Updated: Apr 7, 2020
By Senator Nan Grogan Orrock
As a member of the Georgia State Senate, I have joined with women colleagues in both chambers to introduce resolutions urging Congress to establish protocols for the use of nuclear weapons. These resolutions make clear that the President does not have sole authority to order a first-strike nuclear attack on another nation without Congressional approval. Our efforts are joined by women legislators in eight additional states (Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Iowa, Maryland, Vermont, Minnesota, New Hampshire) who have introduced similar resolutions or sent jointly signed letters to their Congressional delegations.
Massachusetts Senator Barbara L’Italien with WAND, Beyond the Bomb, and Mass. Peace Action Activists.
Millions have marched against nuclear weapons here in the United States and around the globe. Entire nations — entirecontinents— have forsworn any allegiance to nuclear arms. International gatherings have convened to address the madness of nuclear weapons, and those few remaining survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks continue to raise their voices and share their horrific stories of the nuclear holocausts they survived. The people of Japan have even started a resolution campaign of their own, with 322 local resolution surging the Japanese government to sign theNuclear Ban Treaty.
Yet still the madness of stockpiling nuclear weapons continues — for the most part unabated. The United States and Russia even keep some of their 12,000 warheads on hair trigger alert! Congress and the President have authorized spending $1.2 trillion over the next three decades to “modernize” our nuclear arsenal. Amazingly, we seem willing as a nation to tolerate the possibility that an individual with possession of the nuclear codes can unilaterally order a nuclear weapons first-strike, with no other authority or protocol that could prevent such an action.
In 2016, I attended an international conference in Kazakhstan to mark the anniversary of that nation’s decision to decommission all the nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had built and tested over a period of 40 years at the Semipalatinsk Test Site. This top-secret nuclear testing went on until the Soviet Union fell and the newly independent nation of Kazakhstan outlawed nuclear testing and proclaimed itself as a nuclear-free state in 1993.
I toured the Semipalatinsk Test Site, viewed photos and data reports, and spoke with medical personnel and patients coping with the aftermath–no human or animal survives unscathed by the radioactive poisoning of this degraded spot on our globe. Secret studies by Russian scientists revealed that a nuclear blast conducted on the site in 1956 hospitalized four times more people than the Chernobyl explosion. Parts of the Semipalatinsk steppes remain uninhabitable and at least 100,000 people have suffered from radioactive exposure. The handsome monument erected to symbolize a nuclear-free nation is a somber reminder of the death and destruction suffered in this region for decades.
Today’s geopolitical climate, the unresolved nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula, and the torching of the Iran Nuclear Agreement create dangerous uncertainty about the future role of nuclear weapons. There should be no question that we should be taking steps on every front to reduce the danger of nuclear warfare, including the common sense protocols to vet any first-strike decision made here in the United States.
I feel firsthand the sense of urgency in taking whatever steps possible to curb the potential for the detonation of nuclear weapons anywhere on earth. The first step we can take is to send a message to Congress that they must act to ensure that no one person, not even the President of the United States, can act unilaterally and alone to launch a first-strike nuclear attack. This is not too much to ask, is it? On behalf of all humanity!
We will continue our efforts at WAND to enlist more legislators who will take up this effort. State-by-state we will introduce resolutions and send a message to Washington. It is my hope that an engaged citizenry will reach out to legislators in their states and urge them to join this campaign. Together, we can build the public will for common sense and sanity in these times.
Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock is the former President of the Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions. To find out what you can do to help prevent nuclear war and nuclear weapons testing, go to the Take Action Page.