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Time to Ban the Bomb

In Nuclear Guardianship, Human rights, Peace, Nuclear Policy, Justice, Nuclear abolition, War, Politics on May 25, 2017 at 9:56 pm

By Alice Slater

This week, the Chair of an exciting UN initiative formally named the “United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination” released a draft treaty to ban and prohibit nuclear weapons just as the world has done for biological and chemical weapons. The Ban Treaty is to be negotiated at the UN from June 15 to July 7 as a follow up to the one week of negotiations that took place this past March, attended by more than 130 governments interacting with civil society. Their input and suggestions were used by the Chair, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the UN, Elayne Whyte Gómez to prepare the draft treaty. It is expected that the world will finally come out of this meeting with a treaty to ban the bomb!

This negotiating conference was established after a series of meetings in Norway, Mexico, and Austria with governments and civil society to examine the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. The meetings were inspired by the leadership and urging of the International Red Cross to look at the horror of nuclear weapons, not just through the frame of strategy and “deterrence”, but to grasp and examine the disastrous humanitarian consequences that would occur in a nuclear war. This activity led to a series of meetings culminating in a resolution in the UN General Assembly this fall to negotiate a treaty to ban and prohibit nuclear weapons. The new draft treaty based on the proposals put forth in the March negotiations requires the states to “never under any circumstances … develop, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices … use nuclear weapons … carry out any nuclear weapon test”. States are also required to destroy any nuclear weapons they possess and are prohibited from transferring nuclear weapons to any other recipient.

None of the nine nuclear weapons states, US, UK, Russia, France, China, Indian, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea came to the March meeting, although during the vote last fall on whether to go forward with the negotiating resolution in the UN’s First Committee for Disarmament, where the resolution was formally introduced, while the five western nuclear states voted against it, China, India and Pakistan abstained. And North Korea voted for the resolution to negotiate to ban the bomb! (I bet you didn’t read that in the New York Times!)

By the time the resolution got to the General Assembly, Donald Trump had been elected and those promising votes disappeared. And at the March negotiations, the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, flanked by the Ambassadors from England and France, stood outside the closed conference room and held a press conference with a number of “umbrella states” which rely on the US nuclear ‘deterrent” to annihilate their enemies (includes NATO states as well as Australia, Japan, and South Korea) and announced that “as a mother” who couldn’t want more for her family “than a world without nuclear weapons” she had to “be realistic” and would boycott the meeting and oppose efforts to ban the bomb adding, “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”

The last 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) five year review conference broke up without consensus on the shoals of a deal the US was unable to deliver to Egypt to hold a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone Conference in the Middle East. This promise was made in 1995 to get the required consensus vote from all the states to extend the NPT indefinitely when it was due to expire, 25 years after the five nuclear weapons states in the treaty, US, UK, Russia, China, and France, promised in 1970 to make “good faith efforts” for nuclear disarmament. In that agreement all the other countries of the world promised not to get nuclear weapons, except for India, Pakistan, and Israel who never signed and went on to get their own bombs. North Korea had signed the treaty, but took advantage of the NPT’s Faustian bargain to sweeten the pot with a promise to the non-nuclear weapons states for an “inalienable right” to “peaceful” nuclear power, thus giving them the keys to the bomb factory. North Korea got its peaceful nuclear power, and walked out of the treaty to make a bomb. At the 2015 NPT review, South Africa gave an eloquent speech expressing the state of nuclear apartheid that exists between the nuclear haves, holding the whole world hostage to their security needs and their failure to comply with their obligation to eliminate their nuclear bombs, while working overtime to prevent nuclear proliferation in other countries.

The Ban Treaty draft provides that the Treaty will enter into effect when 40 nations sign and ratify it. Even if none of the nuclear weapons states join, the ban can be used to stigmatize and shame the “umbrella” states to withdraw from the nuclear “protection” services they are now receiving. Japan should be an easy case. The five NATO states in Europe who keep US nuclear weapons based on their soil–Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Turkey– are good prospects for breaking with the nuclear alliance. A legal ban on nuclear weapons can be used to convince banks and pension funds in a divestment campaign, once it is known the weapons are illegal. See http://www.dontbankonthebomb.org

Right now people are organizing all over the world for a Women’s March to Ban the Bomb on June 17, during the ban treaty negotiations, with a big march and rally planned in New York. See https://www.womenbanthebomb.org/

We need to get as many countries to the UN as possible this June, and pressure our parliaments and capitals to vote to join the treaty to ban the bomb. And we need to talk it up and let people know that something great is happening now! To get involved, check out http://www.icanw.org

Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War

Reviving the nuclear arms consciousness

In Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 25, 2017 at 9:50 pm

By Dana Greene, National Catholic Reporter, May. 24, 2017

ALMIGHTY: COURAGE, RESISTANCE, AND EXISTENTIAL PERIL IN THE NUCLEAR AGE
By Dan Zak
Published by Penguin Random House, 416 pages, $16.95

Almighty is the story of America’s love/hate relationship with nuclear weapons. The title is apt, capturing both the awe of this “pinnacle of human ingenuity” and the terror of the prospect of their use. Nuclear weapons claimed the public’s imagination in the 1940s through the 1960s, but almost disappeared from consciousness after the end of the Cold War.

In the last 70-plus years, the United States has spent $10 trillion developing and maintaining its arsenal and shrouding these acquisitions in secrecy. Today, nine nations possess these weapons, and the United States’ concern is how Iran and North Korea, especially, might use their capabilities. The election of President Donald Trump has escalated the stakes of nuclear engagement.

Almighty begins with the Manhattan Project in 1939 and traces the use and maintenance of these weapons through the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The origin of the book began in microcosm, when a young feature reporter for The Washington Post, Dan Zak, was assigned to cover the 2012 break-in of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The incident was touted as a huge security breach in America’s atomic complex and was covered by many newspapers, including The New York Times and NCR.
But the story came to haunt Zak. He confesses that he, like others in their 30s, grew up knowing nothing of the history of these deadly weapons. He had to write this book, for himself and his contemporaries. The incident of the break-in became the lens through which he saw the history of America’s preoccupation with these weapons. The result was Almighty.

The story is one of complexity, suspense, courage, secrecy, fear and pride. While the narrative of the lives of the three resisters in the 2012 break-in is central, the players are many. Scientists and politicians, bureaucrats and judges, jurists and attorneys, diplomats and ordinary people — each has an important role and a decided opinion.

One of the strengths of the book are the extensive interviews Zak did in local communities where nuclear weapons are an economic powerhouse and a cause of illness.

What holds this epic story together is the interspersed accounts of the three resisters, who are members of the Transform Now Plowshares. Each was profoundly influenced by a prophetic understanding of the Catholic faith. Michael Walli, a Vietnam veteran, was influenced by Jesuit Fr. Richard McSorley of Georgetown and by the Catholic Worker Movement. Greg Boertje-Obed, another veteran, became a conscientious objector, having been influenced by Jesuit Fr. Dan Berrigan and fellow Plowshares activists Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister. And Megan Rice, a Sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, as a young girl was inspired by Dorothy Day and went on to be a missionary teacher in Nigeria for 40 years.

This seemingly motley group, armed with hammers, box cutters and blood, entered undetected the Y-12 facility where uranium is enriched. They wrote graffiti, poured blood, hung up a banner and waited. This breach of security at Oak Ridge, the “Fort Knox of Uranium,” was considered a “miracle” by the resisters and their supporters but “catastrophic” for those who guarded this supposedly most secure of national facilities.

One of the book’s most gripping scenes is the courtroom trial, where the arguments for and against the defendants were laid out. The resisters’ claim was that nuclear weapons were immensely destructive, incapable of discriminating between military and civilian populations and hence needed to be destroyed. They accepted the charges against them.

The author’s sympathies are with the resisters, but he shows them as they are, with their quirks, limitations and sometimes-prophetic self-righteousness. It is by weaving their life histories into the larger chronicle of nuclear weapons that the account is saved from abstraction. Its rich detail gives it depth, its lucid prose makes it accessible, and its extensive documentation does not intrude on the flow of the narrative.

After I read Almighty, what remains in the imagination is the personal witness of the three protagonists, very ordinary Christians, who protested this most perilous of human creations and gave witness with their lives to Isaiah’s hope that swords would be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

[Dana Greene is dean emerita of Oxford College of Emory University and serves on the board of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.]

U.S. Prepares To Confront Nuclear Ban Treaty With Smart Bombs

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on May 25, 2017 at 2:48 am

Analysis by Rick Wayman*

WASHINGTON, D.C: (IDN) – On May 23, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a press release celebrating President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget. DOE specifically lauded the proposed “$10.2 billion for Weapons Activities to maintain and enhance the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear weapons enterprise.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica released a draft of a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Ambassador Whyte is President of the United Nations Conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. Over 130 nations have participated in the ban treaty negotiations thus far. A final treaty text is expected by early July.

The draft treaty would prohibit state parties from – among other things – developing, producing, manufacturing, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. The United States has aggressively boycotted the treaty negotiations, and has actively sought to undermine the good faith efforts of the majority of the world’s nations to prohibit these indiscriminate and catastrophically destructive weapons.

No one is surprised at President Trump’s proposed funding for nuclear weapons activities; in fact, it is largely a continuation of the U.S. nuclear “modernization” program that began under President Obama. What is alarming, however, is the tacit admission by the Department of Energy that it is not simply maintaining current U.S. nuclear warheads until such time as they are eliminated. Rather, it is enhancing the “effectiveness” of nuclear weapons by incorporating new military capabilities into new weapons expected to be active through the final decades of the 21st century.

The draft ban treaty makes clear “that the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons transcend national borders, pose grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and for the health of future generations.”

Whether or not the United States plans to join the majority of the world’s nations in a treaty banning nuclear weapons, its policies and programs must reflect the indisputable evidence of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use. There is simply no excuse for investing in new nuclear weapons instead of an all-out diplomatic push for true security in a world without nuclear weapons.

A Good Faith Obligation

Article VI of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) obligates all parties to negotiate in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race at an early date. That treaty entered into force over 47 years ago.

The draft ban treaty repeats the unanimous 1996 declaration of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which said, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

Judge Christopher Weeramantry was Vice President of the ICJ when it issued its 1996 Advisory Opinion. In a paper that he wrote for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in 2013, he examined in detail the concept of good faith in the context of nuclear disarmament.

He wrote, “There is no half-way house in the duty of compliance with good faith in international law.” He continued, “Disrespect for and breach of good faith grows exponentially if, far from even partial compliance, there is total non-compliance with the obligations it imposes.”

The U.S. and numerous other nuclear-armed countries argue that they are in compliance with their obligations because the total number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals has decreased. Quantitative reductions are important, and the progress on this front has been significant over the past couple of decades. However, a nuclear arms race need not simply be quantitative. Rather, what we see now among many of the nuclear-armed nations is a qualitative nuclear arms race, with enhancements of weapons’ “effectiveness” being a key component.

This qualitative nuclear arms race is a blatant breach of the good faith obligation and, according to Judge Weeramantry’s interpretation, likely even constitutes bad faith.

A Ban Is Coming

Regardless of how much money the United States and other nuclear-armed nations commit to their nuclear arsenals, the vast majority of the world’s nations plan to conclude a treaty banning nuclear weapons in July.

Even though such a treaty will not immediately halt nuclear weapons development or diminish the threat that current nuclear weapon arsenals pose to all humanity, it is an important step in the right direction.

The NPT and customary international law require all nations – not just those that possess nuclear weapons – to negotiate for nuclear disarmament. The ban treaty is the first of many steps needed to fulfill this obligation, and will lay a solid foundation for future multilateral action.

Non-nuclear-armed countries must continue to enhance the effectiveness of their diplomatic arsenals to ensure the successful entry into force of a ban treaty and subsequent measures to finally achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Author’s note: Generally speaking, the U.S. Department of Energy is in charge of the design, production and maintenance of nuclear warheads and bombs, while the Department of Defense deals with the delivery systems (ICBMs, submarines, and bomber aircraft) and deployment in additional multi-billion dollar budget lines not addressed in this article. For more information on the Department of Energy’s nuclear “modernization” plans, see the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s new report “Accountability Audit.”

*Rick Wayman is Director of Programs & Operations at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and is Co-Chair of the “Amplify: Generation of Change” network for nuclear abolition.