[A version of this essay was delivered to the "Think outside the Bomb" event in Austin, TX, on June 14, 2010.]
If we are serious about the abolition of nuclear weapons, we have to place the abolition of the U.S. empire at the center of our politics.
That means working toward a world free of nuclear weapons demands we not only critique the reactionary wing of the U.S. power structure, the Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds -- call them the reckless hawks. A serious commitment to a future free of nuclear weapons demands critique of moderate wing, the Obamas and Bidens and Clintons -- call them the reasonable hawks. The former group is psychotic, while the latter is merely cynical. After eight years of reckless reactionary psychotics, it's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security by reasonable moderate cynics. But we should remember that a hawk is a hawk.
The next step is asking whose interests are advanced by the hawks. Even though in the post-World War II era the hawks have sometimes differed on strategy and tactics, they have defended the same economic system: a predatory corporate capitalism. Let's call those folks the vultures. Different groupings of hawks might be associated with different groupings of vultures, giving the appearance of serious political conflict within the elite, but what they have in common is much more important than their differences. The political empire of the contemporary United States serves the corporate empires that dominate not only the domestic but the global economy, and it all depends on U.S. military power, of which the nuclear arsenal is one component.
George W. Bush was the smirking frat-boy face of the U.S. empire. Barack Obama is the smiling smart-guy face of the U.S. empire. Whoever is at the helm, the U.S. political/economic/military empire remains in place, shaky at the moment, but still the single greatest threat to justice and peace on the planet. Any serious project to rid the world of the particular threat of nuclear weapons has to come to terms with the more general threat of the empire.
We shouldn't expect our leaders, Republican or Democrat, to agree with that assessment of course. And they don't. Here's a paragraph from the Obama administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review:
The conditions that would ultimately permit the United States and others to give up their nuclear weapons without risking greater international instability and insecurity are very demanding. Among those conditions are success in halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons, much greater transparency into the programs and capabilities of key countries of concern, verification methods and technologies capable of detecting violations of disarmament obligations, enforcement measures strong and credible enough to deter such violations, and ultimately the resolution of regional disputes that can motivate rival states to acquire and maintain nuclear weapons. Clearly, such conditions do not exist today. http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf
Nowhere on the list is a recognition of a more crucial fact: nuclear abolition depends on the death of the American empire.