The Ongoing Fight for Nuclear Disarmament

Peace Advocate May 2021

Protest by Peaceworks KC at the nuclear bomb parts plant under construction. Eric Bowers photo

by Jerald Ross, Sofia Wolman, & Steve Gallant

While countless other life and death issues of peace and justice are of critical importance, nuclear weapons still remain an existential threat to peace and all life. 

After a near death experience under the Trump administration (no pun intended), there is new hope for nuclear arms control. Meanwhile, national and international pressure is rising to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons once and for all — through challenging proposed investments in modernization, calling for No First Use, and building support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Arms Control

Soon after assuming office in January, President Biden pushed ahead with renewal of the New Start Treaty with Russia. This was one of the last diplomatic restraints on US and Russian nuclear arsenals, and its five-year extension provides verifiable limits on US and Russian ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.  There has been slower progress, however, with US re-entry into the JCPOA — the 6-party agreement with Iran to forestall their development of nuclear weapons.  Although the talks have resumed through intermediary diplomacy by the other parties to the agreement, Iran and the US have not yet reached an agreement. Nor has the US agreed to simply lift the very heavy burden of sanctions, or resume its responsibilities under the JCPOA. Meanwhile, the nuclear disarmament and abolition community has been active in several critical areas.  

Challenging the Modernization Plans

A major focus of activists has been on stopping the exorbitant and extremely dangerous nuclear “modernization” plan initiated under prior administrations. This modernization has already led to the development and deployment of destabilizing new weapons like the so-called “low-yield” W76-2 warhead on some Trident submarines. The blast power of this weapon is roughly 8 kilotons (about half the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions), and would cause mass casualties and the destruction of most concrete buildings within a half-mile radius if ever detonated. These weapons lower the decision-making bar for the use of nuclear weapons, which could invariably lead to indiscriminate suffering and loss of life, retaliation, escalation, and global catastrophe. 

And yet, even worse plans are in the making. One plan revives Sea-Launched Cruise Missiles — retired some 10 years ago by the Obama administration — a “dual use” weapon that raises the risk of nuclear escalation. Another plan is a $264 billion boondoggle replacing the entire Minuteman missile fleet with a new land-based intercontinental strategic missile dubbed the “Money Pit Missile.” These weapons, located in a few Midwestern states, are a legacy of Cold-War thinking and comprise the most vulnerable and destabilizing leg of the US nuclear triad. National Peace Action and other groups like the Ploughshares Fund are rallying opposition to this plan, and in Congress Mass. Sen. Ed Markey has introduced the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles” Act to reallocate funds from the missile program to vaccine development.  

No First Use

In recent years and months, there has been a surge in activity around prohibiting the first use of nuclear weapons (NFU/No First Use). As a step toward reducing the danger of Nuclear War, a coalition of groups has called upon Congress to legislate — and the President to declare — that the United States will neither initiate nor threaten to initiate the first use of Nuclear Weapons.

Why No First Use?

  1. NFU will make the US and the world safer by reducing the risk of nuclear war due to a false alarm
  2. NFU will inhibit dangerous nuclear threats by Presidents that are intended for international political gain.  We do not want a President threatening an attack that risks 7 billion of Earth’s 7.6 billion population over Taiwan, Europe, or anywhere.
  3. This is an achievable campaign, perhaps in the next year.  Biden made positive statements during the campaign, and Congress now has both Markey-Lieu and Warren-Smith bills which include NFU.
  4. If implemented, NFU would be a key stepping stone toward more extensive disarmament efforts, such as Back From the Brink and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).  Many of us do not see a path to these goals without achieving some big victories along the way. As a strategic campaign in the context of the nuclear abolition movement, NFU also brings attention to the global threat of nuclear weapons, a problem that only their elimination can solve.

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Signed by over 80 countries upon its 1/22/2021 Entry Into Force (EIF), the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons rejects the discriminatory framework that allows a small number of countries the right to WMDs, and challenges political power that’s based on the ability to cause catastrophic harm. Nuclear weapons represent a serious threat to well-being — given the inevitability of their use, every dollar spent on war-making, and grim projections of violence. While the TPNW (which includes comprehensive “prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities”) has been largely downplayed in the U.S., the Treaty is a major diplomatic achievement, signaling the “the beginning of the end” of nuclear weapons.

Part of an international movement, the MAPA TPNW group focuses on local, state, and national efforts. This year, group members have worked on:

Please join us for the 6/26 Pressuring Nuclear Weapons Profiteers Conference

In solidarity for peace, justice, and a world without nuclear weapons.