When Barack Obama was elected president, he hoped to eliminate nuclear weapons. His hope (expressed in his visit to Hiroshima) is still to eliminate such weapons. But that elimination never happens. Almost a decade ago, four powerful retired politicians – Sam Nunn, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and William Perry – called for ending nuclear weapons. Nothing happened. Now Perry, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense writes, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” Still, nothing happens.
The world still has 15,000 nuclear weapons and tons of fissionable material – enough to destroy life as we know it – in addition to the scientists who could give nuclear plans to rogue regimes as did Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan.
We live near targets – Washington D.C. and Omaha, Nebraska. Our nation’s capital has always been treated as ‘ground zero.’ (In 2011 the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released National Capital Region Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism instructing Washingtonians what to do after an attack)
Eastern Nebraska is not very different. Since the 1950s, Offutt Base near Omaha has been the command center for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In 1959, the Rev. Abraham Muste marched to Mead, Nebraska, to protest intercontinental ballistic missiles there. For more than 50 years, Nebraska peace activists have sought to spotlight the doomsday mission of Strategic Air Command, now called US Strategic Command (StratCom). One of us spoke to a Junior Chamber of Commerce at the Nebraska State Penitentiary about eastern Nebraska’s ground zero status. Afterward a prisoner came up and said, “I am not right in the head; I can’t read; but I understood what your speech meant for me in this prison.” We are all in this prison.
Our efforts to get out of the crosshairs have not succeeded for obvious reasons. For the cities of Omaha and Bellevue, StratCom and its dozens of satellite companies employ about 100,000 people. Our Congressmembers are expected to deliver appropriations that feed the nuclear monster and – though some of our representatives have a good sense of how dangerous nuclear proliferation is – they cannot limit the central industry in our area and retain office.
Now the Department of Defense is mounting a soup-to-nuts nuclear weapons “modernization” program estimated to cost at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years. New or upgraded weapons laboratories, warheads, missiles, submarines and bombers are all planned. Predictably, every other nuclear weapons state has followed suit, announcing “modernization” plans. Add in the outrageous statements on nuclear weapons use by some presidential candidates, and one can see a new arms race in the making.
Despite our unsuccessful local efforts, we do not wish be targets any more. We believe millions of people tired of dreaming the nuclear nightmare need to be brought into the process. We are not alone. Mayors of 5300 cities across the world have asked that their cities no longer be targets of national military decisions in which their communities have no role. We propose the creation of an international campaign that stands up to say “We refuse to be targets” – to ask the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea and other countries having, or contemplating having nuclear weapons, to cease and desist.
We need a new Nuclear Freeze and then systematic reductions with protocols for controlling fissionable materials. We envision a campaign advocating gradual, verifiable reductions: first 25 percent or more (which was at least proposed for US/Russian bilateral reductions to follow-up the New START agreement), then 50 percent, then 75 percent, and finally 100 percent in nuclear warheads and fissionable materials.
The peoples of the world will ultimately demand the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The situations in Pakistan and India, Russia and Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, and several other countries, however, make near-term reductions urgent. As we approach the August 6 and 9 anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, President Obama is considering executive actions to reduce nuclear dangers. He certainly should announce further reductions, taking US warheads off hair-trigger alert status, and declaring a No First Use policy.
These steps could reinvigorate the international nuclear arms reduction process, but civil society must demand more. We believe that although the people of Nebraska and Washington have been relatively impotent by ourselves, we could act in concert with peace movements across the world to make happen what the politicians and military could not.
Paul A. Olson heads Nebraskans for Peace’s Anti-War Committee, and is Kate Foster Professor emeritus, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.