This is the time in April we traditionally fund our nation’s priorities. There is nothing traditional this year. In the midst of the international COVID-19 pandemic, tax day has been placed on hold just as much of the world has. It is also the time of year that we fund our greatest existential man-made threat — nuclear weapons.
While dealing with the surreal impact of the current COVID-19 health crisis, the nuclear arms race forges ahead, spiraling out of control, as the U.S. pushes to lead the way in building a nuclear arsenal whose sole purpose — if it ever were to be used — is threatening to end life as we know it on our planet. Climate change is the second human-caused existential threat and is also connected to the threat of recurring pandemics and nuclear war.
The COVID-19 pandemic demands that we reassess our priorities through the lens of caring for one another and our basic human needs addressing income, health and environmental inequities across the nation that are so apparent at this time.
As the planet warms, habitat for animals, bacteria, parasites and viruses change — bringing the health of animals, humans and the planet into a new reality. In addition, climate changes human migration and resource availability, causing conflict which — under the right circumstances — can lead ultimately to war. We need to rethink how we spend our financial resources to address these interconnected issues.
Each year, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles publishes our Nuclear Weapons Community Costs Program. Now in its 32nd year, the program is used around the country to highlight the fiscal disparities in our communities and build support for nuclear weapons abolition work and for divestment from nuclear weapons — similar to what was done in South Africa to end apartheid.
As our nation grapples with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, we continue to fund nuclear weapons programs — by our calculation — in the amount of $67.6 billion for fiscal year 2020.
These wasted expenditures deprive cities, counties and states across the nation of critical funds in the midst of this pandemic, compounding our ongoing daily health crisis dealing with nearly 90 million Americans without any, or with inadequate health insurance. The expenditures vary by community, as do each community’s financial needs.
Our nation’s capital will contribute in excess of $236 million for FY 2020 toward nuclear weapons programs. Large states like New York, and New Jersey — grappling with the devastation of COVID-19 and the inadequate resources to handle it — are spending in excess of $4.5 billion and $2.2 billion respectively, while California is spending over $8.7 billion on nuclear weapons programs, robbing their treasuries of critical funds necessary at this time. This is immoral, insane and wrong.
As physicians and health practitioners, we — just like our local elected officials — are first responders. The current pandemic with all of its global devastation pales by comparison with any nuclear conflict. Cities are being paralyzed as they try to deal with the crisis at hand. In a nuclear attack, there would be no adequate medical or public health response. The outcome is predictable and must be prevented.
The only way to prevent nuclear war is by the complete and verifiable abolition of nuclear weapons.
As with COVID-19, we must prevent that which we cannot cure.
The world is moving to abolish nuclear weapons through the Treaty on The Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted at the U.N. in July 2017 and already ratified by 36 nations on its way to the 50 nations necessary to enter into force, like treaties dealing with all other weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. must take a leadership role to support this treaty and abide by our 50-year commitment under Article VI of the NPT Treaty to work in good faith to eliminate nuclear weapons. The rest of the world has grown weary and skeptical of the hollow promises of the U.S. and other nuclear nations to this obligation and are refusing to be held hostage any longer.
Shame on our legislative leaders for the continued funding of these weapons of mass destruction that have no utility and threaten our continued survival. There are no winners of nuclear war.
In the words of our last great military General, President Dwight Eisenhower, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
We are one interconnected human family in this nation and on this planet — and at long last, it is time to recognize this fact. COVID-19 has made this imminently apparent. It is time to come together to abolish nuclear weapons and to direct the dollars wasted on them to address the economic, environmental and health inequities in our communities. We must all make our voices heard to prevent nuclear war, which would be the last epidemic.
Robert Dodge, M.D., is a family physician practicing in Ventura, Calif. He is the President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (www.psr-la.org), and sits on the National Board serving as the Co-Chair of the Committee to Abolish Nuclear Weapons of National Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org). Physicians for Social Responsibility received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and is a partner organization of ICAN, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Price.