Nuclear Disarmament, UN Report

Our house is on fire and we are called to respond

by Tim Wallis

Delegates to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings taking place last month at the UN in New York were given a unique opportunity to hear some voices rarely heard inside those hallowed walls. The Pax Christi International side event on May 9th, 2019 provided some inspiring and profound reflections on our moral obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons, as well as living proof that there are many courageous people out there determined to make this happen.

Only one of the panelists had ever spoken at the UN before: William Hartung, Director of the Arms Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is a highly-respected authority on nuclear weapons issues and author of several books on this subject. He helped clarify some of the economics of the nuclear weapons industry, and spoke encouragingly about the way divestment campaigns can make a difference. He talked about the vast amount of resources and skills currently going into nuclear weapons and how these could refocused to create so many more jobs that actually address the real problems we face as a society.

Other speakers included Martha Hennessey, who is currently awaiting trial with six others for entering the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia in prayerful witness to call out the morality and illegality of nuclear weapons. Martha is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and she faces up to 25 years in prison for her action.

Professor Jeannine Hill Fletcher teaches theology at Fordham University and traveled to Georgia to lend expert testimony at the pre-trial hearings for the Kings Bay Plowshares 7 (KBP7). She clearly speaks to the core of Catholic social teaching being aligned with our moral duty to oppose the immorality of nuclear weapons. She organized a recent event for her University around what she identifies as “the prophetic call” of the KBP7 to awaken our society. She recently published the acclaimed book, The Sin of White Supremacy.

Father Timothy Graff is a Roman Catholic priest who, among other duties, works with 212 parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, to develop and support local social justice programs. He works closely with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, and a close ally of Pope Francis. Cardinal Tobin has been nudging, as best he can, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference towards making the immorality of nuclear weapons, and the Pope’s message about them, more a part of the conversation among American Catholics…

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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.

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* Photo from REUTERS/Denis Balibouse