Global Support Peaks For No Nukes

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JONATHAN FRERICHSBy Jonathan Frerichs*

GENEVA - A new and compelling story about nuclear weapons is emerging around the world. The new story is having an impact because it is one that many can own. It displaces nuclear fiction with nuclear facts. 2012 has begun with sabre-rattling in the Middle East and will end with new leadership in five nuclear-armed states. What is this new story and what can it bring?

The shortest version of the story is the one told by the new International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Ask anyone, "Can you imagine a world without nuclear weapons?" Expect the reply: "I can."

A slightly longer version emerged at a year-end seminar of international church-related advocates that met in Scotland, where many favour nuclear disarmament.


We live under a nuclear 'umbrella' that is outdated, unwieldy, extremely costly, and doesn't even work. People today see themselves as part of a global community. They want to live in ways that protect life instead of putting it at risk. Nuclear weapons are wrong and need to go. It's time to get involved. Each person can do his or her part; all can make a big difference, together.

The new story is making nuclear weapons more vulnerable. There is a new level of political and social pressure within leadership circles: 130 governments now support a Nuclear Weapons Convention at the United Nations, while 5000 mayors and thousands of parliamentarians and eminent citizens have joined nuclear abolition initiatives. Challenges to the weapons are geographic (nuclear-weapon-free zones), legal (humanitarian law), and financial (national deficits, sovereign debts and citizen divestment).

Government and military leaders are debunking nuclear strategies; climate science are indicting nukes environmentally; physicians, scientists, and lawyers are delegitimising nuclear arms; films, web-sites, and books are generating public debate; and world religions are condemning nuclear weapons morally, ethically, and spiritually. A disaster like Fukushima reminds people that even in its peaceful guise nuclear energy is lethal and causes lasting damage.

The international construct that shelters nuclear arms is coming apart. More and more people see no place for such weapons in human, ecological, and planetary affairs.

And yet those who challenge the current nuclear regime are by no means overcome with optimism. It is disturbing to watch the five percent of governments that are nuclear armed reject the common good and refuse their obligation to disarm while the 95 percent of governments that don't have nuclear weapons fail to implement the majority will to see them abolished.

The new and the old nuclear 'stories' offer different scenarios in 2012. Here are three examples:

First, Northeast Asia -a region where the umbrella of nuclear deterrence is outdated and leaky and where we can see how the shaky status-quo, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is collapsing. Though 'nuclear security' in Northeast Asia is a contradiction in terms, this year's Nuclear Security Summit will be held in Seoul.

The new nuclear story would draw regional lessons from what the Korean UN General Secretary has instructively called 'the infectious doctrine of deterrence'. Eight of the nine states that practice nuclear deterrence are invited to the summit, and the ninth state is next door. Infection needs a cure, for example, open-ended engagement around a shared regional goal such as denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. The ecumenical workshop in Scotland discussed confidence-building measures by Christians and Buddhists to help put that goal higher on the public agenda. Churches have been challenging the status quo from both sides of the DMZ for the past 25 years.

Second, the Middle East, another region where nuclear umbrellas don't work, is so ripe for proliferation that the very future of the NPT is tied to establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone there. A UN conference on that goal is slated for 2012 after a 17-year delay.

Yet the old nuclear story looms over the conference. Irresponsible rhetoric is again pushing the myopic view that enforcing the nuclear double standard is the solution for the Middle East, not the problem. While Israel is not a member of the NPT, its neighbours who are members have been expected to live with its nuclear weapons as if it were an NPT nuclear-weapon state. This is an improbable recipe for security of any kind. It is a prescription for proliferation by others in the Middle East, and elsewhere.

The new nuclear story is about the well-being of all states in the region, including Israel. A zone free of all WMDs including nuclear is part of the scenario from the outset. A regional process in the 1990s set a useful precedent by using incentives, reciprocity, and mutual commitments to solve delicate security issues.

Third, NATO is an alliance whose nuclear weapons are unusable and a waste of money. The organisation's 200-odd tactical nuclear weapons are emblematic of how much the aging behemoths of the Cold War still have in their nuclear arsenals and what little sense that makes. Removing these deadly relics would reduce the number of countries hosting nuclear weapons to nine from fourteen. It would also remove a major obstacle to new security arrangements between NATO and Russia.

In 2010 NATO and Russia agreed on 'contributing to the creation of a common space of peace, security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area'. Will NATO's 2012 summit in Chicago follow the new story or the old?

In the new nuclear story, nuclear archaeologists are used to understand the past and human security architects are proposing the future. Northeast Asia, the Middle East, and NATO are critical sites. The task is daunting and more hands are needed, but the precedent of progress is already set. Each New Year can now become part of our safer future rather than a vestige of the nuclear past.

*Jonathan Frerichs is programme executive for peace-building and disarmament for the World Council of Churches. [IPS Columnist Service | Copyright © 2011 IPS-Inter Press Service]

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