Nuclear weapons ban: "The time is now. I have waited 71 years."
July 8, 2016
Setsuko Thurlow was 13 years old and in Hiroshima when her hometown was destroyed by a U.S. atomic bomb. Ever since, she and fellow "hibakusha" (survivors) have strived to spare the rest of humanity from the soul-crushing violence of nuclear weapons. On June 6, the Arms Control Association awarded Thurlow and the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the 2015 award for "Arms Control Person of the Year." Even as she accepted the award, Thurlow was campaigning for the nuclear weapons ban treaty: "Surely, we can achieve it. Why not? We should seize this opportunity. I think the time is now. I have waited 71 years."
The ban treaty campaign, supported by PSR, our international affiliates IPPNW and ICAN, as well as citizens worldwide and many national governments (see bulleted list below), has made great strides in 2016.
After three successful international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW), the HINW initiative—and the ban treaty proposal--found expression this year in a working group established by the United Nations First Committee (on nuclear disarmament). The UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) met in Geneva in February and May this year, and will meet once again in August, and then issue its report to the United Nations General Assembly. The next pivotal moment will be this October when the UN First Committee discusses reports from the OEWG.
A clear majority of the nations that attended the Open Ended Working Group this year favor prohibiting nuclear weapons, and we expect that the OEWG report will accurately reflect this. 127 nations that have officially signed onto the Humanitarian Pledge delivered a statement to the OEWG urging action to prohibit nuclear weapons. Several nations specifically requested that negotiations for a ban treaty commence in 2017. Meanwhile, the United States and the other eight nuclear-armed states have, so far, boycotted the deliberations of the OEWG. The U.S. has officially opposed a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons and there are indications that U.S. officials are working behind the scenes to stir up additional opposition among members of the United Nations. Several NATO members did attend the OEWG and stated their opposition to the ban based on their security concerns. The debate over prohibiting nuclear weapons has thrown a long-overdue spotlight onto the assumptions and internal contradictions of nuclear deterrence theory.
All eyes will be on the General Assembly this fall in New York. Will the majority of nations prevail? PSR, IPPNW, ICAN and our allies will be pushing hard for the General Assembly to put in motion a process to begin negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017. We concur with Setsuko Thurlow: "The time is now."
How can we support the Humanitarian Impact initiative here in the United States? PSR members are speaking to health professional colleagues, students, faith-based groups, Rotary clubs and other civic organizations to spread the word about the ban treaty proposal. (e.g., PSR participated in a webinar for Pax Christi leaders around the country on June 27.)
Consider taking advantage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 71st anniversary commemorations in your area to publicly support the ban treaty, or respond to news stories about the anniversaries with a letter to the editor. (see the Hiroshima/Nagasaki event calendar) Sign the PSR petition to President Obama on the ban treaty. If you live on the Pacific coast, check out the sailing schedule of the Golden Rule, a sailboat project sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
And of course, PSR is working here in the United States to stop the new arms race by cultivating Congressional leaders who will oppose the current administration's plan to spend a trillion tax dollars over the next 30 years on a nuclear weapons spending binge, replacing all three legs of the "nuclear triad." (see June Monitor story) If you would like to be a part of this campaign, please contact Martin Fleck, Security Program Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Timeline created by PSR Security Program Summer Intern Federico Saleri)
A legal international treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is supported by:
- 127 nations signed onto the Humanitarian Pledge
- The Vatican
- International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (62 IPPNW Affiliates worldwide, Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1985)
- International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (424 Partner Organizations in 95 countries)
- Council of Delegates, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and 41 National Red Cross -Red Crescent Societies
- Mayors for Peace (6,900 member cities in 161 countries & regions)
- The American Medical Association
- World Medical Association
- World Federation of Public Health Associations
- International Council of Nurses
For additional information:
Setsuko Thurlow and Ira Helfand, MD op-ed at CNN.com When Hiroshima Speaks, President Must Listen
An official U.S. response to the ban treaty proposal: Ambassador Robert Wood at UN 1st Committee, Oct 19 2015 "We know there are some who have called for alternate, immediate, wholesale approaches to nuclear disarmament. But an outright ban now on nuclear weapons will not get rid of nuclear weapons overnight. Achieving a world without nuclear weapons will require both strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and working toward nuclear disarmament."
Presentations at the United Nations Open Ended Working Group on Disarmament:
- Setsuko Thurlow's statement on May 4 on behalf of Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "Miraculously, I was rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building, which was about 1.8 km from ground zero, but most of my classmates in the same room were burned alive."
- Dr. Ira Helfand's statement on May 4 on behalf of IPPNW: "The new reality that we must absorb and understand is this: weapons whose use will obliterate human civilization do not, cannot contribute to anyone's security."
- Dr. Tilman Ruff's May 4 statement on behalf of IPPNW: "When your GP, specialist, nurse and health department, with their colleagues around the world, speak with one voice regarding a grave threat to health, it would be wise to listen and heed their advice."
- Thomas Nash of Article 36, testifying on behalf of ICAN "Security is not security without humanity"
Still want to know more? Consult the comprehensive postings of Reaching Critical Will, a project of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.