A new Mother's Day for Peace

The following article originally appeared in the Minnesota Star Tribune.

Mother's Day was originally meant to be a day for peace. In the wake of the Civil War, abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe was tired of fighting, tired of blood and tired of guns.

Realizing the power of women's voices, she issued a call for women to band together in a call for peace and disarmament. Her call launched a movement of Mother's Day for Peace, a day for all women to work in solidarity for the world that they wanted their children to live in.

In a recent speech on the budget, President Obama challenged Americans to forge fiscal policies that reflect the future, not the past. The budget, he said, "is about the kind of future we want."

Unfortunately, in the current political debate over budgets, Congress is bankrupting our children's future, while at the same time agreeing to outsized spending on nuclear weapons that no longer guarantee our security.

Each year, we spend $54 billion on maintaining a nuclear-weapons complex containing almost half of the world's nuclear weapons. That's almost one bomb for every Starbucks in the United States.

What's more, plans are now in place to spend some $185 billion over the next 10 years to modernize the existing stockpile of nuclear warheads and to begin development of new long-range missiles, bombers and submarines to carry these warheads.

That is a staggering amount of money for a nuclear arsenal that is still configured to fight last century's greatest threat -- a massive Russian nuclear attack. Today there's a growing bipartisan consensus among America's military and foreign-policy leaders that large stockpiles of nuclear weapons are no longer an effective form of defense against the threats that America faces today.

Think of the conflicts that our military is currently engaged in. Nuclear weapons have no utility against insurgencies in Afghanistan. Likewise, nuclear weapons have done nothing to deter dictators like Moammar Gadhafi from attacking their own people.

Nor do nuclear weapons provide protection against terrorist movements like Al-Qaida. Our possession of large stockpiles could pose significant risk, however.

Our continued embrace of nuclear weapons provides an excuse for other nations to develop their own as well as a stumbling block to our own efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Most critically, the more nuclear weapons we have, the greater the likelihood that they will be used against us or our allies, by accident or by terrorists.

We cannot continue to spend hundreds of billions on our nuclear arsenal while draining the American budget of the tools we need to create a better future for our children: educational reform, environmental cleanup, infrastructure investment, a clean-energy future, and the economic recovery.

While funding is maintained above Cold War levels for nuclear weapons, we are cutting funding for programs like Head Start that help put our kids on the path to success. Money for nuclear weapons is money that we're not spending on infrastructure improvements to build America's future.

Not to mention, funding we choose to spend on nuclear weapons -- a 20th-century technology -- won't be going to clean-tech 21st-century technologies that will keep America as a global leader and help extricate us from the Middle East's oil wars.

We can reconfigure our nuclear force to meet the actual 21st-century threats without sacrificing our national security -- and we would save about half of the current nuclear weapons budget. Nuclear-policy experts Sam Nunn, William Perry, George Schultz and Henry Kissinger go even further.

As they wrote in an commentary in the Wall Street Journal in 2007, "Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America's moral heritage. The effort could have a profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations."

A bankrupt nation full of dangerous weapons is not the future that we want our children to inherit. Instead of stockpiling nuclear weapons, we must work on reducing them, simultaneously eliminating the risk of nuclear weapons and their cost to our budget.

There's no better time to start this process than Mother's Day weekend. Like Julia Ward Howe, we believe that peace and disarmament will create a better, safer future for our families.

Today, as women and mothers in Minnesota, we are reclaiming Mother's Day for Peace with a loud call to end nuclear weapons' tyranny over our children's future.

Sage Cowles and Connie Foote are Twin Cities residents and leading voices of the Mother's Day for Peace Campaign run by Ploughshares Fund, a global peace and security foundation.