Given the fact that nuclear war means the virtual annihilation of life on earth, it’s remarkable that many people continue to resist building a nuclear weapons-free world. Is the human race suicidal?
Before jumping to that conclusion, let’s remember that considerably more people favor abolishing nuclear weapons than oppose it. Public opinion surveys – ranging from polls in 21 nations worldwide during 2008 to recent polls in Europe, Japan, and Australia – have shown that large majorities of people in nearly all the nations surveyed favor the abolition of nuclear weapons by international agreement. In the United States, where the public was polled in September 2019 about the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 49 percent of respondents expressed approval of the treaty, 32 percent expressed disapproval, and 19 percent said they didn’t know.
Nevertheless, surprisingly large numbers of people remain unready to take the step necessary to prevent the launching of a war that would turn the world into a charred, smoking, radioactive wasteland. Why?
Their reasons vary. Die-hard militarists and nationalists usually view weapons as vital to securing their goals. Others are the employees of the large nuclear weapons industry and have a vested interest in retaining their jobs. In the United States, that enterprise has long been very substantial, and the Trump administration, through massive infusions of federal spending, has succeeded in fostering its greatest expansion since the end of the Cold War. According to a December 2020 article in the Los Angeles Times:
Roughly 50,000 Americans are now involved in making nuclear warheads at eight principal sites stretching from California to South Carolina. And the three principal US nuclear weapons laboratories ... have said they are adding thousands of new workers at a time when the overall federal workforce is shrinking.” Members of these groups are unlikely to change their minds about the importance of retaining nuclear weapons.
But another constituency resistant to the abolition of nuclear weapons, and probably the largest, is composed of people whose position could be changed. They view nuclear weapons as a deterrent to a military attack – and especially a nuclear attack – upon their nation. And their fear of external aggression is often inflamed by hawkish politicians, defense contractors, and the commercial mass media that whip up public hysteria about enemies abroad.
Of course, it’s not at all clear that nuclear deterrence actually works. If it did, the US government, with its vast nuclear arsenal, wouldn’t be as worried as it is about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons or fomenting war. Indeed, if U.S. officials really believed that possession of nuclear weapons reduced the likelihood of nuclear and other kinds of war, they would be welcoming the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the globe. Unfortunately, though, as they apparently recognize, the presence of nuclear weapons makes the world even more dangerous than it already is.
Excerpted: ‘Opposition to Abolishing Nuclear Weapons – and What Could Help to Overcome It’
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