They boast: “This isn’t your grandma’s anti-nuke campaign.” And when it comes to scale, that’s certainly true. Global Zero, a group dedicated to “a world without nuclear weapons,” touts 300 global leaders, numerous prestigious signatories and 450,000 members worldwide. Its members have hosted flashy galas across the world, made videos with A-list celebrities (Morgan Freeman, Alec Baldwin, etc.) and have even taken multiple trips to pressing political hotbeds like Bonnaroo.
The architects of the movement are not shy about being their own loudest cheerleaders. They have labeled themselves as “one of the most remarkable social movements in history” orchestrated by a “visionary group of leaders and experts.”
And our generation seems to like it: The initiative has 150 college and high school chapters in 20 different countries, 6,000 Twitter followers, and over 30,000 Facebook likes. The chapter at Yale is one of the most active of the bunch, even hosting a posh conference here last year.
Yet while such an endeavor may not be my grandma’s campaign, it is lipstick — Instagrammed, tweeted, well-funded, celebrity-sprinkled lipstick — on an old pig. The underlying idea has been around for decades; in fact, Barack Obama championed it as a college student in 1983. As president, he is now all too willing to let Global Zero take up the cause, hook, line and sinker, as it fits into his prosaic playbook for wooing millennials: promise lofty ideals with short specifics, while casually gliding over the snags of substantively disastrous policy.
At first glance, the biggest problem with Global Zero is not even its ultimate objective, but rather the precipitous, overconfident intellectual sprint it uses to get there. The “Global Zero Action Plan” is the bedrock of the initiative’s mission, outlining the “phased, verified, multilateral elimination of all nuclear weapons” by 2030 — in all of nine pages.
The combination of unearned gravitas and big-name support, coupled with no comparable counterweight, has contributed to Global Zero’s contagious authority among student advocates. “There is actually no reason to have a nuclear weapon. A lot of people think it can protect us, but it really doesn’t,” one student leader declares in a video. “The idea of nuclear weapon is just … outdated,” explains another, cinematically seated before a white backdrop.
One can only imagine what a relief this was for the ayatollah to hear.
Global Zero has a two-stage approach: first, stress compliance from potentially willing (read: safe and responsible) nations, and second, figure it out with less than receptive (read: dangerous and irresponsible) ones later. “This phased approach will allow for the steady expansion of participation … while [thus] preventing any holdouts or temporary withdrawals from derailing the process,” reads the plan — essentially Smokey the Bear asking everyone without matches to not start fires while hoping that big-game hunters put their guns away.
To be fair, the initiative recognizes the potential skepticism that can meet the promise to recruit every nuclear power onto a “legally binding international agreement” within a decade. Proponents point to “decades of successful experience … dismantling nuclear weapons programs,” in “Iraq” and “Libya.” With the former coming courtesy of Israeli jets in 1981 and the latter from an American intervention in the former (odd how nations can be persistent about this sort of thing), it doesn’t take long to see how the organization is willing to jump between shoddy history and a very loose definition of “diplomacy.”
But this is the perceived millennial predilection that Global Zero tries to pick on: a generation supposedly quick to demand and slow to discern.
It is easy to rally students to “demand zero” from Jerusalem or Islamabad. How to resolve the weapons-necessitating military conflicts that have plagued each nation from its inception is a problem that can be figured out down the road. It seems intuitive that the world will come together for “collective security” to now combat “nuclear terrorists,” as long as student leaders are cautioned not to name-call friends when around the mullahs. And how certain are we that countries like South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia — previously without need to pursue their own programs because of an American umbrella — will look upon the panacea of a “legally binding international agreement” with equal esteem?
We should push for a higher discourse than the utopic impulses that belie Global Zero. It is a movement not in search of a problem but rather for a long-lost time before humanity tipped the brink into a nuclear world. Yale students — many of whom will have a very tangible impact on how our nation conducts itself in the future — have a choice as to whether to engage in this world or indulge in another.
We’ve come of age under a president who chose the latter. How’s that working out?
Harry Graver is a senior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.