Archive for the ‘Nuclear abolition’ Category

After the nuclear weapons ban treaty: A new disarmament politics

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 18, 2017 at 8:28 am

By Zia Mian, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 7, 2017

A treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons was adopted by an overwhelming vote and met with loud cheers this week at the United Nations. More than 70 years in the making, the treaty offers widely agreed principles, commitments, and mechanisms for ending the nuclear weapons age. Getting here was not easy, and achieving nuclear disarmament will still be a long struggle. But the new treaty creates space and means for a creative new disarmament politics based on law and ethics and democracy that go beyond well-trodden debates on the dangers and costs of nuclear weapons and traditional practices of arms control based on step-by-step reductions that limit only the size of arsenals.

Having achieved their goal of negotiating a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and aiming explicitly at their elimination, officials from more than 120 countries and countless peace activists who have been engaged in the talks now need to take up the political challenge of having the treaty quickly and widely adopted and owned by publics and governments around the world. The treaty will open for signature on September 20. The treaty adopted this week requires 50 states to formally join before it enters into force. This should occur soon. In the vote at the United Nations, 122 states voted in favor, and only the Netherlands, which hosts nuclear weapons belonging to the United States, voted against.

The treaty is in many ways an attempt to reaffirm—and hold humanity to—the highest universal ideals of a world of peace and justice based on law. It exposes the fundamental contradiction between nuclear weapons and the existing international system. The treaty opens with the simple declaration that the countries adopting it are “[d]etermined to contribute to the realization of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Signed on June 26, 1945 in San Francisco, the charter says, in Article 1.1 that “[t]he purposes of the United Nations are: To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

Given this purpose, it should be no surprise that the United Nations has always struggled with the question of nuclear weapons and has been the primary forum for international demands to eliminate these weapons, which more than any other human instrument constitute a threat to international peace and security. This struggle began in the very first meeting of the United Nations, on January 24, 1946, when the newly formed General Assembly took up as its first order of business the need for specific proposals “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.” This historic demand is recalled in the preamble to the new nuclear weapons ban treaty.

In framing the obligations of states under the treaty, and by implication the conduct of all states, the preamble makes a case that nuclear weapons are in fundamental conflict with basic humanitarian sensibilities and international law. If the treaty is to ultimately be successful, this view will have to become the common sense of the world.

The treaty’s foundational claims are that “any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law,” and that “any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.” Put simply, any use of nuclear weapons would by any reasonable measure be illegal and immoral, and so they should have no place in national policies or human affairs.

On this foundation are built the core obligations of the treaty—which must now become common knowledge. Article I of the treaty states that each state party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices, directly or indirectly.
Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly.
Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party.
Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party.
Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
These obligations break new ground. The prohibition on threatening to use nuclear weapons, for example, sets up a fundamental challenge to all policies based on nuclear deterrence. From now on, deterrence advocates are on the wrong side of the law, as understood and accepted by the majority of countries in the world.

The treaty also requires that nuclear weapons, weapon programs, and weapon facilities be eliminated, in agreed verifiable, irreversible, time-bound plans. It requires any treaty signatory that has nuclear weapons to “immediately remove them from operational status and destroy them, as soon as possible but not later than a deadline to be determined by the first meeting of states parties, in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan for the verified and irreversible elimination of that State Party’s nuclear-weapon programme, including the elimination or irreversible conversion of all nuclear-weapons-related facilities.”

There are no such disarmament plans, but ban treaty states can now begin to outline them together in their regular conference of parties. And, as George Perkovich has argued, “nuclear-armed states will not credibly meet their disarmament obligations unless and until they seriously define what a feasible, comprehensive, verifiable, and enforceable nuclear disarmament regime would entail.” The goal must be for these processes to converge.

The challenge of nuclear disarmament politics going forward will be getting publics and policy makers in nuclear weapon states (and their allies) to set aside their long held, deeply institutionalized sense of nuclear superiority and moral exceptionalism and accept the treaty’s humanitarian imperative, its lawfulness, and the obligations that follow. The nine countries with nuclear weapons all stayed away from the talks, and some of them will work hard to prevent the treaty gaining ground. The key to long-term progress will be the United States, which more than any other country has set the global nuclear agenda since it made the first nuclear weapons and remains the only country ever to have used them in war. It is also the country most responsible for the existing international system.

In a potentially powerful obligation, the ban requires the states that sign up to make membership of the treaty part of their political engagement with the nuclear weapon states. Article 12 of the treaty mandates that states practice disarmament diplomacy and more. It declares that “[e]ach State Party shall encourage States not party to this Treaty to ratify, accept, approve or accede to the Treaty, with the goal of universal adherence of all States to the Treaty.” This will require new kinds of official and public engagement with weapons states and opens the door for new kinds of transnational citizen diplomacy on disarmament. A key step in the new disarmament politics must be discussion of the forms that this encouragement can take, and what role citizens of ban treaty states and of nuclear weapon states can and should play in this effort.

But persuading nuclear weapons countries to join the treaty will not be easy. It will require that governments and citizens use new forms of international politics that the treaty empowers.

For example, politically charged demands for nuclear disarmament—perhaps avoided as too sensitive a topic in the past—can now be brought up as a matter of course when presidents and prime ministers from ban treaty states meet with their counterparts in nuclear weapon states. Along with trade and investment and tourism and sports delegations, ban treaty countries can now sponsor disarmament delegations, to explain why they signed the treaty—and why weapon states should do the same. Along with these types of engagement, of course, there can also be sanctions and boycotts. The ban treaty permits a politics of nuclear naming and shaming, shunning and divestment. These tools are well established when it comes to human rights and war crimes; they can be applied with new force to nuclear weapon sites, institutions, officials, and employees.

Peace activists must prepare for ban treaty states to triangulate, to balance interests in their relations with the weapon states. Most of the countries that sign up for the ban will see nuclear weapons issues as only one item on a larger agenda. The diplomats who negotiated the treaty work within national political systems, in which disarmament demands will have to compete with urgent needs for aid and trade and good political relations with nuclear weapon states, who are among the richest and most powerful countries in the world.

If they are to prevail, the ban treaty states will need to hold together and expand their coalition and keep working with civil society groups. Together they will need to present unified demands—at the General Assembly and in other international forums—that weapon states join the treaty. They can hold joint Article 12 summits and support campaigns in the weapon states to focus attention and build support for the treaty.

Ban treaty states could seek to further embed the treaty’s prohibitions into international law by seeking an amendment to the statute of the International Criminal Court to make the use of nuclear weapons a war crime. The court’s statute permits such an amendment if it relates to “weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition.” The ban treaty is a comprehensive prohibition, and many ban states are signatories of the International Criminal Court statute and could build a majority in support of such an amendment.

Above all, to be taken seriously by the nuclear-weapon states, the growing community of ban treaty states and peace activists worldwide must be willing to continue to be bold and take political risks, as they did in getting the treaty. They must put at the heart of their relationship with the weapon states the treaty’s acknowledgment of “the ethical imperatives for nuclear disarmament and the urgency of achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world, which is a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests.” Having prohibited nuclear weapons as an ethical imperative, there is now no way back.


Questions about the new treaty to ban nuclear weapons

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 14, 2017 at 12:39 am


Dear friends,

Last week we banned nuclear weapons. It still feels a bit surreal to think that we pulled it off.

But what does it all mean? Treaties and international law is sometimes a complex issue, and we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what the treaty does and how it will work. So we thought we collect the most common questions we get.

What does the treaty prohibit?
The treaty prohibits states from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of those activities. In addition, states must not allow nuclear weapons to be stationed or deployed on their territory.

Is the treaty legally binding?

Yep! Once it enters into force, the treaty is legally binding on those states that have signed and ratified it. It is not binding on states that remain outside the treaty though.

When will states sign the treaty?

The treaty will open for signature on 20 September 2017, at the United Nations in New York. It will remain open indefinitely for states to sign. That means that whenever a state is ready to sign, it can do so.

How many states must ratify it before it enters into force?

Fifty states must sign and ratify the treaty before it can enter into legal force. Signing is a relatively simple act performed by the executive branch of a government. Ratifying typically involves a domestic legislative process, such as drafting legislation to bring the prohibition into national law. Once the treaty has entered into force, further states can join it at any stage.

Can a state that possesses nuclear weapons join the treaty?

Yes. It can join the treaty, so long as it agrees to remove them from operational status immediately and destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound and verifiable plan.

Can a state that hosts nuclear weapons on its territory join the treaty?

A state that hosts another state’s nuclear weapons on its territory can join the treaty, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.

Is it possible to join this treaty and remain in a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state?

Yes. Nothing in the treaty prevents a state from being in a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state, so long as its participation in that alliance does not include prohibited acts involving nuclear weapons.

Does the treaty establish verification measures or safeguards to ensure that states do not develop nuclear weapons?

Yes, the treaty requires that states that have safeguards under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) keep these agreements, without prejudice to concluding additional ones in the future. For states that do not have safeguards yet, the treaty requires that states conclude an agreement in line with the NPT requirements within 18 months. The treaty does not undermine any obligations that states have made to safeguards under the NPT.

Will the treaty help victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons?

Yes. States must provide adequate assistance to all victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support. They must also provide for their social and economic inclusion.

The preamble acknowledges the harm suffered as a result of the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapon activities on indigenous peoples. It also recognizes the disproportionate impacts on women and girls.

So, we got the treaty! What will the campaign do now?

The work does not end here. ICAN will now focus on ensuring that this treaty enters into force, gets implemented and creates a strong norm against nuclear weapons that will lead to nuclear disarmament. This is long-term work, it’s nothing that will happen over night.

So in the immediate future, we will work to ensure that all countries committed to international humanitarian law and human rights match their values and words with action and sign the treaty on 20 September in New York.

Once that is done, we will start our ratification campaign and make sure 50 states ratifies the treaty quickly so it will officially become international law. We will also work hard in nuclear armed states and nuclear alliance states to change policies and behaviour.

Each step will contribute to strengthening the norm and change of behaviour in states.

Do you have more questions? Check out our FAQ on the website, or send us your question on info@icanw.org.

Daniel Högsta
Network coordinator
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

130 nations negotiated a treaty to ban nuclear weapons forever. The 9 countries with actual weapons aren’t biting.

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

Jeva Lange, The Week, July 7, 2017
More than 130 members of the 192-member United Nations have negotiated a treaty aimed at the permanent destruction of all nuclear weapons, The New York Times reports. The document was officially adopted by the United Nations on Friday and will be open for signatures by member states during the General Assembly on Sept. 20.

There is one major obstacle, though: None of the treaty’s participants include any of the nine nuclear-armed countries. “Disarmament groups and other proponents of the treaty said they had never expected that any nuclear-armed country would sign it — at least not at first,” The New York Times explains. “Rather, supporters hope, the treaty’s widespread acceptance elsewhere will eventually increase the public pressure and stigma of harboring and threatening to use such weapons of unspeakable destruction, and make holdouts reconsider their positions.”

Others, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have criticized the treaty as ill-timed due to the looming threat of North Korea. “We have to be realistic,” Haley said of the treaty in March. “Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

The United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea all have nuclear weapons. President Trump has called for expanding the U.S. stockpile, prompting the metaphorical Doomsday Clock to swing just two-and-a-half minutes short of apocalyptic “midnight” earlier this year. Jeva Lange

The New Reality

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 10, 2017 at 8:13 am

Nuclear Ban Daily, Vol. 2, No. 15
Ray Acheson
8 July 2017

Yesterday, we banned nuclear weapons.

It’s still hard to believe this is the case. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, the enormity of what just happened. Even as survivors, activists, politicians, and diplomats celebrated in New York and around the world, many expressed amazement that we actually pulled it off.

It was a long campaign. Activism against nuclear weapons has been fierce and determined for over seventy years. But it wasn’t until recent years, when a few courageous diplomats in partnership with a group of civil society actors working as part of or in collaboration with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons decided to take a leap into the unknown, that we managed to finally develop international law condemning and prohibiting these last weapons of mass destruction.

Working together, we foregrounded our actions in resistance and hope. Resistance to the pressure from nuclear-armed and nuclear-alliance states. Resistance to attitudes of cynicism and of defeatism. Resistance to staying the course, being placated, being told to be patient, that the “important” countries will handle this matter. Hope that change is possible. Hope that by working together we can achieve something that can disrupt some of the most powerful, heavily militarised structures and doctrines in the entire world. Hope that a shared sense of humanity could prevail against all odds. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney quoted Seamus Heaney in his remarks on Friday, that “hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is a good worth working for.”

There were incredible obstacles in our way. We were challenging power. In response, many forces of that power were unleashed upon us—politically, and sometimes personally. In her closing statement, Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa noted the “an incredible amount of pressure” on her continent not to participate. We saw this pressure placed on many countries in October before the General Assembly voted to begin these negotiations. We saw it even when states were organising conferences to examine the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons.

The key was not to allow these obstacles to be insurmountable. This is a choice. One can either give up or keep fighting. No obstacle is actually too big; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to go under, around, over, or through it. On Friday, 7 July, 122 governments voted yes for humanity. They took courage in their collective endeavor, and in the support of civil society filling the gallery behind them beyond capacity. They also took courage in their “moral duty,” as Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko put it, noting that “to have voted no would have been a slap in the face to the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”

Banning nuclear weapons was not an insurmountable challenge, just as achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons is not insurmountable. The day after the adoption of this treaty we are already seeing the flood of commentary on how useless what we did is. How this treaty will change nothing; how we’ve only created divisions; how we haven’t eliminated a single nuclear weapon. It will continue to be an epic mansplaining session until the trolls, who have invested their academic or political careers in reinforcing the status quo by explaining ad nauseam that this is how things are and that things can never change, get bored and move on. (Proving them wrong is apparently not sufficient—they said we could never ban nuclear weapons and now that we have, the issue its utility, not its possibility.)

It’s okay, they can have their space to complain and critique—they have always taken up this space, and until we do more to disrupt the structures that keep them safely ensconced in that space, they will continue to do so. In the meantime, the feminists, the queers, the people of colour, the survivors, the determined diplomats, the passionate politicians, the thoughtful academics, the fierce activists—the rebels and the brave—will do what we can to keep making change. We do so to honour the people who have suffered from nuclear violence. We do so to ensure that respect, dignity, courage, and love are the dominant traits of humanity, rather than our capacity for self-destruction, selfishness, or fear.

There is time for celebration but not self-congratulation. There is only time for more work. Just like the critics warned, this treaty has not magically eliminated nuclear weapons over night. We always knew it would be harder than that. But as atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow said in her remarkable closing statement to the conference on Friday, “This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.” This treaty was conceived of as a tool that could help change the politics and economics of nuclear weapons as a means of facilitating disarmament. The text that we adopted on Friday is well suited to this task. It provides a solid foundation to change policies and practices, as well as to shift the thinking and discourse on nuclear weapons even further than the process to ban them already has.

We have not, as a species, been able to figure out how to solve everything at once. We struggle sometimes to even keep things on the right track, tenuous and fragile as that track can sometimes be. But we can work together to do extraordinary things—and we should do it more often. It just takes courage. It sounds over simplified, but it’s really not. We’re taught that this is a naive approach to the world—it’s engrained in us as we become adults that idealism and activism are youthful pursuits. They are not. They are the pursuits of the brave, of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs.

This is a treaty made by people. By diplomats who got inspired by an idea and went home to change their government’s positions. By activists writing, thinking, and convening, bringing together governments and civil society groups to figure out how to make things happen. By survivors who give their testimony despite the personal trauma of reliving their experiences. By direct action crews who get arrested for breaking into nuclear weapon facilities or blockading nuclear transports or military bases. By campaigners who mobilise nationally to raise awareness and pressure their governments. By politicians who truly represent the will of their people and speak the truth in parliaments. By academics who write the theory or record the process.

This treaty is an amazing feat of collective action by people who came together to do something that had not been tried before. Like anything created by people, it has its imperfections. But it’s a good start on the road to abolition, and it gives a glimpse of what is possible in this world. That, all on its own, has meaning.

Nations take a step away from the threat of nuclear annihilation

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 9, 2017 at 3:19 am

By Ira Helfand and Matt Bivens, July 7, 2017

(CNN)A majority of the world’s nations have just joined together to call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons. We should listen.

The United States government opposed the historic UN vote for a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, but that was a knee-jerk response, grounded in last century’s reflexes. Today, the path forward to total abolition of these weapons is open — even as, ironically, the danger of nuclear war is greater than it has been since the worst days of the Cold War.
The United States and Russia hold more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, with about 7,000 each. The other nuclear-armed states have smaller arsenals by comparison. None of the nuclear-armed states were among the 120 nations who voted to declare these weapons illegal. But if the United States is serious about seeking the security of a world free of nuclear weapons, then it should have been the first to vote “yes” on the ban.

For decades the US has instead based its security policy on the theory of nuclear deterrence — an untested belief that nuclear weapons are so terrible that they keep one nuclear-armed country from attacking any other, for fear of mutual destruction.
Perhaps. Then again, the same was said of machine guns in the 1800s — weapons of such awesome destructive power, they were predicted to end war. “They are peace-producing and peace-retaining terrors,” The New York Times wrote in 1897 of the new Maxim machine guns, adding that “their devastating effects have made nations and rulers give greater thought to the outcome of war before entering.”
Is there any reason to believe such tragically flawed logic from the 19th century will work out better in the 21st? More likely, nuclear weapons, those “peace-producing and peace-retaining terrors,” are simply another horror that given time will grow mundane and familiar — until eventually they are used, this time perhaps in a war that destroys humankind.

That is not hyperbole. New data suggest that a war involving just 100 nuclear weapons, or less than 1% of the world’s arsenals — say, for example, a regional war between India and Pakistan — would cause abrupt severe climate disruption, worldwide food shortages, hundreds of millions of starvation deaths, and probably a total collapse of civilization.
And yet we continue to base our security on these “peace-retaining terrors.”
A core assumption of this deterrence theory is that the nuclear-armed states will be led by calm, collected, and well-informed people, who will infallibly respond to crises in a rational fashion.
Perhaps. Then again, as it does after every presidential election, the US has now handed control of some 6,800 warheads to a single individual. How does the current President fit with the idealized model of a world run by grownups? After all, according to a signed letter from 50 leading Republican national security experts, “He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood … lacks self-control and acts impetuously … has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior” and overall exhibits “dangerous qualities in an individual … with command of the US nuclear arsenal.”

It is not enough, however, to get this particularly unqualified finger off the button. We need to get rid of the button itself.
Just consider whether anyone could be calm, collected, and reasonable after, say, a nuclear explosion destroys Moscow. It might not be clear for days whether such a disaster was caused by a terrorist, a foreign power, or a domestic accident. As this was being investigated, would the world likely be dealing with a calm, matter-of-fact Russian nation? How quickly might things spin out of control?
In the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the US government responded in part by invading and occupying the completely unrelated nation of Iraq, causing hundreds of thousands of unjustified deaths and creating the vacuum now filled by ISIS and other extremist groups. Is there any reason to believe that we would do better in the future if New York was vaporized?

Yet there’s no need for hypotheticals. We know of at least six incidents during and after the Cold War when either Moscow or Washington was fully prepared to fire their nuclear weapons based on an error — a mistaken belief that the other side had launched or was about to launch an attack. Six occasions when the leaders of the nuclear super powers rejected the central assumption of deterrence — that nuclear weapons are actually safe, because they can never be used — and set in motion plans to use them.
On each of these occasions the world came within minutes of nuclear destruction. It was saved mainly by chance and good luck. Our continued view of nuclear weapons as “peace-producing and peace-retaining terrors” is essentially a hope that this good luck will continue. This seems terribly naive in a world of rising tensions with Russia, and growing concern that terrorists could hack into nuclear command and control systems.The UN’s nuclear ban treaty points the way to a different future, one where we eliminate all of the 15,000 nuclear weapons that threaten our survival.
The treaty is in some ways a cry of frustration from the rest of the world. The United States, Russia, and other nuclear-armed nations promised more than 37 years ago to work toward total disarmament. That was the bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: We pledged to get rid of our nuclear weapons, in return for others pledging not to seek them.

But we have not kept our promise. In fact, as approved under President Barack Obama, the US government plans to build more nuclear weapons. Current projections show that the US will spend more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years on upgrading and expanding an arsenal that is already so powerful that using only a fraction of it could destroy all life on Earth.
In recent years, international impatience with stonewalling has finally boiled over. First came a series of international conferences that cataloged the mind-numbing medical and humanitarian consequences that will follow any use of nuclear weapons. Organized by a group of non-nuclear states, and supported by the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and hundreds of medical professionals, civil society groups, and religious leaders, including Pope Francis, these discussions rejuvenated arms control efforts.
Then in the fall of 2016, the UN General Assembly upped the ante: Since the nuclear-armed states were cheating on past promises and keeping nuclear weapons, the world would now declare the weapons illegal. The United States opposed this under President Obama and that opposition has continued, but to no avail: The treaty is now entering into international law.
Yes, the United States can try to ignore this. But as with treaties banning land mines and cluster munitions, declaring nuclear weapons illegal creates a new international norm. It is also a pointed reminder that the US is long overdue to honor a legally-binding promise made 37 years ago to get rid of all of its nuclear weapons.
The new treaty is a call to action, and we should all answer it.

In the short term, US citizens can ask our government to stand down nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert. This can be as simple as a policy statement that, even if attacked, the US will defer any counterattack for some period of time, say 24 hours. (In an age of nuclear-armed submarines, such a de-alerting of our forces is consistent even with the flawed deterrence theories.) Citizens can also support efforts in Congress to mandate that this or any future President must get prior approval from Congress before launching a first strike with nuclear weapons — the same permission any President now must obtain before starting a war.
The next step will be to negotiate a convention among the nine nuclear-armed states to abolish these weapons, which as of today are illegal, and have always been immoral. It will not be easy. Such an abolition agreement will have to include a firm timetable for dismantling weapons, involve rigorous verification and enforcement provisions, and satisfy the legitimate security needs of concerned states from Israel to Pakistan.
There is no guarantee we will succeed in this effort. But there is no real alternative to trying, other than wishful thinking that our good luck can last forever. Until we eliminate nuclear weapons, we are living on borrowed time.

122 Nations Create Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 9, 2017 at 2:38 am

By David Swanson

On Friday the United Nations concluded the creation of the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in over 20 years, and the first treaty ever to ban all nuclear weapons. While 122 nations voted yes, the Netherlands voted no, Singapore abstained, and numerous nations didn’t show up at all.

The Netherlands, I’m told by Alice Slater, was compelled by public pressure on its parliament to show up. I don’t know what Singapore’s problem is. But the world’s nine nuclear nations, various aspiring nuclear nations, and military allies of nuclear nations boycotted.

The only nuclear country that had voted yes to begin the process of treaty-drafting now completed was North Korea. That North Korea is open to a world without nuclear weapons should be fantastic news to numerous U.S. officials and media pundits apparently suffering traumatic fear of a North Korean attack — or it would be fantastic news if the United States were not the leading advocate for expanded development, proliferation, and threat of the use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. ambassador even staged a press conference to denounce this treaty when its drafting was initiated.

Our job now, as citizens of this hapless world, is to lobby every government — including the Netherlands’ — to join and ratify the treaty. While it falls short on nuclear energy, it is a model law on nuclear weapons that sane human beings have been waiting for since the 1940s. Check it out:

Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

(a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly;

(c) Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly;

(d) Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(e) Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;

(f) Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;

(g) Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

Not bad, huh?

Of course this treaty will have to be expanded to include all nations. And the world will have to develop a respect for international law. Some nations, including North Korea and Russia and China, may be quite reluctant to give up their nuclear weapons even if the United States does so, as long as the United States maintains such enormous dominance in terms of non-nuclear military capacities and its pattern of launching aggressive wars. That’s why this treaty has to be part of a broader agenda of demilitarization and war abolition.

But this treaty is a big step in the right direction. When 122 countries declare something illegal, it is illegal on earth. That means investments in it are illegal. Complicity with it is illegal. Defense of it is shameful. Academic collaboration with it is disreputable. In other words, we have launched into a period of stigmatizing as something less than acceptable the act of preparing to annihilate all life on earth. And as we do that for nuclear war, we can build the groundwork for doing the same for all war.


World Rejects Nuclear Weapons in 122-1 Vote at UN

In Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 9, 2017 at 2:31 am


At the United Nations in New York, a meeting convened by a December 2016 vote of the UN General Assembly has voted to make nuclear weapons illegal.

The decisive vote of 122 ‘yes’ to 1 ‘no’ vote took place this morning in the vast and packed Conference Room 1 just off the first sub-basement of the UN, after the Netherlands called for a vote. They were the sole ‘NO’ vote though Singapore abstained.

The vote was followed by prolonged cheers and clapping both from the many nongovernmental organisations present in the completely full Conference room 1 and in an overflow room, also completely full.

The President of the conference, Ambassador Elaine Whyte-Gomez of Costa Rica, could be seen with a number of other delegates, wiping away tears as the numbers flashed onto the electronic voting board.

As the vote was announced, she announced that there was a very long list of Governments that wished to speak about the decision. In fact as I write this release in the lunch-break that list has not been exhausted.

The vote followed three weeks of often agonizing negotiations, as well as two days of preliminary negotiations in March.

The Nuclear Prohibition Treaty arguably reinforces what is already implicit in both International Humanitarian Law and in article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), namely that nuclear weapons are illegal.

While it could be argued that nuclear weapons are already illegal this treaty for the first time provides an explicit multilateral legal instrument that outlaws them.

In taking the floor, country after country noted the historic nature of what was being done. Other weapons of mass destruction such as biological weapons and chemical weapons, as well as landmines, are illegal. Yet until today, a specific instrument outlawing nuclear weapons has not been in existence. Now, there is one. Governments also noted the critical role of civil society in bringing about this result, as well as its existential necessity.

People for Nuclear Disarmament’s nuclear weapons campaigner John Hallam, who has been present for the full three weeks of the negotiation as well as participating in some of the conferences leading up to it, noted that:

” Nuclear weapons remain the only weapon that can destroy both civilization and much of the biosphere in less than a couple of hours and can do so by mistake – a mistake that has nearly taken place on upwards of a dozen terrifying occasions already.”

“To eliminate nuclear weapons completely is an survival imperative that civilization cannot evade. Its clear that the overwhelming majority of the worlds Governments understand that narrow considerations of so called ‘national security’ cannot override the imperative of the survival of civilization and of the human species, which nuclear weapons place in jeopardy. We call on all Governments without exception, including especially the Governments of the ‘official’ nuclear weapon states and other states that possess nuclear weapons, to do their moral duty to the rest of the planet and to join the treaty and eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”

“Ultimately, if we completely fail to eliminate nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons will eliminate us. Nuclear abolition is not a ‘feel-good some-century’ ambition. It is an urgent survival imperative and needs to be prioritised as such. The majority of the worlds Governments have shown that they understand that very well. Now the states that have nuclear weapons must come on board”

“We call on all Governments without exception, no matter what kinds of military alliances they may be involved with, to join the Treaty and to make the necessary changes in their security policies.”

John Hallam,

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

United Nations


In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 8, 2017 at 12:38 am

NEW YORK, NY (July 7, 2017) – Despite a misguided boycott by the U.S. and other nuclear-armed countries, today the United Nations adopted a treaty banning nuclear weapons worldwide. Jeff Carter, the Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – an organization that mobilizes health professionals to address the gravest dangers to human health – released the following statement:

“The adoption of the nuclear weapons ban treaty marks an historic turning point in the decades-old battle to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons are suicidal, indiscriminate killing machines that risk delivering a catastrophic shock to our interconnected planet. Moreover, the ongoing development, production, and testing of these weapons continues to inflict grave health consequences to those communities across America that are host to noxious production sites and neglected radioactive waste.

“The ban treaty is a direly needed corrective measure that should motivate nuclear-armed countries to move more aggressively toward abolition. Right now, the U.S. government defies its existing disarmament obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty by planning to fund an extensive buildup of its nuclear arsenal. The ban treaty is the start of a new worldwide movement that gives the United States an opportunity to break from its self-destructive nuclear weapons policy.

“In the twenty-first century, we can no longer pretend that these doomsday devices are instruments of security. The active conscience of the American health community calls on the United States to sign the nuclear weapons ban treaty to ensure that we safeguard our world for the next generation. It’s past time that we part from this untenable path. Prohibiting and eliminating these weapons of mass destruction is the only responsible course of action for U.S. nuclear weapons policy.”

More than 130 nations participated in the negotiations. The nuclear ban treaty will enter into force after it is brought to the UN General Assembly and 50 nations ratify the treaty.


Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) mobilizes medical professionals on issues that represent the gravest dangers to human health and survival. PSR’s grassroots network of activists contribute a public health framework to nuclear weapons and climate change policy at the local, federal, and international level.

PSR’s international federation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Deconstructing the Concept of Security: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Security?

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 5, 2017 at 3:25 am

by Alice Slater, July 3, 2017

Those of us laboring in the wasteland of nuclear arms control and countless thwarted attempts to abolish nuclear weapons have been witnessing one of the most striking shifts in the global paradigm of how the world thinks about nuclear weapons which has brought us to this present glorious moment. The world is now poised on the eve of actually completing negotiations for a treaty to ban the bomb! The shift, which has proceeded so rapidly, relative to other efforts to curb nuclear weapons, can largely be attributed to the transformation of the public conversation about nuclear weapons, from the same old, same old talk, about national “security” and its reliance on “nuclear deterrence”, to the widely promoted and publicized well-founded scientific evidence of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences which would result from the use of these lethal instruments of death and destruction.

A series of forceful and convincing presentations of the devastating effects of nuclear catastrophe organized by enlightened governments and civil society’s International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was inspired by a stunning statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross addressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war which was referenced in the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty outcome document. ICAN subsequently organized a global turnout of activists from every corner of the world at three subsequent meetings hosted by Norway, Mexico and Austria, demonstrating the overwhelming evidence of the disastrous devastation threatening humanity from nuclear weapons– their mining, milling, production, testing and use– whether deliberately or by accident or negligence, and the unbearable consequences that could be visited upon our Mother Earth. This new knowledge, exposing the terrifying havoc that could be inflicted on our planet, gave the impetus for the present moment at the UN where governments and civil society are now engaged in fulfilling a negotiating mandate for a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination.

It would be useful to examine even more closely the concept of “security” and deconstruct it for future use as we work to bring an end to war on the planet. Peace activists refer to “human security” as a way of distinguishing humanitarian concerns from the military’s use of the term “security”. But there are contradictions inherent in the concept of security reflected in the etymology of the very word “security” itself. Derived from the Latin se cura, or free from care ,” security can be understood not only as freedom from care, worries or attention — of being carefree — but also as being careless. And it is ironic that carelessness– failing to pay sufficient attention to or care for one’s surroundings, will result in conditions that are destructive of wellbeing, or safety, the very opposite of what people are seeking when they talk about national “security”. How careless some nations have been in equating their security with massive weapons systems capable of destroying all life on earth. To truly free ourselves of the mistaken notion represented by the word “security”, we must act with care and reevaluate and explore the conditions that will truly bring the positive benefits of real safety in the peace that humanity has always longed for.

Alice Slater represents the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at the UN and serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War.

Reprinted from Nuclear Ban Daily, Reaching Critical Will, 7/3/17, Vol. 2, No. 11

It’s Time To Ban Nuclear Weapons For Good

In Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, War on June 27, 2017 at 3:07 am

By Helen Szoke, Claire Mallionson and Tillman Ruff, Hyffington Post Australia. June 26, 2017


First the ground started shaking, and then a black mist rolled into the camp from the south. Then came skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and blindness. People so weak they couldn’t make it down to the waterhole and they died of thirst.

Yami Lester was 10-years-old when he saw this black mist roll in from the desert and engulf his family’s camp in the Yankunytjatjara homelands near Marla in South Australia. As men, women and children in his community fell ill, Yami himself became sick and started to lose his eyesight. The black mist that Yami saw in 1956 was the fallout from British nuclear tests at Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia. The effects of these tests are still being felt today.

Yami’s community is not the only one to suffer the effects of nuclear weapons. Yami’s daughter, Karina Lester, has been at the United Nations (UN) in New York for historic negotiations to develop a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. She read, to the conference, a statement by 30 Indigenous organisations from the Pacific, North America, Europe and Australia about the harm suffered by Indigenous peoples from nuclear weapons tests. Survivors from the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia are also sharing their experiences with the assembly.

This final round of UN negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons is history in the making. Since the shocking 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have known that whole cities can be violently destroyed by these weapons. Numerous times since then, it has been sheer luck or the courage of just one person that has stopped nuclear weapons being used. But, the risk of nuclear war still exists between NATO and Russia, India and Pakistan and in the Korean peninsula.

We know that the only way to prevent the unimaginable human suffering and environmental catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons is their elimination and tight international controls on the fissile materials that can be used to make them.
While nuclear weapons exist, so does the utterly unacceptable danger of their use. The world has made substantial progress in reducing the risks posed by other types of weapons that have inhumane and indiscriminate effects. Treaties are in force that prohibit and provide for the elimination of biological and chemical weapons, antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.

These weapons are being progressively eliminated, and the relevant treaties have changed the game, even for those states that have not joined them. In each case, the first step has been stigmatising the weapons as unacceptable for anyone to possess and codifying this in law. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “There are no right hands for the wrong weapons.”

Yet the glaring anomaly remains that nuclear weapons, by far the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate of all, remain the only weapon of mass destruction not comprehensively banned under international law. This has been unfinished business for far too long.

The very first resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in January 1946 was to establish a commission to draw up a plan “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons”. But progress since then has been far too slow, until now.

The negotiations now underway in New York were mandated in December 2016 by the UN General Assembly by a majority of over three to one. The conference was charged with negotiating “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. Alarmingly, none of the states possessing nuclear weapons or those that claim dependence on U.S. nuclear weapons — the 28 members of NATO, Australia, Japan and South Korea — are participating constructively in the negotiations.

A nuclear ban treaty will delegitimise these weapons and the policies that threaten their use, including nuclear deterrence, and will affect even states that don’t sign the treaty. Disappointingly, Australia has been one of the most active states in opposing such a treaty, claiming that nuclear weapons should only be prohibited once they’ve been eliminated, and refusing to say that they should never be used again under any circumstances.

The current negotiations are the first UN nuclear disarmament negotiations in over 20 years. Sadly, this is the first time that Australia has ever boycotted multilateral disarmament negotiations. It is commendable that Australia is a signatory to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, the treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions, and the Arms Trade Treaty. On some of these, Australia has been a leader.

Our Government must move to the right side of history regarding nuclear weapons, the only weapons that pose an existential threat to all humankind. We know that the only way to prevent the unimaginable human suffering and environmental catastrophe caused by nuclear weapons is their elimination and tight international controls on the fissile materials that can be used to make them.

Our organisations have worked to regulate the trade in conventional arms, to prohibit and eliminate landmines and cluster munitions. We call on every government, including the Australian Government, to seize this historic opportunity to ban nuclear weapons.