50 nations ink U.N. nuclear ban treaty opposed by big powers

UNITED NATIONS – Fifty countries on September 20 signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, a pact that the world’s nuclear powers spurned but supporters hailed as a historic agreement nonetheless.

“You are the states that are showing moral leadership in a world that desperately needs such moral leadership today,” Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said as the signing ceremony began.

Before the day was out, 50 states as different as Indonesia and Ireland had put their names to the treaty; others can sign later if they like. Guyana, Thailand and the Vatican also have already ratified the treaty, which needs 50 ratifications to take effect among the nations that back it.

They would be barred from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons “under any circumstances.”

Amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. “This treaty is an important step toward the universally held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Supporters of the pact say it’s time to push harder toward eliminating nuclear weapons than nations have done through the nearly 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under its terms, non-nuclear nations agreed not to pursue nukes in exchange for a commitment by the five original nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to achieve nuclear disarmament and to guarantee other states’ access to peaceful nuclear technology for producing energy.

More than 120 countries approved the new nuclear weapons ban treaty in July over opposition from the nuclear-armed countries and their allies, who boycotted negotiations. The United States, Britain and France said the prohibition wouldn’t work and would end up disarming their nations while emboldening “bad actors,” in U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s words.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis said, “Those who still hold nuclear arsenals, we call upon them to join this date with history,” as he prepared to sign.

– edited from The Associated Press, September 20, 2017
PeaceMeal, Sept./October 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on President Trump to lower nuclear tensions

Miami Beach, FL – At the close of its 85th Annual Meeting on June 26, the United States Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution put forward by Mayors for Peace “Calling on President Trump to Lower Nuclear Tensions, Prioritize Diplomacy, and Redirect Nuclear Weapons Spending to meet Human Needs and Address Environmental Challenges.”

Mayors for Peace Lead U.S. Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines, Iowa. quoted from the resolution: “This is an unprecedented moment in human history. The world has never faced so many nuclear flashpoints simultaneously. From NATO-Russia tensions, to the Korean Peninsula, to South Asia and the South China Sea and Taiwan — all of the nuclear-armed states are tangled up in conflicts and crises that could catastrophically escalate at any moment.”

By adopting the resolution, the USCM endorsed the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 that would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress and the global treaty banning nuclear weapons adopted by the United Nations.

The USCM is a nonpartisan association of American cities with populations over 30,000. Mayors for Peace, founded in 1982, is led by the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its membership has grown exponentially, counting 7,335 cities in 162 countries including 211 U.S. members, representing more than one billion people as of June 1.

– edited from Public Radio International, July 11, 2017
PeaceMeal, July/August 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Chinese President Xi calls for world without nuclear weapons

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a world without nuclear weapons at the United Nations on January 18 and urged a multilateral system based on equality among nations large and small. “Nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time,” said XI, whose country has been a nuclear power since 1964. His speech in Geneva came at the end of a diplomatic tour that included a landmark address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Some experts have seen Xi’s Swiss tour as a bid to capture the mantle of global leadership at a time when Washington is clouded by uncertainty with an unpredictable political novice about to take charge.

Xi also sought to make the case for a global governance system that strives for a level playing field among countries where interventionist tendencies are resisted. “We should reject dominance by just one or several countries,” Xi said, adding that “major powers should respect each other’s core interests. Big countries should treat smaller countries as equals instead of acting as a hegemon, imposing their will on others.”

China has reacted harshly against attempts to influence what it considers its internal domestic affairs, from concerns over human rights issues in Tibet to a democracy push in Hong Kong.

In Davos, Xi backed unity in the face of mounting global challenges such as resistance to globalized trade. Some analysts saw that as a bid to contrast Trump, whose bombastic rhetoric has at times defined international relationships in terms of winners and losers.

While he made no mention of the incoming Republican administration, Xi’s message on nuclear weapons stood apart from Trump’s at times contradictory remarks on American nuclear power.

– edited from Agence-France Presse, January 18, 2017
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2017

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The U.N. makes history on a nuclear weapons ban. Does the U.S. care?

Joseph Cirincione

If a treaty rises in the United Nations and U.S. media don’t notice, does the treaty make a difference?

This is the situation confronting proponents of the process begun October 27, when — by a vote of 123 for, 38 against, and 16 abstaining — the First Committee of the U.N. agreed “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.”

It was a historic moment. Despite dozens of nuclear crises and war scares, U.N. members have never in the 71-year history of the body voted for such a sweeping measure. Yet, no major U.S. paper covered the vote. Why not?

Whether for or against the treaty, delegates clearly thought it important. “There comes a time when choices have to be made, and this is one of those times,” said Helena Nolan, Ireland’s director of disarmament and non-proliferation. “Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership.” ...

The United States, however, adamantly opposed the resolution and, according to some observers, fiercely lobbied its allies, particularly those enclosed in the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” to vote against the new process. “How can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them?” argued Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. “The ban treaty runs the risk of undermining regional security.”

The lobbying worked to some degree, but not well enough to block the lopsided 3-to-1 vote in favor of negotiations toward a ban treaty. And U.S. lobbying may not hold all the countries who initially voted against the nuclear weapons ban. “Although Japan voted against the resolution due to pressure exerted by the US,” wrote Jiji Kyodo for The Japan Times, “Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japan intends to join U.N. negotiations to outlaw nuclear weapons.” Other states may feel the same way. ...

There are legitimate concerns about the treaty process in many nations and among experts and former officials. Treaty proponents should treat these doubts seriously and respectfully. Does it really matter if 100-plus countries sign a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, but none of the countries with nuclear weapons joins? Will this be a serious distraction from the hard work of stopping new, dangerous weapons systems, cutting nuclear budgets, or ratifying the nuclear test ban treaty? ...

But the ban treaty movement is gaining strength. ... It would help clarify the humanitarian impact and nuclear weapons ban debate if there were some coverage of it in U.S. media. So, why hasn’t there been? There are three main reasons.

First, the media doesn’t care much about anything that happens in the United Nations. If a U.S. president isn’t speaking, or the vote doesn’t involve Israel, or there isn’t a showdown in the Security Council, there is a media vacuum. Many U.S. reporters see the U.N. — not without some justification — as irrelevant. ...

Second, many reporters take their cue from U.S. officials. Here, the official line was that this vote on a nuclear weapons ban treaty is a waste of time. “Successful nuclear reductions will require participation from all relevant parties, proven verification measures, and security conditions conducive to cooperation,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said. “We lack all three factors at this time.” ...

Third, and this may be the most important, we have our heads in the sand when it comes to nuclear dangers. With some notable exceptions, such as the comprehensive stories by the Associated Press on problems with the U.S. missile force, the main way that the risks from nuclear weapons are discussed in the U.S. media and in the body politic involves an adversary that presents a nuclear threat. Iran may get nuclear weapons. North Korea is testing nuclear weapons. Russia is rattling the nuclear saber. The problem is not the weapons themselves, it is bad guys with the weapons. This is not how most of the world sees it.

“We have reiterated many times our basic and firm position that the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons can never be the basis for a sustainable security for mankind. The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons are well documented and irrefutable,” said Swedish representative to the First Committee Eva Walder. “Sweden’s position is clear. The only guarantee that these weapons will never be used again is their total elimination.”

Sweden’s view is very close to those of past U.S. presidents who saw, as Bill Clinton did, the grave threat to the nation “from the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons,” and sought, as Ronald Reagan did, “the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

President George W. Bush, reflecting the ideology of many of his neoconservative advisors, changed that formula. He said in his 2003 State of the Union address, “The gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.” Bush subtly changed the focus from “what” to “who.” He sought the elimination of regimes rather than weapons. He believed that the United States could determine which countries were responsible enough to have nuclear weapons, and which ones were not. American power, not multilateral treaties, would enforce this judgment.

After the complete failure of that strategy, President Barack Obama switched American policy back onto the weapons. In speeches and statements well known to readers of the Bulletin, he stigmatized nuclear weapons, vowing to reduce their number and role in U.S. strategy and to seek their elimination. ...

Now, the Bush view has crept back into policy and reporting. It dominates thinking in the Department of Defense. Nuclear weapons are only dangerous when they are sought or held by adversaries. Our weapons are essential. Those held by our friends, including India, Pakistan and Israel, are not a problem.

This blindly optimistic view holds that nuclear weapon are beneficial to our security — the “bedrock” of our security, as the current defense secretary so often states. That their presence enhances international stability. And some, including one of the candidates for president this year, believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, but manageable. The bulk of the media follows this unofficial but clearly held line.

There is hope for a more optimistic and safer view of nuclear threats to re-emerge. The treaty vote is one sign that many nations have lost patience with the barely discernable, “step-by-step” process that nuclear-armed nations have followed in regard to arms control and eventual nuclear disarmament. The alternative process the countries voting for the ban treaty have begun — encouraged and aided by civil society groups — is having an impact and may spur the nuclear-armed states to move faster.

The U.S. presidential campaign has highlighted the dangers of our own nuclear weapons for the U.S. domestic audience, asking the question: Can we allow an unstable individual to “have his finger on the button?” The American electorate is being forced to confront nuclear fears in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. It may be possible to translate this fear into a broader discussion: Should anyone be able to launch a nuclear war in 15 minutes — without debate, without a vote, without even a vestige of democracy? And such a debate could lead to discussion of constructive solutions.

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. His article is from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2, 2016, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2016.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)