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Members of the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons gathered in Manhattan on August 6, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Members of the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear weapons gathered in Manhattan on August 6, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

US Peace Groups Call for Biden and Congress to Adopt 'No First Use of Nuclear Weapons' Policy

The U.S. "has nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to strike first and begin a nuclear war that could result in the deaths of billions of people around the globe," warned one coalition member.

Kenny Stancil

The 76th anniversary of the U.S. military's atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is coming up, and in an effort to prevent such mass murder from reoccurring, a broad coalition of peace, religious, and community groups launched a national campaign on Wednesday to urge President Joe Biden and Congress to adopt a policy of "No First Use of Nuclear Weapons."

"Our long-term goal is total nuclear disarmament."
—Pamela Richard, Peace Action of Wisconsin

With towns throughout the U.S. planning to hold commemorative events from August 6 through August 9 to mourn the tens of thousands of people who died or suffered in Japan as a result of the atomic bombs the U.S. military dropped on two densely built-up cities with large civilian populations in 1945, campaign organizers—who consider the no-first-use policy a "step on the road to the eventual abolition of all nuclear weapons by all nations"—are working to ensure that "such a holocaust never be allowed to happen again."

The "No First Use: Decrease the Danger of Nuclear War" coalition defined a first-use nuclear strike as "an attack using nuclear weapons against an enemy that did not first launch a nuclear strike against the United States, its territories, or its allies." The coalition is pressuring Biden to declare—and Congress to legislate—that the U.S. "will neither initiate nor threaten to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons."

According to the coalition, the risk of nuclear war, which Daniel Ellsberg and others have warned would "kill billions of people and end civilization as we know it," is increasing because the Trump and Biden administrations decided to withdraw from arms control treaties and pursue a new Cold War with Russia and China.

By holding online and in-person educational events on campuses and public venues nationwide, and by helping citizens and civic groups engage with lawmakers, the coalition seeks to achieve "a no-first-use policy for our common survival." Such a policy, the coalition argued, would make everyone safer by reducing the likelihood of nuclear threats, false alarms, or cyberterrorist attacks escalating into full-blown missile exchanges.

Along with preventing the use of nuclear weapons through the adoption of a no-first-use policy, the coalition aims to increase support for nuclear disarmament. The presence of nuclear arsenals, the coalition stressed, means that the danger of proliferation continues to exist.

Steve Gallant of Massachusetts Peace Action said Wednesday in a statement that "the United States has never agreed to a no-first-use policy and has nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to strike first and begin a nuclear war that could result in the deaths of billions of people around the globe."

In addition to lacking a no-first-use policy, the Pentagon's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review "actually expand[ed] the range of significant non-nuclear strategic attacks—whether they be cyber, chemical, or biological warfare—to which the U.S. may respond with the use of nuclear weapons," the coalition pointed out.

Last month, as the Biden administration began to draft its Nuclear Posture Review, a group of 21 Democratic lawmakers urged the president to reduce the nation's nuclear stockpile and commit to a no-first-use policy.

In her book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, Harvard University professor Elaine Scarry points out that "the president of the United States has the sole authority to order the launch of hundreds of nuclear warheads within minutes, without consultation or agreement from any other sector of U.S. government or society: not the Cabinet, nor the Congress, nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nor the Supreme Court."

"As long as the nuclear-armed nations maintain thousands of nuclear weapons... the danger that these weapons of mass destruction will be used continues to increase."
—Medea Benjamin, CodePink

Zia Mian, co-director of Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, emphasized Wednesday that the U.S. president holds this power despite the fact that "any threat or use of nuclear weapons in the present day constitutes a crime against humanity and a crime under international law."

Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to restrict first-use nuclear strikes and to slash spending on nuclear weapons.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in April reintroduced the No First Use Act.

And in February, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2021, which would "prohibit the use of federal funds to conduct a first-use nuclear strike unless Congress expressly authorizes such a strike pursuant to a declaration of war."

Biden has said that he supports a no-first-use policy, and the coalition implored him to sign such legislation should it reach the Oval Office.

Pamela Richard of Peace Action of Wisconsin said Wednesday that "while we urge the passage of these bills as a first step, what is needed is the universal acceptance of the recent United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, banning the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons."

"Our long-term goal," Richard added, "is total nuclear disarmament."

Last October, the movement to abolish nuclear weapons celebrated when Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the U.N.'s nuclear ban, pushing the agreement over the threshold required to enter into force. Despite the fact that several nuclear powers, including the U.S., the only country to ever engage in nuclear warfare, refused to sign—with the Trump administration even urging other governments to ditch the pact—the international treaty went into effect on January 22.

Nonetheless, "Congress is funding an upgrade of our nuclear weapons triad," Cole Harrison, executive director of Massachusetts Peace Action, noted Wednesday.

A report by the Federation of American Scientists published in March found that the U.S. plans to spend up to $264 billion on the construction and maintenance of a new nuclear missile following intense lobbying efforts by the weapons industry.

During a recent peace conference, Markey told the audience that "the risk of inadvertent nuclear war has risen to a level that is simply unacceptable."

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war group CodePink, said Wednesday that "as long as the nuclear-armed nations maintain thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, the danger that these weapons of mass destruction will be used continues to increase."


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