Jason Sibert

The United States has built a defense that deforms the society it’s trying to defend. And local government could be the key to changing this equation because politicians in a democratic republic are rattled by the power of public opinion that can be expressed in local governmental bodies.

The Trump administration has chosen to classify the number of nuclear weapons the United States has and the number of nuclear warheads dismantled in 2018, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists Nuclear Information Project said that the administration’s move takes pressure off nuclear armed states to engage in arms control efforts. Openness is essential for diplomacy and arms control; it gives diplomats the opportunity to honestly talk about arms control agreements and eliminates fear mongering and rumors.

Local governments could serve as a pressure point for the federal government to engage in arms control efforts. The nuclear freeze movement of the 1970s and 1980s should serve as a template. The movement’s purpose was to stop a drift toward nuclear war through a United States/Soviet Russia agreement to stop the testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. Within a few years, nuclear freeze became a mass movement all over the U.S.

The organizers in the movement started locally and went to organizations they belonged to for an endorsement of their ideas, as well as city councils, town halls and state legislatures. In the fall of 1982, the nuclear freeze was on the ballot in 10 states and 37 cities and counties around the country. The movement had a victory in nine states and all but three localities. By 1983, the freeze had been endorsed by 370 city councils, 70 town councils and one or more houses of 23 state legislators.

President Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981 talking of a nuclear weapons buildup and the possibility of winning a nuclear war. Feeling the pressure from the freeze movement, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) announced they would introduce a freeze resolution in congress in 1982. The polls showed the American people supported the freeze.

The Nuclear Freeze Movement was successful in that the Reagan Administration toned down its nuclear rhetoric. President Reagan, who had opposed every arms control agreement in both Democratic and Republican administrations, later said that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In 1983, as anti-nuclear arms proposals swept across the U.S. and Europe, Reagan told Secretary of State George Schultz that if the issue became more hot he would have to negotiate with Soviet leader Yuri Andropov on the elimination of nuclear weapons. When reformer Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of Soviet Russia, Reagan negotiated the Intermediate-Nuclear Range Forces Treaty.

A new nuclear freeze movement must emerge to confront the Trump administration. The movement would work towards a defense based around arms control that is consistent with the ideals of a democratic republic. It could start here in St. Louis and spread around the country. 

Jason Sibert is executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

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