Because I was born in 1990, when the Cold War was coming to a halt, I have never experienced duck-and-cover drills, the fear of Russian spies, or the belief that nuclear weapons are necessary. My generation barely even remembers the Clinton presidency, and if asked about it, will probably be quicker to name the sex scandal than any of his policies. George W. Bush was elected president when I was in 4th grade, 9/11 happened when I was in 5th.
I have a theory that Bush and his policies are the reason that my generation is more open to new ideas, although not necessarily more liberal than those older than us. We see some people so unwilling to change from policies that are making a negative impact now, simply because they are commonplace and were once useful. The youth are open to trying something new. Seeing that the way we currently do things leaves millions of people without jobs and health care, homeless, and impoverished makes a new way of living seem both possible and essential.
The same way of thinking applies to nuclear weapons – I was not alive when nuclear weapons were thought to be crucial as a deterrent from another world superpower and perhaps as a result, I see no use for nuclear weapons in this day and age. The United States is already the biggest superpower and the biggest spender in arming themselves militarily. Even if the US were to drop the cost of their nuclear weapons program by disarming all of their bombs, they would still be the world’s largest military spender – by a lot.
Despite our unchallenged military supremacy, the argument for having nuclear weapons is still that nuclear weapons act as a deterrent against attacks from other countries. They also act as a measure of strength for getting what you want on the world scene. These arguments ignore the huge financial costs that nuclear weapons demand. They also ignore that our possession of nukes is a great motivator for our enemies to get their own.
The use of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 innocent people, seems to create a stronger argument against nuclear weapons than any other. Simply knowing what we have used these weapons for attacks rather than deterrents, makes having nuclear weapons that much more dangerous and redundant.
The morally reprehensible bomb dropped on Hiroshima alone took $2 billion dollars (not adjusted for inflation) of research to create, and that was 65 years ago. In calculating the costs of building, testing, and maintaining our nuclear weapons and their facilities today, the White House asked for $7 billion for nuclear weapons spending in the 2011 fiscal year, tying up money that could have been used to fix our recession, shrink the national debt, or fund unemployment checks.
Despite his signing of the START nuclear treaty with Russia, which would create a plan to cut back the amounts of nuclear weapons for both the US and Russia, Barack Obama has planned to spend $180 billion to update and maintain our supply of nuclear weapons in the next ten years. This is an increase in nuclear weapons spending from the Bush administration plans. Obama’s efforts to diminish our nuclear weapons stockpile seem to be contradicting his plans to revamp our nuclear programs, and this clash in policy is literally wasting taxpayer money to update weapons that will eventually be dismantled.
As the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki takes place this August, we must take time to reflect on the necessity of nuclear weapons. Although there may have been times in American history when people theorized that nuclear weapons were pertinent for defense, history also shows that we have used nuclear weapons not as a defense mechanism, but as a form of attack, devastating the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
We must ask ourselves if there is any reason to keep nuclear weapons today and consider whether the positives outweigh the negatives. Are the risks of causing other countries like Iran and North Korea to build up their own stockpiles worth our own perceived safety? Should our debt be made deeper by planning for the development of nuclear weapons while we are in the beginning stages of cutting down the weapons we already have?
Surely if there has been any time in our nation’s history to begin dismantling nuclear weapons, it is now. We must take steps as a nation to not only cut our supplies in order to make a small political impact, but to take steps toward a worldwide endeavor to abolish nuclear weapons. Additionally, the Senate must ratify both the START treaty with Russia and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions. Finally, we don’t need an additional $180 billion spent on remodeling nuclear weapons that we say we want to destroy.
In my lifetime, I have yet to witness any threats that justify our possession and construction of nuclear weapons. The negative costs are too great, not to mention, having nuclear weapons may have even hurt us when in the last ten years, as it has encouraged other countries to build up their arsenals.
Holding the potential in our hands to destroy all of life on Earth seems to be the opposite of the advancement of human accomplishment, and the United States, being the first nation to develop nuclear weapons and the only nation to have used them, holds the burden and the capability of leading the world towards nuclear abolition.
Jess Mitchell is an International Affairs Intern at the Peace Economy Project
August 6, 2010