New nuclear arms race, martial law both perilous


Perish the thought! You’re playing a perilous game!!

Verily that is the singular message addressed to both President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Donald J. Trump, the incoming president of the United States, regarding their recent statements that beclouded the holiday atmosphere: Duterte’s on removing the constitutional safeguards on declaring martial law, and Trump’s on reviving the nuclear arms race.

With national outrage still seething over the burial of the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, done at his behest, Duterte is stoking the fire. The 1987 Constitution, he suggested, must be amended to make it easier for the president to proclaim martial law: remove the need for assent by Congress, and for review by the Supreme Court of the factual basis for such.

On his part, Trump, who’ll soon be sworn in as US president, sent shock waves around the globe with a Twitter message that America must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” He raised the shock to the level of fear by his follow-up statement sent to a morning tv program, saying:

“Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them [rival nuclear powers] at every pass and outlast them all.”

In an editorial this week, the New York Times rebukes the incoming president, saying that he “is playing a risky game”: “(He) is casually hinting at a seismic shift in fundamental, complex policies about the role nuclear weapons play in the defense of the United States and its allies.”

For decades, the editorial adds, “American policy has been designed to stabilize relations between Russia and the United States and to deter other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. Careless taunts risk undoing that process.” It notes that Trump’s comments seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to President Vladimir Putin’s reported vow to his military commanders last week to strengthen Russia’s nuclear missiles. But the Russian president has clarified that he wasn’t looking for a new nuclear arms race. “Instead of engaging in macho competition,” the editorial advises the new American president to “seek a new dialogue with Russia on reducing nuclear dangers.”

During the Cold War era (1950s-1980s), the US and the then Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear arms race. A NYT report this week observes: “In the Cold War the (US) and the Soviet Union saw themselves as reacting to one another, straining to maintain a strategic balance that would deter war or at least make it survivable.” But it was far more dangerous, “with ever-growing stockpiles merely reflecting tit-for-tat advances.” For instance, the report says, “one country might develop weapons that could deliver (nuclear) warheads more rapidly, which would require the other side to shorten its response time and build redundant, retaliatory weapons.”

When Ronald Reagan became US president in 1981, the report says, he was “determined to win the Cold War in part by outstripping the Soviet Union on nuclear arms.” But in 1986 he “became the most enthusiastic proponent of nuclear disarmament” after realizing the risks of the race. He and Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet President, held a summit and sought total nuclear disarmament. Failing to agree on terms, they settled for an ongoing reduction of nuclear forces that reversed the arms race.

After 1986, the US and the Russian Federation (which replaced the unravelled Soviet Union) were able to reduce their nuclear arsenals this much: from 30,000 American warheads in the mid-1960s and 40,000 Russian warheads in the mid-1980s, to roughly 7,000 today. Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 2010, the two powers have agreed to limit their deployment of nuclear warheads to 1,550 each. (The US estimates that 1,100 deployed warheads would still leave them more than enough nuclear power to devastate any country that would dare to attack America or its allies.)

Besides the US and Russia, China, Britain, and France have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They have bound themselves to pursue nuclear disarmament in exchange for other countries’ promises not to acquire them. Thus a new arms race as Trump suggests “would also sap the credibility of Washington’s efforts to prevent the spread of these weapons,” the NYT editorial warns.

Of the five powers, only the US has used nuclear weapons in war. In World War II it dropped atomic bombs in Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities, after which Japan surrendered, ending the war. But the huge number of civilian casualties and the long-term impact of radiation have so horrified the world community as to condemn nuclear weapons and to demand that never again should they be used.

President Barack Obama had envisioned a nuclear-free world upon taking office in 2009, but he failed to achieve a total disarmament accord. Ironically, when he visited Hiroshima last July he expressed anguish over the devastation wrought by the American bombings in 1945 – but still didn’t apologize to the Japanese people.

In our country, none of the Marcoses has seen the need and propriety to apologize to the Filipino people for the atrocities, abuses and plunder that happened during the dictatorship. Thus, the insistent call of the people nationwide: “Never again to martial law!”

In this light, President Duterte will do well to listen, and abandon the idea of removing the constitutional safeguards on declaring martial law – and any plan to declare martial law.

In the spirit of the new year, let me take the liberty to play with his favorite appellation: Du30 (embroidered on his shirts). I wonder if he knows that in the past, print journalists used to signify the end of their news reports or dispatches by typing the number “30.”

President/Mayor Du30, please write – or rather Do 30 – on your martial-law ideas. And for good measure, please “Do 30” also on labor contractualization, on the VFA and EDCA, and on extrajudicial killings. That would certainly be something to look forward to in the coming year.

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Published in the Philippine Star
Dec. 31, 2016

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