Who has the President’s Ear?

Each Spring our country funds its priorities for the coming year. This annual process gives us the opportunity for renewal as we address our critical needs. This year, for the second year in a row, the process is disrupted by the continuation of a global pandemic that has resulted in the loss of more than 584,000 Americans and 3.34 million people worldwide.

We have seen human tragedy, loss, racial tensions and a heightened realization of the connection to our fellow humans. This underscores the need to address and fund issues and programs that provide for sustainability, justice and equality moving forward while also preparing for the threat of future pandemics.

President Biden has often quoted his father in saying, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

As we review the current fiscal year 2021 budget which is funded by our tax dollars and which is the final Trump-era budget, we should all be incredulous that the United States will spend in excess of $74 billion on nuclear weapons related programs. This begs the question of who has the President’s ear? It would appear that the entrenched powers of the military industrial complex are the winners, leading us down the path to Armageddon.

As we look to the means for a sustainable future, where do nuclear weapons fit in? As they are our greatest imminent existential threat, yet we appear oblivious to that reality. In a world armed with 13,125 nuclear weapons, science has demonstrated that a limited nuclear war using 100 “small” Hiroshima size weapons over populated cities, for example between India and Pakistan–one of the world’s nuclear hotspots–the aftermath would result in catastrophic global climate disruption lasting up to 10 years resulting in a nuclear famine that would kill up to 2 billion people. Soon to be released studies with more complete calculations will demonstrate that the death toll will be much higher. Any larger scale nuclear war between the United States and Russia would cause far greater loss of life, potentially resulting in the extinction of humanity.

These facts should be a wake up call, but in spite of this, the United States, and by default all other nuclear nations, continue marching toward oblivion with the rebuilding of their nuclear arsenals at a price tag of ~ $1.7 trillion over 30 years. Daniel Ellsberg in his book, The Doomsday Machine, states that, “There is no sign that the findings of the latest scientific peer-reviewed studies of climatic consequences of nuclear war over the past decade have penetrated the consciousness of U.S. officials or Russian officials or have  influenced in anyway their deployments or arms control negotiations.”

This reality coupled with the global pandemic, rising international political tensions between the nuclear superpowers and environmental degradation has caused the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to set their Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. These events and thinking have brought us to the brink of nuclear war. It is magical thinking to believe that we can continue allowing the existence of these weapons without them being used either by intent, accident or triggered by cyber-attack. Just this past December witnessed a significant breach of the National Nuclear Security Agency’s computer systems. This exposed the potential reality of a “War Games” scenario.

Yet this is a reality that does not have to be. There is a growing national initiative seeking to fundamentally change U.S. nuclear weapons policy. This Back from the Brink movement has been endorsed by 354 nongovernmental organizations, 50 cities, and six state legislative bodies.

It calls on the U.S. to take a leadership role by:

* Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals

* Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first

* Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any U.S. President to launch a nuclear attack

* Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert

* Cancelling the plan to replace the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons

As the Biden administration has completed its first 100 days identifying the priorities it must address as we face the future, nothing presents a greater danger than the threat of nuclear war. The only way to prevent this is by the complete abolition of these weapons. Hopefully President Biden will hear and listen to the voices of the scientists and doctors warning of this threat to prevent the last epidemic.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.