The most important question that I have about nuclear weapons is this: Why are most people so disinterested in policies concerning these weapons that have the capacity to destroy the human species and much of life on the planet?
It seems to me that there are two principal answers to this question: ignorance and apathy. Many people are ignorant about the threats posed by nuclear weapons. Among those who are concerned, many may believe there is little they can do to change the policies of the nuclear weapons states.
Nuclear weapons can be used in only a few ways.
First, to initiate a preemptive or preventive attack on an enemy in a most cowardly, immoral and illegal fashion, killing hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent people.
Second, to threaten to attack an enemy in order to have it bend to one’s will.
Third, to threaten retaliation against an enemy that would initiate an attack against one’s country. This is called nuclear deterrence. It’s a theory about human behavior; it’s not a foolproof means of protection. For example, it is not possible to retaliate against an enemy, like al Qaeda, that cannot be located.
A very important truth about nuclear weapons is that they do not and cannot provide physical protection to their possessors. They can make you believe you are safe, but this is of very little value in the event deterrence would fail – for any reason.
Another important truth about nuclear weapons is that they are the only weapons that could destroy the United States. If you love the United States, as so many of our politicians are piously pronouncing these days, you should be working for a nuclear weapons-free world.
It’s also true that you should be working for a nuclear weapons-free world if you love your children, your grandchildren and your fellow human beings – those who are alive today and those who will follow us on this earth.
Another truth – one that may not be so obvious – is that only the United States can lead the way to a nuclear weapons-free world. Without US leadership it won’t be possible. If the US continues to rely upon its nuclear arsenal for security, the Russians and the other nuclear weapons states will not disarm. The likely consequence is nuclear proliferation and greater nuclear danger.
During the past two administrations there has been very little political will to lead on nuclear disarmament. The Bush administration has made the US an obstacle to nuclear disarmament rather than a leader. In 2007, the US voted against all 15 nuclear disarmament measures to come before the UN. And the Clinton administration missed one of the great opportunities ever set before an American president to lead on nuclear disarmament.
But now we are in a time of transformational possibilities. We will soon have a new administration. Both major party presidential candidates say that they favor a world without nuclear weapons, but not even a dedicated new president can change US nuclear policy alone. The new president will need broad public support, and Congress will have to be pushed on nuclear policy issues. This is where a coalition of local organizations could play a major role.
We need to wake up America – before it is too late. There have been an incredible number of warnings from scientists, military leaders, clergy, Nobel laureates and other distinguished individuals that have not done the job. A Los Angeles coalition could set a great example for other cities across our nation and across the globe.
This is a world problem, but it is particularly an American problem. We led the way into the Nuclear Age by developing nuclear weapons, we used the first nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we tested more nuclear weapons than any other nation – and we must also lead the way out of the Nuclear Age.
What is needed is commitment, creativity, courage and coalition. It will also require persistence. This is a challenge at least as great, perhaps greater than that of global warming. So, rise up LA and help lead the nation.
At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation we have some tools that can be helpful.
First, we have an Appeal to the Next President for US leadership for a world free of nuclear weapons. It is a straight forward Appeal that educates while it advocates. It calls on the President to take seven steps: take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; make legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons; initiate a moratorium on research, development and production of new nuclear weapons; ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; create a verifiable treaty to control nuclear materials throughout the world; commence good faith negotiations on a treaty for the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons; and reallocate resources from the tens of billions currently spent on nuclear arms to meeting human needs throughout the world.
Second, we have a DVD called “Nuclear Weapons and the Human Future.” It is a great educational tool that can be used groups of all sizes.
Third, we have a monthly e-newsletter, The Sunflower, which provides regular updates on key nuclear policy issues.
We are in a time of transformational possibilities. If we seize the moment, we will have fulfilled our responsibilities to humanity and to the future. If we fail, the consequences will be graver than we can imagine.