Another Nuclear Arms Race is the Last Thing the US Needs
(August 1, 2019) — The United States has built a defense that deforms the society it’s trying to defend. And local government could be the key to changing this equation, because politicians in a democratic republic are rattled by the power of public opinion, which can be expressed in local governmental bodies.
What do I mean by a defense that deforms our democratic republic? Let’s take a look at President Donald Trump’s stance on nuclear security. The administration has chosen to classify the number of nuclear weapons the United States has and the number of nuclear warheads dismantled in 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has stated.
One doesn’t need a degree in nuclear physics to know how dangerous nuclear weapons are. National security luminaries like former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell and former Defense Secretary William Perry all support the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Perry still remembers a time when he served as assistant Secretary of Defense under Harold Brown (President Jimmy Carter’s Defense Secretary) when a false alarm almost started a nuclear exchange between the US and Soviet Russia, as destructive technologies are subject to human error like false alarms.
Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information Project said that the administration’s move takes pressure off of nuclear armed states to engage in arms control efforts. The Trump Administration has called for arms control talks between our country, China, and Russia.
This is a nice thought, but the administration’s actions make this hard for diplomats to talk about arms control because the actions make our country look secretive. Openness is essential for diplomacy and arms control. It gives diplomats the opportunity to honestly talk and it eliminates fear mongering and rumors.
Trump has also promised to accelerate and win an arms race with China and Russia when geo-political tensions are rising. Local governments could serve as a pressure point for the federal government to engage in arms control efforts. The nuclear freeze movement of the 1970s and 1980s should serve as a template. It’s an example of the power of individual citizens, advocacy organizations and local government combined.
Arms control researcher Randall Forsberg started the Nuclear Freeze Movement in the mid-1970s. The movement’s purpose was to stop a drift toward nuclear war through a United States/Soviet Russia agreement to stop the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. Within a few years, nuclear freeze became a mass movement all over the US.
In the early years, Forsberg talked about the idea of a freeze with peace groups and anyone else who would listen. She drafted a paper of the movement’s goals called “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race.” The organizers in the movement started locally and went to organizations they belonged to for an endorsement of their ideas and also to city councils, town halls and state legislatures.
This movement helped create a lot of resistance in the American public to the nuclear arms race. In the fall of 1982, the nuclear freeze was on the ballot in 10 states and 37 cities and counties around the country. The movement had a victory in nine states and all but three localities. By 1983, the freeze had been endorsed by 370 city councils, 70 town councils and one or more houses of 23 state legislators. The action on the local level created awareness on what the movement was about.
President Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981 talking of a nuclear weapons buildup and the possibility of winning a nuclear war. Feeling the pressure from the freeze movement, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) announced they would introduce a freeze resolution in congress in 1982. The polls showed the American people supported the freeze.
The Nuclear Freeze Movement was successful in that the Reagan Administration toned down its nuclear rhetoric. President Reagan, who had opposed every arms control agreement in both Democratic and Republican administrations, later said that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
In 1983, as anti-nuclear arms proposals swept across the US and Europe, he told Secretary of State George Schultz that if the issue became more hot he would have to negotiate with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov on the elimination of nuclear weapons. When reformer Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of Soviet Russia, Reagan negotiated the Intermediate-Nuclear Range Forces Treaty. The treaty represented a victory for freeze activists.
A new nuclear freeze movement must emerge to confront the challenges that Trump-style foreign policy means to arms control efforts. The movement would work for a defense based around arms control which is consistent with the ideals of a democratic republic. It could start in our municipalities and spread around the country.
Jason Sibert worked for the Suburban Journals in the St. Louis area for over a decade and is currently executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis, Mo. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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