Women. Power. Peace.

The State of the Union and WAND’s Priorities for 2016

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 12, President Obama will make his final State of the Union address. His preview of the speech explains that “he has never been more optimistic about the year ahead” and that we must continue working toward “an America we can believe in.”

At WAND, we work every day to achieve a better America and a better world through policies that create real and lasting peace and security. We are also committed to promoting women’s leadership, knowing that women must be included at the highest levels to achieve lasting outcomes. In light of this, we are excited to share our priorities for 2016. These include:

Use the links above to navigate to WAND’s 2016 outlook and plans for each listed topic.

Reducing Nuclear Weapons Dangers

Castle Bravo nuclear test explosion via Wiki Commons.

Image Credit: Department of Energy, Castle Bravo detonation, 1 March 1954, Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands.

The United States and Russia are leading the world in adding extravagant capabilities to their nuclear arsenals, each country seeking to out-do the other with activity reminiscent of the Cold War arms race. China is also adding to the capabilities and size of its arsenal so that it can compete with U.S. and Russian arsenals. North Korea’s recent test shows another country aiming to expand nuclear weapons capabilities. In 2016, WAND will work to reverse this trend by highlighting to policymakers and the American public its potential for extreme waste and peril.

In 2010, President Obama called for reducing the reliance on nuclear weapons in national security strategy. In 2013, he announced that the United States would still be protected with a smaller deployed arsenal. Nonetheless, the United States plans to undertake a full-scale upgrade of its nuclear arsenal that is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $1 trillion over 30 years. Plans to rebuild the entire suite of air-, land-, and sea-based delivery systems (known as the triad) and their accompanying warheads are being locked in now, which limits a future President’s flexibility to scale-down these systems without wasting tens of billions of dollars in the process.

The United States needs an approach that reduces rather than elevates the importance of nuclear weapons. Their use -- accidental or intentional -- by a state or non-state actor would change the world as we know it and set back hopes for peace and security in unimaginable ways.

Pentagon Spending and Responsible Budget Priorities

The dome of the Capitol, seen from the east side, Washington DC, USA.Despite much ballyhoo from various Pentagon officials and members of Congress, the current U.S. budget continues to provide generous funding for wars and weapons. It also continues to shortchange investments that we need in our states and communities. WAND is resolved to push for more responsible budget priorities. As many of our readers know, over half of the discretionary budget that Congress appropriates each year goes to the Pentagon.

For the last seven years, President Obama has presided over a tumultuous push and pull between a perceived need to reduce overall government spending and the imperative to grow the economy through government investments. In recent years, much of the spending debate has pitted deficit hawks – those who seek to reduce federal expenditures -- against defense hawks – those who seek to solve problems with military action first and foremost. Defense hawks have won the day of late, providing relief for the Pentagon from legally mandated budget caps that have kept the budget relatively flat. The latest deal coming in the 2015 budget provided $561 for the national defense budget, along with another $59 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), or war spending. This war spending slush fund has never been subject to budget caps and has been used as a way for the Pentagon to escape budgetary discipline. The rest of the federal agencies that do not have the same escape valve have absorbed these budget pressures.

Once again, Pentagon officials and supporters in Congress have voiced plans to sidestep a perceived budget “shortfall” in fiscal year 2017 by drawing from OCO to fund its priority programs, including nuclear modernization. WAND will continue to push for scrutinizing the Pentagon budget and eliminating wasteful Pentagon spending on unnecessary programs which take away from 21st century security problems like terrorism and cyber-attacks.

We know that excessive Pentagon spending limits resources that can go to education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other needs for Americans’ well-being and the country’s economic strength. Look for information coming soon about our Better Budget Priorities campaign where each month we’ll contrast budget investments needed in our communities with wasteful weapons and war spending.

Promoting Effective and Full Implementation of the Iran Nuclear Deal

iranDeal_graphics_1_pathwaysPresident Obama will likely hail in his State of the Union address the Iran Deal, one of the most important international diplomatic agreements in decades. Broadly speaking, the agreement has greatly diminished the potential for armed conflict with Iran over the nuclear issue and opened up the potential for future cooperation on the many regional foreign policy challenges.

In sum, the Iran Deal blocks Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and will provide Iran sanctions relief in return for compliance. Not only did the deal take years of painstaking diplomacy, but it also faced over a year of Congressional challenges. In the end, attempts to pass new sanctions failed and a slew of support from Congressional Democrats prevented any deal-killing legislation from making it to the President’s desk. In 2015, WAND/WiLL mobilized grassroots and state legislator support for the agreement, playing an important role in urging key members of Congress to support the deal.

Unfortunately, Congressional opponents are not finished. Several bills have either passed or been introduced, including legislation to extend a number of sanctions that will expire in December 2016 -- legislation that prevents individuals who have traveled to Iran (such as Europeans on business trips) from entering the United States without a visa, as well as legislation that would prevent the United States from lifting nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. (A quite thorough list of Iran legislation can be found here.) All of these measures would likely violate the nuclear deal’s intent, if not the actual text itself.

Meanwhile, there are positive signs that Iran is working to implement its end of the agreement quickly and fully. A major milestone passed in late December when Iran shipped out 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium – material that is essential to produce a nuclear weapon – to Russia. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry reports that Iran is mere “days” away from fulfilling the remainder of its commitments under the deal. In that instance -- known as “implementation day” under the agreement -- the United States and international community will lift billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear-related sanctions.

The Iran Deal must not be allowed to fail because of domestic political griping. While it is reasonable to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions, the nuclear deal is important because it doesn’t rely on trust and it removes one of the biggest threats to regional and global security – an Iranian nuclear weapon. WAND will work in 2016 to raise up the agreement’s importance and move it forward without political obstruction.

Bolstering Diplomatic and Humanitarian Solutions to Conflict in Syria and Elsewhere

end endless warPerhaps the most vexing foreign policy challenge that President Obama will face in 2016 is resolving the crisis in Syria. Doing so is continually complicated by changing international dynamics and competing interests among the key players. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s recent provocations – the execution of the Shi’a cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr and the subsequent removal of Saudi’s ambassador to Iran – has thrown a wrench in the plans to get the parties together in a room to develop a diplomatic solution.

Yet while the invested parties jockey for power, the world watches as Syria burns, innocents die, millions are displaced from their homes, and the Islamic State terrorist group emerges stronger from the chaos. WAND is resolved to promote diplomatic rather than military solutions to ending this humanitarian crisis. Importantly, we will be there to advocate that women are at the forefront of negotiations because we know that when women have a voice at the table, more enduring solutions for sustainable peace are created.

In addition, we will urge members of Congress to keep the doors open to the innocent refugees that are fleeing violence and terror. Closing our doors means closing opportunities to educated civilians looking for a better life, to those who need the most help, and to those who may otherwise turn to the extremist groups like the Islamic State that offer another way to protect themselves and their families.

Likewise, we continue to promote efforts leading to sustainable peace in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas in which the U.S. has a military presence. Here too, we know that engaging women in peacemaking and in civil society is essential.

twitter-bird-white-on-blueWe cannot accomplish these goals alone. You can help play a part by educating yourself, taking action when we call on you, and being vigilant for moments to make your voices heard. During the SOTU, we will be tweeting from WAND (@WomensAction) and WiLL (@WomensLegisLobby). You can also follow our staff at the following handles:

Susan Shaer, Executive Director @susanshaer

Kathy Robinson, Senior Public Policy Director  @krobinsonWAND

Erica Fein, Nuclear Weapons Policy Director @enfein

State Sen. Nan Orrock, WiLL President @SenNanOrrock

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, WiLL Vice President @SenatorPappas


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