New Opportunities Toward Nuclear Disarmament: Reviving Faculty Roles?
The recent April 9 signing by the U.S. and Russia of a revised START treaty was a welcome step in defusing hidden but intense dangers to international security. As described in the article by Aron Bernstein these negotiations, while they made significant progress, need to be augmented in the future. In addition, the required Senate ratification lies ahead. The opening of the UN Review Conference on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons also brings the issue into public view. With on the order of 20,000 active nuclear warheads deployed on planes, submarines, and ground launchers, international security remains at risk. Unfortunately, the national movements that previously pressured the government toward true nuclear disarmament are no longer active.
Scientists in the Manhattan Project were central to bringing nuclear weapons into existence; they also led the effort to ban them. Linus Pauling’s original campaign to stop atmospheric testing was the first. MIT faculty were leaders in subsequent efforts: Vicki Weisskopf, Herman Feshbach, Philip Morrison, Henry Kendall, Vera Kistiakowsky, Bernard Feld, George Rathjens, Jack Ruina, Jerome Weisner, Kosta Tsipis, Aron Bernstein, and many others.
The Union of Concerned Scientists was founded at MIT in 1969 around the issue of stopping the nuclear arms race. For decades, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was edited from here. Only Tsipis and Bernstein remain active at MIT.
Last year, a small group of faculty and students attempted to revive a Nuclear Abolition coalition. One of the striking discoveries was the significant number of our students who were unaware of the enormous arsenals at constant ready. We suspect that the Cold War nuclear weapons buildup is not covered or not reached in current high school history curricula. At MIT, the principal concern for the Earth is now expressed through efforts to reduce anthropological climate change. This is an important step forward in campus consciousness and engagement, but doesn’t directly address the pressing shorter term weapons dangers.
Since the end of WWII, nuclear weapons development has been directed through the Department of Energy (DOE). For many decades, DOE paid only limited attention to the overall energy needs of the nation, but rather ensured weapons design, production, and maintenance. In recent decades DOE has evolved and supported important advances in basic and applied civilian science and technology. The appointment of Steven Chu as head continues to move the agency toward true national needs around energy. Nonetheless, the DOE weapons labs are major employers in their states and their Senators continue to fiercely uphold the weapons missions and activities. The technological resources devoted to nuclear weapons would be far better employed in nuclear arms control and inspections, basic science, or in the development of alternative energy sources.
It seems unlikely that movements such as Ban the Bomb or the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign will reappear in this period of economic distress. As scientists, engineers, and scholars in a position to understand the dangers of, as well as the historical forces that led to the current buildup, we need to find ways to ensure that our citizenry is clear on the need to actively and aggressively reduce the weapons in our own arsenal, the world’s largest, and use that as the leverage for pressing other nations to proceed in the same direction. As a first step, we ask our colleagues to try to place support for Senate ratification of the START treaty on the Congressional agenda of their professional organizations, and to speak out as concerned citizens to inform the Senate and the public why nuclear arms reduction and the new START treaty are so vital to our security. Perhaps we need an MIT Taskforce on Nuclear Disarmament.
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A Heartfelt Thanks
As we reach the end of another academic year, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been so generous with your support and assistance all year long. In particular, we would like to thank the members of the Office of the Provost/Institutional Research. Nearly all the wonderful “numbers” we’ve presented all year (charts, graphs, etc.) have been provided by Director of Institutional Research Lydia Snover and her staff. After all, this is MIT, and this place just wouldn’t be the same without “MIT Numbers.”
We’d also like to thank Deborah Puleo, Ed Pasqual, and all the members of MIT Mail Services for their continuing assistance with labeling, mailing, and (most importantly) meeting our often ridiculously tight deadlines so that faculty and others can receive their hardcopy MIT Faculty Newsletter with all due speed after it is printed.