Congratulations to California State Senate and Assembly Members who voted last week to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! Congratulations to Assembly Member Monique Limón and her team, who introduced this bill into the State House. Congratulations to PSR and to its chapters in Los Angeles and San Francisco who led the way, to the Back from the Brink campaign who supplied much of the text, and to all the other peace organizations and individuals who gave testimony, lent their support and campaigned across the state for this result. This is a truly historic moment!
On August 28th, 2018, the most populous state in the Union (and now the fifth largest economy in the world), called on the US government to “embrace” the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Joint Resolution 33: Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which passed the State Senate by a vote of 25 to 10, includes both practical, incremental steps to prevent nuclear war and sweeping support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The California State Assembly passed an identical resolution a couple of weeks earlier by 53 votes to 16.
The City of Los Angeles passed a very similar resolution on August 8th, specifically calling on the US to “enter into” the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
And on June 11, 2018, the US Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution calling for, among other things, the US to “embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as a welcome step towards negotiation of a comprehensive agreement on the achievement and permanent maintenance of a world free of nuclear arms…”
All across the country, cities, towns, faith communities and campaigning organizations have been passing nuclear weapon-related resolutions. Many of these do not mention the new Treaty, but it is hugely significant that some do. Especially significant are the ones just mentioned, since these represent large, mainstream political bodies who are taking the Treaty seriously.
Why this Treaty is a game-changer
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a powerful new tool for nuclear disarmament. It has the support of most of the national governments in the world. It has the support of the largest non-governmental body in the world – the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, with more than 17 million volunteers in 190 countries. It has the support of nearly 500 other organizations around the world who are partnered with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – ICAN, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its work on the Treaty.
This Treaty unashamedly and unreservedly condemns everything to do with nuclear weapons and places them in the same category of unacceptable and internationally banned weapons as chemical weapons, biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. It not only prohibits, under international law, the development, testing, manufacture and deployment of these weapons, but also the threat to use these weapons. It is this threat which underpins the logic of “deterrence” and is the whole justification for the continued existence of these weapons.
This Treaty is here to stay. More and more countries are going to sign it over time, and the pressure will continue to grow on the remaining countries to sign it. Once 50 countries have ratified the treaty, it will enter into force and those countries will become bound by its provisions, including the duty to enact national legislation to enforce its prohibitions.
The Treaty’s prohibition against ‘assisting, encouraging or inducing, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State party under this Treaty’ could prove particularly powerful if incorporated into national legislation and actually enforced in those countries. This could begin to seriously affect the multinational corporations involved in building and maintaining nuclear weapons, as well as the ability of the US and other nuclear powers to continue with ‘business as usual’ when it comes to transporting, deploying and carrying out exercises with nuclear weapons.
Even without the US signing it, this Treaty will affect US nuclear weapons policy. The US Department of Defense Law of War Manual, for instance, explicitly states that US military forces are to be bound by international treaties, even when the US has not signed them, “if the treaty represents ‘modern international public opinion’ as to how military operations should be conducted”(LOWM, 188.8.131.52).
In a letter urging other NATO countries not to support the treaty, US officials admitted that the effects of the Treaty could be ‘wide-ranging’ and that “allies and partners should not underestimate the breadth of potential impacts… or their potential to grow more severe over time.” Under a section entitled, ‘Military Implications of a Nuclear Weapons Ban,’ the letter stated that the Treaty “could make it impossible to undertake nuclear planning or training, or nuclear-related transit through territorial airspace or seas.” The US government is definitely taking this Treaty seriously.
The Treaty is already making an impact in the US
Takoma Park, MD and Berkeley, CA have led the way for existing Nuclear-Free Zones to officially link legally-binding prohibitions against nuclear weapons-related activities, where these are still in place, with the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Ojai, CA has led the way for cities to becomeNuclear-Free Zones and ban all nuclear weapons-related activities within their city, forbid contracts with nuclear weapons companies and divest the city’s funds from those companies.
Green Century Funds and Amalgamated Bank have led the way for financial institutions to start divesting their funds from the nuclear weapons industry. Quakers in Northampton, MA, have led the way for faith communities to do some serious soul-searching and decide to disconnect themselves from that industry. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently called on all its members “to take all actions such as might be effective in requiring full US compliance with the obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”
Where do you stand on this Treaty?
In light of these latest developments, I invite US peace organizations and peace-minded people to consider the importance of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and how you can support it.
It may once have seemed “unrealistic” to expect mainstream politicians to consider the total elimination of nuclear weapons. This appears to be changing. Perhaps you will agree that the time has come to fully embrace this Treaty as our best hope to eliminate all nuclear weapons for good.
“I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: Don’t give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it…Our light now is the Ban Treaty.”
at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, Oslo, 2017
Timmon Wallis, Executive Director, NuclearBan.US