For the Monitor
Published: 2/6/2019 12:09:59 AM
School children are no longer participating in duck-and-cover drills, but Americans and the public officials who represent them are becoming increasingly aware that the risks of a nuclear war, which could be started intentionally or accidentally, have not gone away.
Events here at home and abroad have brought renewed attention to this issue. Americans have suddenly realized that U.S. presidents have authority to order a nuclear weapon strike without consulting anyone. Just one phone call and hundreds of U.S. nuclear missiles can be launched in less than 10 minutes. Meanwhile, national security experts are speculating about a renewed nuclear arms race as the U.S. and Russia develop new nuclear weapons and the U.S. prepares to withdraw from arms control treaties, including the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that President Ronald Reagan signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Both sides accuse the other of violating the treaty.
Cities and towns across New Hampshire and the country – including Durham and New London, N.H., Baltimore, Los Angeles and Portland, Maine – are passing resolutions calling on the United States to limit the risk of nuclear war by changing U.S. policies. About a dozen other New Hampshire cities are considering following suit. California and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have passed similar resolutions. Organizations including the Unitarian Universalist Association, Union of Concerned Scientists, Federation of American Scientists and Physicians for Social Responsibility have joined the call.
The resolutions recommend a number of steps that would make nuclear war less likely. Most importantly, they call on the U.S. to state that it will never use a nuclear weapon first; no U.S. president should ever start a nuclear war.
The N.H. General Court may be the next to take a position on this issue. The State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee in the N.H. House will hold a hearing today on HCR 7, a resolution introduced by Rep. Chuck Grassie that calls on the U.S. to establish a “no first use” policy.
If enacted, the measure would throw New Hampshire’s support behind legislation, introduced in Congress last week by House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith and Senate Armed Services Committee member Elizabeth Warren, to make it U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first.
As the world’s most powerful country, the only reason the U.S. needs nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on America or its allies. The threat that the U.S. may use its nuclear weapons first is counterproductive and could prompt a pre-emptive strike from a nuclear-armed adversary if it feared a U.S. nuclear launch was imminent.
Knowing that the U.S. could respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear strike, however, is a real deterrent; that is the message a no-first-use policy would send to the rest of the world.
When cities and states enact resolutions like the one before the N.H. Legislature, it sends a strong message to Washington decision-makers, both in Congress and the White House, that they must act for the safety of all Americans.
(Mindi Messmer of Rye is an environmental scientist working with the Union of Concerned Scientists and a former N.H. state representative.)