A 'nuclear sword of Damocles'
"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." --President John F. Kennedy
Lawrence Bender, the Academy Award-winning producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," uses Kennedy's words at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, 1961 as the foundation of his new anti-nuclear proliferation documentary "Countdown to Zero." The film doesn't hit theaters nationwide until July 9, but I was able to catch a screening of it last week. My hope is that "Countdown to Zero" will do for nuclear proliferation what "An Inconvenient Truth" did for climate change. Americans, particularly those born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, need to understand how close we've come to and how close we remain to nuclear annihilation.
After seeing the film, I pray that the New START treaty between the United States and Russia gets ratified by the Senate and that the nuclear security summit that kicks off today in Washington leads to meaningful measures to keep materials for weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. In a post-9/11 world, where enemies of the West are actively trying to acquire them, that sword of Damocles is closer to our necks than we want to admit.
"Countdown to Zero" employs Kennedy's "accident," "miscalculation" and "madness" formulation to look at the three separate yet interlocking dangers posed by nuclear weapons. One potential "accident" occurred in August 2007 when a B-52 bomber flew from North Dakota to Louisiana with six warheads on its wing that apparently no one, including the pilots, knew were there.
A frightening potential "miscalculation" happened in 1995 when a U.S.-Norwegian research rocket was detected by Russian early-warning radars and had then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin handling his nation's nuclear football for the first time. Former CIA officer Peter Pry, who wrote about this incident in "War Scare," called it "the single most dangerous moment of the nuclear missile age."
And the film is replete with details on how vulnerable we are to a devastating attack by those hellbent on "madness." What's saved us thus far has been their inability to create or get their hands on highly enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear bomb. But former CIA operations officer Rolff Mowatt-Larssen delivers this bit of disquieting news in the film. "All the black market seizures that I'm aware of were caught by luck," he said.
Let's hope our luck doesn't run out.
| April 12, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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