“The notion of a nuclear apocalypse seemed to drop with the fall of the Soviet Union,” said Valerie Plame, ex-CIA covert operations officer, to a standing room only crowd of students, faculty, anti-nuclear weapons organizations and members of the public gathered at the HUB — the University of Washington’s student union building — on Monday, April 25. “But instead nuclear proliferation, nuclear technology and terrorism since then have only increased.”
The Jackson School of International Studies hosted Plame and nuclear weapons expert Joe Cirincione, president of the global security foundation Ploughshares Fund, for which Plame is also a board member, for two hours to discuss “Nuclear Weapons: Iraq, Iran and Beyond.” Director Reşat Kasaba moderated the talk.
The two speakers spoke about the mistakes in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the recent nonproliferation agreement with Iran. Cirincione explained the victory of this deal in terms of how Iran’s nuclear facilities have been dismantled and “no one died” compared the drawn-out war in Iraq, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
They both emphasized the ultimate uselessness and threats of maintaining nuclear weapons.
“That nuclear weapons safeguard a nation from attack and mitigate threats from other nations is a myth,” said Cirincione. They underscored that nuclear weapons did not prevent the Paris attacks, or San Bernadino, and there is still need for ongoing clean-up and deaths related to nuclear leakage disasters in Chernobyl, now over 30 years ago, and Fukushima.
Threats they focused on:
- Existing arsenals
- Nuclear proliferation
They also mentioned the U.S. as moving dangerously beyond just keeping current stocks of nuclear weapons safe by allowing new contracts to replace old material like missiles and bombers, estimating over a trillion dollars will be needed to do so and risking bankruptcy.
Each underscored several countries enhancing nuclear capacity, including Russia, China, India and Pakistan. In doing so, they emphasized the need to provide alternatives to make countries “feel safe” without the need for nuclear weapons.
Questions ranged from Plame’s experience being outed by the U.S. government as a CIA operative with regard to current debates on secrecy that have been sparked by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s revelations, nuclear power deals in developing countries to whether unilateral nonproliferation is possible.
“The biggest threat is our complacency and not knowing enough,” said Plame about nuclear weapons.