Instead of freaking out about nuclear war, let's do something to prevent it

We are closer to nuclear armageddon than at any time since the 1960s. Congress must be confronted, and told to act

By Norman Solomon

Contributing Writer

Published October 12, 2022 5:45AM (EDT)

Nuclear Weapons Pointed At Each Other Over Earth (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Nuclear Weapons Pointed At Each Other Over Earth (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

This is an emergency. 

Right now, we're closer to a cataclysmic nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. One assessment after another has said the current situation may be even more dangerous.

Yet few members of Congress are advocating for any steps that the U.S. government could take to decrease the dangers of a nuclear conflagration. The silences and muted statements on Capitol Hill are evading the reality of what's hanging in the balance — the destruction of almost all human life on Earth. "The end of civilization."

Public passivity is helping elected officials to sleepwalk toward unfathomable catastrophe for all of humanity. If senators and House members are to be roused out of their timid refusal to urgently address — and work to reduce — the present high risks of nuclear war, they need to be confronted. Nonviolently, but emphatically.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made thinly veiled, extremely reckless statements about possibly using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war. At the same time, some of the U.S. government's policies make nuclear war more likely. Changing them is imperative.

For the last few months, I've been working with people in many states who aren't just worried about the spiking dangers of nuclear war — they're also determined to take action to help prevent it. That resolve has resulted in organizing more than 35 picket lines this Friday, Oct. 14, at local offices of Senate and House members around the country. (To find out about picketing in your area, go here.)

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What could the U.S. government do to lessen the chances of global nuclear annihilation? The Defuse Nuclear War campaign, which is coordinating those picket lines, has identified key needed actions. Such as:

  • Rejoin nuclear-weapons treaties the U.S. has withdrawn from.

President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002. Under Donald Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019. Both pacts significantly reduced the chances of nuclear war.

  • Take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

Four hundred intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are armed and ready for launch from underground silos in five states. Because they're land-based, those missiles are vulnerable to attack and thus are on hair-trigger alert — allowing only minutes to determine whether indications of an incoming attack are real or a false alarm.

  • End the policy of "first use."

Both Russia and the United States have so far refused to pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons.

  • Support congressional action to avert nuclear war.

In the House, H.Res. 1185 includes a call for the U.S. to "lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war."

The single overarching need is for senators and representatives to insist that U.S. participation in nuclear brinkmanship is unacceptable. As our Defuse Nuclear War team says, "Grassroots activism will be essential to pressure members of Congress to publicly acknowledge the dangers of nuclear war and strongly advocate specific steps for reducing them."

Is that really too much to ask? Or even to demand?

By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of many books, including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." His latest book, "War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine," was published in June 2023.

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Commentary Joe Biden Nuclear War Nuclear Weapons Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin