"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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Arresting the Wrong Suspects

Contributed by John LaForge

NEW YORK, NY – Here at the United Nations, talk is focused on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (N-P.T.). At about 11 a.m. Apr. 28, I was handcuffed with 21 other nuclear realists after blocking an entrance to the US Mission. I say “realists” because US media won’t pay much attention to US violations of nuclear weapons treaties unless somebody is taken off to jail.
Barrels of ink are used detailing Iran’s non-existent nuclear arsenal. The US has about 2,000 nuclear weapons ready to launch and used as ticking time bombs every day by presidents — the way gunslingers can get the dough without ever pulling the trigger. Deterrence it is not.

(l to R) Carol Gilbert, John LaForge and Ardeth Platte showing the 450 U.S.
land-based missiles that hold the world under the threat of nuclear omnicide.
When we were ordered to leave or face arrest, we called ourselves crime-stoppers and asked the officers to arrest the real scofflaws. We were packed into vans and driven to the 17th Precinct. Our band of nuclear abolitionists concluded long ago that US nuclear banditry and pollutionism was worth dramatizing for a day, or a month, or a lifetime.

We talked while the cops worked through the booking routine. David McReynolds, 85, the long-time staff member of War Resisters League (Ret.), asked us all to watch when he exited the van to see that he didn’t lose his balance. I wondered if I’d have the guts to keep doing these actions if I get to the wobbly decades.

The day before, Sec. of State John Kerry double-spoke to the Gen. Assembly, promising both to continue with US nuclear posturing and to dream of a nuclear-free world. I skipped his puffery and went to hear Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico explain the US government’s plans for three new H-bomb factories (one each in Tenn., Kansas and New Mexico), and plans for building 80 new plutonium warheads every year until 2027. In 1996, the World Court declared the N-P.T.’s pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons to be a binding, unequivocal and unambiguous legal obligation. Our arrest citation is ironic because it’s the US that has “refused a lawful order.”

Back in the police truck, time dragged. Somebody said we should share a few political jokes. Q: “Why are statistics just like prison inmates?” A: “If you torture them enough, they’ll tell you anything you want to hear.” Bad prison puns are easy to come by among political dissidents.

Finally inside the precinct, I sat in the holding cell next to Jerry Goralnick, a playwright with The Living Theatre, who is trying to get a script staged involving the jail-house relationship between Dorothy Day and a colleague who shared a cell for 90 days. Day, a founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and her friend were jailed in New York City for refusing to obey civil defense officers and go down into fallout shelters. It was during the delusional era of “winnable” nuclear war. Their defiance was a simple case of refusing to lie about nuclear weapons. They were realists who knew that the 10-square-mile firestorms ignited by H-bombs suck all the air out of fallout shelters where the huddled then suffocate. They knew there is no defense under such nuclear conflagration, that survivors would envy the dead.

These days, nuclear war planning goes on 6 stories below Strategic Command HQ at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha. Deep in Strat-Com’s sub-basements, technicians with the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff select people and places to be incinerated if need be. The targets are lands belonging to US trading partners, allies and friends that have the Bomb — China, Russia, India, Pakistan — and non-nuclear countries like Iran and North Korea (which may have 3 nukes but have no way to deliver them).

This target planning has been going on for decades. A few thousand hard-bitten, nuclear-obsessed optimists have been crying “foul” about it the whole while. I was in custody with 21 of them for a few hours. It was a relief to be there.

Our complaint, which should be on display at the June 24 court arraignment, is that nuclear weapons producers, deployers and trigger men in the US (the ones we’re responsible for), are criminal gangsters, dangerous sociopaths, members of a global terror cell making non-stop bomb threats that they disguise with a theatrical hoax called “deterrence.”

I’ve seen this legal argument succeed in court only twice, but those two not-guilty verdicts convince me that the law is on our side. Dum-dum bullets, nerve gas, landmines, cluster bombs, chemical agents, biological weapons and poison are all illegal — banned by Treaties. Nuclear warheads do all the harm of these outlawed weapons combined — plus mutagenic and teratogenic damage to multiple generations. Our State Department man says the Bomb is unfortunate and legal — but the Secretary Has No Clothes.

The Isaiah Wall, across the street from the UN, during the vigil prior to the
nonviolent blockade of the U.S. Mission to the UN
While UN member states argue over whether the possession of H-bombs violates the N-P.T., I’ll stay with the realists just out of handcuffs — at least until the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff and Mr. Kerry are charged with disturbing the peace.
— John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.

- Photos in this post by Leonard Eiger

Sunday, May 3, 2015

We the people: for a better world

Editor's Note: I have just returned from New York where I participated in a host of activities surrounding the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. I am not naïve; I know that the NPT was conceived out of avarice and power, and a desire of the nuclear weapons states (led by the U.S.) to keep others out of the exclusive nuclear club. 45 years of empty promises has convinced me that the nuclear weapons states will not live up to their moral or legal responsibilities to disarm without a groundswell of global citizen-led pressure. Ray Acheson's editorial below is a concise perspective on our responsibility in navigating the road ahead.

Ray Acheson is Director of Critical Will, a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Learn more (and keep up with this year's NPT Review Conference) at the Reaching Critical Will website.


Editorial: We the people

Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF

Last week more than 900 women and men from 80 countries gathered in The Hague to celebrate 100 years of peacemaking with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and to set a new agenda for peace for the 21st century. Now WILPF is in New York at the NPT Review Conference. Our participation in these very different conferences has one thing in common: our intention is to confront and challenge the structures of power that privilege the few over the many, that undermine international law, and that impede human security.

WILPF’s 100th anniversary conference strongly confronted the corporate and military take-over of governments and the resulting preservation of power over the protection of human beings. “The UN Charter states ‘We the people,’ not ‘I, the hegemonic nation state’,” declared Madeleine Rees, WILPF’s Secretary General. The Charter and the rest of the UN system and body of international law surrounding it are designed to promote peace over violence, law over war.

But this system is not working effectively against the structures of power that prevent the achievement of peace and justice. The NPT has also failed in this regard.

The NPT demands that every effort be made to “avert the devastation of a nuclear war” and to take measures that would “safeguard the security of peoples”. It requires the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons and the total elimination of all stockpiles of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Yet five states parties continue to possess and even modernise and extend the lives of their nuclear weapons, while another 30 or so include nuclear weapons in their security doctrines.

The possession of nuclear weapons, argued South Africa’s delegation, privileges the security interests of a few states “at the expense of the rest of humanity.” And these few are so far unwilling to relinquish this particular tool of domination. The five NPT nuclear-armed state parties reiterated last week that “an incremental, step-by-step approach is the only practical and realistic option for making progress towards nuclear disarmament, while upholding global strategic security and stability.” 26 of their nuclear-dependent allies proclaimed the need to work “methodically and with realism,” imperiously asserting, “There are no short cuts.”

If these states were actually engaged in serious, concrete, time-bound, transparent, verifiable actions for nuclear disarmament, they might have a leg to stand on. But they are not. And their security doctrines assert the importance of nuclear weapons for security—principally, for deterring conflict by threatening massive nuclear violence.

The idea that nuclear weapons can prevent conflict or afford security to anyone has been firmly rejected by the vast majority of governments. And there is a new sense of empowerment developing amongst the peoples and governments of countries that reject nuclear weapons. While some states, such as Belgium, continue to believe that “nuclear disarmament will happen when nuclear-weapon states will no longer feel the need to have them,” most have shaken off this submissive position and are demanding real change, now.

We are told that we are being divisive by doing so. But just as we must stand up to those who abuse and then blame their victims for their abhorrent behaviour, we must reject this accusation. We must not accept a framing that a ban treaty is polarising or divisive, said the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in its statement to the Review Conference. “Adopting a new international legal standard to prohibit nuclear weapons is a responsibility.”

It is everyone’s responsibility to challenge power and privilege and to fight for the rights of humanity over the interests of a few states. Whether we are at a women’s peace conference aimed at stopping war and violence or at a treaty review conference focused on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, this responsibility lies at the centre of all of our actions. Whether banning nuclear weapons or standing up to patriarchy we are demanding and designing a better world for all.