these bills number: 21 in the House, 5 in the Senate.)


(3) Bill limiting "low-yield" nuclear weapons

Addresses the mistaken idea that "small" nuclear weapons are "less dangerous."

House bill: H.R.1086 - Hold the LYNE Act

Senate bill: S.401 - Hold the LYNE Act

(At this writing, the co-sponsors on these bills number: 27 in the House, 7 in the Senate.)


(4) Bill limiting nuclear weapons spending

This bill was introduced in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

House bill: H.R.1231 - Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019

Senate bill: S.312 - Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019

(At this writing, the co-sponsors on these bills number: 9 in the House, 12 in the Senate.)


By the way -- Republican senators aren't the only ones who need to hear from you. Now is the time to reach out to all of your senators and representatives and urge support of these bills (and thank current supporters for leading the effort).


Need some inspiration? Take a look at this short video from a conference at Harvard in late 2017: Presidential First Use of Nuclear Weapons: Is it Legal? Is it Constitutional? Is it Just? To quote Senator Ed Markey (sponsor of several of the bills above and the final speaker in the video) -- things can change ... and it can happen in the blink of a political eye!


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND CYBER ATTACKS: "The only winning strategy is not to play."

Depiction of computer-controlled nuclear warfare, c. 1983: WarGames.


Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about the nature of risk stemming from nuclear weapons. In that post, I focused on the singular and calamitous nature of that aggregate risk, and encourage people to avoid getting distracted by trying to pin down the precise probabilities associated with particular "what-ifs" (e.g. accident vs. superpower conflict vs. act of terrorism vs. . . . . ).

I have come to wonder, however, if there isn't one particular "what-if" that we should all study in more detail: cyberwar. As I learn more and more about cybersecurity (and cyberwar), it becomes apparent that no one is immune from hacking. You can try to minimize it, but you can't make yourself 100% immune. That means the only rational strategy is to minimize the danger of the thing that is vulnerable to hacking.

My hypothesis is that hacking poses such an enormous threat to the ability of the US military to maintain control over US nuclear weapons that very soon responsible military officers will begin to advise the US government that getting rid of these weapons is the only safe option. If this hypothesis is correct, I further hypothesize that there is a role for US citizens to play in counseling their representatives in Congress to be alert to these warnings and act accordingly.

The idea that the US military is relying more and more on autonomous weapons is not new to me. (See, for instance, my work on the No Drones Network.) Nor is the idea that humans are losing control to the machines. (See "Drone to Human: Leave the Thinking to Me") What does seem new is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is entering the mainstream, and so is discussion of cyberwar as a major facet of armed conflict. This leads me to believe that this is a concern that every member of Congress will feel the need to be alert to.

As far back as 1983, the popular film WarGames painted a picture of what might happen if hackers successfully infiltrated nuclear weapons systems. In that fictional treatment, a super-intelligent computer played a game-turned-confrontation entitled "global thermonuclear war" -- and ultimately provided the counsel, "The only winning strategy is not to play." Will we be lucky enough to heed this advice in real life?


RESOURCES on nuclear weapons and cybersecurity


Recent articles

"Defense industry grapples with cybersecurity flaws in new weapons systems," by Aaron Gregg, Washington Post, October 14, 2018. This article reports on a full GAO report listed under Other related reports and documents below. "The threat is pervasive and dynamic — it isn’t going away and will never be fully defeated." What does this mean for nuclear weapons, in which even a single successful hack could result in millions of deaths?

"Cyber-attack risk on nuclear weapons systems 'relatively high' – thinktank," by Ewan MacAskill in The Guardian, January 10, 2018. Cites Chatham House report (below).

"As America’s Nukes and Sensors Get More Connected, the Risk of Cyber Attack Is Growing," by Patrick Tucker in Defense One, January 17, 2018. References the Chatham House report (below), plus pending study by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.


Recent books

Hacking the Bomb: Cyber Threats and Nuclear Weapons (2018), by Andrew Futter

The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age (2018), by David Sanger.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013), by Eric Schlosser.


Other related reports and documents

"Missing from the 2019 Missile Defense Review: Cybersecurity," by Lauren Borja in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 22, 2019. See also report immediately below.

"Cyber Vulnerabilities and Nuclear Weapons Risks," by Lauren J. Borja and M. V. Ramana, American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society. (Published subsequent to GAO 2018 report below.)

"WEAPON SYSTEMS CYBERSECURITY: DOD Just Beginning to Grapple with Scale of Vulnerabilities," US General Accounting Office (GAO), October 2018. Report submitted to Senate Armed Forces Committee.

"Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences.," by Beyza Unal and Patricia Lewis at Chatham House, January 2018. "It is unlikely that nuclear weapons possessing governments will be forthcoming in public or with each other on the cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems. . . . [I]t is vital that academics, thinktanks and NGOs press for information and reassurances from governments that such issues are being addressed, and that those governments are holding open discussions with the public, including the media and parliamentarians. After all, it is the public that will pay the ultimate price for complacency regarding cybersecurity of nuclear weapons systems."

Final Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Cyber Deterrence, February 2017. Includes as one of its guiding principles this sobering statement: "...in practice cyber arms control is not viable ..." (How then to keep a nuclear arsenal "safe"?)

"Thermonuclear cyberwar" by Erik Gartzke and Jon R. Lindsay in Journal of Cybersecurity, March 2017.

Department of Defense Directive 3150.02 "DoD Nuclear Weapons Surety Program" (update August 31, 2018)

"Nuclear Deterrence in Cyber-ia," by Stephen J. Cimbala, Air and Space Power Journal, Fall 2016.

"Nuclear Deterrence and Cyber: The Quest for Concept," by Stephen J. Cimbala, Air and Space Power Journal, March-April 2014.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Controlling Trump and Nukes: Time for Congress (and Citizens!) to Step Up

Something we can all agree on:
HR.669/S.200 - "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use
nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress."
(Please share this message on Twitter.)

Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33) and Senator Ed Markey (MA) have re-introduced their bill HR.669/S.200 to prohibit the president from carrying out a nuclear first strike without express authorization via a declaration of war by Congress.

HOUSE: HR. 669 - "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress."

SENATE: S. 200 - "To prohibit the conduct of a first-use nuclear strike absent a declaration of war by Congress."

Already, there are over 50 co-sponsors of this bill. (You can watch the press conference for the bill's re-introduction on Facebook.) More co-sponsors are needed.

Why not use this opportunity to begin a relationship with your representative in Congress, and your senators? If they are already sponsors of HR.669/S.200, thank them! If not, encourage them to do so! (See up-to-date lists of: House co-sponsors ... Senate co-sponsors ... )

And then let it be the being of an ongoing, in-depth conversation between you and your elected representatives about the gravest risk facing us today.

For far too long, Congress (and the citizenry) have been out of the loop when it comes to US nuclear weapons policy and practice; this bill gets them back in control.  (And gets us back in control!)

This isn't the last bill that will be required in order to make all of us safe from nuclear weapons; rather it is the first step in an engaged Congress and engaged citizenry tackling nuclear weapons danger once and for all.


Related posts

Nuclear Weapons: People Power Over Trump Power

"Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Is "North Korea" a Two-Word "Scissor Statement"?

I'm glad that Donald Trump is negotiating with Kim Jong-un about denuclearization -- including the inevitable reckoning over what "denuclearization" means. However, as a next round of negotiations about peace in Korea and denuclearization are pending, there is a dilemma that is much on my mind:

Right now, is it more important to do the (very necessary, long-term) work of debunking US prejudice surrounding Korea in general, and North Korea in particular?

Or is the best use of our time and effort to defer -- for the moment -- getting people to reform their thinking about Korea, and instead emphasizing the need to treat the overall nuclear weapons risk with the urgency called for?

Last spring, I devoted much time to writing about the need to overcome US prejudices surrounding Korea. (Links to posts listed below.)

And since last spring, there's been a little progress in the US media and other areas of foreign affairs discourse towards rational discussion of Korea. But just a little. This is the point driven home by an excellent article in The Nation: "US-North Korea Talks Are Moving Decisively to the Diplomatic Phase" by Tim Shorrock.


V @christineahn on Twitter
Naming it: orientalism and jingoism with respect to Korea.


And this dilemma is of some moment, since "North Korea" seems to claim a plurality of the mindshare when people think about (or attempt to think about) nuclear weapons risk. I was reminded of this disproportion reading Michael Lewis' new book, The Fifth Risk. When queried about what we should be worried about, the former Chief Risk Officer at the Department of Energy listed:

(1) Broken arrows (nuclear weapons that get out of control)
(2) North Korea
(3) Iran
(4) Attacks on the electrical grid
(5) Problems with Big Project Management (e.g. Hanford clean-up)

North Korea as the number two worry? That's a pretty big share of worry assigned to a pretty small proportion of the global nuclear weapons threat. A June, 2018, tally of 14,450 nuclear warheads worldwide attributes only 10 to 20 to North Korea:


June 2018 global nuclear warhead count
(each symbol representing FIVE weapons):
Russia: 6,850
US: 6,450
France: 300
China: 270
UK: 215
Pakistan: 140
India: 120 to 130
Israel: 80
North Korea: 10 to 20
(Source: Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University)


The US and Russia each have at least 300 times as many nuclear weapons as North Korea.

So is it really possible that North Korea is a greater threat to the US than the US is to itself?

I recently learned about the concept of a "scissor statement" -- one that immediately serves to divide people into opposing camps. A scissor statement is so divisive that people stop thinking and stop communicating, and once that happens it is mighty difficult to work cooperatively. The concept is ably described by Scott Alexander in his piece "Sort By Controversial".

To me, it seems likely that "North Korea" is a sort of two-word "scissor statement." And just think what happens when it is combined with another two-word scissor statement -- "Donald Trump." Are we at risk of getting derailed before the conversation can even get started?

I am concerned that we need to do much more to get discussions about nuclear disarmament out of the weeds of disagreeing over "possible scenarios" and into the area of common sense -- that nuclear weapons pose a one-of-a-kind risk, one whose consequences truly threaten to end our world, and whose likelihood is practically unknowable (but certainly real). Maybe a good rule of thumb would be focusing 90% of our dialogue on that core danger, and only then -- possibly -- giving over some portion of our dialog into trying to revise US conventional wisdom (bias, prejudice) about specific contexts like Korea.

I trust I will be having many conversations with colleagues about this in the days ahead . . . .


Post about Korea on Scarry Thoughts

Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror

The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror

Media analysis series:
A Checklist for Critically Reading (and Writing) About North Korea.
Can You Judge a Nuclear Confrontation by Its Cover?
When Writing About North Korea Is a "Downer"
The US and North Korea: Suspense, Discomfort, Regret
North Korea: Who Am I To Look At You?

#Nuclearban Game-Changer: South Korea?

North Korea and #NuclearBan

Who Has Been "Begging for War"?

Is Kim Jong-un giving the US its "Suez Crisis"?

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: "Korea's Place in the Sun" by Bruce Cumings

Monday, January 21, 2019

Nuclear Disarmament: "It's time. Let's do this thing . . . . "

"What has this to do with you? or with me?"
Based on John 2:1-11. (Image: Joe Scarry)


Madeline Island is my place to focus on the problem of nuclear disarmament.

One of the ways I'm hoping to do that is by way of more graphic/visual materials. Perhaps I will create a memoir in graphic novel format.

I now try to put pencil to sketch pad every single day. The more I draw, the more I remember; and the more I remember, the more I realize how the problem of nuclear weapons has been woven into my experience, from the time I was a little boy in the '60s.

Yesterday I got an idea for a unifying concept, and a possible cover.

My partner, Rachel, preached her first sermon as pastor of St. John's Church of Madeline Island. She spoke about the day's lectionary text - Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Rachel asked us to pay attention not just to what Jesus did in that story, but also to the role of Mary. Mary was the one who said, in effect, "It's time. Let's do this thing . . . . " Rachel asked us to notice that it really all started with Mary; without that push from Mary, all we are left with is "divine reluctance."

I woke up this morning and realized that one of the many areas of life that this applies to is humanity's confrontation with nuclear weapons. Our reaction to this monumental threat is so very much characterized by distancing . . . reluctance . . . dis-engagement. "Too much to think about . . . let's talk about something else . . . . " And that resonated with my own experience

What would happen if some people could successfully say, with respect to the urgent need for nuclear disarmament, "It's time. Let's do this thing . . . . " ? What would happen if enough people said it that there was no room left anymore for, ""What has this to do with you? or with me?"


You can watch Rachel's January 20 sermon on the St. John's Madeline Island Ustream channel. (Her sermon begins at minute 21:50.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons Risk?

For citizens to meaningfully participate in eliminating nuclear weapons, there are a number of conversations we need to be prepared to have -- with our associates in the community, and with our representatives in government.

It seems to me that at the top of the list is a conversation about risk.

We tend not to be very good at thinking about risk. Perhaps the canonical example of our difficulty is contained in the question, "What is more dangerous -- flying or driving?" People tend to think of flying as more dangerous, but statistically, per mile traveled, driving is far more dangerous. (Coincidentally, today's New York Times summarizes an updated guide to everyday risks: "Opioids, Car Crashes and Falling: The Odds of Dying in the U.S.")

Two observations:

(1) Many risks -- such as those just mentioned -- represent frequently occurring events. There are specialists (actuaries) who tabulate past occurrences and calculate odds of future occurrences. They provide the basis for the insurance industry.

(2) Even such well-documented and well-described risks are generally met by ordinary people with a very human response: "Great, now can I put this out of my mind?"

In the spectrum of risks, there is another kind of risk: the non-frequently occurring event. To tear an example from today's headlines, what is the risk that a non-politician will be elected president of the US, and then force a government shutdown in order to obtain appropriations for building a wall on the US border with Mexico?

You can venture guesstimates of the likelihood, but there if very little prior information upon which to base them.

(The term "black swan" was recently popularized for the extreme form of such a non-frequently occurring event: something that nobody saw coming.)

Two more observations:

(3) Without actuarial analysis, it is not possible to insure against these kinds of risks in the ordinary way. Still, there are people (risk managers) who do their best to try to make guesstimates of the odds, and to come up with (cost-justified) ways of avoiding such risks.

(4) These kinds of events are particularly susceptible to the natural human response: "I don't have to think about this, do I?"

It was this second type of risk that I focused on when I wrote about the example of a piece of a church facade falling and striking a pedestrian. That example helped me understand how, in advance of an event, it may seem hard to justify devoting a lot of resources to worrying about it; but after the event occurs, its importance becomes all too clear and unavoidable.

How might this be helpful in informing conversations about nuclear weapons risk? Well, it does seem helpful to recognize that nuclear weapons risk is more like the second category of non-frequently occurring event, and less like the category of frequently occurring, actuarial, insurable risks.

But in another sense, we are still not there yet. The truth came home to me the other night when I watched the Errol Morris documentary about Robert McNamara, The Fog of War.  In it, McNamara stresses the point, "With nuclear weapons, there's no learning period." In other words, if and when nuclear weapons are used, there will be no second chance.

This led to an epiphany for me: nuclear weapons risk does not occupy a place within the spectrum of all other risks. It occupies its own unique place. Yes, it is like the other non-frequently occurring events, but it is also different in an important way: the consequences are world-ending. (There was a time when it was fashionable to talk about surviving nuclear war -- contemplating a range of "tragic but distinguishable postwar states" -- but most people have now shed that illusion.)

So: what to do about this unique risk?


*   *   *


It seems to me that the peculiar feature of this risk is that the consequences are so outsized that they obviate any value in trying to suss out the likelihood. For once, we can all agree that something is unknowable.

For instance, I may believe that, under the current circumstances, nuclear war could happen in the next ten years. Another person may believe it could very well happen within one year. Yet a third might say, "The best estimate is that there will be one occurrence in 1,000 years."

But the magnitude of the consequences should make it possible for us to set aside our different guesstimates and focus on the intolerability of the outcome.

(And -- funny thing -- once we set aside our guesstimates it becomes possible to admit to ourselves how little confidence we can have in anyone's assurances about the likelihood/unlikelihood of nuclear war.)

Truly, this is unlike any other risk.


*   *   *


By the way, it might help if this unique risk had a name. For now, I will call it Kappa Risk (like the Greek letter K).

Think of it as the apex or "cap" -- the most outstanding of all risks.

K also happens to be the first letter in Καιρός (Kairos or Caerus), the Greek god of risk.

(Greek letters are used heavily in risk management, though K does not (yet) have a prominent role.)


*   *   *


I guess there is the problem of what to do about people who think there is zero probability of nuclear weapons actually being used -- "It will never happen." In other words, people who believe Kappa Risk doesn't exist.

Perhaps that is a topic for another day.


*   *   *


Even better than a name for this type of risk, I suppose, would be a picture or symbol. If 2018 has taught me anything, it is that an emoji is worth a thousand words.

How to sum up visually the idea of a one-of-a-kind risk, one whose consequences truly threaten to end our world, and whose likelihood is practically unknowable (but certainly real)? Something short and sweet -- representing the need to put this risk squarely on the table and then more forward to eliminate it?

Herewith, a proposal:


Design for an emoji: Kappa Risk.
(The one-of-a-kind risk that characterizes nuclear weapons -
consequences that truly threaten to end our world, and
likelihood that is practically unknowable (but certainly real).)
(Image: Joe Scarry)


(With apologies to The Emoji Movie.)

Now: in what ways might we be able to better accomplish our work as citizens once we can converse clearly about the singular risk of nuclear weapons?