LTE to Superior City Council

Editor’s note:

Grandmothers for Peace and Veterans for Peace in Duluth-Superior are working to get the Superior City Council to pass a resolution supporting the U.S. signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The following letter of support for this effort was received from Dr. Ira Helfand, an internationally recognized expert and advocate for abolishing nuclear weapons.

Dr Helfand’s letter is an excellent, concise explanation of why citizens everywhere should be asking their local elected officials support this important treaty by passing local advisory resolutions.

-Phil Anderson

Dear Councilors,

I am writing to ask your support for a resolution in support of the Back from the Brink campaign’s call for the U.S. to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war ( ). More than 60 municipalities around the country, including Milwaukee County, Minneapolis and St. Paul have adopted such resolutions and the time could not be more urgent for Superior to lend its voice to this effort. Here is a link to the text of the resolution that St. Paul recently adopted:RES 22-1522. (click on “Text” to read the document).

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, experts like former Defense Secretary William Perry were warning us that we are closer to nuclear war today than we were during the worst moments of the Cold War. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have set their iconic Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to nuclear war. Now the fighting in Ukraine and the repeated nuclear threats made by President Putin have brought us to the very brink of a global catastrophe.

Recent studies have underlined the magnitude of the destruction that nuclear weapons can cause. A single 100 Kiloton nuclear bomb detonated over the capital of any of the nuclear armed states would kill hundreds of thousands of people and totally overwhelm first responders and emergency medical systems. A large scale war between Russia and the US would kill hundreds of millions of people in the first half hour, and destroy the entire economic infrastructure of both countries. There would be no internet or electric grid, no food distribution system, no public health system. In both countries, the vast majority of people who survived the initial bombing would also die in the following months, from starvation, exposure, radiation poisoning and epidemic disease.

But these are only the direct effects. A war between the US and Russia would put 150 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere blocking out the sun and dropping temperatures across the globe an average of 180F. In the interior of North America and Eurasia, temperatures would drop 45 to 500. That is colder than the coldest moment of the last ice age. Under these conditions the ecosystems which have developed since the end of the last ice age would collapse, food production would stop and the vast majority of the human race –at least 5 billion people – would starve. We might become extinct as a species.

This is not the story line of a bad science fiction movie. This is what is going to happen to us if we do not eliminate nuclear weapons.

Yet there is almost no public attention to this issue. During the Cold War, the urgent need to prevent nuclear war was on the top of everyone’s list of problems facing the world; today it is barely acknowledged. Rather than working to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, all nine nuclear weapons states, including the US, have ambitious plans to enhance their nuclear arsenals. These plans are driven in no small part by the merchants of death, who manufacture these weapons.

By passing a resolution Superior would join the national Back from the Brink  campaign to bring about fundamental change in US nuclear policy. The campaign does not call for unilateral US nuclear disarmament. It calls for the US to initiate negotiations with the other 8 nuclear armed states for a verifiable, enforceable, timebound agreement to eliminate their remaining 13,000 nuclear warhead so they can all join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It also calls on the US to adopt four common sense policies to reduce the danger of nuclear war while these negotiations proceed. It is supported by more than 300 local elected officials across the country, by 60 municipalities including, in addition to Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Portland,Chicago and Honolulu, and by the California and Oregon state legislatures, the New Jersey Assembly and the Maine Senate.

We have not survived the nuclear weapons era so far because of wise leadership, or sound military doctrine, or infallible technology. We are still here today because, as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara famously declared, “We lucked out…it was luck that prevented nuclear war.”  It is unreasonable to assume that our luck will hold indefinitely. If these weapons are not removed, then sooner or later, and perhaps it will be sooner, they will be used by design, accident or miscalculation.

Some may feel that this is a national issue, and not something that the City Council should concern itself with. I would urge them to reconsider. The Council’s highest responsibility is to protect the citizens of Superior. The federal government is clearly failing to address adequately this existential threat. The Council must do what it can to prevent this looming disaster.


Dr. Ira Helfand, MD


Past President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the recipient of The 1985 Nobel Peace Prize


Member, International Steering Group, ICAN, the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

Co-Founder and Past President, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the US affiliate of IPPNW


Member, Steering Committee, Back from the Brink