Will the U.S. Ever Give Up Its Nukes?

Beatrice Fihn, the director of the ICAN, and former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry join Mehdi Hasan to discuss America’s nuclear arsenal.

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This week, Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean head of state, raising the prospect that the repressive dictatorship might finally take steps toward dismantling its nuclear program. But there’s something missing from this whole conversation about “disarmament” and “denuclearization”: the fact that the United States itself is sitting on the world’s most powerful stockpile of nuclear weapons. Call it the nuclear elephant in the room: U.S. politicians are petrified by North Korea’s nukes, obsessed over Iran’s hypothetical nukes — but what about the very real and present danger posed to all of humanity by America’s 6,800 nuclear warheads? And what about the fact that those nukes — which could destroy the world several times over — could be launched in a matter of minutes, without congressional authorization or Pentagon approval? Beatrice Fihn, the director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and William J. Perry, secretary of defense under President Clinton, join Mehdi Hasan to discuss the nuclear threat closer to home.

Beatrice Finh: At some point, the United States also has to recognize that they have nuclear weapons. Their nuclear weapons aren’t less dangerous than North Korean nuclear weapons.

Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan. Welcome to Deconstructed.

What a week. History was made. The little rocket man and the mentally deranged dotard finally kissed and made up — an embrace in Singapore and a promise of peace.

President Donald J. Trump: I want to thank Chairman Kim for taking the first bold step towards a bright new future for his people.

DJT: Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator. Loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.

Greta Van Susteren: But he’s starved them, he’s been brutal to them. He still loves his people?

DJT: Look, he’s doing what he’s seen done, I mean, if you look at it.

MH: Look, to be fair, if we look past the two megalomaniacs with freakish hairstyles at the center of all this, there’s actually been lots of (welcome) talk of “denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula; of Kim Jong Un getting rid of his nuclear arsenal — that’s around 60 nuclear warheads, by the way. But there’s some missing from this whole conversation about disarmament and denuclearization: the fact that the United States itself is sitting on the world’s most powerful stockpile of nuclear weapons. When will we be rid of them?

William Perry: We have very clearly taken the position that nuclear weapons are vital to our security, and given that we believe that, and see that these other countries do believe that at as well, that puts us in a very poor position to be lecturing other people on nuclear weapons. We should lead by example.

MH: This week, I’ll speak to a former U.S. defense secretary and a Nobel Peace laureate about their campaigns to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

But what I really want to ask on today’s show is: What about America’s nukes? And, perhaps even more importantly, what about the man who now has to the power to launch them?

[Musical interlude.]

You might say it’s absurd to compare the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile with, say, North Korea’s. The United States, after all, is a liberal democracy, whereas the DPRK is a brutal, totalitarian, one-party state.

The problem, of course, with that argument is that the only country in human history to have ever used nuclear weapons to incinerate its enemies en masse happens to be a liberal democracy, and that liberal democracy happens to be the United States of America.

President Harry J. Truman: A short time ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy.

Reporter: Hiroshima, the first city in history to be atom-bombed into oblivion.

MH: On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Of course, that was only the first.

Reporter: Exactly three days after Hiroshima, a B-29 set out for Nagasaki.

MH: Hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in those two strikes. A nuclear holocaust, inflicted from Washington D.C.

Reporter: The bomb was exploded above the city, and, in the towering mushroom, Japan could read its doom.

MH: Now you might say, “Well that was more than 70 years ago, it’s not as if they’ve nuked anyone since.” True, but it’s not like they haven’t come close either: we all know about the Cold War close calls, the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example.

And then there are the episodes we hardly ever mention: you want to talk about North Korean nukes? Well, during the Korean War in the early 1950s, legendary U.S. General Douglas MacArthur was desperate to drop “between 30 and 50 atomic bombs” on the Korean peninsula and spread “a belt of radioactive cobalt.”

Now, admittedly, things have improved on the nuclear front over the decades, but it’s still always amazed me how the U.S. has set itself up as the world’s nuclear policeman.

President George H.W. Bush: If we and the Soviet leaders take the right steps, we can dramatically shrink the arsenal of the world’s nuclear weapons.

MH: The end of the Cold War saw U.S. presidents like George H.W. Bush talk a good game on reducing nuclear arsenals — and, let’s be clear, there were reductions.

But it wasn’t always one-way traffic, and the actions of U.S. administrations on nuclear disarmament haven’t always matched the rhetoric. Take Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama:

President Barack Obama: So today, I state clearly and with conviction: America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. [audience cheers and applauds.]

MH: That was Obama just four months after becoming president in 2009; the same Obama who then put the U.S. on course to spend around $1 trillion upgrading its nuclear arsenal over the next three decades, including new funding for a new class of ballistic missile submarine, a new stealth bomber and a new nuclear-armed cruise missile. Thanks, Barack!

And since January 2017, the debate over that expanded and modernized arsenal has taken a new and ominous turn. Because these are not now just the world’s worst weapons, but they’re now in the hands of perhaps the world’s most reckless and unstable leader. And no, I’m not talking about Kim.

DJT: You don’t want to say, “Take everything off the table.” You’re a bad negotiator, if you do that.

Chris Matthews: Just nuclear.

DJT: Look, nuclear should be off the table. But will there be a time when it could be used? Possibly.

Joe Scarborough: Three times, he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked. At one point: “If we had them, then why can’t we use them.”

MH: If Donald J. Trump having his finger on the nuclear button — and demanding a tenfold increase in U.S. nukes, by the way! — doesn’t make you want to think again about the dangers of a U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, about the huge threat that U.S. nuclear bombs pose to world peace and to the future of all of humanity, then nothing will.

At the beginning of this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists suggested the world had moved closer to an existential catastrophe, by moving their famous, symbolic Doomsday Clock to two minutes away from midnight — a 30-second jump from last year and the closest the planet has been to midnight since 1953. Oh, and they didn’t make any bones about why they did it:

Rachel Bronson: We considered at length the lack of predictability in how the United States is thinking about the future and future use of its own nuclear weapons — an unpredictability that is embodied in statements and tweets by the president of the United States.

MH: Yet just a few weeks later, the Trump administration released a new Nuclear Posture Review document, which basically lowers the bar for nuclear war — yeah, lowers it — in two key ways.

Number one, for the first time, the Trump administration wants the United States to be able to retaliate with a nuclear strike against a non-nuclear, and perhaps even non-military attack, on U.S. infrastructure — even a cyber attack, perhaps. Yeah, a nuclear strike that could kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Number two, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review document calls for the development of a new generation of so-called low-yield nuclear weapons. And guess what they do? They make it easier to launch a nuclear war because they’re low-yield — they only kill a few hundred thousand, not a few million; they’re for the battlefield, not for wiping out entire cities. These low-yield nukes, in the words of one retired senior army officer, could provide Trump and his successors with a “kind of gateway drug to nuclear war”.

And yet, despite all that, this is still a subject that gets so little attention. When are our politicians, when are the folks on cable news, going to start talking about any of this? It’s the nuclear elephant in the room. We’re petrified by North Korea’s nukes; we obsess over Iran’s hypothetical nukes; we worry about the prospect of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan; we don’t like the idea of Vladimir Putin having nukes. But what about the very real and present danger posed to all of humanity by America’s 6,500 nuclear warheads? And what about the fact that those nukes, which could destroy the world several times over, make this planet uninhabitable, could be launched in a matter of minutes, without congressional approval or Pentagon authorization, by a president whose name is Donald J. Trump?

[Musical interlude.]

MH: My first guest today is a former U.S. Secretary of Defense. William Perry ran the Pentagon under Bill Clinton; he also served in Jimmy Carter’s Pentagon during the Cold War. He’s one of the few former U.S. officials to have negotiated with North Korea and, since leaving office he’s actually committed himself to campaigning against the nuclear weapons that he was once in charge of.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: William Perry, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

WP: I’m happy to.

MH: It’s more than ten years since you and former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn wrote your now-famous joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, headlined “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” More than a decade later, not only do you have North Korea now as a ninth country to possess nukes, but also, your own country, the United States, is modernizing and expanding its nuclear arsenal, building a new generation of low yield nukes. Is the world, including the United States, heading in the wrong direction on nuclear weapons in your view?

WP: Yes, it is. We’re actually going backwards now.

For a few years after we wrote our op-ed, there was a significant improvement — maybe three or four years. But for the last six or seven years, we’ve been going in exactly the wrong direction.

MH: Is there a good reason for the United States to still possess, in your view, in 2018, a stockpile of around, I think, 6,500 nuclear warheads, when, according to a new study out this week, even 100 nukes would be enough to destroy the entire planet and end the human race?

WP: The numbers of nuclear weapons we have and that Russia has are substantial overkill, maybe by a factor of 100. And yet, both we and Russia are rebuilding the Cold War nuclear arsenal now, at enormous cost and great danger.

MH: Do you think their risk of accidentally going to nuclear war is increased given you have a personality like Donald J. Trump, now, with his finger on the button? He’s not exactly the most reliable or sober of figures when it comes to such issues.

WP: Actually, my concern about either the United States or Russia or accidentally start a war is really irrespective of who the president is. The system itself is set up so that it is possible for mistakes to be made that they could go all the way to a war.

For example, we still have the possibility of a false alarm setting off a nuclear war. We had three of those during the Cold War, and in each case, we managed to stop just before the decision to launch. But it was a very close call in at least one of those cases. That could have happened even with a president with a good temperament and a good background.

MH: Do you think that the United States possessing this massive stockpile of warheads and being the only country in history to actually use nuclear weapons makes it difficult for other countries, not just Russia, but countries like North Korea or Iran, to take seriously lectures from U.S. presidents about the need for nuclear disarmament, about the threat posed by nuclear weapons? Some would say it’s hypocritical for the U.S. to be trying to be the nuclear policeman. Where do you stand on that?

WP: Well, we have very clearly taken the position that nuclear weapons are vital to our security. And given that we believe that, it’s easy for other countries to believe that as well. So, no, it puts us in a very poor position to be lecturing other people on nuclear weapons. We should lead by example.

MH: And on North Korea, you were one of the few former senior U.S. officials to meet and negotiate with North Korean officials back in 1999, I believe, almost a decade ago, shortly after you were Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, you went to Pyongyang to talk denuclearization and we know how that worked out.

Earlier this year you said you had “a high degree of skepticism that North Korea will really negotiate away the nuclear arsenal it now has,” because you said they see it as a form of regime survival.

Did anything you saw or heard earlier this week in Singapore with that historic meeting between Kim and Donald Trump, did anything change your mind? Do you think North Korea is now about to give up its nukes as Trump claims?

WP: Well, I was happy for the meeting. I was happy to see the leaders talking to each other instead of shouting insults at each other, because in the shouting insult mode, that increases the likelihood of some kind of blundering into a war. So we’re not in that mode right now of blundering into a war, but there’s nothing that was said at the meeting in Singapore that leads me to believe we’ve made substantial progress towards denuclearization.

MH: What do you think would have to happen to make that kind of substantial progress?

WP: There has to be an explicit process agreed upon and started for actually dismantling the nuclear weapons. So, I’m not critical of the Singapore meeting; I think it was a useful step. But we’re very far short of having a process under way for actually seeing the denuclearization begin.

MH: And when Donald Trump says in a tweet upon his return that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, that’s just not true, is it? That’s a lie.

WP: No, it’s not true. I agree with him that the threat is — the probability of it is reduced, that North Korea might use their nuclear weapons, but they still can and they still might.

MH: When it comes to nuclear weapons, the U.S. president — and a lot of people don’t realize this in the United States — the U.S. president is basically a dictator. He can fire them in a matter of minutes and no defense secretary, no general can stop him. Congress has no say. Do you think the law should be changed so that the president has to get explicit congressional approval before giving the order to launch a nuclear first strike?

WP: Yes, I do. I want to be clear that I think that is the case when it is a first strike of nuclear weapons. It is a different situation if we’ve been attacked by nuclear weapons.

MH: Yes. But on a first strike, you think that Congress should have a say, the president shouldn’t be able to do it on his own?

WP: I do believe so, yes. The president should not be able to do it on his own, regardless of who the president is.

MH: How did you end up at this place where you, a former defense secretary of the United States of America, is campaigning against nuclear weapons? That’s kind of unusual, I think it’s fair to say.

WP: I suppose it’s because I know so much about them. The reason I think people are not much concerned about nuclear weapons is really because of their lack of knowledge of what the dangers really are. I understand fully what the dangers are, and what I’m doing is trying to acquaint other people with those dangers. Whatever benefits we may get from them, in my mind, are erased by the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe so great that it ends our civilization.

MH: Talking of ending our civilization: The symbolic Doomsday Clock, this year, stands at two minutes to midnight, signaling the end of the world might be near. How close do you think our world is to a nuclear apocalypse?

WP: I think we’re very close to some sort of a nuclear catastrophe. I think it’s greater now than during the Cold War.

MH: Oh, wow.

WP: They’re different kinds of catastrophes, the most serious one being a general exchange between the United States and Russia. I don’t think that’s highly likely at all. But the other possibility is, which is a nuclear terror attack, regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, for example, I put those as reasonably high probability. And in the case of the India-Pakistan, we’re not talking about a small nuclear war, we’re talking about each of those countries has well over 100 nuclear weapons. So, this could be quite a catastrophic war.

MH: One last question: What do you think the chances are of a nuclear weapons-free world in our lifetimes?

WP: Not in my lifetime. We’re very far from that right now. I believe we’ve moved backwards in the last ten years in regard to that.

But what we can focus on is reducing the number of nuclear weapons, and more importantly, taking the actions that the lower the danger of one of these accidents or catastrophes happening. People don’t understand the danger, and because they don’t understand the danger we don’t have the political will to take those actions.

MH: William Perry, thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

WP: You’re very welcome.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That was former defense secretary William Perry. He says that it’s just not realistic to believe that the United States and Russia and others will give up all their nuclear weapons anytime soon.

My next guest, though, has devoted her career to trying to make sure that happens. Beatrice Finh is the director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: Beatrice Finh, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

BF: Thank you very much for having me.

MH: Beatrice, you’ve said in the past that “any nuclear weapon, anywhere, possessed by any nation, is an unacceptable threat to all nations.” So how big a threat to world peace to all nations do you think America’s stockpile of 6,500 nuclear weapons is? Because the United States seems to give itself a pass when it comes to nukes.

BF: This exactly the problem. We seem to have different rules for different countries. Some countries’ nuclear weapons are dangerous, where others are just reasonable and sane. But there are no reasonable and sane nuclear weapons. Each one of the nuclear weapons that exists today is a potential humanitarian disaster, and not just because they will be intentionally used, but also in case it’s an accident or a misunderstanding. So the more nuclear weapons we have, the more dangerous they are.

MH: And not just more, but also who are the people in charge of them? You have rather bluntly, and perhaps undiplomatically, called Donald Trump a moron on Twitter which I’m sure many people wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. Do you think he understands the sheer destructive power of nuclear weapons? Or is it all a game to him?

BF: We don’t know, really, if he knows anything about nuclear weapons. Some of his comments from the summit in Singapore shows that he perhaps doesn’t. We shouldn’t have these weapons that just could end the worlds at the whims of a leader. No one should have that responsibility.

MH: You said in the past you worry about “reckless leaders who could get us all killed.” Were you thinking of the U.S. president when you said that?

BF: One of them! Of course, there are nine countries that have nuclear weapons, and obviously the United States has most of them, together with Russia. And he can use them on his own authorization. No one can stop him if he wants to use them. That’s really dangerous for someone who is quite unpredictable, seems to take offense.

I’m just thinking about the false alarm in Hawaii, for example.

NBC News Reporter: The alert that sent a wave of fear across Hawaii was sent by an employee who thought the threat was real.

BF: What would he have done if that false alarm had gone to him? Would he have immediately authorized the use of nuclear weapons? Would he have gone to war with North Korea?

MH: So we don’t have faith in Donald Trump necessarily to do the right thing or the correct thing when it comes to nukes, but surely as someone who campaigned for the abolition of nuclear weapons, you must have welcomed the summit in Singapore on Tuesday morning. Trump and Kim talking denuclearization might only be a first shaky step in a very long process, but it’s a good first step, isn’t it? No matter how much we may justifiably lack faith in both Trump and Kim.

BF: Absolutely. I think that anything that isn’t threatening to start nuclear war is an improvement. Then, of course, we still haven’t solved some of the outstanding problems, and I hope that there won’t be a big backlash when we get into the detailed negotiations and realize that they are still quite far apart with each other on what denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means.

And, at some point, the United States also has to recognize that they have nuclear weapons. Their nuclear weapons aren’t less dangerous than North Korean nuclear weapons.

MH: That’s very true. One of the main goals of your organization, ICAN, the international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons is to lobby the nations of the world to sign up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Explain what that treaty does and why you think it’s so important.

BF: This treaty tries to treat nuclear weapons the same as we’ve treated other weapons of mass destruction, and other weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons. But we kind of forgot to ban nuclear weapons before, and we almost had like an apartheid regime in nuclear weapons law: five countries were allowed to have them, where the rest of the world weren’t. We had different laws for different countries, and that does not work long-term. It just doesn’t — it’s not sustainable.

MH: Well, now we have nine nuclear weapons states.

BF: Exactly, and now, you know, we saw signs of almost North Korea being welcomed into the club, which I think is very dangerous.

So, this treaty is trying to change that. It prohibits nuclear weapons for everyone.

MH: But here’s the thing: You say this treaty bans nuclear weapons for everyone, but how can it actually do that, in reality, when none of the nuclear-armed states have shown any kind of support for that treaty? In fact, the United States, like Russia, has shown explicit opposition to the treaty.

BF: Yeah, it doesn’t apply to them unless they sign it, of course. But, you know, the good thing with international law is that it has an impact also on the states that haven’t signed it. The United States, Russia, China haven’t signed the land mines treaty, yet they don’t use land mines anymore. The United States has even said that we will follow — 20 years after the treaty was in place. So it ensures that they do have an impact, these treaties, even if not all states sign on to them.

MH: How many countries have signed the treaty so far?

BF: 59.

MH: In over how long a period of time?

BF: Six, seven months.

MH: Wow.

BF: So, we’re working on getting it up. Not so fast work.

MH: That’s impressive.

BF: Yeah! It’s good work.

MH: It’s hard to get countries to sign up for anything, especially no more war or nuclear war.

And, do you think the Nuclear Posture Review document that the Trump administration published earlier this year has lowered the bar for nuclear war? Has it made it easier, in your view, for Trump to deploy so-called low-yield nuclear weapons?

BF: Yes, I mean these weapons are not in operation yet, because they commissioned them now and they’re going to start investing in producing these weapons. But they want to develop a new weapon that is smaller and what they call “more useable,” which will be more likely to be used —

MH: More useable, that’s scary.

BF: — in nuclear war. And somehow, that would deter war.

But it doesn’t really work like that. I mean, if Russia would use a small nuclear weapon on the United States, would the United States back off? And when a missile comes flying, how do you know it’s low-yield or not? I mean, it doesn’t make any sense.

MH: That’s a very good point.

BF: And they also lower the policy for when they can use nuclear weapons. Like, in response to a cyber attack. It’s extremely dangerous, and it does increase the likelihood that the nuclear weapons will be used.

MH: What do you say to critics who say that nuclear weapons, for all their dangers and all their downsides, have helped maintain balance and order in the world, they have helped prevent small wars from becoming big wars? You know, mutually assured destruction and all the rest of that.

BF: It’s really hard to prove. You can debate this for a long time, of course. It’s an academic theory.

But what is reality is that we know what happens when nuclear weapons are used. And, of course, you know deterrence might work in some cases. I mean, I could bury land mines in my garden and say it deters burglars. It doesn’t make it a good idea. Because when it fails, it fails really, really badly.

MH: And what about those of your critics who say, “Look your goals are noble, they’re laudable but that you’re naive. It’s just never going to happen. The complete elimination of nuclear weapons in a world as divided and conflicted as this one is just a fantasy.”

BF: Well, we’ve done huge things, huge accomplishments in the world. I mean we developed human rights. We ended slavery. Women got the right to vote. We make progress as a world community. There were things that we did 50 years ago that are unacceptable today.

I mean just — I mean we like to think about it as smoking. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that people just smoked inside: in offices, in restaurants. And then we banned it inside. We didn’t make all the smokers stop immediately, but we banned it inside. And now, just very quickly afterward, it would seem completely unacceptable. Can you imagine if we did that? We don’t do that anymore.

It can be the same with nuclear weapons. We used to have chemical weapons.

MH: On that note, since you’ve raised the issue of smoking and you’ve raised the issue of chemical weapons, both things have been delegitimized, I think is what you’re saying. We now look at smoking as something horrific, especially around children, indoors, et cetera. We look at chemical weapons in the field of warfare as something which is, you know, banned, it’s beyond the pale and it’s evil.

How do we get people, how practically do we get people, governments, the world to see nuclear weapons as something equally evil, immoral, beyond the pale?

BF: Well, we get them to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It starts with the law.

But it is also a cultural shift. And, for us, I mean we promoted this treaty and we chose this as a strategy, because we think that a treaty and the law is a really also effective way of changing the culture — hacking the culture in a way. We need to change perception about this weapon from something that is associated with power and prestige to something that is horrific and nobody wants to be connected to.

MH: If you had to predict which of the nine nuclear states will be the first to join up to your Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which one do you think it would be?

BF: I think we could get North Korea, if it’s a part of, you know, South Korea joining it and part of a peace deal.

MH: It’s kind of depressing that I say nine, and you say North Korea and not France or the U.K. or any of the Western democracies.

BF: Yeah! Well I think, I mean, I think France might be the last one. They really love their nuclear weapons.

MH: It gives them a prestige and status that they feel they’ve lost.

BF: The U.K. –

MH: So does the U.K.

BF: – could join it. We have we have very strong public opinion in the U.K. We have a Scottish national context where they don’t want the nuclear weapons there. And there is no other place for U.K. to put it.

MH: And, as an opposition leader in the U.K., Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labor Party who is very anti-nuclear.

BF: Absolutely. And I think the United States does not need nuclear weapons. It is the biggest military power in the world. There is no need to have these weapons for the United States.

MH: Can I ask a personal question? How did you end up as director of ICAN, this campaign to ban nuclear weapons, dedicating your career, your life, to this pretty unique, utopian goal of ridding the world of nukes? How did that happen?

BF: You know, I was really into climate change, but that felt really difficult. So this plan felt a little bit easier.

MH: [Laughs.] That’s how bad the climate change challenge is if you’d rather try to ban nukes. OK.

BF: For me, it was kind of an accident to get into this. I was interested in international issues and someone asked me if I want to do an internship in nuclear weapons. I was like, “Eh! Nuclear weapons? They still exist?”

But I got really into it when I came to see it as more of a — it’s an issue of justice and equality rather than a specific weapon. This is an oppression method. A small group of states have just taken the power to oppress the rest of the world because they have a bigger bomb, and they are allowed to have it and nobody else has it. So for us, it’s much like ending apartheid, ending slavery, having women have the right to vote. It is a fight for equality and justice.

MH: That is a very interesting way to present it. I’ve never heard it presented like that before.

In your Nobel Prize acceptance speech last year, you said that: “We have avoided nuclear war, not through prudent leadership, but good fortune. Sooner or later, if we fail to act, our luck will run out.” How much luck do you think we have left?

BF: You know, we talk about limits: You can walk a tightrope safely for a few minutes but perhaps not for 75 years. At some point, given the amount of accidents and near misses and just statistics, there is a risk that they will be used. The risk is higher than zero. Always. It means that given enough time, they will be used. We don’t know when. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in the next five years; but if we keep them forever, they will be used.

MH: Beatrice Finh, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

BF: Thank you very much.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That was Beatrice Finh, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and is distributed by Panoply.

Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. Leital Molad is our executive producer.

Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every Friday. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, do email us at podcasts@theintercept.com.

Thanks so much! See you next week.

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