by Judith LeBlanc and Kevin Martin
Barack Obama is undoubtedly the U.S. president most committed to nuclear disarmament since Kennedy. People all over the world have cheered President Obama’s commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament.
Yet the stark reality is U.S. and Russia maintain over 20,000 nuclear weapons, many of them on hair-trigger alert, ready to launch on a few minutes’ notice. Many are tens or hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, which leveled that city and killed over 140,000 people.
The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement, while welcome, is a modest reduction, leaving the U.S. and Russia with over 1,500 deployed, long-range “strategic”, nukes, and thousands more “tactical”, short-range weapons and “reserve” nukes in storage. U.S. Senate ratification of New START, where 67 votes are required by the Constitution to approve treaties, may prove difficult, especially without conditions supporting modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex that would undercut the treaty’s thrust and appear hypocritical to the rest of the world.
Criticism by some analysts that this treaty and other recent initiatives (the Congressionally-mandated Nuclear Posture Review and Nuclear Security Summit) are too modest or narrow does not diminish the president’s stature as a leader on nuclear weapons issues. It reflects the reality that he is a politician, pressured by many constituencies, many of whom do not share his vision of a world made more secure by scrapping nuclear weapons. The Dr. Strangeloves in the nuclear weapons establishment certainly have the president’s ear. Their influence needs to be countered by an engaged public in the U.S. and around the world.
We have the opportunity to do just that at the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon), held every five years at the United Nations in New York.
The NPT is the cornerstone of the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. It has three main tenets – disarmament, non-proliferation, and the development nuclear energy. Because of the dangers of catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl, the unsolved problem of storing and safeguarding nuclear waste and the potential that “peaceful” nuclear programs or materials can morph into weapons programs, nuclear energy should be replaced with safe, renewable, “green” energy sources.
Regarding nuclear weapons, the NPT review is a unique opportunity, yet one that comes at a moment of potential crisis. Concern over Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal and the possibility that Iran may seek a nuclear weapons capacity has spurred a renewed call for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone by countries in the region. If this is blocked at the NPT Review, there is concern that countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others might seek nuclear weapons.
This is only one crucial non-proliferation issue requiring progress at the review conference. In the realm of disarmament, many non-nuclear countries are impatient with progress toward fulfilling the NPT’s Article VI, which calls for the original nuclear states (the Unites States, Russia, China, France and Great Britain) to disarm in exchange for the non-nuclear states forgoing nuclear weapons. The NPT became international law in 1970, so the impatience is understandable and warranted.
The NPT is the world’s most widely adhered-to treaty, with 186 signatory countries, but U.S. leadership is crucial. President Obama has a golden opportunity, and an obligation really, to make bold progress toward the global elimination of the world’s most deadly weapons.
He won’t do it alone, and he won’t be alone. In addition to the delegates from the member states, tens of thousands of people from around the world will gather in New York this weekend, just before the NPT RevCon opens. Events will include an international conference, rally, march and festival to demonstrate international civil society’s support for peace, disarmament and prioritizing human and environmental needs over nuclear weapons and war.
Three days that can change the world!
This weekend New York City, Peace Action, and international coalition organizing under the banner “Disarm Now! For Peace and Human Needs” and thousands of activists from around the world will take a stand against nuclear weapons with a groundbreaking conference on disarmament and a mass demonstration of global importance. The events are the culmination of an international petition campaign involving over 4 million people.
We call on you to stand with the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Yoko Ono, LUSH Cosmetics, President Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and peace and disarmament activists from countries around the globe to take action for a world free of nuclear weapons.
This week, international artist Yoko Ono urged participation in the three days of action on her website.
LUSH, the international organic cosmetics company, is supporting Peace Action and the international petition campaign calling upon President Obama to engage in “multilateral negotiations on an international agreement to abolish nuclear weapons, within our lifetimes.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will keynote the International Conference for Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World. Last fall, he said, “nuclear disarmament is the only sane path to a safer world.”
Last year, President Obama reminded the world that taking steps towards a world without nuclear weapons is a moral responsibility. Without action, organizing and protest, that moral responsibility will never be realized.
There is still time to help change history.
1) Be in Times Square at 1:30 PM on Sunday, May 2! Rally in Times Square (South of 41th Street on 7th Avenue) to call for No Nukes, No Wars, Fund Human Needs, Protect the Planet!
March to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza at the UN with Hibakusha, people from the US who have been harmed by uranium mining and nuclear weapons testing, as well as peace activists and nuclear abolitionists from across the US and countries around the world.. Close the afternoon by participating in a dynamic International Peace & Music Festival from 4-6:00 PM.
2) Watch Live Web Streaming of International Conference for Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World, April 30 -May 1.
On the eve of the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will join over 800 participants at historic Riverside Church in Manhattan to discuss the urgency of nuclear abolition and the new opportunities for disarmament.
The abolition of nuclear weapons and shifting the world’s resources from war planning to feeding, healing and housing the peoples of the world is what is needed in the 21st century. We must make it happen, in our lifetime.
Live Web Streaming
The conference is now at full capacity. We are working on the logistics for live web streaming of Ban Ki-moon’s address, and all the plenary speakers on Friday night and Saturday. Check www.peaceandjusticenow.org on Friday, April 30 for details.
Organize viewing parties in your area! Timing and list of plenary speakers are up on the peaceandjusticenow.org website.
Whether or not you can join us in New York this weekend, all people of conscience need to seize on (in the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) “the fierce urgency of now” in demanding peace, disarmament, social justice and environmental restoration.
Judith LeBlanc is the National Field Organizer and Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members. www.peace-action.org Peace Action is collaborating with U.S. and international allies on events surrounding the NPT Review Conference, more information is available at www.peaceandjusticenow.org