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You may be asking yourself, can we really do anything about the risks posed by nuclear weapons? The answer is unequivocally yes. Since the invention of nuclear weapons in the 1940s, there have been three major waves of pushback that have helped lessen their threat. These waves reflect time periods when the public engaged in the narrative around nuclear weapons and expressed their opposition. 

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Bertrard and Edith Russel lead anti-nuclear march in London, 1961
Cuban missile crisis demonstration New York 1962

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, everyday citizens became increasingly concerned about atmospheric tests of the new hydrogen bomb. In response, groups like the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and Women Strike for Peace were founded. These groups helped push a campaign against nuclear weapons testing that led three of the world’s major powers  (the U.S., United Kingdom, and Soviet Union) to agree to a nuclear testing moratorium and the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. This breakthrough was followed by other nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and Soviet Union, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and SALT treaties.

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Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945
First World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs, 1955

The first wave of grassroots pressure came after World War II in response to the United States’ use of atomic bombs against Japan. People around the world were inspired to speak out against nuclear weapons when the world got its first glimpse of just how much devastation these weapons could unleash, leading government officials to take a newfound interest in disarmament. 

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Anti-nuclear weapons protest march, Oxford, England, 1980
Anti-nuclear rally outside the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1979
Demonstration against nuclear tests in Lyon, France, 1980s

The 1970s and 1980s once again brought about the beginnings of nuclear arms race - President Reagan began his tenure as president by proposing a strategic weapons build-up and engaging in bellicose rhetoric (sound familiar?). Faced with this brash leader, popular opinion again surged against nuclear weapons and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign took off. In the fall of 1982, a majority of voters backed the Freeze in nine out of ten states where it appeared on the ballot. This led President Reagan to abandon his original position. Instead, he embraced the “zero option,” SALT II, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. He began negotiations for START I and became a champion of nuclear abolition. 

The moral of this story is this: we can change the current trajectory. We have done it in the past and it is imperative that we do so again. So what’s the alternative to a nuclear arms race? There are many, from incremental changes that reduce our immediate risk to comprehensive solutions. Head to the policy solutions section to find out more.

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