With our nation in crisis, we are called upon to act with courage, wisdom and generosity.

We are deeply moved seeing healthcare workers donning protective gear, overcoming their fears to care for COVID-19 patients. We equally admire less celebrated, equally courageous essential workers keeping our grocery shelves stocked, power plants running, gas stations open, garbage collected and children fed. This public health emergency exacerbates so many existing economic and health inequities. 

We have many losses to grieve, many lessons to learn. How will the world be changed when we emerge from this cruel pandemic? How can we better prepare for and prevent global assaults on our health?

With anxieties running high, we hesitate to ask what other global threats to our health require urgent attention. Some are caused by natural forces run amok. Yet other global threats to our survival are human made – like the grave threat posed by nuclear weapons.

While news necessarily focuses on COVID-19, another almost equally invisible menace is spreading, threatening vastly more devastating consequences. We shouldn’t have ignored early evidence of this pandemic’s onslaught. Similarly, we must face the dangers created by the misguided nuclear policies embraced by the current administration and leaders around the world. We must fundamentally change course.

Every day, even as we grapple with COVID-19, new nuclear weapons are being designed, built and deployed, here in the U.S. and around the world. These catastrophically destructive weapons not only threaten our future but also cost vast sums of money.

The 2021 federal budget includes a 19 percent spending increase for nuclear weapons, up to $44 billion, while simultaneously cutting U.S. Centers for Disease Control funding by 19 percent.  One core lesson we must learn from this pandemic is to change those priorities. That $44 billion could instead purchase 35,000 ventilators, cover the salaries of 150,000 nurses and support struggling hospitals – with billions left over to help meet other staggering COVID-19 costs.

Just as we are mobilizing to save lives threatened by COVID-19, we must mobilize to prevent the unimaginable loss of life a nuclear war would cause. Finger pointing as to which country is most responsible for accelerating this new arms race does us no good. It’s a shared responsibility, and shared solutions are needed.

Only one treaty is still in effect constraining the world’s largest nuclear arsenals in the U.S. and Russia. Unless it’s renewed, the New START agreement expires less than one year from now, unleashing dark forces that will bring us ever closer to nuclear war.

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump could accept President Putin’s offer to extend New START and begin to pull us back from the brink.

As a health professional and a municipal leader, we cannot accept this drift toward catastrophe. Members of Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine are joining thousands around the country working on the “Back from the Brink” campaign, calling on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:

• Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first.

• Ending the president’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack.

• Taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.

• Canceling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons.

• Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

The Portland City Council has joined 42 other municipalities, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Honolulu, Philadelphia and Tucson, Arizona, in endorsing Back from the Brink resolutions.

Our U.S. senators are responsible for ratifying and preserving arms control treaties. Sen. Susan Collins voted to ratify New START, and Sen. Angus King has spoken strongly in favor of it.  Now it’s time for them to help persuade the Trump administration to extend New START for another five years by co-sponsoring S.2394.

At a recent COVID-19 briefing, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah reminded us:  “We are the ones who can control the arc of the story … We get to write the next chapter.”

Yes, these are frightening times. But we don’t have to yield to fear. With hope and determination, we must act to save lives at risk from both COVID-19 and the new nuclear arms race.

 


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