by Bill Bichsel, SJ
President Obama’s speech in Prague on April 5, 2009 dedicating this country to lead the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons brought tremendous hope and joy to the nations of our world. This vision disintegrated into contradictory parts with Vice President Biden’s announcement of the President’s approval of the new investment in the nuclear arsenal.
A good part of this year’s budget will go to the development of new nuclear weapon components at their key nuclear weapon projects: at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and at the Kansas City Plant in Missouri. The Missouri plant for producing a major, non-nuclear component for nuclear arms is well into the planning stages and will replace the existing plant. The facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee plans to reinvest in its ability to produce uranium components, while the Los Alamos plant plans to increase the U.S. capability to produce plutonium pits – the core of a nuclear weapon – from 20 to 125 pits annually.
The Obama Administration’s proposed budget includes a request of over 7 billion dollars to improve and modernize its nuclear weapon production base. The modernization and production of a new generation of nuclear weapons is the latest and most deplorable violation of the spirit and intent of the NPT, Nuclear Weapon Non-Proliferation Treaty , which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1970. The “improvements” of the nuclear arsenal will increase the indiscriminate killing power of the weapons. Nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral under international and U.S. law and are outrageous violations of humanitarian law. They are crimes and sins against humanity and the continued participation in the maintenance and production of these weapons is to participate in societal sin. When a person through conscience becomes aware of the rightness or wrongness of a given action, then that person is personally responsible to follow the dictates of conscience.
In presenting the President’s Nuclear Vision in the Wall Street Journal, Vice President Biden quoted Obama, “…no nation can secure itself by disarming unilaterally, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, all nations remain ever on the brink of destruction.” Obama’s Prague speech continued, “We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”
Before making a few suggestions about how Obama could start and lead the world in nuclear weapon abolition, let me deal with the term “unilateral.” Some nuclear weapon supporters use the term to convey the idea that any step toward disarmament would be unilateral disarmament or the U.S. “going it alone” and leaving the country defenseless. The word can be used to try to ridicule or cut off dialogue about nuclear weapon abolition.
All NPT nations know and agree that nuclear weapon disarmament won’t take place without an enforceable agreement between the nations about the time, pace and modus of abolition. All nuclear nations must agree to the move – not just one country.
The big question is, “who will take the lead?” The NPT review committee will meet in May of this year to determine whether the NPT nations can actually set a date when the NPT nations will eliminate all nuclear weapons. The review committee has met every 5 years since 1970 and has never set a date for nuclear weapon disarmament. There is fear among nuclear weapon researchers that unless a date is set, it will be too late to stop nuclear weapon proliferation in third world countries. Nations will be armed against one another in a death dance. Steven Leeper of the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and who works for Mayors for Peace states, “It is crunch time.”
Mayors for Peace is an international body of over 3000 mayors working for nuclear weapon abolition. At the NPT Review Committee meeting in May 2010 at the United Nations in New York City the group will propose that all NPT nuclear weapon states agree to the abolition of all of their nuclear weapons by 2020. Mayors for Peace will also propose that these states submit plans on how and by what time table the disarmament will proceed at the 2015 NPT Review. This proposal is known as the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol.
In response to the President’s “Nuclear Vision,” I would like to suggest how the $7 Billion request for modernization of the nuclear arsenal can be turned into a first step toward nuclear weapons disarmament that is committed and can bring hope and encouragement to NPT nations as well as our world. The suggestion has two parts.
First, let the Obama administration request $3 billion to implement the decommissioning of the 3 plants mentioned previously in this article, as well as the Livermore Laboratory in California. This request should include money to retire current workers or to pay for retraining employees to work for needed national endeavors such as green energy and to repair environmental damage. Let the clean up of Hanford and similar nuclear contaminated places be priorities. Money should be invested in the planning for safe disposal of all nuclear weapons in the U.S. This plan must be submitted to the NPT Review Committee in 2015.
Let $4 Billion be invested immediately in the health and welfare of the Haitian people and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. Let this be the first installment in our debt to the Haitian people and our duty to share resources with those most in need.
Ways to work for Nuclear Weapon Abolition:
- Each day forgive someone or forgive yourself.
- Each day perform an act of random kindness (saying hello to someone for instance).
- Each day take time to thank God for the person(s) who has helped or inspired you.
- Learn about Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.
- Learn about the NPT Review coming up this May at the United Nations in New York.
- Write your elected Representative and Senators to oppose nuclear weapons.
- Organize or join a gathering that will support abolition of all nuclear weapons during the week of the NPT conference.
- Inquire about a group who will meet with their mayor to inform their elected official of Mayors for Peace.
- Join a group (senior citizen, student, etc.) that will reflect and act on the nuclear weapon bondage.
- Write a letter or article to the editor of your paper about your experience in working for nuclear weapon abolition.