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Common Dreams

Budgets as Moral Documents: Nuclear Weapons and the Fate of Life as We Know It

The mushroom cloud of the first test of a hydrogen bomb is seen in a 1952 file photo.

On April 15th, Tax Day, our nation funds our national budget. On this day we fund the nation’s business and provide a proclamation to the world of the U.S. priorities for the next year. Ultimately budgets are moral documents and are supposed to represent the people’s priorities.

So what are those priorities? Surveys show them to be education, economic security, environmental protection, healthcare, climate change, peace and security.  With so many challenges facing us as a nation and planet how will we provide for our future and spend our finite treasure?  It is critical that we spend wisely. We must ask, are there opportunities to reallocate funds to more pressing needs?

Unfortunately, in our current dysfunctional national body politic there lacks the leadership and courage to address and answer these questions.

Nuclear weapons programs provide an obvious example of the misallocation of resources.   This year the United States will spend roughly $57 Billion Dollars on all nuclear weapons programs. Weapons that can never be used, are militarily useless and threaten our very survival every moment of their existence. These illegal, immoral weapons are an example of the disconnect between rhetoric and reality.

The dollars diverted from communities to finance these programs rob communities of precious funds that could be spent on more pressing needs. Examples of community nuclear weapons programs expenditures for tax year 2013 range from Ventura County, California spending $176 Million to Seattle, Washington $172 Million, Los Angeles, California $1.7 Billion and New York City $1.69 Billion.  To find other examples or calculate your personal contribution go here. Each of us must ask ourselves if this is the best use of these local dollars.


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The impossibility of using these weapons was shown in a report by the International Physicians for Social Responsibility this past year on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. It demonstrated that 2 billion people are at risk of death from catastrophic climate change following a limited nuclear exchange using less than ½ of 1% of the global nuclear arsenals.

The world’s nuclear arsenals contain 17,000 nuclear weapons and a full scale nuclear war between the nuclear super powers would end life as we know it. Last year’s important book by Eric Schlosser “Command and Control” combined with our own military’s recent revelations of compromised nuclear missile officers highlight how sheer luck continues to be an important component preventing the unleashing of these apocalyptic weapons.

The use or threat of use of these weapons was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 1996. The United States and P5 nuclear states are in breech of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that commits us to good faith efforts to work toward nuclear disarmament. Here in large part is the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. While professing the vision of a world without nuclear weapons we continue to modernize our B-61 nuclear gravity bomb and work on our entire nuclear stockpile and delivery systems projected to cost 1 Trillion Dollars over the next 30 years.

Fortunately the non P5 nuclear nations of the world are taking matters into their own hands. In meetings this year in Germany, Norway and Mexico, ~150 nations met to discuss the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and are moving toward a nuclear weapons convention, a ban on nuclear weapons similar to previous conventions on chemical and biological weapons and landmines.

So ultimately this tax season as so often in the past, it is a classic example of do as I say, not do as I do. As a people, the choice is ours or in the end there may be no choice. Will we stand on the right side of history or will we continue down our present course?

Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge

Robert Dodge, a frequentCommon Dreams contributor, writes as a family physician practicing in Ventura, California. He is the Co-Chair of the Security Committee of National Physicians for Social Responsibility and also serves as the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles.

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