• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal

In late November 2018, Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned public intellectual, remarked that “humanity faces two imminent existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war.”

Curiously, although a widespread environmental movement has developed to save the planet from accelerating climate change, no counterpart has emerged to take on the rising danger of nuclear disaster. Indeed, this danger ― exemplified by the collapse of arms control and disarmament agreements, vast nuclear “modernization” programs by the United States and other nuclear powers, and reckless threats of nuclear war ― has stirred remarkably little public protest and even less public debate during the recent U.S. midterm elections.

Of course, there are peace and disarmament organizations that challenge the nuclear menace. But they are fairly small and pursue their own, separate antinuclear campaigns. Such campaigns ― ranging from cutting funding for a new nuclear weapon, to opposing the Trump administration’s destruction of yet another disarmament treaty, to condemning its threats of nuclear war ― are certainly praiseworthy. But they have not galvanized a massive public uprising against the overarching danger of nuclear annihilation.

In these circumstances, what is missing is a strategy that peace organizations and activists can rally around to rouse the public from its torpor and shift the agenda of the nuclear powers from nuclear confrontation to a nuclear weapons-free world.

The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, launched decades ago in another time of nuclear crisis, suggests one possible strategy. Developed at the end of the 1970s by defense analyst Randy Forsberg, the Freeze (as it became known) focused on a rather simple, straightforward goal: a Soviet-American agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.

As Forsberg predicted, this proposal to halt the nuclear arms race had great popular appeal (with polls showing U.S. public support at 72 percent) and sparked an enormous grassroots campaign. The Reagan administration, horrified by this resistance to its plans for a nuclear buildup and victory in a nuclear war, fought ferociously against it. But to no avail. The Freeze triumphed in virtually every state and local referendum on the ballot, captured the official support of the Democratic Party, and sailed through the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority.

Although the Reaganites managed to derail it in the Senate, the administration was on the defensive and, soon, on the run. Joined by massive antinuclear campaigns in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world, the Freeze campaign forced a reversal of administration priorities and policies, leading to previously unthinkable Soviet-American nuclear disarmament treaties and an end to the Cold War.

How might a comparable strategy be implemented today?

The campaign goal might be a halt to the nuclear arms race, exemplified by an agreement among the nuclear powers to scrap their ambitious nuclear “modernization” plans. Although the Trump administration would undoubtedly rail against this policy, the vast majority of Americans would find it thoroughly acceptable.

An alternative, more ambitious goal ― one that would probably also elicit widespread public approval ― would be the ratification by the nuclear powers of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This UN-brokered treaty, signed in July 2017 by the vast majority of the world’s nations and scorned by the governments of the United States and other nuclear-armed countries, prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons.

The second stage of a current campaign strategy, as it was in the strategy of the Freeze, is to get as many peace groups as possible to endorse the campaign and put their human and financial resources behind it.

Despite some possible qualms among their modern counterparts about losing their unique identity and independence, working together in a joint effort seems feasible today. Some of the largest of the current organizations ― such as the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Veterans for Peace ― are thoroughly committed to building a nuclear weapons-free world and, therefore, might well be willing to embark on this kind of coalition venture.

The third stage of an effective strategy is winning the battle for public opinion. In the case of the Freeze, this entailed not only holding lots of gatherings in people’s living rooms, but introducing Freeze resolutions at conventions of religious denominations, unions, professional associations, and the vast panoply of voluntary organizations, where they almost invariably passed.

Having a concrete, common-sense proposal to support ― one coming up at a church conclave, in a town meeting, at a union assembly, or on the ballot ― activists engaged in a widespread conversation on a key political issue with friends, neighbors, and members of mainstream organizations. It’s the kind of grassroots educational opportunity that peace and disarmament advocates should welcome today.

A final stage involves turning the objective into government policy. The Freeze campaign found that many politicians were delighted to adopt its program ― in some cases even a bit too eager, bringing it to Congress before full public mobilization. Similarly, at present, some key Democrats — including the chair of the incoming House Armed Services Committee and likely Democratic presidential candidates — are already gearing up an attack upon the Trump administration’s nuclear “modernization” program, its withdrawal from disarmament treaties, and its eagerness to launch a nuclear war. Consequently, if a major public campaign gets rolling, substantial changes in public policy are within reach.

To be fully effective, such a campaign requires international solidarity — not only to bring domestic pressure to bear on diverse nations, but overseas pressure as well. The Freeze movement worked closely with nuclear disarmament movements around the world, and this international coalition produced striking results. The power of the antinuclear movement within nations allied with the U.S. government led to their governments constantly pressing the Reagan administration to temper its bellicose ambitions and accept nuclear disarmament.

Similarly, Eastern Bloc officials found themselves forced to scramble for the support of other governments and, even worse, forced to deal with protest campaigns erupting within their own countries. These kinds of international pressures, enhanced by the current strong dissatisfaction of non-nuclear nations with the escalation of the nuclear arms race and the related dangers of nuclear war, could play an important role today.

Of course, this proposal suggests only one of numerous possible ways to develop a broad anti-nuclear campaign. Even so, there should be little doubt about the necessity for organizing that campaign. The alternative is allowing the world to continue its slide toward nuclear catastrophe.

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 22, 2019
Gary Leupp
The Kurds as U.S. Sacrificial Lambs
Robert Fisk
Trump and the Retreat of the American Empire
John Feffer
Trump’s Endless Wars
Marshall Auerback
Will the GOP Become the Party of Blue-Collar Conservatism?
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Fake Withdrawal From Endless War
Dean Baker
Trump Declares Victory in China Trade War
Patrick Bond
Bretton Woods Institutions’ Neoliberal Over-Reach Leaves Global Governance in the Gutter
Robert Hunziker
XR Co-Founder Discusses Climate Emergency
John W. Whitehead
Terrorized, Traumatized and Killed: The Police State’s Deadly Toll on America’s Children
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World Partnership for Ecopolitical Health and Security
Binoy Kampmark
The Decent Protester: a Down Under Creation
Frances Madeson
Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Police Violence
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Challenges Logging and Burning Project in Methow Valley
Chelli Stanley
Change the Nation You Live In
Elliot Sperber
Humane War 
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail