A Local Leader Speaks Out on Nuclear Weapons

November 4, 2021 | 9:39 am
Michele Dorsey Walfred/flickr
David Combs
Operations Manager

The US spends more than $70 billion dollars each year to build and maintain nuclear weapons. That’s money that could otherwise be used to solve urgent and widespread security problems including the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water, the global climate crisis, and racial inequities that plague the nation. 

In September, more than 300 local, county, and state elected officials from across the United States signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Congress embracing the notion that nuclear weapons are local problems and calling for significant US nuclear weapons policy reforms that would free up much of that money for other pressing issues. 

The Biden Administration is currently developing its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which will lay out the administration’s nuclear weapons policy positions and hopefully move the country closer to the goals of the local leaders want to see. There are reasons to hope positive change is coming. On the 2020 campaign trail, candidate Joe Biden supported several steps that would reduce the risk of nuclear war, including a No First Use policy. In 2017 he said, “it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”  

The local officials who signed the letter to Biden agree. 

One of them, Dee Durham, serves on the New Castle County Council in Delaware, the same council President Biden served on in 1971. New Castle is the President’s home county, and that council was his first elected office in a long public career. 

Councilwoman Durham says it is important to discuss nuclear weapons issues locally at this crucial time. 

Dee Durham is the Councilwoman for the 2nd District of Delaware.

Q: What does it mean for you that you’ve signed onto the letter?

DD: Growing up in the midst of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear war was always front and foremost in our minds. Today, that threat seems less immediate, but it is still ever present and just as dire. As a Quaker, it is important to me to do what I can as a citizen and elected official to help lessen that threat. Nuclear weapons pose one of the greatest threats to peace in the world. The threat of nuclear war represents the epitome of the catastrophic destruction and horrors of war that humankind is unfortunately capable of, and seemingly all too willing to undertake. The suffering and destruction of innocent people and creatures created by the use of nuclear weapons, as well as the diverting of investment away from where it is most needed: health, education, and the environment is just not acceptable to me. As a species we simply must do better.

Q: Local officials like yourself are tasked with focusing on so many needs for their communities, why does the issue of nuclear weapons resonate with you as a local issue?

DD: As an elected local government official, I normally get involved in issues such as land use, parks, and stormwater. Defense budgets and the threat of nuclear war are certainly not topics debated at County Council, however, in a very real way, nothing matters unless we work together to prevent the greatest threat to our very existence. And we do have a platform to express our voice on matters that impact our constituents, including the use of taxpayer monies not just locally but globally.

Q: How else could your community utilize the millions of dollars that taxpayers currently put towards the nuclear weapons complex?

DD: If we could truly increase our sense of security from nuclear war, it will allow us to shift our spending from weapon systems and military preparedness to issues of human security, including: the battle to eradicate disease; to improving the health and wellbeing of humans and other living things through a healthier, greener earth by addressing climate change and greatly elevating environmental protection; to feed, clothe, and shelter all of the world’s population, and eradicating poverty. As intelligent beings, this is where our priorities should be.

Q: What would you like DC policymakers to know about keeping your community safe or promoting safety in your community?

DD: True security does not arise from the threat of nuclear annihilation. You cannot build a lasting, just peace on the edge of a sword. The weapons themselves are not the issue, we do not fear French nuclear weapons or British ones. Our sense of threat grows out of our relationships, the level of trust that we have, with those who wield those weapons. Global multinational institutions and organizations, both between governments or directly between citizens, are the only real path towards strengthening these relationships. “Peace through strength“ only deepens distrust and heightens tensions. We need to recognize our mutual interests and work together towards a global system built upon a truly collective sense of security. 

This letter to President Biden was part of the Back from the Brink campaign, co-founded by UCS, that aims to 

  1. Actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals;
  2. Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first;
  3. End the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack;
  4. Take U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; and
  5. Cancel the plan to replace the entire US arsenal with enhanced weapons at a cost of more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years.