Last Friday’s presidential debate displayed a John Kerry committed to leading an international coalition to end nuclear proliferation. This bold stance on nuclear weapons development echoed in both candidates’ assertions during the Sept. 30 debate, which identified weapon production to be the most critical national security issue of our time. This comes as no surprise, considering the headlines sprinkled daily across the front pages of newspapers around the world that speak of weapons of mass destruction, pre-emptive strikes, Libya, North Korea and Iran. However, what the current president and the presidential hopeful failed to mention – and what most people tend to ignore – is that the issue of nuclear proliferation is more than just nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons, militarism and the industrial complex that supports and perpetuates them, have close intimacies with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and institutions of higher education – to name a few of many. These linkages are vital to discussions surrounding nuclear issues and even more pressing for the students of the University of California system during the current political landscape, and here’s why: The University of California system has managed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the Dept. of Energy for over five decades through contractual agreements. Every weapon in the nation’s nuclear stockpile has connections to the University of California through ties of research, design, development or testing. The bidding process for the managing position has recently been opened up by the federal government and the UC is planning to place a bid and continue their role in developing weapons of mass destruction.
The federal government pumps over half the national tax revenues into the military establishment, which is one of the most homophobic institutions in our society and representative abroad. Not only does the United States military explicitly deny fair treatment of queer-identified people in the military, but the University of California continues to house Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs even as it puts forth its anti-discrimination policies – talk about ‘mixed messages.’
Instead of allocating state and federal funds for public education, our state and national government have continued to slash social spending to fund war and weapons development. As a result, outreach programs across the nation have been cut and the cost of education has risen, leaving many under-represented students with few resources to gain access into college. Shouldn’t a system of higher education like the University of California be working to confront this trend rather than profiting off of the war machine?
In looking at the lived experiences of many people around the world, the development of the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile works to ensure security for corporate interests. The prioritization of these interests facilitates the perpetuation of global poverty of which women are disproportionately affected. The money used to construct this global threat could be used to provide better social services for women in our society and abroad.
Nuclear weapons testing exposes many people around the world (in places including Vieques, the Marshall Islands, Panama, the Philippines and Japan) to environmental hazards, including radioactive waste and depleted uranium. There are more than 1,400 contaminated military sites located near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
How does the University of California justify being part of the production of the weapons of mass destruction that have killed so many people? The University of California should be directing its energy toward equal access to education and academic endeavor, not furthering the militarization of higher education.
These are just a few of the issues that interconnect with nuclear proliferation, and which should be considered by all students of the University of California system. The Regents of the UC system must democratize their bidding process. In turn, the system of higher education, including the University of California, must be demilitarized and efforts must be made to return to the real business of education. These issues affect us all, whether or not Kerry or and George W. Bush can connect these issues for us. For more information on how to confront the UC’s role in nuclear weapons proliferation please visit ucnuclearfree.org.
Gloria Ross is a senior global studies and black studies major.