Listening to Our Neighbors

By Joanne Dufour

Despite the commendable efforts by activists in past years to disarm our world, why then do we live in an armed world which could be utterly destroyed with the pressing of a few buttons? Perhaps the fear of nuclear war we are now experiencing will prompt a return to the sanity of a new disarmament campaign – a much needed disarmament campaign.

Ray Acheson, at left, smiles and speaks into a microphone. To her right sits Hiro Sakurai, another panelist.

Ray Acheson addresses participants at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office's 2017 Intergenerational Spring Seminar "Arm in Arm: Interfaith Action to Disarm Our Planet."

Those who see the glass half empty point to the 250 wars the world has witnessed since the end of World War II. The “nuclear deterrent” did not stop these conflicts from happening. Those who want a more positive perspective have applauded the fact that a new World War III has been prevented over the last 73 years, while bemoaning the fact that the daily global expenditure for armaments is greater than the entire United Nations budget for one year. Current nuclear anxieties have led people like the UN Secretary General to provide a new impetus for disarmament and for Pope Francis to call for the ban on nuclear weapons.

In a world armed with 15,000 nuclear bombs of enormous intensity, one might think that every nation wants one for its own security, as now being demonstrated by North Korea. However, as Ray Acheson, director of the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, notes in a recent issue of The Nation:

“We have been taught these weapons are not meant to be used. We are taught that they protect us from conflict, war, and further nuclear proliferation. This lethal myth is based on the premise that in order to maintain international peace and security, we need certain countries to wield the capacity to slaughter civilians, incinerate cities, and destroy the entire planet. We believe that nuclear war will never happen, that nuclear weapons prevent it.

But many of us – including the majority of the world’s governments – understand that the only way to prevent nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. The [recent] alert in Hawaii [and Japan] could have prompted a nuclear war…

It is in this spirit that 122 governments voted to adopt a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons on July 7, 2017. While the nuclear armed states [and their allies] currently oppose it, this treaty offers an alternative to nuclear war. It prohibits the use, threat of use, and possession of nuclear weapons and sets out a process by which states with such weapons can join and eliminate their arsenals. Significantly, it recognizes that any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to international humanitarian law. ..The treaty makes no attempt to justify the possession or use of these weapons and makes no arguments in favor of deterrence doctrines….

While the [nuclear armed] signers of the Treaty on Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons agreed to eliminate their arsenals .., they have failed to deliver on their disarmament commitments. Some [now most] have reduced the size of their arsenals only to invest billions of dollars into modernizing them. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons takes a new approach: outlawing these weapons for everyone, under all circumstances.”

63% of the world's nations agree with this so far. And lest we forget, the United States already builds, sells, buys, stockpiles, and uses the most weapons, engages in the most conflicts, stations the most troops in the most countries, and carries out the most deadly and destructive wars.

There's work for us to do. Help to bring about a new disarmament movement for this new millennium. Our voices are sorely needed to bring about this change.

UN delegates give a standing ovation after the UN adopts a historic treaty to ban the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

Delegates applaud after voting to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.