The Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, launched decades ago in another time of nuclear crisis, suggests one possible strategy. Developed at the end of the 1970s by defense analyst Randy Forsberg, the Freeze (as it became known) focused on a rather simple, straightforward goal: a Soviet-American agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons.
As Forsberg predicted, this proposal to halt the nuclear arms race had great popular appeal (with polls showing US public support at 72 percent) and sparked an enormous grassroots campaign. The Reagan administration, horrified by this resistance to its plans for a nuclear buildup and victory in a nuclear war, fought ferociously against it. But to no avail. The Freeze triumphed in virtually every state and local referendum on the ballot, captured the official support of the Democratic Party, and sailed through the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority.
Although the Reaganites managed to derail it in the Senate, the administration was on the defensive and, soon, on the run. Joined by massive anti-nuclear campaigns in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world, the Freeze campaign forced a reversal of administration priorities and policies, leading to previously unthinkable Soviet-American nuclear disarmament treaties and an end to the Cold War. How might a comparable strategy be implemented today?
The campaign goal might be a halt to the nuclear arms race, exemplified by an agreement among the nuclear powers to scrap their ambitious nuclear ‘modernization’ plans. Although the Trump administration would undoubtedly rail against this policy, the vast majority of Americans would find it thoroughly acceptable.
An alternative, more ambitious goal – one that would probably also elicit widespread public approval – would be the ratification by the nuclear powers of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This UN-brokered treaty, signed in July 2017 by the vast majority of the world’s nations and scorned by the governments of the US and other nuclear-armed countries, prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, using, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. The second stage of a current campaign strategy, as it was in the strategy of the Freeze, is to get as many peace groups as possible to endorse the campaign and put their human and financial resources behind it.
Despite some possible qualms among their modern counterparts about losing their unique identity and independence, working together in a joint effort seems feasible today. Some of the largest of the current organizations?such as the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Veterans for Peace – are thoroughly committed to building a nuclear weapons-free world and, therefore, might well be willing to embark on this kind of coalition venture.
The third stage of an effective strategy is winning the battle for public opinion. In the case of the Freeze, this entailed not only holding lots of gatherings in people’s living rooms, but introducing Freeze resolutions at conventions of religious denominations, unions, professional associations, and the vast panoply of voluntary organizations, where they almost invariably passed. Having a concrete, common-sense proposal to support activists engaged in a widespread conversation on a key political issue with friends, neighbors, and members of mainstream organizations.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: A Practical Proposal’.
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