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Hiroshima Anniversary Day: Developing a Nuclear-weapon Abolition Strategy

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, United States, World Law on August 6, 2019 at 8:16 PM

By René Wadlow

“Just prior to the May 2010 Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Ban Ki-moon, then Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) said, “Everyone recognizes the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons. Just as clearly, we know the threat will last as long as these weapons exist. The Earth’s very future leaves us no alternative but to pursue disarmament. And there is little prospect of that without global cooperation … Momentum is building around the world. Governments and civil society groups, often at odds, have begun working in the common cause. All this work reflects the priorities of our member states, shaped in turn by public opinion. Those who stand with us share the vision of a nuclear-free world. If ever there were a time for the world’s people to demand change, to demand action beyond the cautious half measures of the past, it is now.”

Thus, governments and civil society groups, often at odds on other questions, might be able to set out a strategy for progress toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. There has always been an ebb and flow of popular interest in eliminating nuclear weapons from the world, and currently, there seems to be a rising tide of activity. Men who did little to curb nuclear weapons when they were in power are now saying that something should be done: ‘The only sure way to prevent nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear war is to rid the world of nuclear weapons.’ Since peace-making depends on coalition building, we cannot belittle these new-found friends.

There have always been at least two major aspects of nuclear issues — the one is to prevent the proliferation to new states, the other is to reduce the number of warheads among the existing nuclear-weapon states.

A strategy which has influenced popular action on nuclear weapons has been whether to place an emphasis on the goal of total abolition or on partial steps such as the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Those working for partial measures have always said that abolition was the ultimate aim, but in practice, the partial measures always became the focus of action. I recall that when I was in college, I used to walk to relax and would meet from time to time Albert Einstein walking from his office to his nearby home. I would say ‘Good Evening, Prof Einstein, and he would reply ‘Good Evening, Young Man’. Although I had no idea then or now what his theories were about, I knew that they had something to do with atoms, and he had come out early for nuclear control. ‘One World or None’ was the slogan of the late 1940s. Einstein’s final appeal shortly before his death was the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (1955) with its call to think “not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings”.

When I used to see Einstein, I was already active on the partial measures of the time — an end to testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. I had followed the lead of Senator Estes Kefauver who was the first United States (U. S.) political leader to attack actively nuclear testing. As Kefauver had taken on the link between politics and organized crime, he could take on also the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission which was deaf to all calls to prevent nuclear fallout from entering the food chain. It took till 1963 to get the tests to move below ground, but the mid-1950s nuclear testing campaign was the entry point of my generation into nuclear issues.

Senator Estes Kefauver

I tend still to stress limited steps within the framework of regional settlements of disputes. There seems to me to be three opportunities to press ahead:

1.

The first and easiest because it involves only two states without major conflict issues is a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads of the USA and Russia — the number of 1,000 each seems to be on the table. It is still too many and strategic thinking in the two countries is not very clear what they are for, but this is a case where ‘fewer is better’, so let us push for this sharp reduction while we try to see what role the USA and Russia can usefully play in the world society, as well as reducing tensions between them.

2.

The second opportunity is for a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East. The elimination of Israeli nuclear weapons and no nuclear-weapon development in Iran would help reduce Middle East tensions. Mohammed El Baradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been calling for this Middle East nuclear weapon free zone for some time. However, there will have to be strong popular pressure for such a zone as neither the Israeli nor the Iranian government seems to be moving fast in the direction.

3.

The third opportunity for non-governmental suggestions is to participate in the preparations for the 2020 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Review conferences held every five years have been the most favorable to Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) of the arms control negotiations. I had chaired the NGOs attending the 1975 and 1980 reviews and with the help of Ambassador Garcia Robles of Mexico, the NGOs had the ability to distribute proposals and to interact fully, though not to address the conference. Our proposals were widely discussed and even presented by one government as its own. At the 1980 review when no government text could be agreed upon, the NGO draft, largely written by Homer Jack, an active world citizen, was seriously discussed at a midnight meeting of the Conference Bureau, but wording was not the real issue. After the 1985 Review, which nearly went down in flames thanks to charges and outer-charges between Iraq and Iran, at that time in war, I gave up, having repeated too often the Preamble and Article VI. which hold out the promise of a disarmed world under effective international control and stresses that “in accordance with the Charter, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force.”

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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