By Peter G. Cohen
The current budget crisis of the United States, amplified by the tremendous human and property losses of killer storm Sandy, may be the opportunity that people everywhere have been hoping for: the chance to eliminate the huge, costly and illegal nuclear weapons stockpiles of the United States and Russia.
Great Peril or Great Opportunity?
As of November, 2012, New York, New Jersey and other states are reeling from the overwhelming property damage done by the storm. At this point we cannot even estimate how many billions of dollars will be required to assist the devastated areas in their rebuilding, or the new and unknown infrastructure needed to reduce the damage of such storms in the future. What we do know is that without very substantial help from the already strained federal budget this highly productive area of the U.S. will be unable to rebuild itself for a long time.
How will the Congress trim the federal budget to provide the urgently needed aid for the coastal areas? Will they cut back on Social Security and Medicare, as some have suggested, or will they prune the excessive, unusable and illegal nuclear weapons complex, which is now planning to spend “between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade” according to What Nuclear Weapons Cost Us, a report from the nonpartisan Ploughshares Fund.
While a large majority of Americans have repeatedly said in polls that they want a nuclear weapons-free world, every attempt to prune the nuclear weapons budget is opposed by the Congress. Many former hawks and military leaders have said that these weapons are a liability that does not keep us safe and should be abolished. Then why does the Congress continue to defend the huge nuclear weapons budget? Because the nuclear weapons lobby contributes to Congressional campaigns. A report from the Center for International Policy finds that, “In the 2012 election cycle, the top 14 nuclear weapons contractors gave a total of $2.9 million to key members of Congress with decision making power over nuclear weapons spending. These firms have donated $18.7 million to these same members of Congress over the course of their careers.”
We now know that any exchange of nuclear weapons would threaten the world’s people with a nuclear winter, caused by the huge cloud of radioactive debris that would circle the Earth and reduce food crops to famine levels, as well as weakening the ozone layer, threatening the ocean’s phytoplankton and spreading radioactive fallout over large areas of the Earth. As a result, many nations have repeatedly supported resolutions for abolition at the UN General Assembly, including the latest one by 34 nations stressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, which was delivered in October of this year.
We, the American people, have a choice. We can continue the plan for modernizing and replacing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems to last through the end of the century, or we can immediately cancel all such plans and expenses, and sign an agreement with Russia to work jointly to reduce our huge weapons stockpiles. Once we both reach a much smaller stockpile we can demand that other nations with similar stockpiles — several nations, such as China and Israel, have approximately 300 of them — must join with us in a nuclear weapons convention and take the last step to rid the world of these suicidal weapons systems. This would save the U.S. Treasury hundreds of billions, while reducing the ever-present danger of a nuclear exchange.
Loosening the grip of the nuclear weapons lobby on the Congress and their choosing life-sustaining budget priorities will not happen easily or quickly. The American people must leave the armchair of denial and organize now to preserve a livable world for their children and grandchildren. It will take a consolidated peace movement with breadth and determination. But it can be done.
Now, when we so urgently need to help those living in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and to trim the federal budget at the same time, is the window of opportunity. We must seize this moment to act, or the window will close, we will return to business as usual, and at some time in the future these terrible weapons may set the Earth on fire.
Peter G. Cohen, Santa Barbara, CA, is the author of www.nukefreeworld.com and other Internet writing.