If you read the New York Times, you might have seen this last Sunday:
“National security and most pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis or cyber attacks or civil conflicts, cannot be solved through military action, or through the action of one country alone. Multilateral action and cooperation are crucial. The situation in Ukraine is yet another example of that reality.”
Peace Action is a national leader in the movement to build support for Moving the Money – our tax dollars — from war and weapons to investing in human and environmental needs and diplomacy.
From participating in the national debate via the mainstream media, to building national coalitions, to taking our demands to Congress, to our unique grassroots “Move the Money” training program (devised by Judith, and being conducted this year in several states around the country!), Peace Action’s work is crucial to building an unstoppable movement for peaceful priorities.
The Pentagon is ready to use a “slush fund” to do an end run on budget cuts. They will take some of the money for wars called the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. And it is not the first time.
This year Congress agreed to the use of the OCO to save the Pentagon base budget from sequestration or the across- the- board budget cuts that are ransacking domestic programs. They plan to do the same thing next year.
There is no such “slush fund” to protect food stamps, transportation or public education.
The wars are coming to an end, yet the OCO is being ramped up.
We need Congress to put an end to these budget shenanigans. No more behind the scenes, back room deals to protect the Pentagon budget!.
57% of the annual federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, and the U.S. spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world. Time to have a transparent debate on national spending priorities. We need to Move the Money from wars and weapons to fund invest in jobs, human needs and diplomacy!
Readers discuss what kind of armed forces we need to face the threats of the 21st century.
To the Editor:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the size of the Army is a step in the right direction. It underscores the fact that waging a large-scale ground war in Iraq and a major counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan were tragic mistakes that should not be repeated.
Critics of the proposal will argue that it will hobble our ability to wage two ground wars at once, without acknowledging that it was not in our interest to do so in the early 2000s and will not be in our interest to do so in the foreseeable future, if ever. This is particularly true with respect to the current situation in Ukraine, where it makes no sense for the United States to take military action regardless of the size of our armed forces.
I hope that Mr. Hagel’s move will set off a larger debate: What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?
Given that the most urgent threats we face, from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force, we should substantially downsize our armed forces across the board and invest some of the resulting savings in diplomacy, targeted economic assistance and other nonmilitary foreign policy tools.
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG
New York, March 4, 2014
The writer is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.
Mr. Hartung poses an important question — what sort of armed forces do we need to deal with 21st-century threats to the United States? — and leaps to unwarranted conclusions in trying to provide an answer.
His assertion that it will not be in our interest to wage simultaneous large ground wars “in the foreseeable future, if ever” is particularly brazen. Can he state with confidence that the complex and evolving geopolitics of this century will not produce a situation in which the United States must take on two large adversaries at once? I might on the contrary suggest that the relative decline of America, along with the rise of China and other assertive new powers, makes such a situation increasingly plausible.
Mr. Hartung claims that the most significant threats of the present and future, “from climate change to cyberattacks, cannot be solved with military force.” It is true that larger numbers of soldiers will not solve these problems. But dealing with cyberattacks, for example, requires not a diminution of military forces but a repurposing of those forces to take on new foes in new ways.
Climate change is not in itself a military problem, but science tells us that it will likely lead to a world of overstretched resources, increased natural disasters and displaced populations — a world, that is, in which wars and conflicts are ever more likely to break out. This is not a convincing argument for a reduction in the armed forces.
It is common sense to think about the future security challenges we face, and how best to adapt to them; but it is nonsense to assume that, in the 21st century, we no longer have to worry about land wars and threats of a more traditional nature.
DAVID A. McM. WILSON
Brookline, Mass., March 5, 2014
The true issue that should be addressed is not whether we can fight one small war or two but rather, under our nation’s current financial constraints, whether we can continue to afford our existing military establishment. If we opt for the quick solution of fewer “boots on the ground,” it will simply further reduce our capability to respond militarily in settings varying from local weather disasters to major geopolitical conflicts.
What is really required is an attack by the Defense Department on the gross overlapping of military responsibilities, and the concomitant bureaucratic conflicts, delays and simple waste of scarce financial and human resources.
Numerous obvious opportunities exist. Does the Army treat wounds differently from the Navy? Does a chaplain say Mass differently in the Air Force? Are the rules for procurement different? If not, why are these functions not consolidated?
Indeed, does there remain any logic, other than simple hubris, for separate services?
FRANKLIN L. GREENE
Loudon, Tenn., March 5, 2014
The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force.
I agree that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to draw down the Army is a step in the right direction. As Mr. Hartung says, the simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were catastrophic mistakes that should not be repeated, so there is no reason to keep the Army at its current size.
But even if we did repeat those mistakes in the future — sadly, not a wholly implausible prospect, given that less than 30 years separated the fall of Saigon from our invasion of Afghanistan — that possibility would still not be an argument for keeping the Army at its present size. Historically, we’ve drawn down our forces after wars, without thinking that we weren’t going to have similar wars in the future. When we decided to go to war again, we increased the size of the Army again.
Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy
Urbana, Ill., March 5, 2014
The proposed reduction in troop levels could be the beginning of a new direction of American foreign policy by reducing our capacity for ground wars and occupations. If the reductions were enacted, it would restrict future presidents from pursuing land wars, which would be welcomed by a war-weary public.
Unfortunately, the debate over reducing troop levels is usually derailed by fear mongering on national security. Never has the argument supporting troop reductions been stronger.
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon’s strategy document, issued this month, outlines an approach that relies on multilateral military actions, with allies as partners in addressing security issues or natural disasters.
National security and most pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis or cyberattacks or civil conflicts, cannot be solved through military action, or through the action of one country alone. Multilateral action and cooperation are crucial. The situation in Ukraine is yet another example of that reality.
JUDITH LE BLANC
New York, March 5, 2014
The writer is the field director for Peace Action.
Mr. Hartung asks, “What kind of armed forces do we need to face the most likely threats of the 21st century?”
If this had been asked a hundred years ago, in March 1914, what would the answer have been? No one knew that World War I would soon break out, nor could anyone have anticipated World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or any other military actions that we have been involved in.
Besides, unanticipated world events that changed our military needs have arisen without warning, or our ability to control them — the Communist revolutions in Russia and China, the violent tensions in the Middle East. Is there any reason to think that war game policy planners can find the answer to Mr. Hartung’s question today?
Do we still wish to be a world power, and, if so, what defines that role today and tomorrow? This is what we need to ask before we determine the new size of our armed forces.
Easton, Pa., March 5, 2014
The writer is a professor of sociology at Lafayette College.
The Writer Responds
The responses strike a good balance in asking not just how large our armed forces should be, but also how we should prepare for an uncertain future and what role the United States should play in the world.
Mr. Wilson asserts that it is “increasingly plausible” that the United States might have to fight two large adversaries at once. But he does not say who those adversaries might be. No American leader would be reckless enough to engage in a land war against Russia or China, and there are no other large adversaries on the horizon.
Mr. Schneiderman points out that it is extremely hard to predict the next war. But the most damaging and costly American wars of the past half century — Vietnam and Iraq — should have never been fought. Opponents of these conflicts rightly predicted that they would have disastrous consequences. And as Mr. Naiman indicates, the United States has increased the size of our forces at times of war rather than keeping the Army on a permanent war footing between conflicts. Uncertainty is not a valid reason for giving the Pentagon nearly half a trillion dollars a year.
American foreign policy needs to move beyond a narrow focus on military solutions and invest more in civilian institutions and programs that can help address pressing problems like extreme poverty, climate change and the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States can’t be the world’s policeman, but it can be a leader in addressing the most urgent threats to America and the world.
Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons & International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Nayarit, Mexico
By Alicia Godsberg, Executive Director, Peace Action NYS
From 11-12 February the government of Mexico hosted the 2nd Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Nayarit. The first such conference was held in Oslo, Norway in March 2013. In all, 19 more countries registered to attend in Nayarit than were in Oslo, and before the conference officially began the government of Austria announced it would host a third follow up conference in Vienna before the end of 2014.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) organized a civil society conference around the governmental conference in Mexico to focus on advocacy for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. ICAN is a coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with 331 partners in 80 countries. Their conference focused on lobbying delegations during the governmental conference to support a ban treaty and on what campaigners could do in their home countries between Mexico and Vienna to strengthen support for a nuclear ban treaty. More than 100 NGO representatives attended the ICAN conference, a few of whom were not members of ICAN and some not in favor of their ban treaty approach.
The ultimate goal of a nuclear ban treaty is to lead to the prohibition and complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The ban treaty should be seen as the instrument with which to pressure the process of the elimination of nuclear weapons; it is a framework under which elimination could be pursued. Such a treaty would not have to be overly technical or include the resolution of complex problems related to nuclear disarmament. By contrast, a Nuclear Weapons Convention would require the support and ratification of the nuclear armed states to be effective and would need to address those complexities in detail. The ban treaty is a way for non-nuclear weapon states, all but nine of the international community, to take responsibility for ridding the world of nuclear weapons instead of waiting for the so-called “step-by-step” process of nuclear disarmament to make significant changes to the status quo.
As envisioned by ICAN, a ban treaty would be an international instrument making the possession, use, stockpiling, development, and transfer of nuclear weapons illegal. Banning weapons systems has historically preceded their elimination, not the other way around. A ban treaty changes discourse away from nuclear deterrence and focuses instead on the impact these weapons would have on people and our planet if used intentionally or accidentally. This impact includes unmanageable crises for the environment, infrastructure, international economy, transportation, health care, and food production. ICAN has not provided its ideas for the terms of a ban treaty, as they feel states are more likely to adopt a treaty they themselves have negotiated.
A ban treaty could be negotiated within the UN system but it will probably be negotiated elsewhere, as nuclear armed states and some of their allies are likely to block any nuclear disarmament treaty process in the UN as they have done for nearly 70 years. To cite one example, the Conference on Disarmament – which is the UN’s sole treaty negotiating body – has not taken action on any programme of work in the 18 years since negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). A more likely scenario for the negotiation of a nuclear ban treaty would model itself after the process that successfully banned anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions and take place outside of the UN system. How and where the ban treaty will be negotiated and the exact details of the treaty will be up to the negotiating states.
Most, but not all, in civil society attended to support ICAN in its call for a nuclear ban treaty. However, some members of civil society favored an approach to nuclear abolition through the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) in the CD. Negotiating a NWC would necessarily involve the nuclear armed states that have thus far been unwilling to start serious negotiations on abolishing nuclear weapons. The group of states known as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) supports the NWC approach, which is reflected in their UN General Assembly resolution adopted last October. That resolution calls for the commencement of negotiations of a NWC in the CD this year and the convening of a high-level meeting to track its progress no later than 2018. One real problem with the NWC approach to pursuing nuclear disarmament is that it relies on the good faith of the nuclear armed states to negotiate in the CD, which has been stalemated for 18 years.
Another perspective from those at the conference who were not part of ICAN was that civil society should focus on the already established illegality of nuclear weapons and the existing international legal framework and law that has already answered the question of legality. This approach seeks to de-legitimize nuclear weapons through focusing on their already established illegality under international law, including the 1996 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, and does not favor the negotiation of any new treaty, such as a ban treaty. Attention was also called to the need to address the fact that many non-nuclear weapon states are economically and/or militarily tied to nuclear armed states and that within nuclear-armed states there are entrenched institutions and corporations that also have to be dealt with that a ban treaty does not necessarily address.
The government conference focused on some familiar themes, such as the impact of the 1945 atomic bomb explosions on the people of Japan and effects of nuclear tests on various populations. Some new issues were explored as well, including the risk calculation of nuclear use (whether accidental or intentional), climate effects of nuclear detonations, and sloppy stewardship of the world’s nuclear arsenals. Expert testimony was given by scientists, policy analysts, representatives of international aid organizations, and members of civil society. Of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states, only India and Pakistan sent representatives to the conference.
The governmental conference began with a panel of Hibakusha, or survivors of the 1945 nuclear weapons exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their testimonies were powerful, as always, and reminded the delegates and members of civil society that humanity and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist and “it is our moral imperative to abolish nuclear weapons in order to secure a safe, clean and just world for future generations.” One survivor poignantly spoke about the inhumanity of reducing the deaths from nuclear weapons to numbers, as each number was really a person with a name and a family that loved them. Another called on nuclear weapon states and their allies to make a bold decision not to rely any longer on nuclear deterrence.
This presentation was followed by interventions from the floor, including from several countries where citizens were subjected to the fallout of nuclear weapons testing.
The next panel focused on the effects nuclear weapon detonations would have on our global climate and social and financial institutions. Terrifying statistics were given about the effects of a relatively small single nuclear detonation over various cities around the world – the kilometers of fireball emanating from the center of the blast, the burning of everything flammable, the radioactive cloud that would spread, the reduction of operational capacity to deal with the ensuing crisis (infrastructure, people, electricity, food, water, medicine, etc.), and the millions of people who would be affected around the world.
Another panelist referenced Reaching Critical Will’s report, Unspeakable Suffering, which outlined three areas of costs relating to a nuclear detonation: destruction costs in the area of the blast; disruption costs in wider society; and reaction costs, both political and economic. The presentation described how local infrastructure and international financial systems would collapse even with a single detonation. The effects would be severe and long-lasting and there is no real way to estimate the actual damage that could be done. That damage could not be reduced merely to some monetary value.
A climate change expert reported on what would happen to the climate if a moderate nuclear exchange were to occur. Smoke from fires would spread around the planet, absorbing sunlight and reducing the temperature of the ground, leading to nuclear winter and the elimination of the protection of the ozone layer. Crops would die and there would be global famine. With only the use of 50 nuclear weapons the earth would cool for more than 10 years, decreasing food production in that time up to 40%.
Another panelist talked about the consequences of Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk, which is now part of Kazakhstan. More than 1 million people lived within 100 kilometers of the test site, all potentially exposed to radiation from the 468 tests done there between 1949 and 1989. Their research found a high infant mortality rate and high rates of leukemia in children around the area, as well as a high incidence of cancer, premature aging, and decreased life expectancy. Since the early 1990s, the government of Kazakhstan has been helping those exposed by issuing them “radiation passports” to receive compensation from the state, depending on the risk of their area (money, extra holiday time and free hospital treatment). Over a million people have these passports.
Bruce Blair of Global Zero opened up the second day by talking about the risks nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence pose to us all every day. He talked about the “phenomenally fast” decision making time the president would have after the warning of a nuclear attack (a 60 second briefing and between 6-12 minutes to choose an option) and that cybercrime could infiltrate our nuclear control and generate false alarms or transmit launch orders to crews or weapons themselves, especially if someone inside colluded with hackers. His talk ended by saying that shrinking arsenals alone does not protect us from these risks and we need to reject nuclear deterrence as the basis of security.
The next panelists were from Chatham House and discussed the uncomfortable fact that cases of near nuclear use have resulted mostly from errors in human judgment and not accidents. There have been a “disturbing number of close calls” in which nuclear weapons were almost used, making the risk posed by nuclear weapons real and present. The presenters described in detail a number of times when one person or the intuition of a few key people saved the world from nuclear destruction. They also commented on the misconduct and sloppy practices of nuclear stewards that have recently been in the news, concluding our command and control over these weapons is not iron-clad. The underlying message of this presentation was that the probability nuclear weapons could be used has been underestimated because inadvertent use and accidents have not been factored into the risk equation. This means the probability of use is higher today than we have realized, while the consequences of use remain just as high.
Three international aid organizations also made presentations during the conference: the International Organization for Migration, UNDP, and UNIDR. All expressed that the multiple challenges their agencies would face after a nuclear detonation could not be adequately met. Assets and trained staff would likely not be able to be mobilized and the displacement of people would be unorganized and frantic, with no opportunity to return home.
Of the 146 countries in attendance, about 60 made interventions from the floor on a variety of topics. Nearly half that spoke expressed some kind of support for a ban treaty, and only approximately ten spoke out specifically against the treaty, saying “simply negotiating a ban treaty” will not lead to nuclear abolition. These countries were either part of nuclear security alliances or were nuclear armed states themselves, and spoke in favor of the current step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament. Civil society was also allowed to intervene from the floor and ICAN was given time to show a short video they produced advocating for a ban treaty.
The Chair’s summary of the conference ended with this remarkable and inspiring statement:
It is the view of the Chair that the Nayarit Conference has shown that time has come to initiate a diplomatic process conducive to this goal. Our belief is that this process should comprise a specific timeframe, the definition of the most appropriate fora, and a clear and substantive framework, making the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons the essence of disarmament efforts.
It is time to take action. The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks is the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal. Nayarit is a point of no return.
The day following the governmental conference ICAN held a debrief session and the general mood was that ICAN achieved all it set out to do and more. There were many successful interactions with government delegations, some of whom used ICAN language in their interventions from the floor. There was also quite a bit of international press in Nayarit, and ICAN received a lot of attention from various media outlets. One campaigner was able to get a group of states from Latin America to agree they would meet before the NPT Review Conference in 2015 to come up with a common statement regarding nuclear abolition and the ban treaty to present a unified position at that important event.
The final ICAN session was a breakout by region or nuclear weapon status to decide what to do between now and Vienna to advocate for a ban treaty. I went to the nuclear armed states session, which was attended by representatives from the U.S., U.K., India, and France. We discussed whether or not we wanted to advocate for our countries to come to Vienna given that so much progress has been made thus far without them and knowing that they would try to block any progress toward achieving a ban treaty if they did attend. The consensus was that we would publicly ask them to come but privately not encourage them to do so. This way, we would not feed into their narrative that they are trying to do everything they can toward nuclear disarmament.
We also decided to work on counter lobbying states that are dependent on nuclear weapons in security arrangements and to tailor our messages to different audiences (governments, grassroots, media, etc.). We agreed to share the things we learned about the risks of nuclear weapons use by accident or intent and to talk about the cost implications of nuclear forces and their lack of utility for military and security purposes. We also agreed to do public outreach with these different messages, even creating some messaging for younger people to use in the classroom. In addition, we agreed to work on building our allies within nuclear states, acknowledging that governments do not hold monolithic views on nuclear weapons. To that end we agreed to ask individual Parliamentarians and members of the Mayors for Peace network to come Vienna.
Rethink Media has prepared fabulous sample tweets and posts for Facebook for social media response to today’s announcement of the President’s budget. Our aim is to shine a spotlight on the wasteful spending in the Pentagon budget.
Sample Tweets on Budget Release:
When we’re winding down two wars, why does the #DoDBudget remain sky-high? http://ow.ly/udU7P
The #Pentagon wastes billions of #DoDBudget on programs driven by special interests that do not advance American security
#DoDBudget should prioritize needs for 21st Century threats, not special interests pet projects http://ow.ly/udV2K
Tax Day: Global Day of Action on Military Spending
Move the Money!
April 15 is Tax Day, a day to reflect on how Congress spends our tax dollars. We are also reminded that not all are paying their fair share. As economic inequality grows, we need a Congress who makes the hard choices on federal spending priorities. It is time to Move the Money from the wasteful Pentagon budget to fund jobs and community services.
April 15 is also the Global Day of Action on Military Spending when community, economic justice, faith, labor, environmental and peace groups will gather in their communities on every continent to call attention to the domestic impact of money poured into military arms and war preparation by governments across the globe while urgent human needs go unmet. Read a roundup of the 2013 US activities here.
The New Priorities Network, one of the supporters of the April 15 Tax Day/GDAMS activities is sponsoring a briefing:
Wednesday March 5 at 8pm EST
Explore creative tactics for local actions on April 15 Tax Day/GDAMS
Other webinars are being planned: March 19 at 7pm EST: Webinar on Federal Budget 101 and Taxes with National Priorities Project, Wand/WILL & Peace Action. A webinar on the Overseas Contingency Operating (OCO) account with Stephen Miles from Win Without War. The OCO (separate from the Pentagon budget) continues to grow even as the wars are beginning to wind down. It amounts to a slush fund to blunt the impact of budget cuts. While the wars are winding down, the OCO is bumping up!
Here’s an easy quiz for you. According to an article in the Washington Post over the weekend , the Obama Administration is considering four options regarding leaving U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of this year. What do you think the number should be?
A. 10,000 (favored by U.S. military commanders, unsurprisingly)
B. A somewhat smaller number, unspecified