Nuclear Abolition: New Opportunities and Old Obstacles
Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting, Geneva, April 26, 2013
At the end of last year, the airwaves and internet were filled with chatter about the ancient Mayan calendar which was predicting the end of the world or a similar catastrophe. Some scholars argued that the Mayan prophecy related not to an impending disaster but to the end of a 5000 year cycle which would usher in a period of new consciousness and transformation. While our planet seems to have dodged a bullet and survived the more gloomy interpretations of the ancient prophecy, the Mayans may have been on to something as it appears we are actually seeing the breakup of a certain kind of world consciousness regarding nuclear weapons this year and it’s all for the good.
New initiatives for nuclear disarmament are springing up in both conventional and unconventional forums. Norway stepped up to the plate in February and convened an unprecedented international meeting to address the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. In Oslo, 127 nations, plus UN agencies, NGOs, and the International Red Cross participated in a debate and discussion of the catastrophic potential of nuclear weapons. Two nuclear weapons states, India and Pakistan attended.
The five recognized nuclear weapons states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, who also happen to wield the veto as permanent members of the Security Council (the P5) the US, UK, Russia, China and France, refused to attend. They spoke in one voice, as I learned on a conference call with Rose Gottemoeller, US Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, who told us that the US decision not to attend the conference “was made in consultation with the P5. They all agreed not to attend” because “Oslo would divert discussion and energy from a practical step by step approach and non-proliferation work. The most effective way to honor the NPT.” Other P5 spokespeople characterized the Oslo initiative as a “distraction.” Of course it was a distraction from the P5 preferred methods of business as usual in the ossified and stalled NPT process, as well as in the procedurally stymied Conference on Disarmament in Geneva which has been paralyzed for 17 years because of lack of consensus, required by its rules to move forward on disarmament agreements—a recipe for nuclear weapons forever—with regular new breakout threats by nuclear proliferators.
Oslo was an end run around those institutions. Taking its model from the Ottawa Process that wound up with a treaty to ban landmines, working outside of the usual institutional fora, it held an electrifying new kind of discussion as testimony was heard about the devastating impacts of what would occur during a nuclear war and the humanitarian consequences, examining the need to ban the bomb. Prior to the Oslo meeting, more than 500 members of ICAN, a vibrant new campaign, met to work for negotiations to begin on a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. At Oslo, the nations pledged to follow up with another meeting in Mexico.
Right before Oslo, The Middle Powers Initiative, working to influence friendly middle powers to put pressure on the P5 for more rapid progress for nuclear disarmament, held a Framework Forum for a Nuclear Weapons Free World in Berlin, hosted by the German government, under the new leadership of Tad Akiba, former Mayor of Hiroshima who oversaw the burgeoning Mayors for Peace Campaign grow to a network of some 5300 mayors in more than 150 countries calling for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. At that meeting, we were urged to organize Civil Society’s support for a new initiative promoted by the UN General Assembly’s First Committee establishment of a Geneva Working Group to meet for three weeks this summer to “develop proposals for taking forward multilateral negotiations on the achievement and maintenance of a world free of nuclear weapons. “ And then in New York this September, for the first time ever, Heads of State will meet at a global summit devoted to nuclear disarmament!
Furthermore, thanks to the tireless organizing of the Parliamentarians for Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Disarmament,, nearly 1000 parliamentarians from approximately 150 parliaments, meeting at the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Ecuador last month chose the topic "Towards a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World: The Contribution of Parliaments" as a focus this year under their Peace and International Security work. IPU, which includes most of the nuclear weapons states in its 160 parliaments enables parliamentarians to engage on core issues for humanity. That they chose the issue of nuclear weapons ahead of seven other proposals indicates the rising interest and consciousness for nuclear abolition around the world.
And just before this meeting, Abolition 2000, the global network formed in 1995, at the NPT Review and Extension Conference, which produced a model nuclear weapons convention, now promoted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in his five point proposal for nuclear disarmament, held its annual meeting in Edinburg Scotland, supported by the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which is urging that after the referendum on Scottish independence from England, that England’s Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane be closed, and that Scotland no longer house the British nuclear arsenal. The network joined with Scottish activists at Glasgow and Faslane supporting their call to “Scrap trident: Let Scotland lead the way to a nuclear free world.”
Despite these welcome harbingers of a change in planetary consciousness in favor of nuclear abolition, we cannot ignore recent obstacles, setbacks and hardened positions in the old patriarchal and warlike paradigm. Disappointingly the Obama administration is proposing deep cuts in funding for nuclear non-proliferation programs so it can boost spending to modernize its massive stockpile of nuclear weapons adding another $500 million to the already bloated weapons budget, which includes spending for three new bomb factories at Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Kansas City with programs for weapons modernization and new missiles, planes and submarines to deliver a nuclear attack which will come to more than $184 billion over the next ten years.
In the provocative US military “pivot” to Asia, war games with South Korea for the first time simulated a nuclear attack where the US flew stealth bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons over South Korea and sent two guided-missile destroyers off the coast of South Korea, announcing plans to deploy an advanced missile defense system to Guam in the next few weeks two years ahead of schedule.
This engendered an aggressive response from North Korea which moved a medium-range missile to its east coast and threatened to launch a nuclear attack on the US. The US put a pause on what it had called its step-by-step plan that laid out the sequence and publicity plans for US shows of force during annual war games with South Korea. But ominously, the New York Times reported on April 4, 2013, that the US and South Korea “are entering the final stretch of long-stalled negotiations over another highly delicate nuclear issue: South Korea’s own request for American permission to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel. “ Which raises another key obstacle to the surge of sentiment for moving boldly towards nuclear disarmament.
How can we tell Iran not to enrich uranium when we are negotiating that issue with South Korea as well as with Saudi Arabia? If we are serious about nuclear abolition we cannot keep spreading nuclear bomb factories around the world in the form of “peaceful” nuclear power. That is why this new negotiating possibilities outside the NPT are so promising. In order to ban nuclear weapons we are not bound to provide an “inalienable right” to so-called “peaceful nuclear power, as guaranteed by the Article IV promise of the NPT.
The tragic events at Fukushima, have caused a time-out in the so-called nuclear renaissance that expected a massive increase of nuclear power worldwide. Just last week, we learned that all of Fukushima’s holding ponds for the toxic radiated water that is used to prevent a meltdown of the stored radioactive fuel rods by cooling them with a constant flow of water, the radioactive trash produced by the operation of nuclear power plants, are all leaking into the earth. We have not yet absorbed the full catastrophic consequences of Fukushima which is still perilously poised to spew more poisons into the air, water and soil; poisons which are traveling around the world. And as the Japanese people rose up to develop plans to phase out nuclear power, members of the Japanese military, acknowledging the significance of nuclear plants as military technology, succeeded in getting the parliament to amend Japan’s 1955 Atomic Energy Basic Law last year, adding “national security” to people’s health and wealth as reasons for Japan’s use of the nuclear power.
We were warned from the beginning of the atomic age that nuclear power was a recipe for proliferation. President Truman’s 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal Report on policy for the future of nuclear weapons, concluded that “the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent” and that only central control by a global authority controlling all nuclear materials, starting at uranium mines could block the proliferation of nuclear weapons.[i] Nevertheless, President Eisenhower, seeking to counter public revulsion at the normalization of nuclear war in US military policy, was advised by the Defense Department’s Psychological Strategy Board that “the atomic bomb will be accepted far more readily if at the same time atomic energy is being used for constructive ends.” [ii] Hence his Atoms for Peace speech at the UN in 1953, in which he promised that the US would devote “its entire heart and mind to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life” [iii] by spreading the peaceful benefits of atomic power across the globe.
The fallout from the 1954 Bravo test of a hydrogen bomb contaminating 236 Marshall Islanders and 23 Japanese fisherman aboard the Lucky Dragon and irradiating tuna sold in Japan resulted in an eruption of rage against the atomic bombings which were forbidden to be discussed after 1945 by a ban instituted by US occupation authorities. For damage control, the US NSC recommended that the US wage a “vigorous offensive on the non-war uses of atomic energy,” offering to build Japan an experimental nuclear reactor and recruiting a former Japanese war criminal, Shoriki Matsutaro, who ran the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and Nippon TV network to shill for nuclear power by getting him released from prison without trial. The benefits of nuclear power were aggressively marketed as miraculous technology that would power vehicles, light cities, heal the sick. The US made agreements with 37 nations to build atomic reactors and enticed reluctant Westinghouse and General Electric to do so by passing the Price Anderson act limiting their liability at tax-payer expense. Today there is a cap of $12 billion for damages from a nuclear accident. Chernobyl cost $350 billion and Fukushima estimates are as high as one trillion dollars.[iv]
Ironically, Barack Obama is still peddling the same snake oil. During the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, designed to lock down and safeguard nuclear materials worldwide, Obama extolled the peaceful benefits of nuclear power while urging “ nations to join us in seeking a future where we harness the awesome power of the atom to build and not to destroy. When we enhance nuclear security, we’re in a stronger position to harness safe, clean nuclear energy. When we develop new, safer approaches to nuclear energy, we reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.”
The Good News: We don’t need nuclear power with all its potential for nuclear proliferation
Following Fukushima, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Japan have announced their intention to phase out nuclear power.
New research and reports are affirming the possibilities for shifting the global energy paradigm. Scientific American, reported a plan in 2009 to power 100% of the planet by 2030 with only solar, wind and water renewables.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also issued a 2010 Report 100% Renewable Energy by 2050.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that the world could meet 80% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050.[vi]
In 2009 the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), was launched and now has 187 member states.[vii]
We mustn't buy into the propaganda that clean safe energy is decades away or too costly. We need to be vigilant in providing the ample evidence in its favor to counter the corporate forces arguing that it’s not ready, it’s years away, its’ too expensive—arguments made by companies in the business of producing dirty fuel. Here’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to say about similar forces in 1936:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace--business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.[viii]
These are the enormous forces we must overcome. The eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, describes these times as ”the great turning”. In shifting the energy paradigm we would essentially be turning away from “the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization”, foregoing a failed economic model which “ measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits--in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.”[ix] Relying on the inexhaustible abundance of the sun, wind, tides, and heat of the earth for our energy needs, freely available to all, will diminish the competitive, industrial, consumer society that is threatening our planetary survival. By ending our dependence on the old structures, beginning with the compelling urgency to transform the way we meet our energy needs, we may finally be able to put an end to war as well.