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Outrider believes that the global challenges we face together must be solved by working together.

Among the greatest threats to the future of humankind are nuclear weapons and global climate change. Outrider makes the bold claim that both threats can be overcome — and not just by policy makers but by people with the right tools and inspiration.

Nuclear Weapons

When All You Have is a Hammer...

by Yasmeen Silva
November 23, 2021

From nuclear weapons to militarized police, our culture of violence has brought us to a place where all of our problems, even domestic ones, are seen as wars that must be won. And, our communities are paying the price.

During the protests in the summer of 2020, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Americans of all races and neighborhoods had to reckon with the massive, militarized response of their local police departments. Armored vehicles patrolled the streets, helicopters deployed, police wore combat-like uniforms, and peaceful protestors felt the effects of what happens when police are given weapons that shift their mentality from viewing the communities they serve as just that, to combatants to be dealt with. 

Where did this culture of aggression and militarism come from? Many tributaries are feeding this culture but one that stands out as a stark backdrop to all other military and policy activities is nuclear weapons. The police last summer adopted an “action first, conversation later” mentality that was prevalent during the Cold War. And, we still see this attitude in our present-day nuclear policies of “launch on warning” and “hair-trigger alert.”

Nuclear weapons create a climate of constant tension and heightened fear of attack by other nuclear-armed nations. In both instances, retaining a nuclear option and arming police to the hilt, the logic follows that we need to be constantly prepared on all fronts, for any kind of situation. A follow-on is that the solutions to any kind of situation automatically require aggressive or military action. We need to recognize the cultural links between local militarism and large-scale global militarism if we want to understand where, and if, military actions are acceptable and how to decouple them from our daily lives.

police in armored vehicle aim guns

Minneapolis Police officers sit in an armored vehicle, with guns drawn, at a crime scene on June 16, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Police Department has been under close scrutiny following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Congress instituted the Pentagon’s 1033 program in its current form in 1996, allowing for the transfer of military-grade weapons and equipment to police departments across the United States. There are several problems associated with the program, notably the loss of assault weapons from a department’s possession.  Yet one of the most insidious issues with 1033 lies in the culture of militarism and fear that it creates in communities across the United States. Studies show that police departments that receive these military weapons and equipment from the 1033 program are more likely to enact deadly violence in the communities they are meant to serve. Yet proponents of the program say that incorporating these military-grade weapons into policing makes communities safer. However, as noted, the incorporation of this program often leads to devastating outcomes, especially in Black and brown communities, that exacerbate tensions and create an atmosphere of fear, proving the proponents of the program dangerously wrong.

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By making war-fighting equipment accessible, the U.S. facilitates the mentality that all problems, including domestic problems, require a war to solve them. Extensions of this type of thinking include the “War on Homelessness”, the “War on Drugs”, and the crossover “War on Terror” that happens at home as well as abroad. Some of this domestic “war” framing predates the 1033 program and shows early shifts toward the idea of militarism as the be-all, end-all solution to problems, even at home. The 1033 program is a natural progression for a nation that has increasingly placed emphasis on military power as a solution over all else. This accounts for why nuclear weapons continue to feature centrally in our foreign policy despite not offering a credible solution to modern problems like cyber attacks, pandemics, and climate change. It is also why “softer” forms of resolution, such as diplomacy, are downgraded. 

When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. And when all you see are nails, it can be scary to give up the hammer. Nuclear weapons and militarized policing are the hammers that have created aggressive and posture-filled “solutions'' that shun other methods of resolving problems.

While the effects of over-militarized policing and nuclear weapons play out on much different scales, it’s essential to see the connections between the two and how they operate in the cultural milieu. The same elected officials and thought leaders who tell us nuclear weapons make us safe also tend to support programs like 1033. They call for increased budgets for both nuclear weapons and police departments and diminish other solutions like diplomacy at the international level, and community services, like those provided by social workers at the local level—even though these solutions are more cost-effective and proven to help.

official testifies before Congress

Pentagon Principal Deputy Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Alan Estevez testifies about military equipment given to local law enforcement departments by the federal government during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 9, 2014, in Washington, DC. In the wake of the Ferguson, MO, police response to peaceful protests, senators on the committee were critical of the federal grant programs that allow local and state law enforcement agencies to buy armored vehicles, assault rifles, body armor, and other military equipment.
 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Calling out these dangerous ideologies and supporting alternative models for conflict resolution at the local, national, and international levels facilitates a shift from this hyper-militarized mentality, a change in culture, and ultimately a change in policy and budgets. To overlook the interplay between decisions made at the local and global levels and how militarization in one space paves the way for it in others is a grave mistake when thinking about ways to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Systems of violence feed on each other. It is essential to make sure none of those systems are fed independently as well.

Yasmeen Silva (she/her) is a social justice activist and organizer who is passionate about eliminating violence in its many forms. She currently works to defend and expand access to reproductive rights, but worked on nuclear issues for many years and continues to champion the rights of nuclear frontline communities and draw connections between different forms of violence. Follow her on Twitter @YasmeenSilva

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