Demand That US Join the TPNW Ban Treaty
January 22, 2022, is the first anniversary of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Now we must build the popular mobilization which is needed to compel our country, as well as the other nuclear nations, to accept the TPNW. We agree with Lawrence Wittner [See Wittner’s article below — EAW]: this is the “most promising course of action for people interested in human survival.” Since last January, eight additional countries have joined the treaty: Cambodia, Chile, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, and Seychelles. But where is the United States?
Sign the “Back From The Brink” Petition urging our city officials to join other elected officials across the country in signing an open letter urging President Biden and Congress to pursue policies summarized in a national campaign to step “Back From The Brink” of nuclear war.
The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
On 7 July 2017 — following a decade of advocacy by ICAN and its partners — an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations adopted a landmark global agreement to ban nuclear weapons, known officially as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It entered into force on 22 January 2021.
Prior to the treaty’s adoption, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a comprehensive ban, despite their catastrophic, widespread and persistent humanitarian and environmental consequences. The new agreement fills a significant gap in international law.
It prohibits nations from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits them from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.
A nation that possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a nation that hosts another nation’s nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.
Nations are obliged to provide assistance to all victims of the use and testing of nuclear weapons and to take measures for the remediation of contaminated environments. The preamble acknowledges the harm suffered as a result of nuclear weapons, including the disproportionate impact on women and girls, and on indigenous peoples around the world.
The treaty was negotiated at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March, June and July 2017, with the participation of more than 135 nations, as well as members of civil society. It opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It is permanent in nature and will be legally binding on those nations that join it.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of
Nuclear Weapons and the World’s Future
(January 9, 2022) — Late January of this year will mark the first anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This momentous international agreement, the result of a lengthy struggle by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and by many non-nuclear nations, bans developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, and threatening to use nuclear weapons. Adopted by an overwhelming vote of the official representatives of the world’s nations at a UN conference in July 2017, the treaty was subsequently signed by 86 nations. It received the required 50 national ratifications by late October 2020, and, on January 22, 2021, became international law.
Right from the start, the world’s nine nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea — expressed their opposition to such a treaty. They pressed other nations to boycott the crucial 2017 UN conference and refused to attend it when it occurred. Indeed, three of them (the United States, Britain, and France) issued a statement declaring that they would never ratify the treaty. Not surprisingly, then, none of the nuclear powers has signed the agreement or indicated any sympathy for it.
Even so, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has acquired considerable momentum over the past year. During that time, an additional nine nations ratified it, thus becoming parties to the treaty. And dozens more, having signed it, are expected to ratify it in the near future. Furthermore, the governments of two NATO nations, Norway and Germany, have broken free from the US government’s oppositional stance to the treaty and agreed to attend the first meeting of the countries that are parties to it.
In nations where public opinion on the treaty has been examined, the international agreement enjoys considerable support. YouGov opinion polls in five NATO countries in Europe show overwhelming backing and very little opposition, with the same true in Iceland, another NATO participant. Polling has also revealed large majorities in favor of the treaty in Japan, Canada, and Australia.
In the United States, where most of the mainstream communications media have not deigned to mention the treaty, it remains a well-kept secret. Even so, although a 2019 YouGov poll about it drew a large “Don’t Know” response, treaty support still outweighed opposition by 49 to 32 percent. Moreover, when the US Conference of Mayors, representing 1,400 US cities, met in August 2021, the gathering unanimously approved a resolution praising the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Meanwhile, a variety of institutions, recognizing that nuclear weapons are now illegal under international law, have begun to change their investment policies. In September 2021, Lansforsakringar, a Swedish insurance company with assets of over $46 billion, cited the treaty as a major reason to avoid investing in companies producing nuclear weapons. In December, the New York City Council adopted a resolution telling the city comptroller to remove investments from the city’s $250 billion pension fund from companies producing or maintaining these weapons of mass destruction. According to ICAN, 127 financial institutions stopped investing in nuclear weapons companies during 2021.
Despite this impressive display of respect for the landmark agreement, the nine nuclear powers have not only continued to oppose it, but have accelerated their nuclear arms race. Having cast off the constraints of most nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements of the past, they are all busy either developing or deploying new nuclear weapons systems or have announced their intention to do so.
In this process of nuclear “modernization,” as it is politely termed, they are building newly designed nuclear weapons of increasing accuracy and efficiency. These include hypersonic missiles, which travel at five times the speed of sound and are better able than their predecessors to evade missile defenses. Reportedly, hypersonic missiles have already been developed by Russia and China. The United States is currently scrambling to build them, as well, with the usual corporate weapons contractors eager to oblige.
When it comes to “modernization” of its entire nuclear weapons complex, the US government probably has the lead. During the Obama administration, it embarked on a massive project designed to refurbish US nuclear production facilities, enhance existing nuclear weapons, and build new ones. This enormous nuclear venture accelerated during the Trump administration and continues today, with a total cost estimated to ultimately top $1.5 trillion.
Although there remain some gestures toward nuclear arms control — such as the agreement between US president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin to extend the New Start Treaty — the nuclear powers are now giving a much higher priority to the nuclear arms race.
The current buildup of their nuclear arsenals is particularly dangerous at this time of rising conflict among them. The US and Russian governments almost certainly don’t want a nuclear war over Ukraine, but they could easily slip into one. The same is true in the case of the heightening confrontation between the Chinese and US governments over Taiwan and the islands in the South China Sea. And what will happen when nuclear-armed India and nuclear-armed Pakistan fight yet another war, or when nuclear-armed national leaders like Kim Jong-un and a possibly re-elected Donald Trump start trading insults again about their countries’ nuclear might?
At present, this standoff between the nuclear nations, enamored with winning their global power struggles, and the non-nuclear nations, aghast at the terrible danger of nuclear war, seems likely to persist, resulting in the continuation of the world’s long nuclear nightmare.
In this context, the most promising course of action for people interested in human survival might well lie in a popular mobilization to compel the nuclear nations to accept the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and, more broadly, to accept a restrained role in a cooperatively-governed world.
Petition: Step Back from the Brink of Nuclear War
Back from the Brink
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the world is closer to a nuclear war than we have been in decades. Nearly $70 billion of US tax dollars is spent annually to build and maintain nuclear weapons while $1.7 trillion is proposed to be spent over the next 30 years to rebuild the entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons — robbing our country and communities of precious resources and taxpayer dollars needed to solve so many urgent human security problems, including responding to the global pandemic, correcting racial and economic injustice, and addressing climate change.
We the undersigned call on our elected officials to join other elected officials across the country to sign onto an open letter urging President Biden and Congress to pursue policies summarized in a national campaign to step “Back from the Brink” of nuclear war. The principles of this campaign are for the US to:
1) Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first
2) End the sole unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack
3) Take US nuclear weapons off “hair trigger” alert
4) Cancel the US plan to replace its entire nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons
5) Actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
The open letter and the Back from the Brink campaign are being organized nationally by the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). This letter can be found at preventnuclearwar.org/us-officials-letter/