While many advocates and experts sat in conference room “Regency A” at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, attending the Carnegie Endowment’s biannual Nuclear Policy Conference, a couple blocks away at 11:30 am Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, President Joe Biden released his 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
In a cohort of some of the foremost minds on these issues, phones started to vibrate and screens light up. For a second, folks directed their attention away from an ever-so-chilling panel on the potential for Nuclear Armageddon. Some people left the room, and some contacted their teams to make sure that their statements and experts would be quoted. But then just like that, the conference, the panel, the moment, returned to exactly what it had been before that fateful drop: just another Thursday.
The disappointing nature of the NPR is not really a surprise, especially for those of us who have been working for a world free from nuclear weapons.
Some will argue the fever in the air died down in anticipation of networking sessions, panels, and keynotes that would directly link to the drop of the NPR. Others might say that the drawn-out NPR process itself dimmed the excitement in the room — that the anticipation had been lingering for months, and the release of the NPR lost its gusto. I think the reason the moment passed so quickly was because the NPR itself was so unsurprising.
Despite promises on the campaign trail and earlier signs that this NPR might adopt No First Use, sole purpose, or any other forward-moving doctrine that would show the difference between this and the last administration, this review didn’t do that. In this “unprecedented time,” with regard to President Vladimir Putin’s saber-rattling; the ongoing negotiations of treaties like The Compact of Free Association and the call for nuclear justice for impacted communities such as The Marshallese; and even just the realities of inflation, where American families are feeling the pain of rising costs, the NPR focuses on modernizing the US nuclear arsenal. Specifically, the NPR keeps the United States on track to spend $634 billion in taxpayer dollars over the next decade on unnecessary weapons as Americans continue to experience more of the same.
NOT WAITING ON POLICIES
The disappointing nature of the NPR, however, is not really a surprise, especially for those of us who have been working toward a world free from nuclear weapons. There are individuals, organizations, and communities who have already stopped waiting on policies and are creating forward-thinking strategies to achieve the world they want to see.
There are several community groups that advocate for their people, who have faced (and continue to face) inequitable policies, such as the Marshallese Educational Initiative, which encourages Marshallese and non-Marshallese members “to provide venues for Marshallese community members to share their own stories and causes.” Grant agencies and organizations alike have also increasingly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion and issues of justice, highlighting those who have faced injustice due to US nuclear policy, either in the form of nuclear testing or nuclear weapon modernization. In July 2022, the Ploughshares Fund announced it would provide 16 grants focused on three categories: challenging racism and white supremacy in nuclear policies and institutions; building actionable connections between nuclear weapons issues and other issue areas; and examining and dismantling the military-industrial complex. For those of us who have been active in this field, these three categories are seen as necessary steps on the path toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
Finally, the activists who continue to show up to protests, answer emails, call their legislators, sign petitions, and keep the conversation going on social media have not been deterred by any NPRs, or any other unclassified national security strategy documents. Every day all of these people show their resilience as they work to create a more just, prosperous, and equitable future. In a way, they are the real heroes.
WORKING TOWARD A JUST WORLD
What changed with the release of this report?
I, for one, know it doesn’t change how I will do this work and fight to get to zero nuclear weapons. I will continue working with a team of changemakers who are equally as strategic, driven, passionate, and motivated as I am to create a world of equity, justice, and prosperity rooted in possibilities beyond the bomb. And one day, this world will exist. Why am I so optimistic? Because people are at the root of the nuclear weapons complex. People are making the decisions, people are the ones impacted, and people are the ones who are deserving of a world that makes them feel both safe and secure.
There is still a lot to be done. I implore this community, full of activists, organizers, academics, and policy experts, to engage in the tough conversations that go beyond “hard security” issues. Collectively we need to make engaging in intersectional and diverse conversations a priority and then align strategies and take action.
It is our job as people who work toward better forms of national security and foreign policy to keep communities safe. When things “don’t go our way” or stay the status quo, don’t get mad or throw in the towel. Get like Stacey Abrams: recoup, reorganize, find your partners, be bold and resilient, and most importantly, continue the work. People deserve it.
Mari Faines (she/her) is the Partner for Mobilization at Global Zero; a social justice, diversity & equity activist, and former podcast host. Her work specializes in nuclear intersectionality, conflict resolution, transitional justice, and racial and systemic disparities.
Correction 11/01/22: This article incorrectly stated that the United States would spend $1.8 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next decade. It has been updated to the correct figure which, according to the latest estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, is “$634 billion over the 2021-2030 period.”