Presidential First Use Conference Challenges Nuclear Monarchy Doctrine,

Three leading voices for nuclear disarmament: Elaine Scarry (intellectual), Sen. Ed Markey (political), and Sr. Megan Rice (moral)
Three leading voices for nuclear disarmament: Elaine Scarry (intellectual), Sen. Ed Markey (political), and Sr. Megan Rice (moral)

On Saturday, over 200 of us assembled at Harvard to hear an extraordinary array of experts dissect the doctrine of Presidential First Use of US nuclear weapons — and to develop strategies to undo it.

Harvard Prof. Elaine Scarry opened the conference by reviewing the disaster that awaits the human race if a single nuclear weapon were used today — let alone if the U.S. were to launch a nuclear war on an adversary.

Senator Ed Markey (audio) and Rep. Jim McGovern warned that nuclear doom is a very real possibility today, particularly with an unstable President provoking confrontation with North Korea and threatening to undo the Iran nuclear deal.  Both called for a renewed grassroots movement to force the government to focus on negotiation, not confrontation, and ensure that a rogue president cannot destroy the world in a single afternoon.  

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing next Tuesday on authority to launch nuclear weapons, at which Sen. Markey promised to press the issue strongly.

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Sen. Markey is the author of the “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act”, which would prevent the president from launching a nuclear first strike unless Congress had declared war first.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. McGovern, and Rep. Katherine Clark are supporters of the bill — but Reps. Mike Capuano, Joe Kennedy, Seth Moulton, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch, Bill Keating, and Richard Neal have so far declined to support it.  Please write your member of Congress and ask them to sign on to this critical bill!

Former Defense Secretary William Perry recounted his successful negotiations with North Korea in 1999 and argued that our confrontation with that country can and should be settled peacefully.  Former missile launch officer Bruce Blair described the mental atmosphere in the military in which officers would be expected to obey a presidential order — even one to destroy the world.

Constitutional law scholars Bruce AckermanRosa Brooks, and John Burroughs analyzed whether the arrangement that allows the President to launch a nuclear war unilaterally by pressing a “Red Button” is constitutional.

Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson revealed the racism implicit in the world’s nuclear architecture, which allows white-dominated powers to disregard the humanity of other nations.  Philosopher Sissela Bok and analyst Kennette Benedict offered sober hope that a new nuclear arms race, fueled by $1.7 trillion of new nuclear weapons development by the U.S. alone, can be reversed if enough people are awakened.  The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a new report showing that most other nuclear weapon states have more controls than the US on a decision to launch a nuclear weapon. Physicist Zia Mian and organizer Joseph Gerson called for a re-awakening of the nuclear disarmament or nuclear freeze movement.

The conference was covered by the AP and the Harvard Crimson.

(The photo shows three leading voices for nuclear disarmament: Elaine Scarry (intellectual), Sen. Ed Markey (political), and Sr. Megan Rice (moral), at the conference just before Sen. Markey’s speech.)

Take ActionThe conference made the issues clear.  Click the link on any of the speakers’ names to see video of their talk.  Now, it’s up to all of us to generate grassroots political pressure! Please fill in this quick survey for ideas about what you can do!