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Communities, Lawmakers Call for Action on Nuclear Threat

Communities, Lawmakers Call for Action on Nuclear Threat

Published: March 22, 2019
Photo: AFSC / Archives

By Arnie Alpert

With the March 20 passage in the NH House of Representatives of a resolution calling for a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and opposing development of so-called “low yield” nuclear weapons, New Hampshire legislators added their voices to a growing movement aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear conflict and moving the world toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

Other measures, based on a resolution known as “Back from the Brink,” also cleared the City Council in Portsmouth last Monday and Town Meetings last week in Warner, Alstead, Lee, and Exeter.  The Durham Town Council passed one in December.  New London’s Town Meeting kicked off the latest round two years ago. 

It’s not a coincidence.

The resolutions flow from an organized effort by groups including NH Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, Seacoast Peace Response, Rights and Democracy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists to spotlight concerns about nuclear weapons at a time when presidential candidates are flocking to New Hampshire.  The candidates are also starting to get questions on the campaign trail.

The reason should be obvious: 75 years into the atomic age and 3 decades after the Cold War ended, the world is still threatened by the possibility that through escalation of international conflict, accident, or technological malfunction, nuclear weapons could be exploded.  Consider, for example, the festering tensions along the border between India and Pakistan, two of the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers, that could spin out of control.

As the Portsmouth resolution put it, “the detonation of even a small number of these weapons anywhere in the world could have catastrophic human, environmental, and economic consequences that could affect everyone on the planet.” 

“A large‐scale nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions of people directly and cause unimaginable environmental damage, producing conditions wherein billions of people could die from starvation or disease,” the resolution added. 

Yet, the United States and other nuclear powers are pursuing new nuclear weapons, even ones designed for battlefield use, rather than diplomatic courses to de-escalate tensions and reduce the chance that nuclear weapons would ever be used.  The decisions by US and Russian leaders to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement and possibility that the New START treaty might go unrenewed in 2020 stand as stark examples. 

For our country, this is a dangerous change of course from the approaches of previous presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic, which even at the height of the Cold War knew that restraint was preferable to an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.  

According to a recent poll conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 84 percent of New Hampshire residents think it is very (54 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) important for candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential election to lay out their views regarding nuclear weapons.

Presidential candidates take notice.  When you visit New Hampshire, you may be asked questions like,

“Will you oppose current plans to spend upwards of one-and-a-half trillion dollars on a plan to rebuild the entire American nuclear arsenal?”

“Will you agree that no president, even yourself should you be elected, should have unilateral authority to launch a nuclear attack?”

“Will you live up to long-standing US treaty obligations and support multilateral negotiations leading to the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons?”

Voters will welcome the responses. 

[This article was also published in the Concord Monitor on March 24, 2019.]

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the New Hampshire Program.