Celebrating a Historic Step Toward the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

by Mona Lee

   This is a historic time of celebration for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and other organizational members of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).  On October 24, 2020 Honduras became the 50th nation to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Note: it was passed in July).  With that, the treaty will enter into force on January 22, 2021. Ground Zero will celebrate this event during its annual Martin Luther King birthday weekend activities January 15-17.

   The passing of this Treaty marks a significant milestone in a long effort to abolish nuclear weapons. 75 years ago, in response to World War II and the horrific nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United Nations was founded to develop cooperation among nations and prevent such a catastrophe from ever happening again.

Article VI of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty mandates the nuclear weapon states to  “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Additionally, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 1991 limited the number of warheads that could be deployed.  Even so, today nine countries possess a total of 13,410 nuclear warheads with approximately 91 percent of all nuclear warheads owned by the U.S. and Russia.  These weapons are many times more powerful than the bombs that wiped out Hiroshima, killing and maiming thousands of innocent citizens.

   More recently, ICAN organized a series of three international anti-nuclear weapons conferences: one in Oslo, Norway in 2013; the second in Nayarit, Mexico in 2014; and another in Vienna, also in 2014. These meetings focused upon the horrific health effects of nuclear weapons testing upon downwinders: Utah residents downwind of the Nevada nuclear testing; the Marshall Islanders in the Pacific; and the villages of Kazakhstan downwind of Soviet nuclear tests. Hundreds of bombs have been dropped, and their radiation has caused widespread cancers and untimely deaths of thousands of people in those parts of the world.

At the 2014 conference in Vienna, the Austrian government promised to develop a nuclear weapons ban treaty.  The result was the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was adopted in 2017.   Because of this accomplishment, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in that year.  But it was not until October of this year that enough nations had ratified the treaty. The Ban Treaty will enter into force on January 22, 2021.

   So, what are we celebrating?  Not one of the nine countries that possess the thousands of nuclear weapons has signed onto the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.  Because they are not signatories to the Treaty, neither the US nor Russia, nor any of the other nuclear armed nations, can be called before the Hague Tribunal because they are in violation of international law.  However, according to Dr. Ira Helfand of the ICAN Steering Committee and many other experts, this Treaty will give the rest of the world a “powerful tool” to stigmatize the nuclear armed nations that own these weapons as well as the corporations that build them. We all have a role to play in doing the persuading.

Although Ground Zero has persisted in its resistance to nuclear weapons over the years, the general public has largely forgotten them since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980’s. However, recently there is growing awareness of nuclear weapons and the dangers they pose to humanity.  More people are waking up to the reality that the possibility of nuclear war is greater than it has ever been.  A wider grass roots campaign called “Back from the Brink” has been endorsed by many cities and several state legislatures.  They call for the US to lead a global effort to take such actions as:

  • Renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first
  • Ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack
  • Taking the U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
  • Cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons
  • Actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear weapons.

Therefore, while we are celebrating, we will take action to use the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as leverage to pressure our government to come into compliance with international law and with its moral obligation to rid humanity of its gravest threat.