A 2017 Minuteman III ICBM test launch. (Photo: Ian Dudley / US Air Force)
On January 3, 2022, Russia, China, France, the UK, and the United States issued a joint statement on “preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races.” In it, they agreed on “the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons” and affirmed a commitment to negotiate in good faith on nuclear disarmament. This year, the United States has an opportunity to emerge as a leader in nuclear de-escalation by adopting the Blueprint for a Better America.
The Blueprint for a Better America is a crowdsourced legislative package offered to all Congressional candidates in the 2022 midterms and backed up by the American Union of swing voters. The Blueprint’s themes — end poverty, end mass incarceration, and end the endless wars — is designed to appeal to a broad cross section of America. A small percentage of swing voters can be decisive in determining the balance of power in Washington, creating the leverage needed to force Congress to act.
Among the more than 50 policies contained in the legislative package, several deal with nuclear weapons. Last year, the US announced plans to build hundreds of new nuclear missiles, budgeting $100 billion toward the effort. Representative Ro Khanna has sponsored HR 2227, which would block funds in fiscal year 2022 from being spent on “the ground-based strategic deterrent program or the W87–1 warhead modification program.” The relevant language has been incorporated into section 323 of the Blueprint, but would extend the restriction until the 2033 fiscal year.
One of the justifications offered for these new weapons is that the existing Minutemen III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are aging, and should be replaced. Planned obsolescence is a thing! However, their usefulness — if that’s the correct term for a weapon of mass destruction — can be extended for several decades while efforts to adjust our nuclear policy proceed. Section 322 of the Blueprint would require the Secretary of Defense to carry out a life extension program for these existing ICBMs, negating the replacement argument and saving hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decades.
These provisions alone will allow the United States of America to demonstrate leadership in avoiding an arms race, but more can be done. After the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in the closing days of World War 2, the number of nuclear warheads expanded to a high of about 70,000 worldwide, but has since receded to about 14,000. Among the nine nations currently possessing them, the US and Russia have the lion’s share, with other nations having a few hundred at most.
Section 324 of the Blueprint will let the US influence the global conversation around the agreed-upon “goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” It would require the Administrator of Nuclear Security to create a detailed plan to cut the total number of existing US warheads by 50% over five years. Such a plan, which would still leave sufficient quantities to threaten mutually assured destruction, would have to be developed and submitted to Congress by March 15, 2023. By setting an example — nuclear reduction instead of proliferation — Russia could be inspired to follow suit, and the other seven nations, whose stockpiles are less than a tenth of ours, would feel little incentive to expand theirs.
These money-saving provisions will also be beneficial because of section 314, which requires a 10% cut in the military budget for four years, returning us to 2005 spending levels. This legislative package takes a holistic approach, and recognizes that one of the root causes of military spending is the economic benefits it brings to most, if not all, Congressional districts. To offset the loss of income in these communities as a result of the ‘end the endless wars’ policies, the ‘end poverty’ policy of universal basic income will deliver an unconditional $1,300 each month for every American adult.
More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. identified the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism before he was assassinated while trying to organize a union. In 2022, an American Union of swing voters can address these interconnected evils in one legislative package. When 3.5% of Americans unite behind these specific legislative demands, they will control the balance of power in Washington. That leverage will change the national conversation toward implementing solutions, and reduce the threat of nuclear war.