Nukewatch Quarterly Spring 2016
By Russ Wellen, Foreign Policy in Focus
It might be news to you, but a treaty banning nuclear weapons is being negotiated. As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) states in its presentation “Ban Nuclear Weapons Now”:
The prohibition of weapons typically pre- cedes and stimulates their elimintion, not the other way around.
… Negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons should be undertaken by committed nations even without the participation of those armed with nuclear weapons. The alternative is to continue allowing the nuclear-armed nations to control the process and perpetuate two-tier systems and treaty regimes that have no power to compel disarmament.
At the UN, three in four nations—including all of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa—have supported the goal of prohibiting nuclear weapons. They must now translate this support for the goal of a ban into action to start negotiations on a treaty.
In December, the UN General Assembly established a working group, backed by 138 nations, to explore measures, presumably the treaty, to make nuclear weapons illegal. Its first meeting began at the end of January in Geneva. In the Los Alamos Study Group blog “Forget the Rest,” Executive Director Greg Mello shares a letter he sent to the working group:
The nuclear weapon states believe their arsenals are fully legitimate—fully supported not just by international law but also by reason, morality, and their own governments’ responsibilities to prevent war. That is how they see it. Why should there be good faith negotiations to get rid of something as legitimate and important as nuclear weapons (in their view)?
… States can only accomplish this through law, conventional law, which is to say by a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. By definition, there is no other way.
This work “has to be done by non-nuclear weapon states, not by nuclear weapon states,” which, of course, “will resist.” Next Mello explains how a ban treaty could actually result in nuclear-weapon states signing on. For example:
A growing ban would reach deep into the human conscience, affecting everything, including career decisions. It would affect corporate investments as well as congressional enthusiasm for the industry. I have spoken with nuclear weapons CEOs who know it is a “sunset” field with only tenuous support in the broader Pentagon, despite all the nuclear cheer-leading we see.
… I believe a ban would also help decrease popular support in the US for war and war expenditures in general. Why? There is a tremendous war-weariness in the US, right alongside our (real, but also orchestrated) militarism. A growing ban on nuclear weapons would be a powerful signal to political candidates and organizations that it is politically permissible to turn away from militarism somewhat, that there is something wrong with the levels of destruction this country has amassed and brandished so wildly and with such deadly and chaotic effects.
Whether or not you believe in deterrence, it’s tough to argue with that.
—Foreign Policy in Focus is a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.