While nuclear weapons governments and their bomb-making industries are criminally sleepwalking into what could mean the end of our planet’s life, many others – scientists, high-level military, citizens and whole countries – are countering the weapons holders’ political idiocy with principled intelligence. At their 40th reunion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, 70 of 110 physicists who worked on the atomic bomb signed a statement supporting nuclear disarmament. When have the brightest scientists of their day ever admitted that their most notable work was a colossal mistake? On February 2, 1998 retired General George Butler, former Commander of US Strategic Air Command addressed the National Press Club: "The likely consequences of nuclear weapons have no…justification. They hold in their sway not just the fate of nations but the very meaning of civilization." Sixty other retired generals and admirals joined him calling for nuclear weapons abolition.
Nuclear Ban Treaty
It’s of critical importance—indeed, existential importance—to the world: the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And a coalition of peace organizations in the United States is charging that media are acting like the treaty “does not exist.” The Nuclear Ban Treaty Collaborative is waging a campaign to encourage press coverage of the treaty, which, it argues, “provides the only pathway to a safe, secure future free of the nuclear threat” (Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance Newsletter, 6/22). In the words of the UN, the treaty is “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” It was adopted by the UN General Assembly—with 122 nations in favor—and opened for signature in 2017. It was entered into force in January 2021.
In the run-up to August’s United Nation’s 10th Annual Review of the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a review undertaken every five years, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s State Department issued a surprising reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to this treaty and the “ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” The NPT, designed to “further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament,” entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995. It has now been signed by 191 nations, including the U.S. and Russia. If only Blinken’s verbal support for the NPT was U.S. policy, as opposed to wishful thinking or trickery. As treaty signatories and civil society representatives from around the world gather for a month in New York to evaluate the treaty’s implementation, the White House, Congress and military contractors will move ahead on a near $2 trillion nuclear rearmament program euphemistically termed “nuclear modernization.”
United Nations - When UN Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on the successful conclusion of their first meeting in Vienna, his warning was dead on target. “Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us,” he said pointing out that nuclear weapons are a deadly reminder of countries’ inability to solve problems through dialogue and collaboration. “These weapons offer false promises of security and deterrence—while guaranteeing only destruction, death, and endless brinksmanship,” he declared, in a video message to the conference, which concluded on June 23 in the Austrian capital.
Hamburg, Germany - Last Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of the June 12, 1982 million-person march in New York City for a “freeze” on nuclear weapons building, followed two days later by a mass nonviolent action at the consular offices of nuclear weapons states. Some 1,700 people, myself included, were arrested as we sat in the street blockading the nuclear-armed consulates, confronted by horse-mounted cops literally chomping at the bit while we nervously stared up at the menacing police singing We Shall Not be Moved. We were moved out of the street that day in 1982, but the movement wasn’t deterred. We’ve pushed on for decades in spite of ridicule, harassment, and imprisonment, seeing to the slashing of the U.S. nuclear arsenal from over 60,000 in those days, to today’s approximately 5,000 — an amount still grotesque enough to incinerate and contaminate most of the living beings on Earth.
On January 3rd of this year, the five nuclear-armed states with the largest nuclear arsenals issued a joint statement declaring that they “consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.” The statement goes on to “affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” As the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stands at 100 seconds to midnight – “the closest it has ever been to civilization-ending apocalypse” – this statement would appear to be good news for the world. However, all five of the signatories to the statement are currently engaged in maintaining powerful nuclear arsenals.
Addressing the UN General Assembly this September, the minister of foreign affairs of Peru, Óscar Maúrtua, hailed the TPNW’s entry into force as a “great achievement” and “a legal and moral starting point on a long road to achieve nuclear disarmament”. Peru is the 14th country in Latin America to ratify the TPNW, following Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador, Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Honduras, and Chile. An additional four countries in the region have signed but not yet ratified the treaty: Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. Gisela Luján Andrade, Peruvian member of the Human Security Network for Latin America and the Caribbean (SEHLAC), an ICAN partner organisation, warmly welcomed Peru’s ratification.
A new report released by ICAN and PAX today, has found that the number of banks, pension funds, asset managers and insurance companies investing in the production of nuclear weapons has gone down in 2021, and shows significant drops in the shareholder values of investments in the 25 companies involved in nuclear weapon production around the world. There is also an early but visible impact of the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), with many institutions citing the treaty’s entry into force and the risk of a negative public perception as reasons for the change in their investment policies.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, who has spent decades working for a nuclear weapons-free world, recently wrote a blunt op-ed with an unforgettable headline: “With All Its Wisdom, the Human Race Is Killing Itself.” Decrying the arms industry and the nine countries that now own nuclear weapons, Caldicott points to the one trillion dollars per year that the U.S. spends on “national defense,” and states that if we can’t learn to live in peace, we are doomed. At least 56 nations (“state parties”) have come to the same conclusion and have now signed the new UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which came into force in January 2021. Even though the Trudeau government claims it is committed to disarmament, it refuses to sign the treaty, citing its NATO membership (NATO opposes the treaty).
Nuclear tensions and nuclear spending are on the rise, but the elevated danger of nuclear weapons is overshadowed as other urgent global threats from the COVID pandemic, climate and environmental emergencies, and other urgent crises dominate news headlines. The United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force in January, receives scant media attention, even as the United Nations prepares to mark September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Unlike other nuclear treaties and agreements, the TPNW, or nuclear ban treaty as it is also known, prohibits all activity including development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, and the use or threat to use nuclear weapons.
On March 1, 1954, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense exploded a huge thermonuclear bomb on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where they had been testing bombs since 1946. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands — vaporizing entire islands and exiling hundreds of people from their homes. One peculiar legacy of the U.S. nuclear testing was the introduction of the “bikini” swimsuit, named after the first two nuclear tests on Bikini atoll. French fashion designer Louis Reard hoped his new swimsuit sensation would cause the same reaction as when people first saw the mushroom clouds of atomic bombs. Other legacies of this nuclear destruction are not so pleasant to look at.
Nine countries of the 193 member states of the United Nations possess nuclear weapons. Two of them—the United States of America and Russia—have more than 90% of all the 13,410 warheads. Four countries—the US, Russia, the UK and France—have at least 1,800 warheads on high alert, which means that they can be fired at very short notice. To compare the warheads currently deployed with the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima is enough to make the heart stop: the yield from the “Little Boy” used on Hiroshima is estimated at 15 kilotons, whereas the yield from one W88 warhead that is deployed on a Trident II submarine is estimated at 475 kilotons.
The total number of nuclear weapons both Russia and the US could possess was limited by New START, signed between the two countries in 2010. The treaty would have expired on 5 February 2021, had the Biden administration not agreed to extend it for another five years. Peter Kuznick is a professor of history at American University, where he founded the Nuclear Studies Institute. He has authored and co-authored numerous books, including The Untold History of the United States, Rethinking the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Japanese and American Perspectives and Nuclear Power and Hiroshima: The Truth Behind the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Power.
On January 22, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons went into effect. This treaty, which is supported by more than two-thirds of the countries in the world but none of the nuclear states, is groundbreaking in many ways and is a significant step toward nuclear disarmament at a time when the threat of nuclear war is the highest it has ever been. I speak with Seth Shelden of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons about the treaty, how it came about, what it will do and what people in the United States can do to press our government to ratify it.