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“We are experiencing the effects of war, just not in a way that we can contextualize”: WA Against Nuclear Weapons on the outcomes of nuclear proliferation

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Amidst the exceedingly precarious geopolitical conditions that influence and are influenced by American foreign policy, anti-war groups across the United States have voiced concerns regarding the escalation of conflicts abroad that could accelerate the possibility of nuclear war. Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Coalition (WANW) is a coalition primarily consisting of smaller anti-nuclear advocacy groups across Washington state, all of them operating on a definitive mission to abolish the global production and circulation of nuclear weapons indefinitely.

WANW calls attention to the inordinate degree of harm that nuclear proliferation will inflict upon disenfranchised groups. In their mission statement, they maintain that: “The extreme humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons – felt disproportionately by our most vulnerable communities, including people of color and low-income populations – make it necessary to deem these weapons illegal internationally.”

Coalition coordinator, Sean Arent, describes the functionality of this concept, explaining, “So, basically, it’s about resources. We don’t allocate resources to worker’s rights, things that working people need, but we do allocate as much money as we possibly can to the military-industrial complex.” Further, WANW emphasizes that the predominant casualty of nuclear war will be the global working class. “If you are not a wealth owner, and you don’t have a bunker to escape to or a nice mountain home, you’re in trouble, and you should be opposed to war,” says Arent. 

The Real Cost of Nuclear Proliferation

On Dec. 27, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill that designates the expenditures for the budget of the Department of Defense,  into law. The National Defense Authorization Act allocates $816.7 billion in total, $45 billion more than initially requested, to the Department of Defense to spend on a myriad of programs, including cybersecurity efforts, Navy shipbuilding, and maintenance of fighter aircraft. Especially salient of the act’s features is the authorization of at least $800 million of additional military aid to Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion beginning in February 2022, Ukraine has become the leading recipient of United States foreign aid. The Biden administration has expressed no inclinations toward de-escalation, even amongst the impending threat of nuclear war.

In addition, the NDAA 2023 directs funding and resources towards the modernization and maintenance of nuclear weapons.

Catherine Maund | The Seattle Collegian Summary of Nuclear Modernization Spending in the NDAA of the Fiscal Year 2023 by the United States Senate Committee of Armed Services

The exorbitant amount of tax-payer dollars the government spends on the military comes at the cost of funding for other areas of public legislation that are highly consequential to the lives and well-being of millions of Americans. “Every time the United States shoots a missile, that’s like 100 million tax dollars – that’s enough money to fix the roads in your city, that’s enough money to provide healthcare to everyone in your city, that’s enough money to help stabilize the climate,” Arent says. “We are experiencing the effects of war, just not in a way we can contextualize.”

Understanding the Mechanisms of the Military-Industrial Apparatus

The military-industrial complex is the lucrative relationship between the United States government and the private defense contractor industry. This alliance is intensely successful due to the symbiotic nature of its arrangement: the government pays private weapons manufacturers and private militias to supply its war efforts. Hence, governments are equipped with the artillery and personnel needed to pursue their warmongering, and these companies make billions of dollars in the process. Because of the for-profit basis that war policy-making operates upon in the United States, some argue that the military-industrial complex is the driving force behind the instrumentation of wars that may not be in the best interest of the American people.

War profiteering is the foundation of the military-industrial complex. “There are about 15 to 20 companies that produce accessories or nuclear weapons themselves. They have a direct economic stake in the production of these weapons. So if we increase the production, they get more money,” Arent explains. The New York Times reports that “Military spending next year is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since the peaks in the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2008 and 2011… a level that is more than the budgets for the next 10 largest cabinet agencies combined.” The United States Army has paid Raytheon Technologies $2 billion to restock Ukraine with missile systems. Likewise, the Pentagon has purchased $950 million worth of weapons from Lockheed Martin for the same purpose. “In the end, we know who’s getting rich from this,” Arent points out.

The military-industrial complex has a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “revolving door”. Arent invokes Biden’s appointment of Lloyd J. Austin as Secretary of Defense as an example of the revolving door in action. Austin, a retired four-star general, took office on Jan. 22, 2021. Previously, Austin served as a board member for United Technologies, which merged with Raytheon Technologies, one of the biggest military contractors in the United States, in 2020. In addition, Austin served as a D.C. partner for Pine Island Capital Investors from 2018 to 2021, a private equity firm that predominantly invests in the defense industry. “You have people who are supposed to be regulating these companies come from these companies. And then when they get out, they get pretty sweet jobs from these companies. It’s awfully suspicious,” Arent explains. “Especially when you get into this job, repeal a bunch of laws, or get more funding for the company you previously worked at, and then when you’re out, you get a really cushy job with that company again. It’s essentially legalized bribery.”

The incessant lobbying of D.C. lawmakers is another important facet of this system. Every year, private defense giants spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying. According to OpenSecrets.org, just in the last decade alone, “their extensive network of lobbyists and donors have directed $285 million in campaign contributions and $2.5 billion in lobbying spending to influence defense policy.”

Arent explains how this concept relates to elected politicians in Washington state, in particular the state’s 9th congressional district representative. “Adam Smith is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He’s the outgoing chair because the Democrats lost the House, but he’s a really powerful person because of that. Adam Smith gets millions of dollars from these companies to fund his campaign per year.” Indeed, among Smith’s top contributors are notable defense industry giants, namely Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. “Smith is generally very pro-military spending and a war hawk, but WPSR (Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility) gets some credit for making him a believer in ending ‘first use’, which is a core part of the United States nuclear policy which states that we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict to defend our interests.”

The Evergreen State’s Atomic Legacy

US Dept of Energy Hanford workers awaiting paychecks at the Western Union office, date unknown

Among the most notable events in United States nuclear history is the construction and maintenance of the Hanford site in Benton County, WA, a since-decommissioned nuclear reservation that produced plutonium for Fat Man, the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Hanford was one of the three primary sites built in the execution of the covert government research operation, The Manhattan Project. Since then, the Hanford Site is now home to over fifty-six billion gallons of nuclear waste and is generally considered to be one of the most toxic places in America. Needless to say, this poses an existential threat to the local environment as the radioactive waste has thoroughly contaminated the nearby Columbia River and the surrounding land. Aside from the ecologically destructive legacy the site has left, Arent emphasizes the humanitarian offenses of the operation. “There were a lot of nuclear abuses at Hanford. Workers there were exposed to radiation. The Hanford Project brought in poor workers from the South, and black workers, and they really ruthlessly exploited them, exposed them to all this radiation, and had them work the worst jobs.”

Today, roughly 1,200 deployed nuclear weapons are stationed in Washington state, making it the third-largest arsenal of deployed nuclear weapons in the world. The Coalition acknowledges this in this mission statement: “This is a local issue. From the largest concentration of nuclear weapons in the U.S. located at Bangor, WA, to Hanford, the most contaminated nuclear site in the Western Hemisphere, to the poisonous remains of uranium mining on the Spokane Tribe of Indians Reservation, these are issues that all Washington residents should know about, and that all elected officials have a duty to address.”

The State of Anti-War Advocacy

Even as we are in the midst of a geopolitical conflict that could plausibly result in nuclear annihilation, the anti-war movement isn’t as mobilized as many activists would hope. Arent partly attributes this stagnancy to the perceived degree that Americans are disconnected from the consequences of war. “In the United States, we are so insulated from war and the threat of war that the anti-war movement isn’t where it needs to be. People haven’t felt the nuclear threat, people haven’t had a draft in a long time.”

WANW appears to have a noticeably older age demographic than other activist groups today. Perhaps this is because previous generations, in particular Boomers, can more readily recall a time in which the threat of nuclear war was far more explicit. Arent expresses hope that Generation Z will exhibit more concern regarding the threat of nuclear war. “…Gen Z is more socially aware than any generation before. I don’t think [nuclear war] is an issue that they can’t take on and win. I just think they got to get started. And I think the way to do that is by discovering the intersectionality of issues. Gen Z is also really good at understanding intersectionality. Like, why the war machine fuels climate change.”

WANW hopes to inspire Gen Z to join in the struggle towards world peace. Arent tells me, “Young people should get organized. They should start student groups. They should talk to each other. And if they ever want to hang out with the old fogies in the anti-war movement, we will definitely welcome them with open arms.”

Author

Catherine Maund

Catherine Maund is a staff writer at The Seattle Collegian with an avid interest in American foreign policy, government surveillance, private interest groups with an influence on legislation, and animal welfarism. She hopes to pursue a career in investigative journalism.

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