No Nukes at Netroots

Activists cheer Obama cuts to nuclear arsenal, push for greater reductions

A soldier guards a transport cask containing a transfer cylinder that holds highly enriched uranium / AP
June 24, 2013

Just hours after President Barack Obama announced massive cuts to America’s nuclear arsenal, activists and organizational leaders gathered on the sidelines of the 2013 Netroots Nation conference to plan how they can advocate for even greater reductions.

Senior officials from the progressive anti-nuke groups Ploughshares Fund and Global Zero held an informal anti-nuke strategy session late Friday with a small group of liberal activists and a Washington Free Beacon reporter.

The goal: How to sell Democrats and liberals on the idea that America’s nuclear arsenal must be fully eliminated and that Iran must be negotiated with.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was a Ploughshares board member before moving to the Pentagon and is a top supporter of the Global Zero proposal to eliminate all nuclear weapons.

"The size of our nuclear arsenal is ludicrous," said an outraged John Robert Behrman, committeeman with the Harris County Democratic Party in Houston, Texas.

"The amount of money we spend on nuclear ordinance is ridiculous," said Behrman, who said that nuclear modernization and maintenance issues "should be the lowest hanging fruit in the defense budget."

"We have so many weapons already that you know we don’t need to keep these moldy sitting in bunkers around," added a student activist who had attended the session. "I don’t think they’re necessary and something we should be spending money on at all."

Ploughshares and Global Zero officials seemed pleased with Obama’s announcement on Friday that he intends to cut the number of nuclear weapons the United States deploys by a third.

"It’s a constant theme with [Obama] and this could be a legacy issue," said John-Michael Donahue, Global Zero’s U.S. campaign manager.

Global Zero executive director Derek Johnson concurred, telling the Free Beacon that Obama has taken very credible action on the issue of nuclear reductions.

Ploughshares director of communications Margaret Swink also praised the president’s anti-nuclear stance during an interview with the Free Beacon immediately following the strategy session.

"I think the administration does support it and [we] saw again the speech this week that Obama, as Global Zero was saying, Obama supports this issue and the peace and security of a world without nuke weapons," said Swink, whose organization funded an aggressive campaign to support Hagel during his contentious nomination process

"We were obviously very pleased that Chuck Hagel became secretary of defense and feel very excited about working with him as we move forward," Swink said. "With regard to nuclear issues, he’s a strong partner. I don’t think anything has changed about that since when he was on our board to now being secretary of defense."

The need to negotiate with Iran also topped the agenda during the activist’s strategy session.

"Encouraging the administration to take the opportunity of the new president in Iran to pursue effective diplomacy, which we haven’t seen so much, and [for] Congress to not get in the way of that" is a key issue, said Rebecca Griffin, political director of Peace Action West, a pro-diplomacy advocacy group.

Stephanie Dreyer, media relations director of the Truman National Security Project, said that the United States needs to find a "third option" for Iran.

It "looks as though we have two options when it comes to Iran and nuke proliferation," Dreyer said, referring to economic sanctions and military action.

"What I’d like to see is a third option," she said. "There’s only so long that I think these sanctions can go on without the people revolting."

Sanctions on Iran have failed to act as a nuclear deterrent, said Global Zero’s Donahue.

"I don’t understand what you’re talking about because it’s not deterring them from getting them," he said.

Democratic county activist Behrman said a nuclear-equipped Iran would hardly be a threat to the United States or allied nations such as Israel.

"A nuclear weapon in North Korea or Iran that can’t be delivered to America isn’t a threat to North America or isn’t even a threat to Israel who has two or 300 of those things," he said. "So we don’t need to be in a state of constant panic."