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.