by Jessica Corbett. Originally published in Common Dreams
“The United States urgently needs a leader who will have the courage to look at, think hard about, and speak openly about the dire perils posed by our country’s vast nuclear arsenal.”
A coalition of progressive groups on Tuesday delivered a petition with over 4,800 signatures to the presidential campaigns of President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden urging both 2020 candidates to incorporate “a vision for peace and serious nuclear disarmament” into their platforms.
“We need Joe Biden to pull us back from this new nuclear arms race, which can only undermine our security and starve the economy of critical public health needs.”
—Jonathan King, Massachusetts Peace Action
The organizations behind the petition include CodePink, WAND, WILPF, and Massachusetts Peace Action. CodePink co-director Jodie Evans noted in a statement that the delivery comes just days after the 75th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. government toward the end of the Second World War.
“Seventy-five years later, the United States remains one of only a handful of countries in the world which refuses to agree to a No First Use policy as our elected officials continue to pour billions into the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons,” Evans said. “Instead of funding the production of nuclear weapons and escalating tensions with China, we need to come together as a global community to address a real existential threat: climate change.”
After the U.S. bombed the pair of Japanese cities, experts from the Manhattan Project founded the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In January, the group set its symbolic Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, warning that “humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond.”
Alan Robock, distinguished professor of climate science at Rutgers University and a petition supporter, echoed that warning Tuesday. “Even a ‘limited’ nuclear war between nuclear-armed nations can cause untold local death and destruction, as well as global climate and agricultural catastrophes, because of the climate impacts of smoke from fires ignited by nuclear weapons,” Robock said.
Another petition backer, Max Tegmark, also issued a grave assessment. Tegmark, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor and Future of Life Institute president, said that “the greatest threat to U.S. national security is an accidental nuclear war, which has almost occurred multiple times. This risk will grow if we breach the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, triggering further mistrust and proliferation.”
Trump, throughout his first term, has been sharply criticized by peace advocates and nuclear weapons experts alike for continuing to develop the U.S. arsenal and tearing up both decades-old and more recent arms treaties that aim to curb the chances of a global catastrophe.
“President Trump is withdrawing from nuclear weapons treaties and agreements with Russia, talking about renewing nuclear weapons testing in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, and supporting spending $2 trillion of our tax dollars over the next 30 years upgrading our nuclear weapons triad,” said Jonathan King, co-chair of Massachusetts Peace Action. “We need Joe Biden to pull us back from this new nuclear arms race, which can only undermine our security and starve the economy of critical public health needs.”
The groups are urging Biden—and Trump—to “add strong nuclear disarmament planks” to their platforms, and provided a list of five key principles and policies to enact:
- No First Use of Nuclear Weapons;
- Promote the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—no new nuclear weapons testing;
- Cancel the provocative, destabilizing, and enormously expensive $2.0 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program;
- Lead with diplomacy in resolving international conflicts; and
- Designate national and international nuclear disarmament a central goal.
As Thermonuclear Monarchy author Elaine Scarry put it: “The United States urgently needs a leader who will have the courage to look at, think hard about, and speak openly about the dire perils posed by our country’s vast nuclear arsenal.”
The petition groups specifically urged Biden to include in his campaign one or more proponents of nuclear disarmament, such as former Secretary of Defense William Perry, Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and co-founder of Global Zero but now deceased; or General Lee Butler, the former head of Strategic Nuclear Command.
The coalition’s message to Biden says in part that “President Trump’s pulling out of the Iran treaty and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty has increased the danger of accidental or intentional nuclear exchanges. The investment in upgrading nuclear weapons is provocative and destabilizing, and a terrible misuse of national resources during this Covid-19 crisis.”
“One of the reasons that the richest country on earth faces the Covid-19 epidemic without adequate tests, masks, protective equipment, and treatments is the diversion of the nation’s tax dollars into ever more expensive and dangerous nuclear weapons, such as those proposed in the nuclear weapons modernization,” the message continues. “Cutting the funding of these unnecessary programs will free up funds desperately needed for healthcare, education, infrastructure and climate programs.”
Ira Helfand, co-president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, also acknowledged the ongoing pandemic Tuesday.
“Despite the enormous immediate crisis posed by Covid and the economy, we can not lose sight of the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons,” Hefland said. “The danger of nuclear war is great and growing. Joe Biden needs to have a comprehensive plan, such as the Back from the Brink platform, for dealing with this threat and eliminating these weapons before time runs out.”