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Stupid” is the most harsh and humiliating adjective that can be flung at a person, let alone a nation-state. What’s the usual response to being called stupid? Nothing positive. We just go into reaction and resistance.

I’m sorry, but there is no other word to describe the obstinate refusal of the nuclear powers to cooperate to dismantle their nuclear arsenals even as the climate emergency sweeps across the world.

According to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, in 2021 the nine nuclear nations spent a total of $82.4 billion on their nuclear programs—$156,841 a minute. The ultimate driver of this profligate, irrelevant, dangerous spending turns out to be: profit, shored up by $117 million in lobbying.

The major rationale the nations give for keeping their weapons is deterrence. But did they deter Putin from his (stupid!) invasion of Ukraine? They did not. Did they deter 9-11? They did not.

And should deterrence break down, as it almost inevitably will unless we change, instead of victory by any one party to conflict, the outcome would at best be nuclear winter that leads to the starvation of most of the world’s population, and at worst a devastation that ended the human experiment altogether. Tolerating such a “security” system surely qualifies as the ultimate stupidity.

Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. In total, the global nuclear stockpile is close to 13,000 weapons. (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)

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The United States was the biggest spender on nuclear weapons in 2021: $44.2 billion. It’s as if the left hand of “defense” has no idea of the real threats to our strength and security over on our right hand (dangerous heat waves, anyone? Thousand year floods? Fires which devour whole towns?).

Pakistan is one-third underwater. Yet they spent over a billion dollars on their nukes in 2021. India’s spending was equal to Pakistan’s, even as parts of India become too hot to work outside in daylight. China, Russia, France, Israel, Britain, North Korea—all face daunting climate challenges that are becoming existential threats.

Who will be the first nation to admit this out loud? To make perfectly safe unilateral gestures of good will like openly bringing into port a nuclear submarine or standing down some land-based missiles? To build a political consensus among their constituents that we are on a road to nowhere and must make a major shift? To turn a deaf ear to lobbyists who seductively pretend to represent security when in fact they represent omnicide? To convene an international conference toward abolition?

This would be built upon two well-understood principles: A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought, and the planet will not be habitable for our grandchildren unless we smarten up and repurpose that $82 billion a year—and much more— toward solar panels and batteries, low-head hydro, wind turbines, and geothermal plants—for our common security as a planet.

Meanwhile, stupid is as stupid does.

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