Elizabeth Warren On Militarism: What she says and doesn’t say, has done and hasn’t done

Peace Advocate September 2023

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

by Kathie Malley-Morrison

Big news from Elizabeth Warren: She’s not going to take on Joe Biden for Democratic party candidate for the 2024 presidential election; instead, she’ll run for another six-year term as Senator from Massachusetts.  On her website Warren shares her plans for a new term if re-elected. What do these plans (originally announced in her Presidential campaign in 2019-2020), and her previous history in relation to these plans, tell us about what we can expect of her if indeed she wins another term?

What, for example, are Senator Warren’s plans regarding US militarism? Most important, what might we expect from her in relation to the most extreme form of militarism threatening us all today–specifically, the manufacture, testing, storing, and selling of nuclear weapons, and the multiplying threats from the nuclear-armed nations to use them? Moreover, what might we expect from her regarding the intensifying climate destruction–wrought not by a higher power but by fossil fuel and plastics profiteers—in the US and elsewhere. These questions are not unrelated.  Nuclear weapons and man-made climate chaos are increasingly seen as twin existential threats; certainly, a nuclear war or accident will have the deadliest effect on the climate and indeed life on earth ever imagined. Given her history on these issues, what can we expect from Senator Warren if she is re-elected?

Regarding militarism, Warren is likely to gain some approval from progressives through her acknowledgment that: “For nearly two decades, this country has been mired in a series of wars – conflicts that sap American strength.”  Indeed, on her internet re-election site, she provides a clickable link so that people who agree that “it’s long past time to take an honest look at the full costs and risks of our military spending and overseas actions” can sign on to her campaign. Many critics of American militarism have been warning about the dangers inherent in American militarism for years. Should they sign on to her campaign?

Warren gains further points with progressives for a realistic assessment of corruption in military spending. On that issue, she asserts: “It’s also time to cut our bloated defense budget and end the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy.” Also encouraging in Warren’s action plan is her acknowledgment that the “government needs to reinvest in diplomacy and recommit to multilateralism.” Fine goals these are for progressives: people over profits, negotiation over escalating existential threats.  Consistent with these goals, Warren extends another invitation on her site: “Add your name if you agree: We must reverse the trend of declining American diplomacy….” Great idea. If you are a supporter of promoting negotiation and diplomacy rather than escalating threats of annihilation, should you sign?

Before you decide, it might be useful to consider what Warren has actually done in relation to militarism and climate destruction rather than just what she says her plans are. For those of us who recognize the risks posed by nuclear arsenals, she has shown at least some signs that her actions will be consistent with her rhetoric. For example, in January, 2019, when Warren was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, she introduced legislation seeking to stop the US from launching a first-strike nuclear weapons attack on another country—an effort that was laudatory but unsuccessful. In 2022, she helped re-introduce that bill, which says, simply, “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first.”

Many nuclear disarmament advocates and other progressives view such a no-first-strike agreement as an important step towards reducing the likelihood of nuclear annihilation. On the other hand, as Sarah Lazare pointed out back when Warren was running for the Democratic nomination for president, “When it comes to U.S. militarism, Elizabeth Warren is no progressive”. For example, although Warren has sometimes voted for military de-escalation as in Yemen, she supported Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, using the common aggression-promoting rhetoric of “self-defense” to condone Israeli attacks on Palestine that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians as well as four Palestinian children playing on a beach.  Warren has also supported sanctions against Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and North Korea although sanctions are a form of war against the entire population, not a form of diplomacy.  Moreover, Warren’s signing up as a cosponsor of S.1039, the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2019, seems more concerned with the freedom of presidents to choose militaristic solutions without Congressional approval than an effort to end endless wars.

It is also rather discouraging to know that despite her repeated warnings about military spending and military contractors, Warren has been an avid supporter of defense contracts and military bases that benefit Massachusetts. As reported by Lazare, in a 2013 editorial Warren wrote that, “The work that goes on at bases and by defense contractors throughout the commonwealth is a great example of how investments in research and development can help ensure our nation’s military is ready and able to meet current and emerging needs while also supporting our state’s economy.”

Provoking great concern among her constituents, Warren’s current political campaign rhetoric continues, unfortunately and disturbingly, to be at odds with her anti-militarism rhetoric. Particularly since her return from her visit in Ukraine, she has expressed strong support for the deadly war there. For example, she asserted after her trip: “I thank President Joseph Biden, both parties and chambers of the Congress, and the American people for standing with Ukraine. U.S. support for Ukraine’s F-16s coalition is vital.” F-16s???? F-16 fighter jets that can be fitted with a B61 nuclear bomb??? These will help us un-mire the US from its series of wars? What’s wrong with this picture?

Senator Warren, many of your previous supporters have serious questions about you as a candidate who will promote diplomacy instead of endless war in these increasingly dangerous times. How can you justify your pro-war rhetoric in regard to the war in Ukraine? How does supporting defense contractors like Raytheon not feed “our bloated defense budget and “the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy”? Why are you not promoting diplomacy and multilateralism when it comes to Ukraine? Where else might you draw the line against diplomacy and multilateralism? People in Massachusetts—as well as other advocates of peace and diplomacy around the world— want to know.