Lawrence S. Wittner: A rebirth of the anti-nuclear weapons movement?





[Mr. Wittner is a history professor at the State University of New York/Albany and coeditor of the forthcoming book Peace Action: Past, Present, and Future.]

Although the nuclear disarmament movement has been in the doldrums since the end of the Cold War, in recent years there have been signs of a modest revival.

Of course, even in the intervening period, the struggle against the Bomb never disappeared. Around the world, peace and disarmament organizations continued to assail nuclear weapons; however, such efforts failed to spark broad-based antinuclear activism.

But thanks to the recent erosion of the nuclear arms control regime and to the Bush administration's undisguised contempt for nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, popular participation in disarmament ventures has begun to grow.

On May 1, 2005, the day before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference began at the United Nations, thousands of demonstrators marched through Manhattan, demanding a nuclear-weapon-free world. Drawn mostly from the United States, they were mobilized by Abolition Now (a coalition of peace and disarmament groups) and United for Peace & Justice (the largest coalition of peace groups in the United States). A New York Times article claimed that "several thousand" people participated in the event, while organizers put the number at 40,000. In either case, it was the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in the United States since the 1980s.
Less dramatically, U.S. peace groups such as Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Women's Action for New Directions, the Council for a Livable World, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation mobilized substantial grassroots pressure against the Bush administration's proposals for nuclear "bunker-busters" and "mini-nukes," playing a key role in their congressional defeat. Moreover, these same groups are currently stirring up significant opposition to two new components of a U.S. nuclear buildup--the reliable replacement warhead and Complex 2030.

Student antinuclear activism also appears to be undergoing a renaissance. In May, student hunger strikes and demonstrations broke out on three campuses of the University of California in protest against the university's involvement in U.S. nuclear weapons programs. Pressing the issue, students disrupted the university's board of regents meeting on May 18, departing only when tied up and removed by police.

The nuclear disarmament campaign also shows impressive signs of life in other countries. Among the international organizations currently working for a nuclear-weapon-free world are International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, with affiliates in 60 nations, and Abolition 2000, a campaign of about 2,000 groups in more than 90 countries.

In India, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace--an umbrella organization of some 200 groups--sharply condemned the recent U.S.-India nuclear deal. In Germany, dozens of leaders of youth organizations issued a call for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from their country. Perhaps the fiercest antinuclear uprising over the past year occurred in Britain, where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament led a turbulent mobilization against the British government's plan to replace its aging Trident nuclear weapons system.

Admittedly, none of this agitation is comparable to the outpouring of antinuclear protest that shook the world and shocked policy makers during the 1980s. But it does indicate the possibility for a dramatic upswing in antinuclear weapon activism, especially if there is a breakdown of the nuclear arms control and disarmament regime or a heightened prospect of nuclear war.



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