During the 1980s, a strong anti-nuclear war movement made the notion of a world without nuclear weapons seem possible. Today, the drumbeat for a nuclear-weapon-free world is growing loud again, with protests in Britain about the Labour Party's decision to renew its nuclear capability, hunger strikes at the University of California in opposition to U.S. plans for a reliable replacement warhead, and prominent policy leaders such as Henry Kissinger and George shultz calling for the nuclear states to rethink their reliance on nuclear weapons. Below, our four discussants debate whether we are witnessing the start of a new anti-nuclear/peace movement.
Superficially, it seems remote that a new wave of mass activism against nuclear weapons comparable to the vast outpouring of popular protest during the early 1980s will develop anytime soon. Despite the existence of vast nuclear arsenals and the ongoing danger of nuclear war, major civil society groups that played key roles in calling for a nuclear-weapon-free world in the past--including religious, labor, environmental, and women's organizations--seem relatively quiescent on the subject today. Furthermore, the mass media are providing the public with little useful information on nuclear arms control and disarmament issues.
Below the surface, however, a substantial ferment exists, as well as the potential for another round of public protest.
Major peace organizations, although temporarily preoccupied with Iraq, Iran, and the broader Middle East, have all placed nuclear disarmament high on their agenda. In the United States, these groups include the American Friends Service Committee, Faithful Security, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Peace Action, and Physicians for Social Responsibility; in Britain, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Moreover, Peace Action and CND, the two largest peace organizations in these countries, are growing substantially again after years of post-Cold War decline.
In addition, many other active peace organizations around the world champion nuclear disarmament. The largest network of peace organizations is the International Peace Bureau (IPB), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. Consisting of 282 member organizations in 70 countries, the IPB promotes a program of Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development and plays an important role in the U.N.'s Special NGO Committee for Disarmament.
Thanks, in part, to this organizational framework, a significant revival of anti-nuclear protest has occurred in recent years. Determined to spur U.N. action for nuclear disarmament, thousands of people turned out for a May 2005 demonstration in New York City, making it the largest anti-nuclear rally in the United States in decades. This year, spirited protests have taken place at U.S. nuclear weapons development sites and the University of California, where students staged hunger strikes to protest that institution's complicity in the ongoing U.S. nuclear program. Even members of the traditional U.S. policy-making elite have issued a call for a nuclear-weapon-free world.
In Britain, the situation has been particularly tumultuous, with a fierce uprising erupting over the government's proposal to replace London's aging Trident nuclear weapons system with a newer model. Indeed, Britain was convulsed by the controversy, which generated numerous anti-nuclear demonstrations--the largest with 100,000 participants--and, according to polls, opposition from 59 percent of the public.
Nor is the sentiment in Britain contrary to that of other nuclear nations. According to a September 2007 survey conducted by the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies, 63 percent of Russians favor eliminating all nuclear weapons, 59 percent support removing all nuclear weapons from high alert, and 53 percent support cutting the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 400 nuclear weapons each. In the United States, 73 percent of the public favors eliminating all nuclear weapons, 64 percent support removing all nuclear weapons from high alert, and 59 percent support reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 400 weapons each. Eighty percent of Russians and Americans want their countries to participate in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Given the unpopularity of nuclear weapons, U.S. politicians have been wary of supporting new nuclear programs. Republican-dominated congresses have defeated the Bush administration's plan to build so-called "bunker-busters" and "mini-nukes." The administration's proposal to build the "reliable replacement warhead" also seems to be in serious trouble. In fact, there's substantial congressional support for a thorough re-examination of the U.S. nuclear program and for legislation to establish a Department of Peace, which would include an office of arms control and disarmament. On the presidential campaign trail, the candidates don't say a word about building new nuclear weapons, and, among the Democrats, there’s talk of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Finally, the breakdown of the arms control and disarmament regime and a slide toward nuclear war would certainly contribute to an upsurge in activism. Both remain quite possible in a world of rival, war-making nations.
So although mass anti-nuclear activism is far less prominent today than a generation ago, it stands on the verge of a comeback. At the least, many of the preconditions for its return are in place.
How do we get our arguments out and win? That's the million-dollar question, and a question that we're right to continually strategize around. But in this regard, I've noticed two mistaken notions: (1) Believing that if we make a sufficiently clear moral and legal case against nuclear weapons, people will automatically flock to our banner; and (2) assuming that if we don't achieve our goals, then it's our failure.
Consider the first: We can talk about the immorality of killing and suffering ad infinitum, and people will generally agree. But as far as nuclear weapons go, this is rather abstract. Nuclear weapons haven't been used in war since 1945, while people see the horrors of conventional weapons daily. In legal terms, there's no doubt that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other instruments of international law indicate that disarmament must occur and that using nuclear weapons is illegal under every conceivable circumstance. But unfortunately, people are accustomed to the law being broken and to powerful states trampling on international regulations. As for politicians, save for some notable exceptions, I'd say that they're mostly immune to legal and moral arguments.
So we need to make other arguments as well. This may seem obvious, but on occasion I've been chastised by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament members for too often engaging in "realism" and insufficiently making the "moral" argument. As far as I'm concerned, the moral argument is the true heart of the disarmament movement, sustaining it and its dedicated activists through lean times. But in my experience, it's not the tipping point for very large numbers of people to change their minds and oppose nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War, at most, 30 percent of the British public favored unilateral disarmament. Today, 59 percent of the British public opposes Trident replacement. So which arguments have helped forge this increase?
For starters, highlighting the staggering cost of nuclear weapons. The economic argument works particularly well with trade unions, on street stalls, in local newspapers, and with parliamentarians. We calculated that Trident replacement (both procurement and lifetime costs) is approximately $156 billion. Outlining the ways in which this money could be better spent both nationally and locally (keeping hospitals open, supporting other local services) played a big part in winning support.
The other key argument concerned security. The pro-nuclear weapons lobby was unable to effectively claim that they stand for security and we do not. We have argued that irrespective of what people thought during the Cold War, it's now evident that retaining and replacing nuclear weapons will provoke proliferation and increase insecurity globally. This argument won over many people.
In terms of the second notion: Is the continued existence of nuclear weapons--or even the lack of awareness of nuclear issues--our failing? Clearly, we need the right policies and strategies, nuanced and suitable for the moment in which we're operating. But we don't operate in a vacuum. We must consider the balance of forces and specificity of conditions in our own countries. In Britain, for example, we've benefited enormously from a major shift in public consciousness against being tied to U.S. foreign and military policy; a greater skepticism about government assertions following the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; a widespread rejection of the nuclear hypocrisy of our government; much greater access to wide-ranging information thanks to the internet; some military opposition to spending money on nuclear weapons instead of on body armor and army housing; former Prime Minister Tony Blair admitting that nuclear weapons won't meet Britain's current security challenges--terrorism and climate change; and a greater number of people working to oppose poverty and therefore understanding the need for foreign policies based on peace and justice.
There's no single key to success in any campaign. There are only steady and well-reasoned strategies based on a continual assessment of the possibilities and impossibilities. A campaign must also seize every opportunity with both hands, have the courage to do things differently, always be guided by principle, and stay open and inclusive. Most of all, however, it must keep in mind that human progress has been made in many areas where the odds against success seemed enormous. So despite the challenges we face, we, too, can achieve our goal.
I agree that it's hardly surprising that the Bush administration's proposal to develop new nuclear warheads has only reached a small percentage of Americans.
After all, if the Energy Department didn't want to draw attention to the rollout of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program, they took the right steps--launching the public comment period during the busy holiday season, using a euphemistic name that few Americans understand, and downplaying the significance of the program to both the public and Congress.
Somewhat surprisingly, Energy officials have shied away from justifying the program by making grandiose announcements about the future of nuclear weapons policy and the need for a strategic nuclear deterrent. Except for a few boasts about the potential increase of nuclear warheads under RRW, Energy has largely understated the program's role. Instead, they've claimed that RRW is necessary to modernize the nuclear weapons program, cut costs, create a more "environmentally friendly" weapon, reduce the need for nuclear testing, and foster additional stockpile cuts.
Few members of the U.S. public would oppose a program meant to cut waste, reduce the need for testing, and foster deeper cuts in the arsenal--that is, until they read between the lines. In actuality, RRW would lead to the first new nuclear warhead in two decades, while Energy's larger plan for complex transformation would cost upwards of $150 billion between now and the year 2030.
As of yet, much of the U.S. public is unaware of RRW, and they're not alone. Most members of Congress could probably not parse the acronym. The fiscal year 2008 budget for RRW, which was zeroed out in the House and remains to be finalized in the Senate, has been largely decided in conference by bipartisan committees. Members of Congress serving on the committees were decidedly cool toward the administration's proposal and questioned the need to shore up the nuclear weapons complex in the absence of a strategy for post-Cold War nuclear weapons. Instead, Congressional leaders demanded that a bipartisan commission be created to fundamentally reassess the role of nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War era.
Members of Congress are embracing what disarmament activists have long encouraged--a national dialogue on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. As we embark on an election year and a new administration enters office, we have a tremendous opportunity to bring about the kind of widescale national dialogue on nuclear weapons that Lawrence Wittner refers to as taking place in the late 1950s or the early 1980s.
These efforts are already underway and are having a great deal of success. I was impressed to see that last year's hearings on the program brought out a diverse crowd of old and young New Mexicans who packed auditoriums and meetings rooms in four different locations to take advantage of their three minutes of testimony. (Their comments, along with those from other states, are visible on Energy's website.) Nearly everyone who testified spelled out the environmental and public health impacts of the nuclear weapons facilities, as well as the effect of our nuclear weapons policies on nonproliferation efforts.
Unfortunately, this recognition of the nuclear weapons complex's dangers hasn't yet trickled up to all of our congressional leaders. But there are signs of hope. When New Mexico Republican Rep. Heather Wilson reacted to the House's funding cuts for RRW by pointing out that the decision to block the program could lead to the abandonment of nuclear deterrence by the United States, she didn't receive much support from her colleagues. Perhaps that's because a national debate on the role of nuclear weapons could indeed be the first steps to a world without them. By demanding that such a dialogue take place, members of Congress are putting into motion a process that could lead to a massive paradigm shift. For the millions of Americans who oppose our nation's reliance on nuclear weapons, now is the moment to make our voices heard.
Last month, I visited Hiroshima, where a Hibakusha (a survivor of the atomic bomb) gave a heart-wrenching presentation; after that, I spent hours walking through the peace museum and park. As I walked past the Atomic Dome, a building that still stands to make visible the Bomb's destruction, I struggled to understand how we could continue to build our nuclear arsenal. Now that I'm home, the Bomb's destructive force remains beyond my comprehension. It's time we replaced nuclear security with human security.
In a speech given on September 27, 2007, in Copenhagen, Nuclear Peace Age Foundation President David Krieger praised an article written by leaders from across the political spectrum who believe we must move away from nuclear weapons. Before that, the Wall Street Journal published an article on January 4, 2007, written by four U.S. bipartisan leaders (former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Sen. Sam Nunn, and former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger). In "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," they persuasively reasoned that while nuclear weapons had an important deterrent effect during the Cold War, mutual assured destruction is "obsolete" today.
At this time, the United States continues to pursue the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program. Clearly, the world knows we remain serious about nuclear weaponry as part of our defense program. And for the sake of their national security, they will have no choice but to follow in our footsteps. This approach can only lead to nuclear escalation--the antithesis of what needs to happen.
We need to move beyond nuclear security and replace it with a sophisticated focus on human security, led by the United States. We must not only stop those who want to attack us, but we must also create the conditions where state and non-state actors do not have the support, ability, or will to attack in the first place.
As currently written, the proposed legislation to create a cabinet-level Department of Peace requires certain agencies such as the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), to fall within the Peace Department's purview. A Peace Department will enable us to effectively assess our nuclear arsenal and recommend strategies for how the United States could disarm while maintaining national security. ACDA must play a key role in either working to convince the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or providing the platform to advocate for a multi-track diplomatic international summit of nuclear weapon states to negotiate a fresh agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons.
The world community does not want nuclear weapons or war. The cost is too high and the results could mean the end of humanity. The United States can play a critical role in the disarmament of nuclear weapons, as well as the amelioration of warfare, if we take the next step of demanding our government make the right investment. RRW will cost $150 billion; the Peace Department initiative asks for $8 billion. It's time to establish a Peace Department to provide the human security we need to create a world that works for everyone.
Although Congress has been dealing with the Bush administration’s proposal to develop the reliable replacement warhead (RRW) for much of 2007, it’s remarkable that the new weapon, a hydrogen bomb, has attracted little public protest or even public attention.
After all, for years opinion polls have reported that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor nuclear disarmament. A July 2007 poll by the Simons Foundation of Canada found that 82.3 percent of Americans backed either the total elimination or a reduction of nuclear weapons in the world. Only 3 percent favored developing new nuclear weapons.
And yet, RRW is a new nuclear warhead, the first in two decades, and--if the Bush administration is successful in obtaining the necessary authorization from Congress--it will be used widely to upgrade the current U.S. nuclear arsenal. In this fashion, RRW won’t only contradict the U.S. government’s pledge under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to move toward nuclear disarmament, it will actually encourage other nations to jump right back into the nuclear arms race.
Of course, peace and disarmament groups--including Peace Action, the Council for a Livable World, and Physicians for Social Responsibility--have sharply criticized RRW in mailings to their supporters and on their websites. Public protests have taken place, including hunger strikes and other demonstrations at the University of California in May 2007 and a demonstration at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in August 2007.
But these protests have been small. And the general public hasn’t noticed RRW. Why?
A key reason is that peace groups and the public are preoccupied by the Iraq War and by the looming war with Iran. The actual use of weapons is always more riveting (and certainly more destructive) than their potential use. And weapons are being employed every day in Iraq, while nuclear weapons represent merely a potential danger--albeit a far deadlier one. Thus, in certain ways, the nuclear disarmament campaign faces a situation much like that during the Vietnam War, when the vast carnage in that conflict distracted activists and the public from the ongoing nuclear menace.
Another reason is that it’s hard to involve the public in a one-weapon campaign. To rouse people from their lethargy, they need to sense a crucial turning point. When atmospheric nuclear testing and the development of the hydrogen bomb riveted public attention on the danger of wholesale nuclear annihilation in the late 1950s, or when the Reagan administration escalated the nuclear arms race and threatened nuclear war in the early 1980s, people felt they had come to a crossroads. By contrast, RRW appears rather arcane and perhaps best left to the policy wonks.
Finally, the mass communications media have done a good deal to distort and/or bury nuclear issues since the end of the Cold War. Yes, at the behest of the Bush administration they trumpeted the supreme dangers of Iraqi nuclear weapons, even when those weapons didn’t exist. But they did a terrible job of educating the U.S. public about nuclear realities. A 1999 Gallup poll taken a week after the U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty found that, although most Americans favored the treaty, only 26 percent were aware that it had been defeated! Similarly, a 2004 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that the average American thought that the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which then numbered more than 10,000 weapons, consisted of only 200. Given the very limited knowledge that Americans have of the elementary facts about nuclear issues, it’s hardly surprising that relatively few are busy protesting against the development of RRW.
The Department of Peace movement has deep spiritual roots. Spiritualist and author Marianne Williamson founded the Peace Alliance to bridge the U.S. spiritual and political consciousness. She saw that the United States was divided between those seeking to shape change through their religious beliefs and those using the political system. She envisioned joining the two into a political movement with a spiritual foundation. It's a movement that calls for peace in a way that recognizes the dignity and humanity of every member of our beloved community, uniting us in a common effort to build structures to sustain peaceful societies.
The Student Peace Alliance and the Peace Alliance know that at the heart of all religions are spiritual truths of love, partnership, and peace. In a culture where we often experience power over each other rather than power with each other, there is a loss of that deep spiritual connection. The culture of violence surrounding us destroys the sisterhood and brotherhood we all desire. Our movement is working to move past a paradigm of domination and control to bring in an era based upon freedom and partnership. We stand with all religious groups that work to establish this partnership and a culture of peace. The movement to create a Department of Peace is tantamount to a call to align our governmental structures with the spiritual values upon which our country was founded.
The Department of Peace legislation is endorsed by diverse national organizations such as American Muslim Voice, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Tikkun, and the United Religions Initiative. Within the grassroots, religious and spiritual groups have offered spaces and support for many of our meetings and events. For instance, earlier this year I spoke at a synagogue to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day and at a fundraiser in a Unitarian Universalism church. It's clear that there's a deep yearning throughout our nation to live in peace and harmony. The religious and spiritual community continues to play a pivotal role in advocating for a Department of Peace and for structures in government that support our shared yearning for peace.
Recent contributors have rightly raised the faith dimension to anti-nuclear campaigning. There's a strong tradition of grassroots faith opposition to nuclear weapons in Britain, which at times has been inspirational even for those of us who don't count faith as a primary identity.
I was first touched by faith peace campaigning in the early 1980s when I became active against siting of cruise missiles in Britain. While RAF Greenham Common made the news, something remarkable was also taking place at RAF Molesworth. This was the second base to receive cruise missiles--64 were delivered in 1986. In 1982, the Fellowship of Reconciliation established a peace camp there, strongly supported by Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Peace campers started to build an All-Faiths Peace Chapel on the base, called Eirene. This chapel became a focus for resistance to the military use of land at Molesworth; after the camp was evicted, daily requests were made for access to pray at the chapel. They were always refused, but that determination to bear witness and bring peace was a powerful symbol.
In our recent struggles against Trident replacement, we've seen not only grassroots activism, but a greater willingness to speak out--and take action--from the upper levels of faith communities. For example, in July 2006, 19 Anglican Bishops intervened in the Trident debate, issuing a lengthy statement that included the language, "Whatever our various views on conventional warfare, we all agree that just war arguments rule out the use of nuclear weapons."
We've also seen cooperation between Christian denominations. Leaders of the Baptist, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches made a joint statement, urging the British government "to work tirelessly to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction," pointing out that replacing Trident would send the wrong message to aspiring nuclear powers.
This type of cooperation has been particularly strong in Scotland, where the Trident nuclear weapons submarines are based. The leaders of the two major Christian denominations, the Rev. Alan McDonald of the Church of Scotland and Cardinal Keith O'Brien of the Roman Catholic Church, stated together that the deployment and use of nuclear arms is theologically and morally wrong. McDonald was clear: "As disciples of Christ, our calling is to be peacemakers today in the world. There can be no place for weapons of mass destruction in a world that God loves so much."
The Scottish Catholic Bishops also got support for their anti-Trident position from Rome. Cardinal Martino, representing the Vatican, sent a letter to Cardinal O'Brien endorsing the bishops' declaration. Action came, too. Last fall, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organized an 85-mile walk from the Faslane base to the Scottish Parliament. On the first day, both Reverend McDonald and Archbishop Mario Conti, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, took part, sharing a rain-soaked platform with Bruce Kent and myself.
Yet among us was another faith representative--Bashir Maan, Scottish representative of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). The support of the MCB, Britain's most representative Muslim organization, is symptomatic of a wider and most significant new development: Non-Christian faith communities also taking action. And perhaps most important of all, given the tendency in some circles toward trying to divide people by religious affiliation, we've also seen cooperation across diverse faiths to speak out together against Trident replacement.
Representatives from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths came together to make a categorical statement: "We believe that the common position held by our faith traditions, expressed as the sanctity of life, leads us inexorably to say that the only real security for the world and the most responsible position for people of faith in our traditions is to call on our nation and other countries of the world to steadily and in a verifiable manner to eliminate these weapons from the face of the world. We totally reject the replacement of Trident."
For the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, we learned the lesson from our great anti-Trident demonstration on February 24, 2007. Not only did we have nearly 100,000 people demonstrate, it was jointly organized with the British Muslim Initiative, which had taken an unequivocally anti-Trident position. The marvelous Anglican Bishop of Reading also delivered a powerful speech from the platform. Interfaith cooperation is the way!
Lawrence Wittner's frustration is understandable. Like most other citizens, religious bodies and denominations in the United States have become less active on nuclear weapons issues since the end of the Cold War. Faithful Security exists to change that.
As Wittner points out, religious bodies and denominations have produced numerous strong statements against nuclear weapons. They're powerful, but they're not enough. These statements rarely trickle from the pulpits to the pews, or in some cases, from the denominational hierarchy into the pulpits. Even when they do, awareness doesn't always lead to action. Religious people with a deep-seated moral opposition to nuclear weapons aren't "automatically organized" like many others, religious people need to be connected with educational materials and opportunities for action.
While there are some within the religious community who don't accept the inherent immorality of nuclear weapons, most are sympathetic to the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world, but are unsure of its feasibility. Others are unsure how to become involved in disarmament efforts or are uncomfortable speaking about the issue. Creative campaigns are necessary to educate and mobilize these individuals.
In addition, the demographics of religious communities in the United States are rapidly changing. Some mainstream denominations are losing membership, while evangelical churches and the Catholic Church are rapidly growing and diversifying. In the age of online campaigns, individual clergy and lay leaders are more powerful than ever before. There are numerous opportunities for outreach, but those who aim to recruit people of faith into activist work may find a new sensitivity toward "being used" for a political agenda. A renewed dedication toward working for a nuclear-weapon-free world must come from deep within religious traditions, led by those who are drawn to this issue from their faith perspective. Faithful Security aims to support individuals and religious groups engaged in this work by providing means for collective witness both nationally and locally, developing and distributing educational materials, and supporting those engaged in theological work from the depth of their own tradition.
Change will not happen overnight, but this work is already bearing fruit. You won't find it covered on the front page of the New York Times, but rather in local publications such as the Santa Fe New Mexican, which recently quoted the head of the New Mexico Conference of Churches speaking out against the production of new plutonium pits. The uproar from the religious community may not be covered on CNN, but it's present in a number of videos posted on YouTube. In this new climate, religious leaders are journeying to Tehran to meet with Iranian religious and political leaders in hopes of bringing about a peaceful resolution to the current nuclear standoff with Iran and speaking out in favor of a diplomatic strategy to denuclearize North Korea. Those who read Sojourners , TIKKUN , or Faith and Public Life's news alerts are already aware of these efforts. For those who don't read these publications, I encourage you to do so. You may be surprised at the uproar that exists already.
Jessica Wilbanks is right to stress the importance of religion in efforts to create a nuclear-weapon-free world.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, religious bodies were eloquent critics of the arms race and nuclear testing. As early as 1954, the World Council of Churches called for the elimination and prohibition of nuclear weapons.
Religious organizations were particularly active during the great upsurge of protest against nuclear weapons in the early 1980s. In the United States, the National Council of Churches endorsed the idea of a "nuclear freeze," and its president declared, "Jesus Christ stands in direct opposition to everything nuclear weapons represent." Major Protestant denominations--including the United Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Lutheran Church--also endorsed the freeze and condemned nuclear war. In May 1983, the nation's largest religious denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, weighed in with a highly publicized pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace. It deplored the arms race, called for nuclear abolition, and asserted that "our 'no' to nuclear war must . . . be definitive and decisive."
Of course, this condemnation of nuclear weapons and nuclear war was far from universal among religious enthusiasts. In the early 1980s, the emerging Christian Right threw itself into pro-nuclear ventures. Rev. Jerry Falwell, the nation's most popular evangelical preacher and head of the Moral Majority, repeatedly assailed the nuclear disarmament campaign as a front for the Kremlin and exhorted "patriotic, God-fearing Americans" to speak out for the Reagan administration's nuclear buildup.
Nevertheless, during the 1980s--as during preceding decades--the bulk of U.S. religious leadership came down on the side of nuclear disarmament. This did much to legitimize the efforts of peace and disarmament groups.
By contrast, there appears to be far less of a religious mobilization against the nuclear arms race today. Yes, Faithful Security and the Fellowship of Reconciliation work steadfastly to call attention to nuclear dangers and to promote nuclear disarmament, as do small, pacifist religious denominations like the Society of Friends. And an array of religious organizations have signed a critique of Complex 2030 (PDF), the Bush administration's plan to upgrade U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. But for the most part, the major religious bodies have steered clear of the anti-nuclear campaign and have certainly not mobilized their congregations to support it.
Where was the uproar among U.S. mainstream religious denominations when the Bush administration abandoned the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty? Where was the uproar when our latest round of presidential candidates talked glibly of a nuclear attack upon Iran? Where is the demand to get the U.S. government back on track to nuclear arms control and disarmament?
The reasons for the apparent abandonment of nuclear disarmament by mainstream religious denominations remain murky. Like much of the public, they may have been caught up in the patriotic hysteria fostered by 9/11. Even more significantly, in the context of losing membership to fundamentalist groups, they may be wary of taking stands on "controversial" issues such as peace and nuclear disarmament. The Catholic Church may also feel chastened by pedophilia scandals and, thus, be reluctant to reiterate its advanced stand against nuclear war.
Nevertheless, if the leaders of these denominations are genuinely committed to fostering love--rather than mass annihilation--within the human community, they should resist the pull to expediency and speak out with prophetic voices against nuclear war and nuclear weapons. Furthermore, they might find that taking such action would bolster their standing--not only among members of their own congregations, but among the followers of right-wing fundamentalist groups and even among nonbelievers.
On March 16, 2007, 222 Christians from all walks of life were arrested on the White House sidewalk for committing civil disobedience in protest of the Iraq War. On the same day, thousands of other Christians walked in freezing temperatures for the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq candlelight march in Washington, and 200 additional vigils around the country included the participation of thousands more.
While progressives tend to advocate for issues using facts and figures, conservative Americans have been more successful in creating a cogent frame for favored policies--often drawing on biblically based language to frame issues. In the United States, a nation in which more than 91 percent of the population identifies themselves as religious, to ignore the inherent immorality of nuclear weapons is to close an important channel of communication. So many great social movements--including suffrage for women, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the current struggles to end the conflict in Darfur and to stop U.S.-sponsored torture--are deeply grounded in religious traditions and grew in capacity largely because of their ability to articulate a moral narrative.
The disarmament movement in the United States is desperately in need of the powerful, visual imagery that a moral message can provide. Arguments against nuclear weapons from disarmament experts are well-reasoned and solid: The nuclear weapons complex is a waste of tax dollars; the nuclear arsenal encourages the global spread of nuclear weapons; and nuclear weapons facilities wreak havoc on the environment and public health. But contrary to our best intentions, these arguments can come out in the form of a laundry list rather than a powerful and coherent narrative.
When people of faith talk about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, they call on powerful imagery and descriptive language. The Central Conference of American Rabbis names the traditions that led them to call for an end to the nuclear arms race: Sakanat Nefashot, the danger of exposing oneself to health hazards; Bal Tashchit, the abhorrence of willful destruction of the environment; and Yishuv Ha-arets, the betterment and guardianship of the Earth. Muslim leaders speak to the Koran's injunction to build an abode for peace in the world. Using vivid language from religious traditions contextualizes the immorality of nuclear weapons for Americans and allows them to advocate for disarmament from the depth of their own traditions. Rather than simply working for a policy change, some people of faith come to view the elimination of nuclear weapons as a divine mandate and commit themselves fully to the task.
The involvement of religious communities in nuclear weapons is not mere wordsmithing, but a much deeper process. In the words of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the nuclear issue is not simply political, but also a profoundly moral and religious question, and therefore, the Church must participate in the process of protecting the world and its people from the specter of nuclear destruction.
For many religious Americans, the Bush administration's proposal for the production of new nuclear warheads is a moral crisis and must be posited as such. Through organizations such as Faithful Security, religious people who identify themselves based primarily on their faith have a way to join their collective voices together to call for a commitment to disarmament.
I was also struck by Lawrence Wittner's comment about the Iraq War. His remark reminds me of the challenges that the Department of Peace campaign faced during the Vietnam War.
The quagmire in Vietnam revealed that we lacked the necessary infrastructure to build peace, supporting the belief that a Department of Peace was needed. But despite this, the bill to create a Department of Peace never became law. In a January 1971 newsletter, Council for a Department of Peace (CODEP) founder Mary Liebman wrote of the campaign's struggles: "The volunteers of the peace brigade had their hands full fighting their own fires; campus concern took a totally different direction." She added, "[Efforts] were vastly complicated by the pace of events in these 'interesting times.'" After CODEP's efforts subsided, the National Peace Academy Campaign (NPAC) formed in 1976, building upon CODEP's foundation and network. NPAC's efforts resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace, which opened in 1986 and is viewed as a stepping-stone toward a Department of Peace.
Today, the Department of Peace campaign is in a similar situation. The Iraq War has once again exposed our failure to put structures in place that will promote civil societies and peaceful cultures. Worse yet, the war remains polarizing, leading many who hear of the campaign to automatically assume it's "antiwar." But being pro-peace is not the same as being antiwar, and despite these challenges, the campaign continues to grow. The Iraq War is a front-page example of how the use of force doesn't resolve conflict. We've "won the war," but we haven't won the peace. Sadly, this situation isn't unique, as the despair and violence in Iraq is reflective of a systemic epidemic of violence we face globally.
We're often asked, "If a Department of Peace existed, how would it respond to the situation in Iraq?" First, during the pre-war phase, the department would've worked to prevent war by researching, analyzing, and recommending nonviolent solutions and strategies to resolve the conflict. Then, during the war, it would've provided peace builders to assist the military in maintaining order. Finally, during the post-war phase, a Department of Peace would've assisted in reconstruction and reconciliation, proactively working to quell disputes before they reached a violent climax.
The movement for a Department of Peace is broad-based, and by no means populated by those simply frustrated with the war. We're school teachers who understand how conflict-management programs create safer schools. We're social workers who know how initiatives such as nurse-family programs reduce child abuse. We're citizens who recognize that it's time to prioritize peace--both internationally and domestically.
The first funeral I ever attended was for a U.S. soldier from my community who was killed in Iraq. Like most of my generation, the war on terror has greatly impacted my life. However, it's just one example of how we're under-equipped to wage peace. It's that consciousness that fuels our growing movement for a Department of Peace.
Lawrence Wittner touched on something of great significance in his latest posting when he wrote, "A major problem faced by the anti-nuclear campaign in the United States and abroad is that peace groups are preoccupied with the ongoing Iraq War and the broader Mideast crisis."
Let me talk about my experience with this in Britain: There's no doubt that strong opposition to the Iraq War has been a great challenge--both for traditional peace movements and for anti-nuclear movements, as passions and energies have become very focused on anti-war campaigning.
But it also serves as an extraordinary opening, as large numbers of people have become mobilized and begun asking questions about what's going on in the world. Because of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's (CND) participation in the anti-war movement, many people have been exposed to our anti-nuclear arguments. I find that people are beginning to understand nuclear weapons aren't some abstract or technical thing, but extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction that may be used in war.
This openness to new thinking about nuclear weapons is symptomatic of an even greater change in public attitudes, the cause of which I don't fully understand yet. But I believe it to be of great significance. Before the great demonstrations in London against the Iraq War, the biggest demonstrations in Britain during the post-World War II period had been the CND demonstrations of the early 1980s. In autumn 1981, 300,000 people came to Hyde Park to try to prevent the proposed siting of U.S. nuclear cruise missiles in Britain. Similar protests took place elsewhere in Europe. This was a matter of life and death for Europeans, as the United States planned to place these missiles across Western Europe so it could fight a "limited" nuclear war against the Soviet Union in Europe instead of the United States. Under President Ronald Reagan, there was a high likelihood that nuclear war could actually take place; therefore, it was hardly surprising that mass movements against the new missiles developed in Europe.
Questions of war and peace do have immense power to mobilize. But what's been so extraordinary about the Iraq War demonstrations is that more people have protested against a war in a country they will never see and a people they will never know than ever turned out to protect their own country and their own families against the very real danger of nuclear annihilation in the 1980s. Why is this? I can only describe it as a demonstration of the profound humanity of ordinary people and a mass articulation of the overwhelming desire for a new morality in public life.
It's up to us to build on that change, to make the links, to embrace the challenges as opportunities. Working against war and working against nuclear weapons are both part of the same process toward global peace. Minds are now open; it's up to us to speak with them.
The observations made by the other writers in this exchange reinforce my impression of a revival in the anti-nuclear weapons movement.
Kate Hudson's report from Britain is particularly striking. It indicates that not only has there been a tumultuous campaign against Trident renewal, but that the pro-nuclear government hasn't nailed down a victory yet. Aaron Voldman's summary of the efforts to create a Department of Peace relates to the nuclear issue as well--for peace and nuclear disarmament have been closely linked since the dawn of the nuclear age. Certainly, they will continue to be connected. Finally, Jessica Wilbanks emphasizes opposition to nuclear weapons across the usual political divide. Given the pro-nuclear positions of the Bush administration and its would-be Republican successors, I'm less convinced that conservatives are ready to abandon the nuclear option. But it's certainly true there has been recent, growing support for nuclear disarmament among the traditional policy-making elites of both parties. Also, the conservative wing of the Republican party now appears to be in disarray.
Activities held in early August commemorating the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exceptionally widespread, belying the notion of complacency about nuclear weapons. Sixty-two years after the atomic bombings, demonstrations and other anti-nuclear events were held in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, and India--to name a few. In the United States, these activities occurred in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of communities, ranging from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Goose Creek, South Carolina. Moreover, civil disobedience at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory produced a new crop of arrests.
Meanwhile, the major U.S. peace groups continue a broad range of anti-nuclear activities. The largest, Peace Action, the successor to the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, has stirred up public and congressional opposition to the administration's proposals for the reliable replacement warhead (RRW) and Complex 2030 (new facilities to build nuclear weapons that Peace Action derides as "Bombplex 2030") and produced sign-on letters urging increased funding for nonproliferation programs. It also follows a long-range strategic plan that makes eliminating weapons of mass destruction one of its top priorities.
Although the U.S. public is less focused on nuclear weapons issues than activist organizations, polls and other indicators leave little doubt about where it stands. On August 12, Parade, a mass-circulation magazine distributed as a Sunday supplement in hundreds of U.S. newspapers, ran a remarkably negative story ("Do We Need New Nukes?") about the Bush administration's proposal for RRW. Asked online if nuclear weapons were "still vital for our defense," readers responded negatively by a substantial majority.
This jaundiced view of nuclear weapons is also evident in Congress, where RRW and Complex 2030 have faced a tough response from House and Senate committees. RRW funding is expected to be slashed substantially--if it survives at all. A key part of Complex 2030, the plan for producing 125-200 plutonium pit "triggers," has been denied funding by all four congressional committees evaluating it.
A major problem faced by the anti-nuclear campaign in the United States and abroad is that peace groups are preoccupied with the ongoing Iraq War and the broader Mideast crisis. With these conflicts producing swathes of destruction on a daily basis, they seem more immediate. As a result, nuclear disarmament sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.
Nevertheless, there is widespread public support for nuclear disarmament, as well as an array of groups determined to secure it. Thus, the anti-nuclear movement has significant potential for a broad political comeback in the future--one that might even rival its mass campaigns of the past.
After reading Kate Hudson's comments about the dynamic disarmament movement in Britain, I feel a twinge of envy. I cannot imagine 100,000 people in the United States demonstrating against the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program, nor can I imagine Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreeing to a televised debate against a veteran disarmament activist. Britain seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of the United States in this regard, but perhaps the United States is making strides toward disarmament in a different way.
The most significant gain in 2007 for anti-nuclear work took place days after the New Year, when a Wall Street Journal op-ed, entitled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," surprised the country. Endorsed by eminent national security experts, including former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, and former Defense Secretary William Perry--along with 17 former ambassadors and national security officials--the statement grew out of a consultation commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the 1986 Reykjavik summit, in which Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev nearly agreed to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. The op-ed marked the increasingly prevalent view that only a nuclear-weapon-free world will ensure that no city will ever again be destroyed by a nuclear attack.
Increased support for a nuclear-weapon-free world changed the dynamics on Capitol Hill this year, where the Bush administration has been hard-pressed to find support for RRW. The House zeroed out all funding for the production of new warheads, calling instead for the creation of a yearlong, bipartisan commission to reevaluate the U.S. strategic nuclear posture.
Grassroots voices have helped create a climate for policy change. Close to 1,000 people turned out during the busy holiday season last year to testify during hearings on the administration's proposal to rebuild the nuclear weapons complex, and more than 30,000 individuals submitted comments to the Energy Department. But the very fact that the most significant recent arms control development came from elite, center-right policy makers is telling: The landscape of nuclear disarmament in the United States is changing.
Continued success depends on concentrated, locally led efforts (the kind that have made Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament so successful), as well as a coordinated effort to depoliticize the elimination of nuclear weapons and gain support across the political divide.
With such politically diverse people and groups working toward the shared goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world, we have a new opportunity to reach out to conservative Americans eager to embrace Reagan's legacy. At the same time, the U.S. disarmament movement is steadily cultivating congressional champions, broadening their bases, and collaborating to create visionary campaigns and coalitions akin to highly creative and locally grounded efforts of Step It Up, The One Campaign, and The Save Darfur Coalition. Innovative collaborations such as the Muslim-Christian Initiative on the Nuclear Weapons Danger, the Healthy From the Start Campaign, and Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World have the potential to build new alliances nationally and locally, coordinate the efforts of diverse organizations, and lead a rebirth in the U.S. anti-nuclear movement.
I agree with Lawrence Wittner and Kate Hudson that there is a definite resurgence of nuclear disarmament activity. In recent years we have also seen the emergence of a movement to establish a Department of Peace. The Department of Peace offers a new approach to ending nuclear war. It will build the infrastructure necessary to address violence at its root, strengthening practical and effective means of nonviolent foreign relations at a federal level. The U.S. Department of Peace is proposed by legislation in the House (H.R. 808), which is cosponsored by 67 members of Congress. A Department of Peace will effectively increase our ability to build peace as well as specifically work in support of nuclear weapon disarmament.
A Department of Peace will have both an international and domestic reach. Domestically, the Department of Peace will support effective community peace-building initiatives such as conflict-resolution training for police, peer mediation and conflict-resolution programs in schools, and prisoner-rehabilitation initiatives that reduce recidivism rates. Internationally, the Department of Peace will play a major role in prevention and de-escalation of conflicts, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. A Department of Peace will also oversee the creation and administration of a Peace Academy, intended to be a sister academy to the military academies.
As currently outlined in H.R. 808, the Department of Peace will feature an Office of Arms Control and Disarmament. The office will specifically work in support of disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. There are numerous offices throughout the federal government in support of peace; however, many of these offices and agencies are fragmented and spread throughout the government. A Department of Peace will unify arms control with other peace-building offices and agencies.
The notion that there should be a section of the federal government specifically dedicated to peace is not new. Benjamin Rush first called for an Office of Peace in 1792, and more than 100 bills have been submitted since in support of institutionalizing peace in the federal government. The movement was resurrected with the April 2003 launch of the Department of Peace campaign.
The US Department of Peace campaign is active in all 50 states and in more than 300 congressional districts. The student campaign formed in March 2006 and is active on 30 campuses. The legislation has been endorsed by 20 city councils across the country, including Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Peace Alliance , which organizes the national department of peace campaign, coordinated its third annual Mother's Day "Peace of the Pie" National Action Day in May. Grassroots supporters from 38 states organized more than 250 contacts with offices of members of Congress. About 140 offices were visited in the 2006 campaign. This year's Mother's Day action demonstrates the strength and growth of the U.S. Department of Peace movement.
The movement is not only active in the United States. The Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace is made up of members from 23 countries, and 12 countries have active campaigns. The Solomon Islands has formed a Ministry of Peace and Unity. And after a campaign lead by Nepali youth, Nepal formed the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction in March.
The Department of Peace effort is focused on creating the infrastructure necessary to encourage and support the growth of peaceful cultures. Nowhere in the highest echelons of U.S. government is there a platform from which to launch such a focused, strategic approach to reducing and preventing violence. The time has come for a fresh approach, and a movement has been born to make this vision a reality.
Lawrence Wittner is right to speak of a fierce anti-nuclear uprising in Britain over the past year. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), together with other peace organizations, has built Britain's broadest alliance against nuclear weapons ever. We built this alliance in opposition to our government's plans to pursue a replacement for Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system.
When Parliament debated and voted on the issue in March, the government suffered its largest backbench rebellion on a domestic issue since the Labour Party came to power in 1997. Indeed, the scale of opposition was historic--the largest backbench rebellion on a defense policy since 1924. While the government resolution was passed, the foreign secretary felt compelled to assure MPs that the decision was "not irreversible,"; and the issue will come back to Parliament for further votes as the process unfolds. And for the first time ever, the Secretary of State for Defence debated with the chair of CND (myself) on television--and he lost the audience vote!
But this parliamentary opposition is just the tip of the iceberg of wider public opposition. Last summer, CND commissioned a public opinion poll that showed that 59 percent of people were opposed to replacing Trident, knowing how much it will cost. Just days before the parliamentary vote, a further poll commissioned by a major TV channel found that 72 percent didn't think that the government should go ahead with this decision now.
The level of support for our cause is enormous: CND has literally added thousands of new members over the past few months, new local groups have formed, and the level of financial donations has enabled us to fund campaign initiatives undreamt of in the recent past. The trade union movement has overwhelmingly backed us; faith communities have spoken out against nuclear weapons; and there have been public meetings and debates on the issue in every part of the country. But for us, the most significant factor has been the number of people who have changed their minds about nukes--people from all parts of the political spectrum who thought nuclear weapons were a good thing during the Cold War, but who now think such weapons are irrelevant.
Today, many people believe that possessing nuclear weapons puts us in greater danger, not less. They agree with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said that if we maintain that we need nuclear weapons for our security then others will come to the same conclusion.
Just three weeks before the Trident vote, nearly 100,000 people demonstrated in the streets of London against Trident replacement. On the day of the vote, there were protests in London and around the country, which utilized all the creativity of the peace movement. This is a real and growing protest about legality and morality, about Britain's resources, its double standards and its role in the world. The movement is pushing forward, and we see the opposition its inspired as a step on the road to eventual victory.
Although the nuclear disarmament movement has been in the doldrums since the end of the Cold War, in recent years there have been signs of a modest revival.
Of course, even in the intervening period, the struggle against the Bomb never disappeared. Around the world, peace and disarmament organizations continued to assail nuclear weapons; however, such efforts failed to spark broad-based antinuclear activism.
But thanks to the recent erosion of the nuclear arms control regime and to the Bush administration's undisguised contempt for nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, popular participation in disarmament ventures has begun to grow.
On May 1, 2005, the day before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference began at the United Nations, thousands of demonstrators marched through Manhattan, demanding a nuclear-weapon-free world. Drawn mostly from the United States, they were mobilized by Abolition Now (a coalition of peace and disarmament groups) and United for Peace & Justice (the largest coalition of peace groups in the United States). A New York Times article claimed that "several thousand" people participated in the event, while organizers put the number at 40,000. In either case, it was the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in the United States since the 1980s.
Less dramatically, U.S. peace groups such as Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Women's Action for New Directions, the Council for a Livable World, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation mobilized substantial grassroots pressure against the Bush administration's proposals for nuclear "bunker-busters" and "mini-nukes," playing a key role in their congressional defeat. Moreover, these same groups are currently stirring up significant opposition to two new components of a U.S. nuclear buildup--the reliable replacement warhead and Complex 2030.
Student antinuclear activism also appears to be undergoing a renaissance. In May, student hunger strikes and demonstrations broke out on three campuses of the University of California in protest against the university's involvement in U.S. nuclear weapons programs. Pressing the issue, students disrupted the university's board of regents meeting on May 18, departing only when tied up and removed by police.
The nuclear disarmament campaign also shows impressive signs of life in other countries. Among the international organizations currently working for a nuclear-weapon-free world are International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, with affiliates in 60 nations, and Abolition 2000, a campaign of about 2,000 groups in more than 90 countries.
In India, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace--an umbrella organization of some 200 groups--sharply condemned the recent U.S.-India nuclear deal. In Germany, dozens of leaders of youth organizations issued a call for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from their country. Perhaps the fiercest antinuclear uprising over the past year occurred in Britain, where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament led a turbulent mobilization against the British government's plan to replace its aging Trident nuclear weapons system.
Admittedly, none of this agitation is comparable to the outpouring of antinuclear protest that shook the world and shocked policy makers during the 1980s. But it does indicate the possibility for a dramatic upswing in antinuclear weapon activism, especially if there is a breakdown of the nuclear arms control and disarmament regime or a heightened prospect of nuclear war.