Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2014
By John LaForge
VIENNA, Austria—A pair of major conferences here Dec. 6-9 tried to raise public and government awareness of nuclear weapons.
The Civil Society Forum put on by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, brought together NGOs, parliamentarians, and activists of all stripes to try and boost morale and renew enthusiasm in efforts to ban the bomb.
About 700 participants spent two days delving into the ghastly health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons production, nuclear war and bomb testing, the alarming frequency of H-bomb accidents—and human radiation experiments conducted without informed consent on unwitting civilians and soldiers.
This is ground that’s been plowed before, but it’s staggering to the uninitiated and is in any case never repeated too often—especially in view of the destabilization and skyrocketing death toll of what the Pope has called today’s “World War Three.”
With offices worldwide, ICAN is infused with youthful encouragement and high-energy campaigning—a welcome relief for the graying anti-nuclear movement that’s seen a generation of activists diverted by campaigns against corporate globalization and climate collapse. Mary Olson, of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who presented expert testimony at both meetings on the misogynistic gender bias in radiation effects, said she had gotten a “surprisingly big jolt of hope from the youngness of the gathering.”
A second conference—the “Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons” (HINW)—brought together government representatives and hundreds of others and was the third in a series. The state of Austria, which has neither nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors, sponsored the gathering.
After decades of negotiations over the strategic and numerical size of nuclear arsenals, the HINW meetings instead face the harsh ugliness and catastrophic health and environmental effects of nuclear testing and warfare.
Expert witnesses spoke directly to 158 government representatives about the ethical, legal, medical and ecological consequences of H-bomb detonations which are—in the language of diplomatic nicety—“foreseeable.” Then, scores of state delegates called on nuclear-armed states to pursue abolition. Dozens of speakers noted that landmines, cluster munitions, gas, chemical and biological weapons have all been banned, but not the worst of all—thermonuclear weapons.
But the emperor can’t see his own nakedness.
It turns out that a gathering of elites like the HINW is like a prison population: there is a strict, arcane etiquette; a rigorous separation of classes; and a blatant violation of all the rules by privileged, rich and pampered chieftains.
The most blatant violation came at the start of the first question-&-answer session, and it was my own government—which skipped previous HINW meetings in Norway and Mexico—that put a radioactive foot in its bomb-cratered mouth. Immediately following harrowing personal testimonies from downwind bomb test victims and a review by Ms. Olson of the science showing women and children to be far more vulnerable to radiation than men, the US rudely interrupted. Everyone noticed.
Although facilitators twice directed participants to ask questions only the US delegate, Adam Scheinman, was first at the mic, and he declared flatly, “I will not ask a question but make a statement.” The bully then ignored the panel’s hour-long discussion of the brutal, gruesome, and long-term effects of nuclear weapons testing. Instead, in ringing non sequitur, Scheinman’s prepared statement declared U.S. opposition to a nuclear weapons ban and noted support for negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Mr. Scheinman also lauded the US embrace of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, code language for decades of winking at open US violations of the treaty’s requirements.
(Principle among US NPT violations are President Obama’s planned $1 trillion, 30-year budget for new nuclear weapons; “nuclear sharing” agreements that keep 180 US H-bombs at bases in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Turkey; and sales of Trident nuclear missiles for the British submarine fleet.)
The US’s rude defiance of decorum was a microcosm of the country’s global militarism: oblivious, contemptuous, imperious, and defiant of law. Conducted at 1:20 in the afternoon, the scene-stealing disruption was well-timed to be the lead headline on nightly TV news. US refusal to support and dismissal of the movement for a nuclear weapons ban/treaty should be the story of the conference, but corporate media can be counted on to note only Obama’s public agenda and his finger-pointing at non-nuclear Iran.
The US interruption was perhaps intended to momentarily divert attention from the indiscriminate, uncontrollable, widespread, radiological, long-lived, genetically destabilizing, and illegal impact of its nuclear weapons.
Indeed, after its usurpation of center-stage here—and after having temporarily recast the subject of the conference—the US can return to it $1 trillion upgrade of infrastructure for producing 80 new H-bombs a year by 2020.
At the close of the gathering, the government of Austria called on all states to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”
The 44 states that endorsed the “Austrian Pledge” to pursue a ban treaty were: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
—Quarterly editor John Laforge represented Nukewatch at the Vienna conferences.