Response to ‘Abdicating U.S. Nonproliferation Leadership’

(Editor’s Note: This is part of a strategic dialogue on U.S. nuclear policy and is a response to this piece.)

We sympathize with Wellen’s desire to see the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) strengthened. However, our core concerns differ markedly from those he addresses. We believe any meaningful nuclear abolitionist politics must be based on broader anti-imperialism. Additionally, while we fear the scenario Wellen lays out — continuing influence of hyper-militaristic right-wing elements — we don’t see this as the most likely, nor the most dangerous, scenario under the coming administration.

The United States is a global empire that relies overwhelmingly on military dominance. This fact poses serious problems for disarmament politics, especially if we delude ourselves into calling for “U.S. leadership.”

One of the main obstacles has, in fact, been U.S. leadership, with its proliferation of nuclear technology and conventional arms, and opposition against treaties of all stripes. Indeed, the United States should follow the lead of 112 countries from Latin America, the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Africa that have established nuclear-weapons-free zones that span continents and oceans.

Nevertheless, imperial America will continue to rely on overwhelming military power under Democratic Party rule, especially as its economic hegemony further erodes. We’re likely to see significant reform of U.S. nuclear policies and the weapons complex in the years to come, perhaps including renewed commitments to treaties like the NPT and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). We shouldn’t mistake these changes as being intentional steps toward disarmament. Rather, they’ll be pragmatic decisions based on various crises the U.S. nuclear weapons complex is facing, calculated to promote the Orwellian politics of anti-nuclear nuclearism at every turn.

Darwin BondGraham is a sociologist who lives and works in New Orleans. Will Parrish is an anti-imperialist organizer and scholar living in northern California. They are coauthoring Atomic Trust: the University of California, Nuclear Weapons, and the Pentagon of Power, a book about nuclearism and academia, and are both Foreign Policy In Focus contributors.