PEAC Institute is not an activist organization. To the extent possible, we avoid taking stands and expressing opinions. In helping others explore their own and each other’s opinions, we train to suppress our egos and make safe spaces for encounters.
But, for me, nuclear weapons are an exception. Nuclear weapons are pure evil. They contribute nothing of value to the human family and stand ready at any moment to wipe us all off this planet. I once believed that they contribute to peace, or at least to the avoidance of war. But they don’t. They are the reliable source of perpetual anxiety that keeps driving us further into the militarist polarization that, unless stopped, will end in the nuclear conflagration we have feared for so long.
We need to reject this evil utterly. If we do, that act of cooperation will embody a significant step toward collective problem solving, bringing cooperation in other areas (like global warming) into the realm of possibility. On the other hand, if we can’t even cooperate enough to set aside obscenely dangerous, ridiculously expensive, unusable weapons that pose an existential threat to our species, how will we solve the many far more severe global problems driving us toward near-term extinction?
Surprisingly and hopefully, 132 nations are now gathered at UN Headquarters in New York to begin negotiating a treaty that will ban the possession, development, and use of nuclear weapons (see list below). As it happens, these nations are the ones that don’t have such weapons. The US, among other nuclear-weapon states, is boycotting the proceedings. So let’s say our 132 hero nations manage to come up with a ban. What would that mean?
Well, it certainly won’t mean that non-nuclear nations will march into Washington DC and Moscow to remove the weapons now pointed at us all. It won’t mean that nuclear weapons will suddenly stop posing a threat. But it will mean the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons, and here’s why.
First, a ban treaty would be open, international recognition that seriously bad things will happen if nuclear weapons are used. To an astonishing extent, the nuclear powers have managed to keep the horrifying consequences of actual use out of the conversation. Take a look at the US Nuclear Posture Review. You will find hundreds of pages of trivia about submarines, missiles, aircraft, destructive capability, the targeted nations, and the critical importance of nuclear weapons to national security, but you will find not one word about what would happen if nuclear weapons were used. Such thoughts are taboo, but the ban treaty now in negotiation derives directly from the unacceptable humanitarian impact of any use of even a single nuclear weapon, plus an understanding that even a tiny nuclear exchange anywhere would mean the end of civilization everywhere. And a major nuclear war would be the end of humanity.
Second, a ban treaty would embody a rebellion of the have-nots against the haves. The have-nots are already saying, “No, you can no longer dictate the parameters of nuclear dialogue.” With a ban treaty, they would be saying, “No, you have no right under any circumstances whatsoever to kill us all. We will no longer collude with or acquiesce in our annihilation. We object!” The majority of nations will be demanding the right to continued life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, despite any and all competitive machinations among warmongering elites. They say that when elephants fight, squirrels get trampled, but in this case, the squirrels are saying, “Stop fighting, elephants, or we’re all dead.”
Third, a ban treaty would finally offer the forces for nuclear abolition an opportunity to campaign for something that can fit on a bumper sticker. Once the treaty is on the table, the only question is, who will sign it and who will not. Yes or no. This binary choice will force weasel states like Japan to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths. They will be obliged to declare openly which they prefer: a nuclear-weapon-free world or the US-mandated nuclear umbrella. Since about 80 percent of Japanese want to live in a world free of nuclear weapons, the government will be hard pressed to explain to them why they are safer under a nuclear umbrella. The same applies to Australia, Germany, and all the NATO nations. Will they sign or not? And the people will decide that, not the leaders. (See the map below the list to find out where your country currently stands.)
The people will decide because a ban treaty and the subsequent campaign will unavoidably insert the question of nuclear weapons into the nightly news and dinnertime conversations. And this heightened awareness will do them in. Nuclear weapons exist today because of the skill with which the nuclear powers have kept them out of human consciousness. Once the question is publicly posed by a treaty signed by 132 nations, the answer is a no-brainer. Just as Princess Diana made us all hate anti-personnel land mines, Lady Gaga or AKB48 or (wouldn’t it be great!) Princess Aiko (of Japan) could make us all hate nuclear weapons. A few global concerts and a James Cameron movie are all it would take to turn every reasonable human being against this clear and present threat to themselves, their children, grandchildren and all subsequent generations.
Once human consciousness is raised to this point, no nuke-brandishing politician will get elected. No nuke-mongering corporation will stay in business. We will all understand that the only good nuke is a dead nuke, and that will be the end of the nuclear age. It might, possibly, be the start of a new peace culture.
Negotiations are now taking place among 132 wise nations courageous enough to brave the wrath of the most powerful, selfish and destructive bullies on our planet. We should all be grateful. We should all hope they succeed in setting forth an unambiguous treaty. And if they do, we should all start campaigning as if our lives depend on it.
The 132 Heroes
Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, The FYR Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Rep Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe