The anti-nuclear campaign’s future

By Lawrence S. Wittner, August 19, 2007

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.

Topics: Nuclear Weapons


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