Quotable

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don’t obstruct efforts to ban nuclear weapons

Editor's Note: The United Nations, on March 27th, began historic negotiations intended to lead to a global nuclear weapons ban treaty. The United States, along with the other nuclear-armed nations and some other nations, boycotted the negotiations. This commentary by Ramesh Thakur, just published in The Japan Times, provides an important perspective and context on the negotiations and their importance on the road to abolishing the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

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Don’t obstruct efforts to ban nuclear weapons     

By Ramesh Thakur

Originally published in The Japan Times, March 29, 2017

We may be at an inflection point in global affairs with the world in disarray with a volatile, erratic and unpredictable administration in Washington, imminent British and possibly French exits from the European Union, presidential instability in South Korea and the like. One of the strong political headwinds creating international turbulence is intensifying nuclear threats.

On March 27, 115 countries gathered at a U.N. conference in New York to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Arguing that “it would be difficult for Japan to participate … in a constructive manner and in good faith,” Japan, having delivered its opening statement sharply critical of the conference, walked out. The hibakusha — survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — saw the first-ever U.N. talks on a ban treaty as a practical and important step toward pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons and expressed criticism and disappointment at Tokyo’s decision.

The nine countries with nuclear weapons — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — refused to attend at all.

In an unusual move, to say the least, Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was joined by delegates from about 20 countries in an anti-treaty protest rally outside the General Assembly hall.

In an unclassified NATO document on Oct. 17, Washington had urged its allies to vote against a call to hold the negotiations and secondly, not to take part in any negotiations that were convened. Describing NATO as “a nuclear alliance,” it argued that “efforts to negotiate an immediate ban on nuclear weapons or to delegitimize nuclear deterrence are fundamentally at odds with NATO’s basic policies on deterrence and our shared security interests.”

India explained its abstention from the talks by saying that the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament was the only “right place for pursuing nuclear disarmament” because it alone has “the mandate, the membership and the rules for embarking on the path to nuclear disarmament.”

Yet the Conference on Disarmament has been deadlocked for many years, unable to agree even on a program of work let alone discuss such concrete issues as a fissile material cutoff treaty and the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters in Tokyo that the U.N. negotiations “could further deepen the rift between nuclear and nonnuclear-weapon states and cause an adverse effect.”

This is disingenuous and self-serving. The deep division in the international community exists between the 110-130 countries pursuing ban negotiations in good faith and the 40-odd group of nuclear armed states and allies who have been resisting and obstructing their efforts.

There are two routes to reconciling the two groups. One is for the nonnuclear states to embrace nuclear weapons and join the possessor countries with their own bombs. The alternative is for the nuclear powers and the umbrella states to engage with the international community in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

The latter goal has five components. Three of these can be pursued only by those who possess the bomb: cap, reduce and eliminate.

The Asian nuclear powers — China, India, Pakistan and North Korea — are expanding their weapons stockpiles and diversifying their land, air and sea-based delivery platforms.

All nuclear powers are modernizing and upgrading their arsenals. Pyongyang is the only one still testing nuclear devices. Such developments could be frozen.

Russia and the U.S., with over 90 percent of nuclear stockpiles, could negotiate substantial cutbacks to reduce warhead numbers to a few hundred instead of several thousand each. They could also reduce reliance on high-risk doctrines, postures and deployment practices like launch-on-warning and first use of nuclear weapons.

Finally, following an eventual universal nuclear weapons convention, they could proceed to verifiable and enforceable elimination spread over more than a decade to ensure decommissioning, dismantlement and destruction of weapons and weapons-producing materials and infrastructure are carried out safely and securely.

The remaining two items on the agenda — stigmatization and prohibition — can be pursued by the nonnuclear weapon states and this is the primary purpose of the U.N. conference. A treaty coming from the conference will not reduce a single warhead from the global nuclear stockpiles. But it will harden the normative boundaries between conventional and nuclear, regional and global, and tactical and strategic weapons that are being blurred by technological developments.

There has also been a growing convergence between cyber, space and nuclear domains, further multiplying nuclear risks and dangers.

Over 2,000 scientists, recalling U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s belief that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, have signed an open letter supporting the U.N. talks.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross which functions as the de facto custodian of international humanitarian law, believes that a ban treaty “will reinforce the stigma against their use, support commitments to nuclear risk reduction and be a disincentive for proliferation.”

Even the 2016 NATO document conceded that “The effects of a nuclear weapons ban treaty could be wide-ranging.” Several of these were spelled out in the document.

In other words, U.S. opposition is built fundamentally not on the lack of practical effects of a ban treaty, but on the opposite: its very considerable impact in the real world. Indeed the strength of their opposition is difficult to fathom but for this recognition of the practical import of a ban treaty.

Advocates of the ban negotiations believe that the world needs to be made safe from nuclear weapons through their stigmatization, reduction, prohibition and verified elimination.

Opponents of the negotiations insist that instead the world should first be made safe for nuclear disarmament to happen. In effect they seem to believe that negotiations on banning nuclear weapons should begin only after nuclear weapons no longer exist.

It is time for the so-called realists to get real about the existential dangers of a world brimming with nuclear weapons and the urgent need to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate them.

Professor Ramesh Thakur is director of the Center for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University.

Source URL for original article: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/03/29/commentary/japan-commentary/dont-obstruct-efforts-ban-nuclear-weapons/#.WNwbXVKZNsO


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Remembering Castle Bravo: Time for a Ban Treaty!

On March 1, 1954 the United States tested the first deliverable hydrogen bomb, code named "Bravo”, at Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. Bravo was the largest U.S. nuclear test ever exploded, with a yield of 15 megatons, 1000 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (and well beyond the predicted yield of 6 megatons). It blasted a crater 1.2 miles in diameter into the atoll.


Castle Bravo was supposed to be a secret test, but because its designers underestimated its yield, things went dreadfully wrong in a flash. Because of the fission products, huge yield and shifting winds, radioactive fallout from the cloud spread quickly and far, contaminating over seven thousand square miles of surrounding ocean and nearby inhabited islands including Rongerik and Rongelap. The flash could be clearly seen 250 miles away (some secret!).

Radioactive fallout from the test affected U.S. service personnel on ships, natives of Rongelap Island, 100 miles from the test, Utrick Island, 300 miles away, and fishermen on a Japanese vessel, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon. The crew were fishing outside of the U.S. declared exclusion zone when Castle Bravo detonated. The ship was covered in fine radioactive ash soon after the explosion. By the time the ship returned to Japan all 23 crew members suffered from the effects of acute radiation syndrome - including nausea, headache, burns, pains in the eyes, and bleeding from the gums - and were admitted to hospitals.

One of the crew, chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama, died on September 23 from the effects of radiation exposure. His last words were:
I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.
Several hundred other fishing vessels and their crews were also exposed to the fallout from Castle Bravo.

The nearby islands' inhabitants as well as U.S. military personnel stationed there for the test were exposed to the radioactive fallout, and subsequently evacuated. All were exposed to significant levels
of radiation; although short term effects were mild, long term effects were significant for many. 90% of the Marshall Islands' population experienced thyroid tumors. The Marshall Islanders and their lands were essentially involuntary test subjects in the U.S. governments nuclear testing, as were U.S. service personnel.

The U.S. continued atmospheric nuclear testing around the Marshall Islands, conducting 67 tests at Bikini and Enewetak atolls between 1946 and 1958 leaving a legacy of contamination and death. 840 Marshall islanders are believed to have died from health problems caused by the tests. As of the end of 2003, more than 1,000 islanders were suffering from symptoms believed related to radiation exposure. In 1956, the United States Atomic Energy Commission called the Marshall Islands “by far the most contaminated place in the world.” Today (63 years later) the Marshall Islands are still contaminated, and radioactive cesium is found in water and fruits.

Back in the early 1970s the U.S. government declared Bikini safe for resettlement, and some residents returned. They were removed once again in 1978 after it was discovered that they had ingested high levels of radioisotopes from eating foods grown on the former nuclear test site. Residents of Rongelap Atoll underwent similar indignities. The U.S. has been derelict in failing to protect the health and welfare of the Marshall Islanders and their lands, and has failed to recognize their suffering and adequately compensate them.

The Marshall Islands have tried to bring the greater issue to the attention of the world. Among their strategies has been to file a lawsuit against the U.S., and eight other nuclear powers, in U.S. District Court, alleging that the U.S., as occupying superpower, has continued to modernize its nuclear arsenal in defiance of Article VI of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Whatever the legal outcome of such actions, it should be clear that the United States has no moral standing on this issue. The continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and the threat of their use against other nations constitute crimes against humanity.

The Cold War is a distant memory (although a new Cold War is brewing); and yet the United States and Russia still maintain thousands of nuclear missiles ready to launch on warning. The President of the United States may have just a few minutes to make the fateful decision to launch nuclear weapons in case of warning of a nuclear attack. In 1995, Russia came within a few minutes of launching a nuclear counterattack after it initially interpreted the launch of a scientific rocket from Norway as a first strike. This is just one close call among many documented incidents involving both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia. A number of them have been just too close.

The Bush administration repeatedly refused to pledge to a "no first use" policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons. President Obama never explicitly stated a "no first use" policy. And now we have a president who has stated that "we're going to be at the top of the pack" when it comes to nuclear weapons. He most likely doesn't even understand what "first use" even means, let alone the existential implications of using nuclear weapons.

Looking forward we should remember those last words of Aikichi Kuboyama before he died of radiation poisoning. We must work to remove the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over humanity. If we fail in this task, we will have failed Kuboyama and all who have suffered from the effects of nuclear weapons.

Support the upcoming United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty Negotiations beginning this month. Learn more at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.




Sunday, December 11, 2016

Divestment: Putting our money to work for peace

Divestment works! The divestment campaign mounted in the 1980s in protest of South Africa's apartheid system pressured the South African Government to begin negotiations ultimately leading to the dismantling of the Apartheid system.

Today we have a 70-year legacy of building and maintaining nuclear weapons that has benefited only the companies that have built and maintained them, along with the companies and organizations (and individuals) that have invested in them.

The newest Don't Bank on the Bomb report, from the Dutch organization PAX, identifies 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon producing companies. Since 2013, these companies have made nearly half a trillion dollars available to companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons.


The vast majority of governments in the United Nations recently voted to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and it is high time for financial institutions to make the moral/ethical decision to stop investing in companies involved with nuclear weapons.

Currently, eighteen financial institutions, managing more than $1.8 trillion, prohibit investments in nuclear weapons producers. These institutions are prepared for the legal implications of a ban on nuclear weapons to be negotiated at the UN in 2017.

Another 36 institutions have some form of limitation on such investments. But far too many institutions are still investing in nuclear weapons producers, according to the Don’t Bank on the Bomb report.

Don't Bank on the Bomb tells us what companies are working on nuclear weapons, who is investing in them (the Hall of Shame), and most importantly - who is not (the Hall of Fame). With this information we, as both individuals and organizations, can make informed decisions about our investments.  As clients and investors we can pressure the banks, pension funds and insurance companies to divest and reinvest in a responsible way. This is just one important way we can bring about the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Read the Don't Bank on the Bomb report and share it widely. Then we can all put our hard-earned money to work for peace.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Speak Up, Speak Out! Interview on Current Nuclear Weapons Issues

Ginny Wolff, of Speak Up, Speak Out! on KSVR - FM, interviewed me last week about the work of Ground Zero Center for Non-Violent Action since 1977 to protest the Trident submarines based at the Bangor Naval Base in Silverdale, Washington. We discussed the history of Ground Zero, the bigger picture of U.S. foreign policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons, ongoing international tension, and the agreement between Congress and the Obama administration to spend a trillion dollars over 30 years to rebuild the entire U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The interview ends with a simple message listeners can deliver to President Obama. After listening, you can click here to send your message to President Obama. You can find additional action alerts at the right hand column (top of the page).

Thanks to KSVR and Speak Up, Speak Out! for covering important issues you won't hear in the mainstream/corporate media.


Praying (and Working) for a Nuclear Weapon-Free World

Greetings Friends,

The monument "Stronger Than Death"
in Semey, Kazakhstan
Earlier this week the United Nations, in a truly historic vote, moved closer to establishing a legally binding instrument to prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. The United States shamelessly lobbied and pressured other nations to vote against the measure. The General Assembly will take a final vote in December, and the UN will then take up deliberations in 2017 to negotiate the details and finalize this important work on a treaty to de-legitimize and legally ban nuclear weapons.

So many people from so many nations have been working tirelessly, and in so many different ways, to create a nuclear weapon-free world. With the nuclear-armed nations and their vassal states (living under the mythical "nuclear umbrella") pushing so hard against our efforts, the job has been anything but easy.

In August, many of us attended an international conference in Astana, Kazakhstan organized by Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and the Kazakh Government to discuss and plan concrete actions to abolish nuclear weapons. Nearly 200 legislators, religious leaders, government officials, diplomats, veterans, representatives of international organizations, academics, scientists, medical professionals, lawyers, and nuclear disarmament campaigners gathered for this conference, which was held on the 25th anniversary of the closing of the Soviet nuclear test site in Kazakhstan.

URI's United Nations Representative,
Monica Willard, with the Nuclear Prayer
 at the monument "Stronger Than Death"
From 1949, the Semipalatinsk region in the (then) Soviet republic of Kazakhstan was the site of 456 test explosions of nuclear weapons. The multigenerational impacts on human health on the steppe of northeast Kazakhstan have been devastating, with over 1.5 million people suffering cancers, birth deformities, and other serious illness or death from the resulting radiation.

On August 31st, some of the Astana conference delegates travelled to learn and bear witness to the legacy of nuclear testing on the Kazakh people. Some travelled to the nuclear test site itself; and others visited the medical center that treats victims of the nuclear testing, the radiation effects research center, and the Peace Park commemorating the Kazakh nuclear testing legacy.

At both "Ground Zero" at the test site and at the base of the monument, "Stronger than Death", in the Semey Peace Park, the two groups circled and read the Prayer for a Nuclear Free World (The Nuclear Prayer). The prayer, written by The Right Rev William E. Swing, founder of United Religion Initiative (URI), to help strengthen interfaith movements against nuclear weapons, brought us together in a shared belief in our common humanity and the possibility of a nuclear weapon-free world.

Here is the video of the group at the Peace Park reading the Nuclear Prayer (and below it the full text):


Nuclear Prayer (unedited) from Leonard Eiger on Vimeo.

The Beginning and the End are in your hands, O Creator of the Universe. And in our hands you have placed the fate of this planet. We, who are tested by having both creative and destructive power in our free will, turn to you in sober fear and intoxicating hope. We ask for your guidance and to share in your imagination in our deliberations about the use of nuclear force. Help us to lift the fog of atomic darkness that hovers so pervasively over our Earth, Your Earth, so that soon all eyes may see life magnified by your pure light. 
Bless all of us who wait today for your Presence and who dedicate ourselves to achieve your intended peace and rightful equilibrium on Earth. In the Name of all that is holy and all that is hoped. Amen. 
   - Written by the Rt. Rev. William E. Swing,
      President and Founder
      United Religions Initiative (URI)
      December 4, 2014
At the end of our journey to Semey, I felt a renewed sense of hope (as I believe we all did), as well as renewed spiritual strength for the journey (and difficult work) ahead. These two small prayer circles were small, yet significant acts, and I hope that these circles can expand like ripples on the water by sharing The Nuclear Prayer with you, and you with others. As we continue to expand our circles of faith, hope and action, we can hasten the day when the leaders of the nuclear-armed nations will be forced to see the inhumanity of their actions - the crimes against humanity they commit through the possession and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Toward a Nuclear Weapon-Free World,

Leonard

Click here to download the PDF version of the Nuclear Prayer in English and Spanish.