Advocating For Nuclear Abolition

Photo Credit Al Viola

Photo Credit Al Viola

During their annual remembrance of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Frank Cordaro’s dwindling collection of nuclear abolitionists staged another vigil near the Bellevue, Nebraska military complex that is the command and control center for U.S. nuclear weapons. Cordaro reported to his lists in an Aug. 16 email:

A total of 13 people made it out for some time during our annual 3-1/2 day ‘shake and bake’ August Vigil at STRATCOM, reaching double digits just once at the end of the vigil on Aug 9 when we gathered around for a public reading of Tomas Merton’s “Original Child Bomb.”

Not a lot to report. The weather was cool and overcast the whole time, a little wet at first.

Not a lot to report Doesn’t mean not much happen. Check out Mark Kenney’s account of his encounter with a young mother and her three small kids at the vigil.

You old timers, check out Corey Zimmer’s new beard in photo slideshow.

Frank Cordaro
Phil Berrigan CW House

Interest in advocating for nuclear abolition is waning in the U.S., and the retirement of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is a bellwether. He wrote at length about the need for nuclear disarmament in his 1990 book Five Minutes To Midnight: Why the Nuclear Threat is Growing Faster Than Ever.

Harkin wrote that the threat of nuclear war is not with the former Soviet Union. In fact he characterized that risk as “negligibly small,” and with the exception of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he said it probably always has been. The nuclear threat is with states that have far less nuclear capability than the U.S. and Russia, or with those states who don’t possess nuclear weapons, but would provoke those that do to use them. In any case, Harkin’s voice on nuclear disarmament is expected to be stilled with his retirement.

“In the United States, the nuclear abolition movement has failed to generate much popular support,” wrote Eric Schlosser in his recent book, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety. “The retired officials (George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn) who jump-started the debate in 2007 had an average age of seventy-nine. Many of the issues at stake seem hypothetical and remote. Almost half the American population were not yet born or were children when the Cold War ended.”

“Support for nuclear abolition is hardly universal,” Schlosser added.

For long-time advocates of nuclear abolition, there are no easy answers to the question what next? Organizations that grew out of the Reagan-inspired nuclear freeze movement still work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. However, in an age of competition for financial resources, the number of foundations and private donors willing to support nuclear abolition work has decreased. The voices of Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund are still heard, but theirs are often the only voices.

The risk we face is that right wing, war hawks will get their way with the absence of resistance, and grow the American nuclear complex unnecessarily, lining the pockets of defense contractors as they do. We’ve come a long way from President Obama’s hopeful April 5, 2009 speech in Prague, the light of which has dimmed with each successive year of his presidency.

What next for nuclear abolition advocacy? It’s an open question, the answer to which is elusive. It is hopeful news that the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Society and Rotary International have expressed interest in nuclear abolition for humanitarian reasons. But international initiatives fail to gain traction in the U.S. Remember, the head of the U.S. Red Cross is a political appointment, and the administration has resisted abolition work by the Red Cross.

Without U.S. participation in nuclear disarmament action, there is little hope of getting to zero nuclear weapons. Those of us who believe it is the right path have our work cut out for us. Like the small band of folks at STRATCOM, we are unlikely to give up.

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