ICAN Shines Light During Nuclear Showdown

Setsuko Thurlow, survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, speaks at the closing of the negotiations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, July 7, 2017.
© 2017 Ralf Schlesener

After being shown an image charting the steadily falling size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal since the height of the Cold War during a meeting with top national security officials in July, President Donald Trump reportedly expressed support for a tenfold expansion of America’s stockpile of nukes—a move critics said would spark a “global arms race” and dramatically increase the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.

First reported by NBC News on Wednesday, Trump’s remarks apparently “surprised” military officials, who had to explain to the president “the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup.”

NBC continued:

Any increase in America’s nuclear arsenal would not only break with decades of U.S. nuclear doctrine but also violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan. Nonproliferation experts warned that such a move could set off a global arms race.

It was after this meeting, NBC notes, that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “fucking moron.” Though the State Department later claimed Tillerson never used that type of language and denied it was said, the Secretary of State himself did not deny it when asked by reporters.

What an appropriate time for awarding the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

In a statement supporting the ICAN award, the  Human Rights Watch wrote:

It affirms the humanitarian disarmament path forged by many since the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its coordinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Prize 20 years ago.

ICAN played a leading role in breaking the deadlock surrounding nuclear weapons by reframing it as a humanitarian issue rather than a national security one. Their global coordination effort also included like-minded governments, United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental organizations.

Trump’s reported desire for a dramatic expansion of America’s nuclear arsenal comes at a time of heightening tensions between the United States and North Korea. The U.S. added to these tensions late Tuesday by flying two strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula, a show of force that fell on the same day as the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling party.

Paul Kawika Martin, senior director of policy and political affairs at Peace Action, told Common Dreams that any expansion of America’s already “excessive” nuclear arsenal would “take funds away from true security needs and other taxpayer priorities like job creation, education, and infrastructure.”

If implemented, Trump’s proposal would “make Americans less safe, could cause another nuclear arms race, and would inflame tensions with North Korea and other countries,” Martin concluded.

On Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted that any solution in North Korea must be “diplomatically led” and must be an “economic sanction-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path.”

Meanwhile, top brass have serious concerns about Trump’s working to undermine all efforts to negotiate with North Korea, as well.

Reports Foreign Policy:

“A full-blown war on the Korean Peninsula will be horrific by any stretch of the imagination,” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters Monday. But equally horrific, he said, would be an attack on the United States.

“It would be horrible, there’s no question about it, but so would an intercontinental ballistic missile striking Los Angeles or New York City. That would be equally horrible.”

Top Republican lawmakers are wringing their hands over the lack of any realistic military option even as Trump appears to be counting on one to bring Pyongyang to reason.

“There is no viable military option. It would be horrific,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on CNN.

Here’s a useful visualization of why we should be concerned about nuclear proliferation, generally, beyond escalating tensions between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, remembering many of these weapons are constantly circling the world by sea and air:

Speaking of ICAN’s humanitarian-grounded work, Human Rights Watch continued:

Humanitarian disarmament” contrasts with traditional disarmament, arms control, and non-proliferation initiatives, which are driven by national security interests. Humanitarian disarmament builds on international humanitarian and human rights law and seeks to better protect civilians from suffering during armed conflict.

While receiving the Nobel Prize is a true honor, the real prize for this coalition of campaigners is the hard-won 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty was adopted by 122 countries in July and has been signed by 53 countries since it was opened for signature in New York last month.

The treaty bans all nuclear weapons. It also contains obligations to assist victims and remediate the environment harmed by the use or testing of the weapons.

Norway, home to the Nobel Peace Prize, and other countries that have not joined the ban treaty should reevaluate their stance and take steps to sign and ratify the agreement without delay. The United States and other nuclear powers that have dismissed the treaty and dissuaded states from signing it should stand down and reconsider their position.

This award reflects international recognition that the humanitarian approach is the most effective way to address nuclear weapons and other key disarmament issues.

Yesterday, ICAN addressed the First Committee of the UN General Assembly with these strong words:

We meet at a moment of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more.

Every nation that promotes nuclear weapons as a legitimate, necessary source of security is contributing to this unparalleled threat. And every nation – whether nuclear-armed or nuclear-free – has the power and the duty to pull us back from the brink of catastrophe.

Nuclear weapons threaten the very survival of humanity and our entire living planet. Their effects transcend national boundaries and span generations. They are immoral, illegitimate and now – at long last – illegal.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offers a powerful alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail. Its adoption on 7 July – by a great majority of UN member states – brings an end to two decades of deadlock in multilateral disarmament negotiations.

It sets out a pathway forward at a time of alarming crisis. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.


Portions of the the above dispatch were previously published by Common Dreams. Video from Spain’s MetaBallStudios.