A generation ago, on Dec. 2, 1983, the city of Madison, Wisconsin, declared itself a nuclear-free zone. This effort, while largely symbolic at the time, expressed the sentiment of the community. Now 35 years later, the world finds itself continuing to grapple with the threat of nuclear war either by intent, miscalculation or accident, with the growing risk of cyber-attack. Many would argue that the risk today is greater than it was during the Cold War.
We have come to realize that nuclear war is actually far more dangerous than we had previously thought. Working with climate scientists modeling a regional limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, using just 100 Hiroshima-size weapons, or less than one-half of 1 percent of the global nuclear arsenals, scientific studies on global food production by Physicians for Social Responsibility identified that over 2 billion people would be at risk from “nuclear famine.” This would be as a result of catastrophic climate change, the effects of which would drop surface temperatures 1.3°C across the planet, resulting in a dramatic reduction of the growing seasons in the world’s agricultural food-growing regions.
Understanding this threat, the non-nuclear nations of the world adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. The treaty is now in the process of being ratified. Once 50 nations have done so, nuclear weapons will be banned just as chemical and biological weapons have been.
In the fall of 2017, two grassroots campaigns began in the U.S. in support of the U.N. treaty: the “Back from the Brink Campaign” and “The Treaty Compliance Campaign." Madison now finds itself able to take a leadership role by endorsing these campaigns. Both campaigns call upon the United States to actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
Additionally, the Back from the Brink campaign calls for a series of precautionary steps to reduce the immediate risk of nuclear war by: 1) renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first 2) ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. president to launch a nuclear attack 3) taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert and 4) canceling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons at an anticipated cost of $1.7 trillion.
The Treaty Compliance Campaign calls for divestment from and boycotting of companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry.
Both campaigns point out that nuclear weapons program funding robs communities of vital resources that could be used to meet education, medical, social justice and humanitarian needs. During the 2017 tax year, the U.S. spent $62.7 billion on all nuclear weapons programs. Those costs to the state of Wisconsin were approximately $1.1 billion, while the city of Madison spent in excess of $54 million on these nuclear weapons programs. Most of us can identify far better allocations of these precious tax dollars.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has unanimously endorsed the Back from the Brink campaign, as have 14 cities from Baltimore to Los Angeles in addition to the California state legislature. The mayors also embraced the U.N. Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty. Nearly 40 candidates for state office in Massachusetts and Vermont have pledged support for the treaty. Six U.S. cities have committed to nuclear-free contracts and investments.
William J. Perry, the 19th secretary of defense and one of the architects of the Cold War, recently stated, “The fight against the threat of nuclear weapons can be daunting, but Back from the Brink has created a worthy road map for battle.”
Unlike natural disasters we have been witnessing of late, human beings have created nuclear weapons and we know how to dismantle them and eliminate this risk. What is lacking is the political will. We must be the people the leaders follow. Each of us has a role to play in bringing forth the abolition of these weapons. We owe this to our children and future generations.
Robert Dodge is a family physician in Ventura, California. He serves on the Los Angeles and national boards of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He also serves on the board of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. Physicians for Social Responsibility is the U.S. affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. IPPNW is the founding partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
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