No nukes, no war!: Global convergence at UN demands end to nuclear weapons

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NEW YORK — The worldwide movement to end nuclear weapons, energized and united with the antiwar movement, is converging here for a month of actions. Kicking it off is a May 1 mass “No Nukes! No Wars!” march. On May 2, the United Nations opens a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which aims to curb and eventually eliminate these weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to UN events, numerous activities, sponsored by a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations from more than 90 countries, will fill the month of May. Hibakusha — Japanese survivors of the U.S. atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — will be touring the country and meeting with local community organizations.

“They have seen the horror of nuclear war, and want to guarantee it never happens again,” said Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice.

A Mayors for Peace delegation, representing 105 cities in 25 countries, will rally for its “vision campaign” to eliminate all nuclear arsenals by the year 2020.

Other public events include forums on depleted uranium, the Iraq war and a nuclear-free Middle East. Abolition Now and UFPJ, two of the sponsoring organizations, are helping to coordinate the participation of the many peace, disarmament, women’s, trade union and youth groups coming from around the world.

The global call is to abolish all nations’ nuclear weapons. However, the United States — in particular the Bush administration — has been singled out as the main roadblock to abolition.

Nearly all the world’s nations are party to the nonproliferation treaty, which was ratified in 1970. It states that only five countries — the U.S., Britain, France, the Soviet Union (now Russia), and China — are allowed to have nuclear weapons. No other member-state may build them. The five nuclear states are required to work towards reducing and eventually eliminating their stockpiles. Progress is reviewed every five years.

Denuclearization involves both dismantling existing stockpiles and halting further spread of the weapons. The U.S. has focused almost entirely on nonproliferation, without addressing its own massive nuclear arsenal. The majority of the world’s nations say that without disarmament by the five nuclear powers, real progress on nonproliferation is not likely.

“Progress needs to be made on the disarmament side or the nonproliferation side won’t go anywhere,” says Zachary Allen, executive director of the Middle Powers Initiative, which works with major non-nuclear nations pressing the U.S. to take disarmament steps. “The U.S. and Russia still have 30,000 nuclear weapons. You can’t make progress on nonproliferation without making progress on disarmament.”

Bruce Gagnon, head of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, said the U.S. is building a new generation of nuclear weapons. He called it an “arsenal of hypocrisy, since we lecture other countries around the world” about not developing such weapons.

“Also, we’re bringing on Star Wars,” Gagnon said, pointing out how the so-called missile defense shield escalates the nuclear arms race.

Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation and U.S. coordinator of Abolition Now, told the World that in 2000, all the nonproliferation treaty signatories, including the U.S., agreed to “an unequivocal undertaking to eliminate their nuclear arsenals” through a series of specific steps.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, “the Bush administration seized on that opportunity to advance this very aggressive, militaristic, unilateralist ‘war on terrorism,’” Cabasso said, and has distanced itself from the 2000 agreement. For example, in 2002 the Bush administration put forward its “National Security Strategy” that advocates nuclear strike against non-nuclear states, a violation of the NPT.

At the UN, two groups of nations — the Non-Aligned Movement and the New Agenda Coalition, including “middle powers” like Ireland and South Africa — will call for a recommitment and adherence to the 2000 agreement.

Cabasso and others see signals that the U.S. will torpedo the worldwide efforts for a successful NPT review. Generally, she said, the measure of success is whether or not a final document can be agreed upon. Already, the Bush administration has declared that it does not see the need for a final agreement. This flies in the face of all previous international protocols, she said.

Nevertheless, Cabasso said, “We’re going to be able to identify which countries are on board with actually doing something, and we’re going to have a pretty dramatic demonstration of global civil society opinion.”

Also at issue is U.S. aggression towards countries that choose to develop nuclear technology for energy and peaceful purposes — a right guaranteed by the NPT.

Brazilian UN Mission councilor Lucia Maiera said, a state should have the right to develop nuclear energy as an alternative energy source. “We do have our technology developed entirely in Brazil; it’s our technology. As a country in development, it’s something that we’ll need for the future of our development,” she told the World.