Declaring nuclear states to be outlaw states

by Mary Ann McGivern

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The United Nations reviews the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) every five years. In 2010, the monthlong conference developed some action steps for reducing the number of weapons in the world, but not much was done, and expectations were low for this year's conference, which ended May 22. So for the past two years, the nongovernmental organizations that work to abolish nuclear weapons have been developing a strategy.

The strategy is to focus on the humanitarian costs of nuclear weapons. First is the dollar cost: What any nation spends to build and maintain these arms could be going to health care and education. For example, Belgium maintains a stockpile of bombs made by the United States that Belgium would drop on any country that attacked a NATO country. Not only does Belgium have to secure these weapons, but soon, it will have to purchase F-35s from the United States, spending well more than a billion dollars to be able to deliver enhanced, smarter bombs. (The U.S. and our allies say this is not a violation of the NPT, but a security measure, making the bombs safer.)

So that's cost in dollars. The bigger cost is the impact of using the bombs. Many of the nongovernmental organizations are developing data; leading trips to Hiroshima, Japan; holding demonstrations; and sponsoring speaking tours of Japanese Hibakusha, Marshall Island residents and doctors from the Red Cross and Physicians for Social Responsibility focused on what would happen if just a small nuclear war occurred.

In 2014, they co-sponsored three regional governmental conferences in Mexico, Norway and Austria, stressing in those conferences the humanitarian costs of making and using nuclear weapons. During the NPT, they hosted side events and presented the humanitarian costs in speeches to the delegates, gave them photos of demonstrations, and offered language to the document being prepared. They invited delegates to Hiroshima individually and got a sentence into the NPT document urging delegates to go to Hiroshima. (The sentence was deleted before the final document was tabled.)

During an early side event, a Dutch speaker predicted that 80 countries would sign a Humanitarian Pledge that proposes a ban on nukes, making them illegal and the owners of them outlaws. Some of the attendees thought 80 was too high a prediction, but when the NPT document was tabled, 106 countries signed the pledge.

The document was tabled because there was no meaningful commitment to nuclear disarmament in the text and because there was no consensus about a Middle East conference to develop a nuclear-free zone. These are the two big obstacles, and, as predicted, the governments could not go further.

Now the plan is for the signers of the Humanitarian Pledge to develop a treaty banning nuclear weapons outright. Enough of this "step by step" process that has led nowhere.

My community, Loretto, will vote in July on a proposal to call for unilateral disarmament in the United States. We will participate in demonstrations at Los Alamos, N.M., in August, marking the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While we are there, we will take a look at our history of resistance to nuclear weapons and plan ways we can support the Humanitarian Pledge and a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Loretto members have been demonstrative for many years at Livermore Labs in California, Rocky Flats Plant in Denver, the Kansas City Plant in Missouri, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee as well as Los Alamos. We don't have to feel that we must start fresh. We can carry the humanitarian approach with us as a new focus to define our resistance.

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