Peace, UN Report

UN REPORT: 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference

by Jonathan Frerichs
Pax Christi International Representative, UN in Geneva

Note: The 2018 Preparatory Committee of the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference took place in Geneva from 23/4 through 4/5/18.

The NPT is the main legal instrument for exercising some controls over nuclear weapons and the civilian use of nuclear energy. About two-thirds of its 190 states parties showed up for part of this 2018 “PrepCom”, as did 65 civil society and international organisations.

Two themes provide a snap-shot of this first NPT meeting since the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

I. Persistent warnings that “today’s security environment” is bad and likely to get worse. Factors mentioned include complex regional conflicts, renewed big-power rivalries, proliferation of improved nuclear weapons, and asymmetric dangers posed by nuclear terrorism and cyber threats.

Some of the warnings even spoke of a “new” Cold War. A series of “hot” exchanges took place between the U.S. delegation and the delegations of Russia, Iran and Syria regarding the various crises in the Middle East.

While the U.S. and USSR made massive cuts in their nuclear arsenals at the end of the Cold War, honouring and extending existing commitments (the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and New START) are in doubt today. It could happen that no major nuclear arms limitation treaties will be in force between the U.S. and Russia shortly after the Review Conference and the NPT’s 50th anniversary in 2020.

Instead of examining the linkages between current dangers and the big-power reliance on nuclear weapons which the NPT legitimises, much of the meeting was a peculiar mixture of crisis talk and business-as-usual.

II. Steps to reduce nuclear threats remain pending, while the stigma surrounding nuclear weapons continues to grow. The steps listed again and again at this PrepCom have been on the NPT agenda for more than 20 years. There are few if any indications of the political will to pursue or implement them at present.

Meanwhile, the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by 122 states last July is a demonstration of political will. One focus of that will is the NPT’s very own disarmament clause, Article VI. Brazil called the TPNW “the wind of change” because this new legal instrument makes the humanitarian and environmental impact of nuclear weapons the basis for multilateral action.

During the PrepCom, news came that the Pacific island nation of Palau is the 8th state to ratify the TPNW. Shortly after the meeting, Austria ratified it as well. Indeed, forthcoming ratifications and signatures were a frequent topic in conversations with governments during the meeting.

PrepComs do not make decisions; they prepare for the five-year NPT Review Conferences. It is not clear at this point whether the RevCon in 2020 will be able to decide anything of importance.

The most important step for us is to help bring the TPNW into force. Building support for the TPNW serves as a reality check for the NPT. The goal across the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapon’s membership is to secure the necessary 50 ratifications in 2020, or before. Actions speak louder than words, perhaps especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.

For further information:

* Photo from REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Peace

At Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony: Challenges of nuclear abolition aired in new light

By Jonathan Frerichs
UN Representative Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches

Ed. Note: On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the Nobel Peace Prize during a beautiful award ceremony attended by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the Norwegian royal family, diplomats, ICAN-campaigners, and others. The award ceremony included two powerful speeches from Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and Tetsuko Thurlow, survivor of the Hiroshima bombing.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons offered an array of the moral, ethical and spiritual convictions and the political will that is needed in the abolition of nuclear weapons. The passion and the pageantry point towards the critical mass of commitment required for achieving the Nobel Laureate’s goal, one which many churches share.

Two women are the picture of this Nobel Prize: Setsuko Thurlow and Beatrice Fihn. Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, is a voice for the cloud of witnesses to nuclear disasters, a lifelong advocate whose testimonies also speak for generations alarmed by nuclear dangers. Fihn is the voice of a new movement to abolish nuclear weapons and, like many in the ICAN network which she leads, a committed campaigner in the prime of life. Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches are among the 468 partners in ICAN.

In the joint address on receiving the award for ICAN, Fihn laid out a challenge: “The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be. Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?” She challenged each of the nine governments that have nuclear weapons: “The United States, choose freedom over fear. Russia, choose disarmament over destruction. … China, choose reason over irrationality.” Fihn also said governments that shelter under an ally’s nuclear umbrella are complicit in the crimes which would be committed by the use of such weapons.

“We were not content to be victims,” Thurlow said in her part of the Nobel Lecture. “We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers … brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.”

“We are overjoyed by the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons” [cited in the Nobel award to ICAN], Thurlow said. “Let this be the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.”

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairperson Berit Reiss-Andersen, in her opening address, reviewed threats posed by nuclear weapons and gave clear answers to arguments often used to defend nuclear weapons. The peace prize has been given to work in this field 12 times in the nuclear age. Her speech provided a firm foundation for the award to ICAN in 2017.

Reiss-Andersen cited what Pope Francis said to participants in the Vatican’s recent symposium on nuclear weapons including representatives of Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches: “Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

A final note: A Nobel Peace Prize ceremony’s greatest power may be that it enables unrealised truth to be told in a new light. The truth at issue has surely been spoken before, from shattered neighborhoods to the heights of power. Yet this Nobel award enabled such truth to be spoken to an attentive mixed audience representing the street as well as the summit: Civil society campaigners; the diplomatic corps; religious leaders; Norwegian society including a royal family in the front row.

A worldwide audience watched. Trumpets sounded. Artists sang. Listeners reached for their handkerchiefs when Setsuko Thurlow told what happened to her as a girl in Hiroshima.

In this unique setting, what truth is said to power has good prospects to also be heard. Words that touch hearts and minds are now on a record of special note. They will be repeated as a basis for taking action to sign and ratify the new nuclear ban treaty and for other steps to further delegitimise an immoral and unacceptable weapon.

Jonathan Frerichs is the UN Representative in Geneva for Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches. He prepared this report for both organisations.

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Please see the links included in the article above for more information on the award. Below is a small sampling of international English-language press coverage including a story about Pope Francis’s Angelus on the day of the prize.

Peace

Nobel winners busy before the Peace Prize, planning what comes next

By Jonathan Frerichs
UN Representative Pax Christi International and World Council of Churches

Ed. Note: On Sunday, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the Nobel Peace Prize during a beautiful award ceremony attended by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the Norwegian royal family, diplomats, ICAN-campaigners, and others. The award ceremony included two powerful speeches from Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, and Tetsuko Thurlow, survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. This story by our UN representative, Jonathan Frerichs, who is in Olso, is about the days prior to this big moment.

ICAN campaigners in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize award were busy the day before the award planning for what comes next. “Tomorrow we will have to be silent so let’s make a lot of noise today,” Selma fan Oostwaard of PAX, Netherlands, told about 150 activists and supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Campaign veterans, atomic bomb survivors and advocacy strategists took turns at the microphones. The enthusiastic focus on the task ahead is fueled by what campaigners have learned in the decade since ICAN took shape. ICAN now has nearly 500 partners in 100 countries including Pax Christi International,  the World Council of Churches and other faith-based organisations.

ICAN’s founders include doctors whose anti-nuclear endeavours earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Disillusioned by the nuclear powers’ failure to meet their disarmament obligations, plans for a new and broader campaign began in 2005.

Dave​ ​Sweeney of the Australian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War described ICAN today by what was envisaged then. “ICAN has always put the human story first,” he said. “It has a clear aim—to ban nuclear weapons. It has a fine name – I can, We can. It’s based at the grassroots.” Prayer, protest, performance and much more are in the ICAN toolkit, he added.

“ICAN is a story of hope. We love this planet, we love its peoples. We’ll give it our best to be sure that it survives and thrives. ICAN’s Nobel Prize is well-earned,” Sweeney said.

The Nobel Committee cited ICAN for its role in achieving the new nuclear ban treaty with its solid humanitarian foundations. ICAN’s work is inspired by disarmament work grounded in international humanitarian law which helped secure bans on landmines and cluster munitions, and treaties prohibiting the other weapons of mass destruction.

Terumi Tanaka, a survivor of Nagasaki and leader of a major survivors’ association in Japan, told the campaigners, “We have to challenge those who continue to hang on to nuclear weapons in the name of security, but really do so just to serve their own purposes. We are getting old. The time we have to tell the story is limited. We pass the baton to all of you to achieve this goal.”

The nuclear ban treaty references the suffering of indigenous peoples and other groups. Sue Coleman-Haseldine lives near the nuclear test site in Australia used by the United Kingdom in the 1950s. “Sixty-three years on, my little home town is called the cancer capital of Australia. Ask a young person what they will die from and they answer: ‘Cancer. Everyone else is.’”, she said. “ICAN’s work has been so important for me. On one hand, I am no longer alone or isolated. On the other, I understand how bad and widespread is the nuclear legacy around the world.”

Ray Acheson, an ICAN leader from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said, “Survivors, indigenous people, women and girls – the most vulnerable groups – are written into the DNA” of the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty needs to come into force as soon as possible, she and others noted.

The meeting switched to workshop mode to pursue that task. One dealt with “Getting​ ​to​ ​50”, how to secure the number of ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force.  ​Fifty-six states have now signed – three more this week – and three of those have already ratified.

Other workshops took up how to strengthen support for the treaty, both​ ​in​ states that have ​nuclear​ ​weapons and in ​states​ that don’t have them but rely on them. The latter topic attracted participants from 13 nuclear-alliance states—Japan, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Greece, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia and USA, plus campaigners from nuclear-weapon-free Austria, Switzerland, Indonesia and Malaysia. A fourth workshop focused on media​ ​work including ICAN’s main message going forward from the Nobel Peace Prize. Hashtags in active use around the Nobel award include #NobelPeacePrize, #EndofNukes and #nuclearban.

Francis Kuria of the African Council of Religious Leaders, an active ICAN member, credited ICAN’s founders for giving the campaign clear goals, a focused process and local-global partnerships. He said the atomic bomb survivors inspire ICAN with tenacity, passion and wisdom.

“We are the new normal on nuclear weapons,” Kuria said with the Nobel Peace Prize award one day away. He said those who are still willing to use them and keep them will no longer be seen as normal.

“You are the light of the world,” Kuria told fellow campaigners. “Shine your light on the world and transform it so that the treaty becomes universal and we bequeath on our children a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Jonathan Frerichs is the UN Representative in Geneva for Pax Christi International and the World Council of Churches. He prepared this report for both organisations.