CNN & The Brisbane Times – 2014-02-14 23:32:10
Imagine A World Without Nuclear Weapons
Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu / Special to CNN
(February 13, 2014) — In February 1990, the same month that Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, walked free after 27 years behind bars, South Africa’s then-President, Frederik Willem de Klerk, issued written instructions to dismantle the nation’s atomic arsenal.
Like Madiba’s achingly long incarceration, the apartheid regime’s development of these most abominable weapons, though never officially acknowledged, had become an intolerable blight on South Africa’s image abroad. Divesting ourselves of the bomb was — as de Klerk later remarked — an essential part of our transition from a pariah state to an accepted member of the family of nations.
In his time as president, from 1994 to 1999, Madiba frequently implored the remaining nuclear powers to follow South Africa’s lead in relinquishing nuclear weapons.
All of humanity would be better off, he reasoned, if we lived free from the threat of a nuclear conflagration, the effects of which would be catastrophic. Addressing the UN General Assembly in 1998, he said:
“We must ask the question, which might sound naive to those who have elaborated sophisticated arguments to justify their refusal to eliminate these terrible and terrifying weapons of mass destruction — why do they need them anyway?”
Despite Madiba’s undisputed moral authority and unmatched powers of persuasion, his cri de coeur for disarmament went unheeded in his lifetime. South Africa, to this day, remains the only nation to have built nuclear weapons and then done away with them altogether.
Nine nations still cling firmly to these ghastly instruments of terror, believing, paradoxically, that by threatening to obliterate others they are maintaining the peace. Quite unaccountably, all are squandering precious resources, human and material, on programs to modernize and upgrade their arsenals — an egregious theft from the world’s poor.
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Madiba attributed the lack of progress in achieving total nuclear disarmament to “Cold War inertia and an attachment to the use of the threat of brute force to assert the primacy of some states over others.”
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To his mind, the struggle against the bomb was intertwined, inextricably, with the struggles to end racism and colonialism. He abhorred the double standard, deeply entrenched in today’s international order, whereby certain nations claim a “right” to possess nuclear arms — in the hundreds, even the thousands — while simultaneously condemning, and feigning moral outrage towards, those who dare pursue the same.
We must vociferously challenge the perceived entitlement of a select few nations to possess the bomb. As Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, put it succinctly in January of last year: “There are no right hands for wrong weapons.”
But how do we uproot the discriminatory order? How do we end the minority rule? In our decades-long fight against apartheid in South Africa, we depended upon the combination of an irrepressible domestic groundswell of popular opposition to the regime and intense and sustained pressure from the international community. The same combination is needed now in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
This week, in the Mexican state of Nayarit, ministers and diplomats from three-quarters of all nations — those not coming include the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council, the US, UK, France, Russia and China — are gathered to discuss the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear detonations.
This will cover the inability of emergency workers to provide relief to the wounded; the widespread dispersal of radiation; the lofting of millions of tonnes of soot from firestorms high into the upper troposphere; the collapse of global agriculture from lack of sunlight and rainfall; the onset of famine and disease on a scale never before witnessed.
This conference is not only a much-needed reminder of what nuclear weapons do to humans beings — something seldom mentioned in arms control discussions — but also a vital chance for the international community to chart a new course.
It is high time for the nuclear-free nations of the world, constituting the overwhelming majority, to work together to exert their extraordinary collective influence.
Without delay, they should embark on a process to negotiate a global treaty banning the use, manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons — whether or not the nuclear-armed nations are prepared to join them.
Why should these weapons, whose effects are the most grievous of all, remain the only weapons of mass destruction not expressly prohibited under international law?
By stigmatizing the bomb — as well as those who possess it — we can build tremendous pressure for disarmament. As Madiba understood well, a world freed of nuclear arms will be a freer world for all.
Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, is a patron of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
Enough Kowtowing —
Time to Ban the Bomb
Peter Garrett / The Brisbane Times
(February 14, 2014) — Even by the horrible metrics of war, the detonation of a nuclear warhead on Hiroshima in 1945 saw destruction of human life, and of the city itself, on a scale previously unimaginable.
More than 130,000 people died from that event and from the ongoing effects of radiation sickness and cancer. Since that time the number and destructive force of these weapons grew rapidly as the superpowers of the day, the US and the Soviet Union, embarked on a nuclear arms race.
Other countries followed suit and at the height of the madness there were about 60,000 weapons of mass destruction.
There’s always been significant opposition to nuclear weapons, and in the 1960s a test-ban treaty and a nuclear non-proliferation treaty, committing nuclear powers to take steps towards disarmament, were concluded. But progress was painfully slow. With the Cold War in full swing nuclear weapons remained at the apex of a military strategy that threatened, in particular, the people of Europe with annihilation.
In the 1980s, large mass movements including, ironically, retired military leaders, and musicians like myself, responded to this threat and called for action. The key nuclear powers agreed to reduce their arsenals and move towards eventual disarmament. Again progress has been glacial.
Today the number of warheads stands at about 17,000, each one capable of obliterating cities and regions in a maelstrom of radioactive fall out. Rogue states such as North Korea threaten to activate their nuclear capacity, terrorists traffic in nuclear material, and the ever-present possibility of accidents makes it likely that the unthinkable will one day happen.
But there is hope.
Many countries, supported by organisations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations, have recognised that a circuit breaker is urgently needed. Last year, more than 130 nations and non-governmental organisations met in Oslo at the invitation of the Norwegian government to consider for the first time the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.
Reports showed that up to 1 billion people would face starvation should a conflict involving nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan break out. The Oslo conference found that no international response plan could ever adequately deal with a nuclear detonation.
The human and environmental consequences of a nuclear exchange are so great, and the current progress to eliminate them so slow, that a majority of countries are seeking a new treaty that makes the possession of nuclear weapons illegal.
A global groundswell has been building and a follow-up meeting, this time at the invitation of the government of Mexico, takes place over the next two days. About 180 nations, including Australia, are gathering to lay the foundation for a new treaty. Australia is a signatory to the South Pacific Nuclear Zone Treaty, we are a member of the UN Security Council and we have worked hard on disarmament in the international arena.
While professing support for the principle of disarmament, the position adopted by successive governments is that we will not actively pursue these measures where they conflict with our greater strategic interest in ensuring a credible US deterrence.
It is time for this nexus to be broken. The rationale for deterrence no longer stands. The last Parliament supported a motion calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Yet, at the Oslo meeting our bureaucrats, under the direction of then foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, sat on their hands and did nothing.
Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke, foreign affairs ministers, a swag of premiers and numerous eminent Australians have all publicly expressed support for a ban on nuclear weapons. This is achievable considering the successful banning of chemical and biological weapons, landmines and, most recently, cluster munitions. It can be done.
Australia should play a constructive role but independence of mind by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is needed. If we are genuine about disarmament it is no longer acceptable to parrot the talking points of the nuclear powers. Instead, in the coming days our government must publicly signal its willingness to actively support discussions around a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Peter Garrett is a musician and former Labor minister.
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