Russia has said that the threat of a nuclear war is very real and defense stocks have skyrocketed since the invasion in Ukraine, prompting Cold War-era concerns even in Massachusetts.
There is a bill pending in the State House that would create a citizens' commission to study the potential threat and look into the state's involvement with nuclear weapon production. The Massachusetts Legislature has less than a week to vote on the issue before a May 4 deadline.
Harvard scholar Oleh Kotsyuba and Northeastern University professors Mai’a Cross and Pablo Calderon weighed in on whether Massachusetts should create this type of commission and how real the nuclear threat really is to the Bay State during NBC10 Boston's weekly series, "Russia-Ukraine Q&A."
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A report from NuclearBan.US, a nonprofit organization that seeks to ban nuclear weapons, states that Massachusetts is a target in part because it's home to nuclear weapons facilities for the U.S. military.
“Massachusetts could be a serious target in the event of nuclear war," said Emma Pike, Massachusetts Advocacy Coordinator for NuclearBan.US. "Even as an expert who has been in the field for nearly a decade, I had no idea that my own home state was a top nuclear target in America until recently. It's terrifying stuff."
Local experts were not convinced of an immediate nuclear threat to the Bay State. They did agree, however, that creating a commission is important to maintain the cultural taboo around nuclear weapons.
"I think there's very little threat to Massachusetts at the moment," Cross said. "If Massachusetts were truly under a nuclear threat, then we would be talking about the potential for a global nuclear war, which is, you know, a kind of doomsday scenario that none of us want to even contemplate."
Pike countered that, "there is no real way," for people to determine how real the threat is, "which is exactly why a commission to investigate this is necessary."
Cross, Kotsyuba and Calderon all agreed that establishing a group to study the issue is imperative.
Cross likened the legislation to grassroots efforts and social initiatives of the past, including the peace movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, that shaped the way the world viewed nuclear weapons.
"It's important to acknowledge the history of community groups and social movements in ensuring that the nuclear weapons taboo is sustained," Cross said. "It's important not to be complacent. It's important to keep this on everyone's radar and to reach towards nuclear disarmament across the world."
The report identified nuclear weapons facilities and labs as potential targets in Massachusetts, including Draper in Cambridge and Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford.
But Kotsyuba argued that those types of facilities would not be a target for a nuclear weapon, since they could be destroyed through other means.
"I agree that it's important to be aware of the possibility of nuclear threats, but I think the report misidentifies the targets or possible targets in Massachusetts," Kotsyuba said. "We know that nuclear weapons usually target centers of political power, right? The idea here is not to strike various development facilities... The real effect here is to overwhelm the enemy, to kind of break the political regime and so on."
Under the proposal, filed by state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, the commission would also be charged with looking into the amount of public resources that go toward the development of nuclear weapons in Massachusetts.
"At a time of serious global conflict, it makes good sense for Massachusetts to pass this legislation to create a commission to examine what role the Commonwealth plays in the production of weapons and to understand how we best protect ourselves from the threat they pose," Sabadosa said in a statement.
Lawmakers are running out of time to act on the bill, which was sent to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security for study. A spokesperson for House Chairman Carlos Gonzalez said the committee hopes to make a decision in "the coming days," but Pike criticized legislators for being stagnant on the issue.
Senate Chair Walter Timilty did not respond to requests for comment.
"Bills are often 'sent to study' and never seen again," Pike said. "The entire process is being held up."
Similar moves to fortify the cultural taboo have been made in other New England states. The Rhode Island state senate this week voted favorably on a bill that urges the U.S. to join the 86 other countries around the world in ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, commonly referred to as the Ban Treaty.
The Maine state senate approved the resolution Memorializing the President of the United States and the United States Congress to Lead a Global Effort to Prevent Nuclear War in April of 2019.
"Efforts at the local level, social level are very, very important," Calderon said. "Hopefully this will lead to some positive developments once the conflict is over."
Ukraine has made the "biggest contribution," in that effort, Kotsyuba said, after having given up the third largest nuclear stockpile in the world.
"I agree that the efforts for denuclearization of the world is extremely important," Kotsyuba said. "I hope Russia is next, you know, and hopefully Russia will be denuclearized as one of the effects of this war."