Stop wasting resources on weapons that could bring global destruction
Today, all over the world, communities and nations celebrate the entry into force of the Treaty on The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. But communities like our own, closely identified with and economically-dependent on the production of nuclear submarines, are more ambivalent on the issue.
According to the United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs, the treaty is a "comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities. These include undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.”
So far, 51 nations have ratified the treaty, and the list of signatories grows every month. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the United States and eight other nuclear weapons states have not signed or ratified the treaty.
What does hanging onto nuclear weapons cost us? In 1998, the non-partisan Brookings Institute released the results of their Atomic Audit, a reckoning with the real costs of nuclear weapons since the beginning of the Cold War. The figure was staggering, almost incomprehensible - $5 trillion− we are still counting. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, in the next 10 years, the U.S. is poised to spend nearly $500 billion to maintain and upgrade its nuclear arsenal, including replacing Trident submarines with the new Columbia class. Over the next 30 years, the price tag for that project could approach $2 trillion, funds that are filling the coffers of corporations like General Dynamics.
In the four years that Donald Trump occupied the White House, the U.S. left or violated an alphabet soup of treaties. The administration’s open disdain for the international community and its endless barrage of threats contributed to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decision to move the Doomsday Clock, a grim icon of the imminence of nuclear danger, to 100 seconds to nuclear midnight − closer than ever before.
The new Biden administration has signaled that it will work with the international community on many global concerns − from climate change to arms control. That is welcome news. But, as the U.S. passes the dark milestone of 400,000 deaths due to coronavirus, we must ask: What are our priorities? What keeps us safe? Nuclear weapons are a threat to life on Earth if detonated. But even as nuclear weapons remain in their bunkers and silos, they threaten life on Earth because precious resources are poured into weapons production to generate corporate profits rather than invested in human needs, including fighting this pandemic.
At the end of the Cold War, as submarine contracts were cut and jobs lost, local peace activists reached across picket lines to connect with Electric Boat workers and union representatives to imagine a peace dividend and reinvestment of all those millions and billions to create new jobs and meet human needs. Their work was boundary busting and driven by hope. However, the military industrial complex was too brittle and desperate to allow for human creativity and compassion to triumph over the boom and bust cycle of the war machine, which continues to replace unused weapons with more powerful and expensive ones. Thirty years later, the U.S. devotes 6% of our federal budget to nuclear weapons.
Our infrastructure bears the scars of this woeful neglect. But instead of addressing these urgent needs, the U.S. is spending $100,000 a minute for the next 10 years on nuclear weapons. Do we really need these nuclear weapons? No, we need jobs! And there are so many jobs that need to be done, including improving our aging infrastructure and investing in a Green New Deal. Right here in New London, community activists are pushing for a People's Budget, and demanding a reallocation of resources to serve human needs.
On this historic day, we thank the countries that have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and urge that the United States joins them in creating a safer and healthier world.
Let's get to work.
Frida Berrigan is a member of the New London Green Party. Joanne Sheehan, an organizer with War Resisters League, co-founded the Community Coalition for Economic Conversion. They have organized a celebration of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, thanking the signers, on Howard Street, New London from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. today.