[Editor's note: I take these to be six equally good arguments in favor of a citizen disavowing nuclear weapons. D.R.]
Reason One: The entire world would be more secure if the planet were free of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are the only type of weapon in existence that have the capacity to annihilate the human species and countless other species.
The very existence of nuclear weapons leaves open the possibility that a nuclear exchange might take place. This could happen intentionally, inadvertently (as in the Cuban Missile Crisis when the U.S. and USSR almost blundered into nuclear war), or by an accidental launch. The list of historical false alarms is long; for instance, in 1979 someone fed a war game simulation into a North American Air Defense computer. Thinking that the alert was real, fighter planes were scrambled and nuclear bombers were readied before the error was discovered.
In the absence of total nuclear disarmament, terrorists might acquire nuclear weapons. Such a scenario has become more probable since the USSR dissolved. There have been many reports of attempts to smuggle weapons-grade plutonium from Russia. The fewer nuclear weapons there are in the world, the fewer there are for terrorists to try to steal. Every step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons would increase our security.
Without abolition, there is always the danger that nuclear weapons will proliferate - that more and more countries will obtain them. It is ultimately unrealistic to expect that in a world in which some nations rely upon nuclear weapons, other nations will not seek to attain them. A world where there are many nuclear-armed countries would be even more dangerous.
The end of the Cold War has meant that there are no more nuclear-armed opponents, except India and Pakistan. Nuclear weapons do not serve even an arguable purpose when a country has friendly relations with a former opponent.
Reason Two: The threat or use of nuclear weapons has been declared generally illegal by the World Court.
The July 8, 1996 decision of the International Court of Justice stated that it is generally illegal to use or to threaten to use nuclear weapons. From a legal point of view, it would be virtually impossible to use nuclear weapons without violating the laws of armed conflict. The International Security and Arms Control Committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that "the inherent destructiveness of nuclear weapons, combined with the unavoidable risk that even the most restricted use of such weapons would escalate to broader attacks, makes it extremely unlikely that any contemplated threat or use of nuclear weapons would meet these [the Court's] criteria." If nuclear armed nations are serious about upholding international law, they ought to immediately commence negotiations for eliminating and prohibiting all
Reason Three: Nuclear weapons are morally reprehensible.
The rightness of many issues is debatable, but nuclear weapons are morally insupportable. Even possessing something so deadly is wrong. These radiation-laden bombs can destroy most life on Earth and would be better described as national and global suicide devices rather than weapons. What could be more evil? As Joseph Rotblat, the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate, urged when speaking against nuclear weapons, "Remember your humanity!"
Father Richard McSorley has written, "Can we go along with the intent to use nuclear weapons? What it is wrong to do, it is wrong to intend to do. If it is wrong for me to kill you, it is wrong for me to plan to do it. If I get my gun and go into your house to retaliate for a wrong done me, then find there are police guarding your house, I have already committed murder in my heart. I have intended it. Likewise, if I intend to use nuclear weapons in massive retaliation, I have already committed massive murder in my heart." (emphasis added)
Such intentions to harm violate the moral teachings of all religions. It is worth remembering that even in the middle of a war as bitterly fought as World War II, some generals and admirals opposed the use of the first nuclear weapons on the grounds that it was immoral to kill civilians. Their moral arguments are truer today than when first uttered, since a war with current, super-powerful H-bombs would poison entire continents. What kind of people do we become, if we accept the possibility of committing mass murder and suicide as part of our everyday government policy?
Reason Four: Nuclear weapons have not prevented wars, which is what they were supposed to do.
Nuclear weapons certainly have NOT prevented wars between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states. (Ask any Vietnam or Gulf War veteran!) Nuclear weapons states have been involved in more wars than non-nuclear weapons states. Between 1945 and 1997, nuclear weapons states have fought in an average of 5.2 wars, while non-nuclear weapons states averaged about 0.67 wars.
Some advocates of nuclear weapons continue to claim that such weapons have at least prevented a large-scale conflict between major powers (specifically between the U.S. and the former USSR). Though there have not been any world wars since the development and use of nuclear weapons, this is not proof that nuclear weapons have been responsible for keeping the peace. It is unclear that any of the major powers wanted to fight on a large scale with each other.
According to the Canberra Commission, the idea that the former Soviet Union was plotting to invade Europe is open to question in light of recent investigations made possible due to the end of the Cold War. The horrific experiences of World War II, in which some 40 to 50 million people died, had convinced leaders in both the East and the West that another world war should be avoided at almost any price.
Some even claim that the presence of nuclear weapons in war-prone regions such as India and Pakistan has introduced caution and served as a stabilizing force. Others suggest, however, that Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear capability has hardened its resolve not to settle the Kashmir crisis and allowed it to feel safe behind a "nuclear shield" as it supports Kashmiri militancy.
If the only use of nuclear weapons is to deter enemy use of nuclear weapons, then the best way to end the threat of nuclear war is to eliminate these weapons altogether.
Reason Five: Nuclear weapons are extraordinarily costly, and the costs continue into the indefinite future.
Although nuclear weapons were promoted in the 1950s with the idea that they would provide "more bang for the buck," just the opposite is true. When the costs of research, development, testing, deployment, maintenance and associated intelligence activities are combined, the price tag is hefty. When costs of damage to the land, illnesses of uranium miners, cancer deaths from nuclear pollution, and storage of nuclear waste for centuries are added, the price becomes astronomical. Since the early 1940s, the U.S. alone has spent over $4 trillion ($4,000,000,000,000) on nuclear arms. Note that this is the approximate size of the U.S. national debt! (No one knows how much it will cost to clean up leaking waste sites now and store weapons-related nuclear wastes for many thousands of years.)
If current policies are implemented, the U.S. will continue to spend some $25 - $30 billion per year on its nuclear forces. Consider the fact that the U.S. government has allocated $27 billion for education, and $17 billion for housing assistance for 1997. What is more important - educational assistance or bombs that can incinerate millions of people? As we consider the cost of nuclear weapons, we should also keep in mind that one in seven individuals in the U.S. lives below the poverty line, and some 30 million U.S. citizens are without adequate medical insurance. We have lots better things to spend our tax dollars on than gigantic weapons that are not related to any realistic estimate of our military needs.
Reason Six: Some countries have already given up nuclear weapons, showing that it is possible for a nation to be secure without them.
Three former Soviet republics, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, became nuclear weapons free states by voluntarily transferring their nuclear warheads to Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. South Africa actually developed a small nuclear arsenal clandestinely, and then dismantled it. Argentina and Brazil have also eliminated their nuclear weapons programs even though they achieved initial success in these programs.
On June 4, 1996, the U.S. Secretary of Defense met with the defense ministers of Russia and Ukraine to celebrate Ukraine's change in status from the world's third largest nuclear weapons state to a nuclear weapon free state. On the occasion, these defense leaders planted sunflowers and scattered sunflower seeds on a former Ukrainian missile base that once housed eighty SS-19 missiles aimed at the United States. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry said, "Sunflowers instead of missiles in the soil would insure peace for future generations."