Nuclear Alert

We are at a critical point. The NPT Review Conference in May failed. The Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) stonewall on their commitment to eliminate their nuclear arsenals — some 30,000 weapons, deployed or stockpiled, with a destructive power vastly greater than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Proliferation looms, given 40 non NWS with the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons and an illicit market for nuclear items. US nuclear first-strike, “missile defense,” space weaponization, and preventive war policies threaten catastrophe. With thousands of nuclear missiles on launch-on-warning in the US and Russia, imperial lust or computer malfunction could trigger doomsday. The aging atomic bomb victims, who bear the lived memory and the pain, fear time is running out: when they are gone, knowledge of the horror will be lost and nuclear weapons will be used. And the next use would trigger retaliation, likely precipitating nuclear winter.

Knowing the 60th commemoration of the atomic bombing was significant, I went again to take part in the international meeting and World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from 2 to 9 August. In Japanese tradition, the 60th year is a time of rebirth. A record 264 delegates from 29 countries came together to exchange ideas (130 from France, 70 of them young people, who gathered for huge youth rallies). People everywhere want a world free of nuclear weapons, but it’s not an urgent wish. How do we mobilize the needed public and thereby political will? There is growing cooperation between Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and both local and national governments on initiatives. NGOs have power: how do we make it really count?

Proposals endorsed by or put forward at the conference:

  1. Help people understand the hell that nuclear bombing unleashes, the criminality and the threat of nuclear weapons: arrange events to listen to nuclear victims, and view A-bomb photo displays. Use books, films, videos, the media, seminars.
  2. Promote Mayors for Peace (MfP) and their 2020 Campaign (they held conferences in New York in May and Hiroshima in August). Work for the creation of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (Middle East/West Asia were suggested). The NWFZ regions are mobilizing — their first conference was held last April in Mexico, and MfPs attended.
  3. Rally the public through August 6 and 9 actions, signature campaigns for nuclear weapons abolition, peace marches; work with social justice and environmental movements, linking poverty, disease, earth’s degradation, and militarism. Build worldwide solidarity and joint actions. Create a world public outcry. Promote divestment from corporations related to nuclear weapons. Use boycotts to isolate the US.
  4. Support Japanese citizens’ efforts to maintain the port of Kobe’s prohibition of entry to ships not certified free of nuclear weapons and their constitution’s Article 9 (renunciation of war), in the face of US pressure for their removal.
  5. Work to get a UN resolution adopted for rapid negotiation of a nuclear weapons abolition treaty. Get a government to call likeminded states together to define the legal, technical, and political elements and processes required for achieving and maintaining abolition (an initiative being pursued by the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons which attracted Japanese interest at the conference).
  6. Uphold the universal principle of resolving international conflicts through peaceful means. The abolition of war is integral to nuclear weapons abolition (as the late Sir Joseph Rotblat held).

We need a human chain reaction to prevent the nuclear one. We are all hostages to nuclear annihilation. A treaty ban is attainable. Action is urgent. At ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you know humanity cannot co-exist with nuclear weapons. In the blazing sun and merciless heat of the crowded Hiroshima Peace Park — ground zero, at 8.15 a.m. on August 6, I felt the unendurable evil of the nuclear bomb that had charred people to burnt logs, white bones. “Never again” must be our cry — no nuclear weapons! It starts with the belief and the vision. We can do it. We must.

Phyllis Creighton is the Vice-President of Science for Peace.