To Jonathan Schell, the citizen movement for nuclear disarmament is too weak to make political leaders sit up and notice.
Schell, a leading disarmament advocate who writes for The Nation and holds a visiting lecturer position at Yale University on nuclear disarmament, canceled an appearance last week at MU due to health reasons. He was scheduled to speak on "The New Shape of Nuclear Danger." He was invited to Columbia by the Missouri University Nuclear Disarmament and Education Team, a newly formed group of MU professors and peace activists.
Schell's visit would have been an opportunity for the MU group to reach Columbia residents regarding nuclear disarmament.
"We were thinking of asking Schell to be the honorary coach for our team," said Bill Wickersham, a founder of the group and an adjunct professor of Peace Studies at MU. "We were preparing to hand out our team's literature and get signatures for the petition from Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at the lecture."
The foundation is collecting signatures for a petition to eliminate nuclear weapons. It is a nonprofit organization and has a consultative status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
The lecture was to be sponsored by the Peace Studies Program, the Center on Religion and the Professions and the College of Arts and Sciences; Schell said he plans to visit Columbia in March to speak on the issue.
Though polls show 60 to 70 percent of Americans support nuclear disarmament, Schell said in a telephone interview, there is no popular movement in the scale of the 1980s Nuclear Freeze movement. "Even the pollsters have now forgotten the issue," said Schell, a Harold Willens Peace Fellow at The Nation Institute.
Some groups, such as Peace Action, which calls itself the country's largest grassroots peace network with a membership of around 100,000 in 30 states and 100 university and college campuses; the World Security Institute that conducts independent research into global affairs and security; and Environment Defense Fund have been advocating for nuclear disarmament. "But I don't think a (citizen's movement) is happening," Schell said.
Faith-based organizations, too, are not giving much attention to the problem, he said. "Though evangelicals and Catholic groups have been working in the area for a long time, efforts have weakened in recent years," Schell said.
Nuclear disarmament has fallen out of popularity from university courses across the country over the years, Schell said. "They seem to have forgotten about the issue."
Schell teaches 100 undergraduate students at Yale University, which he thinks is sign of renewed interest. But only a couple are "really passionate about it and are active and involved in advancing the issue," he said.
For Schell, the popular movement for nuclear disarmament should begin with citizens convincing their representatives in government to take up the issue at the state and federal level. There is also a necessity for public demonstrations and teaching at schools and universities that will lead to a grassroots movement, Schell said.
The new nuclear danger comes from unwillingness of existing nuclear powers to give up the nukes, Schell said. "Nuclear technology was destined to be available to all competent scientists and countries since its inception. Once it was developed, it was in the public domain."
"It leads to global double standards," he said. "Nuclear powers, such as the United States, Russia, France and Germany can't forbid non-nuclear countries from the technology and hold on to their own weapons."
Deterrence is the major reason why most countries look for nuclear weapons. "The sheer presence of nuclear weapons makes the countries more reluctant to go to war and conventional warfare is less likely," Schell said. "But if the gamble fails, the price is as high as actual annihilation."
Schell does not see enough political and popular movements calling for disarmament. Though he feels Barack Obama takes disarmament more seriously than John McCain, Schell said that "neither of the candidates is willing to expend the terrific political capital required for disarmament."
For Wickersham, a first step toward disarmament would require taking the U.S. nuclear missiles off of high alert status. "But it would also require a joint agreement with Russia for some kind of document to ensure enforcement of the provisions of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in good faith."
High alert refers to the level of readiness. "Russian and U.S. nuclear missile officers sit in missile launch control centers awaiting orders from their respective presidents to launch missiles at each other," Wickersham said. "Launch to landing time is approximately 25 minutes."
"When the missiles in Boonville, Cooper County, were destroyed, Russian colonels were on site to witness it," Wickersham said. "They are not even talking about that now." The 150 Minuteman missiles in Missouri were destroyed between 1992-95 under provisions of the U.S./Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction treaty, Wickersham said.
"But the political power of the military industry complex right now is too strong to bring back nuclear disarmament in the talks," he added.