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Nuclear Conflict Danger Looms Like Never Before

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

(In RealAudio, needs RealPlayer)

* Interview with Dr. Helen Caldicott, leading anti-nuclear activist and founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility

Interview by Scott Harris

Despite the end of the Cold War a decade ago, the danger of nuclear war -- and the human catastrophe such a conflict could inflict on the planet -- has not diminished. In recent months, India and Pakistan have both threatened to use their nuclear arsenals in any future conflict over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The Bush administration, in its drive for military superiority, has abandoned arms control treaties and embarked on deployment of a controversial missile defense system; proposed the development of new battlefield nuclear weapons and threatened to use nukes against non-nuclear states that may possess biological or chemical weapons.

The specter of terrorist groups acquiring and using nuclear weapons has caused great public anxiety, with concerns fueled by the recent arrest of a suspect alleged to be planning to explode a radioactive bomb. These new threats, combined with the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington, have provided the White House renewed public support for more aggressive war plans and increased military spending.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Dr. Helen Caldicott, a leading anti-nuclear activist for 30 years and founder of the Nobel Prize-winning group Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Caldicott, whose latest book is "The New Nuclear Danger, George W. Bush's Military Industrial Complex," examines the peril she sees in the Bush administration's nuclear weapons policy.

Dr. Helen Caldicott: Well, it's clear that no "Star Wars" system would have obviated the September 11th attacks at all and will not obviate any nuclear attack upon America. I mean a terrorist can get in -- well one was arrested. apparently in the Chicago airport with plans to build a dirty radioactive bomb. You could get a nuclear weapon into Manhattan harbor in a container, in a ship or on a U-Haul trailer or whatever you want. Also a terrorist can attack any of the 103 nuclear power plants in America.

September 11th was used cleverly by this administration because of the nervousness and fear of the Congress and the American people in order to ram through their Star Wars projects, all their favorite nuclear weapons projects and write a new Nuclear Posture Review. They are already building and constructing new nuclear weapons as we speak, although the Cold War is over. They're violating most of the nuclear arms control treaties, which took years of consistent, diligent work to produce. The ABM treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty -- the cornerstone of all arms control treaties (was violated) on June 13th, the day after the 20th anniversary of the rally in which we got one million people in (New York City's) Central Park to oppose President Reagan's aggressive nuclear war policies and Star Wars policy. They're about to violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and start testing nuclear weapons again. We're in a very, very serious situation.

Between The Lines: What is the biggest danger confronting the world now, in terms of nuclear weapons? Certainly on the front pages of our papers over the last several months, you have the specter of a catastrophic nuclear conflict between the nations of India and Pakistan. Maybe you could put that in the context of other nuclear weapons issues that could bring us horrendous conflicts in the future.

Dr. Helen Caldicott: If India and Pakistan start blowing up hydrogen bombs, the early warning systems in the satellites, the infrared detectors will pick up those explosions and could easily get confused and think there are missiles being launched from Russia or visa versa, which could trigger a nuclear war between Russia and America.

Likewise, if in the Middle East when America goes into Iraq -- and I say "when" because that seems to be the case. The Department of Defense's Richard Perle and the Pentagon are talking about using nuclear weapons in Iraq, that could make the Russians very nervous and trigger by accident, not by design, the launch of their 2,500 hydrogen bombs, and of course they’re all targeted on the U.S.

Or, when America goes into Iraq, and they get very nervous and they start sending Scud missiles towards Israel -- Israel, the third largest nuclear power in the world with about 300 hydrogen bombs, has intimated it will respond with nuclear weapons -- and then you've got the same situation.

In other words, any hot spot in the world where a nuclear weapon could be used, could be the trigger or the fuse which could be lit to ignite the exchange of nuclear weapons between Russia and America and consequently nuclear winter. So in a way, I would say we're in a more dangerous situation by far than we were during the Reagan era.

Between The Lines: In this climate, do you see any stirrings of a new peace movement that will question -- if not confront and resist -- these new nuclear policies?

Dr. Helen Caldicott: I do. I was in America six weeks ago, for a month on a book tour. I was a bit scared to come speaking about the issues that are outlined in my book. I thought I might be lynched or I might end up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (U.S. military prison) because I have a green card; I'm an alien. However, the opposite occurred. I spoke to hundreds of thousands of people through the media on talk back shows and in audiences face to face; not one person disagreed with what I was saying. People rather expressed very profound concerns about what is happening, deep concerns. They were relieved that someone was openly saying what they felt. People were even calling from the audience, "How do we get rid of Bush?" So, my feeling quite strongly was that the polls are inaccurate and that there is a rising concern which hasn't expressed itself yet in the mobilization of millions of people, but I feel that's about to occur.

I've got three grandchildren; I'm a pediatrician. I'm so worried about the future for these children. As Star Wars proceeds and the threat to use nuclear weapons proceeds, I can't see that they have a future at all unless we, particularly the people of the United States, stand up and say, "Look here, you’re not to do this anymore, you’ve got to produce the abolition of nuclear weapons. "

To that end. I'm setting up an institute called the Nuclear Policy Research Institute in order to take on the Heritage Foundation and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney in the media to teach the American people what's actually going on. I think in five years that if the American people get going again, as they did in the 1980's, we actually can produce abolition of nuclear weapons and the end of the nuclear age and close down the 103 nuclear power plants in America that are all targets for terrorists now.

Dr. Helen Caldicott is author of "The New Nuclear Danger, George W. Bush's Military Industrial Complex," published by New Press. Contact Dr. Caldicott's Nuclear Policy Research Institute at (213) 225-5941 or visit their Web site at (

Find more related interviews and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at ( for week ending June 21, 2002.


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending June 21, 2002.

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