Does Prague Stop With START?

Obama's Prague Speech(Pictured: Russian President Medvedev, Czech President Klaus, and US President Obama in Prague in April.)

“There’s just been no talk about that right now, none whatsoever.”

Thus spake John Kerry, who led the Senate campaign for New START ratification as reported by David Sanger of the New York Times when asked about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. At his famous Prague speech in April 2009 that buoyed the hopes of many in the disarmament community, President Obama said, among other things that he would seek U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (on nuclear-weapons testing).

Like many on the left we’re usually less than sanguine about Sanger, with his tendency to bend to the prevailing winds, but this article is straightforward.

[New START] was initially envisioned as a speed bump on President Obama’s nuclear agenda, a modest reduction in nuclear forces that would enable him to tackle much harder issues on the way to his dream of eventually eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

It turned out to be a mountain. . . . his own aides acknowledge that the lesson of the battle over the treaty is that the political divide on national security is widening. . . . “If the Start treaty was this hard, you can only imagine how difficult the rest will be,” said William J. Perry, a secretary of defense during the Clinton administration and one of the four former cold warriors who helped formulate the goal of a world without nuclear weapons that Mr. Obama has embraced.

Couple this with the $185 billion* for nuclear weapons which the Obama administration has proposed for 2011 (in part to win Republican votes for New START) and it’s almost as if New START is the beginning of the end of the disarmament movement. Or at least of this second phase after the first phase of ban-the-bomb and nuclear freeze grassroots movements. In his recent paper for the Western States Legal foundation, The START Treaty and Disarmament: a Dilemma in Search of a Debate, Andrew Lichterman sheds some light on the current phase

A recent U.S. Congressional Research Service catalog of U.S. arms control agreement begins with this statement: “Arms control and nonproliferation efforts are two of the tools that have occasionally been used to implement U.S. national security strategy.” This reflects a far more realistic view of what arms control is than seems to prevail among NGO disarmament professionals today [most of whom] seem to have lost sight of the fact that. . . . arms control is little more than the pursuit of military advantage by diplomatic means. Working for disarmament, in contrast, means opposing destructive weaponry . . . without favoring the concerns of elites. . . .

Most who do [the] kind of professionalized interest group campaigning and advocacy [that passes for] disarmament work act as if this decline of civil society and the rise of an oligarchic politics . . . is inevitable, something to be adapted to rather than struggled against.

In July, at MRZine, Darwin BondGraham of the Los Alamos Study Group zeroed in on an example, the Ploughshares Fund, about which, he begins, “In spite of its name, Ploughshares’ mission these days actually involves beating ploughs into swords.”

Throughout the 1990s, but especially during the George W. Bush years, Ploughshares and its circle of foundations called the Peace and Security Funders Group increasingly narrowed the range of acceptable anti-nuclear activism, while simultaneously ghettoizing the field so that the work of various NGOs became less and less applicable to social justice and economic development issues, and increasingly focused on abstract global problems and hypotheticals, such as the possible use of nuclear weapons. In the process, discussions of the injustices of the global political economy and how nuclear weapons fit into it were silenced. Anti-nuclear activism became increasingly specialized, boring, and disconnected from issues that affect people’s everyday lives. Arms control eclipsed abolition as the rallying cry. [Emphasis added.]

Back to Lichterman:

No disarmament movements capable of having even the kind of modest effects of the very large, visible Cold War-era anti-nuclear movements exist today. . . . Most who do [the] kind of professionalized interest group campaigning and advocacy prevalent in. . . . disarmament work act as if [the] decline of civil society and the rise of an oligarchic politics . . . is inevitable, something to be adapted to rather than struggled against.

What’s to replace the current era of the disarmament specialist?

The requisite vision and analysis of cause and effect will not be developed in conversations among ambitious policy professionals with an eye to what moves them up the career ladder in Washington D.C. [Meanwhile, in] those instances [in the past] where pressure from disarmament movements may have played a significant role in obtaining arms control treaties, there was far more going on than lobbying campaigns backing the treaties. Instead, there were large movements with far more sweeping demands, from those who called for Banning the Bomb . . . to the international peace and disarmament movements of the 1980′s [both of which] were intertwined . . . with other social movements.

Rebuilding such movements will require. . . . . a redirection of resources away from centers of corporate, political, and military power down to where the rest of us live, starting over again in the long hard task of building movements that can give us power and voice.

*$85 billion is for nuclear weapons R&D; $100 billion is for delivery systems over the same period. (Thanks to Andrew Lichterman for enlightening me.)