Isn’t It Time to Ban the Bomb?

Screen_Shot_2016-10-06_at_10.42.35_AM.png
Ban the Bomb Rally, City Hall Park, New York City, 1959

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Although the mass media failed to report it, a landmark event occurred recently in connection with resolving the long-discussed problem of what to do about nuclear weapons.  On August 19, 2016, a UN committee, the innocuously-named Open-Ended Working Group, voted to recommend to the UN General Assembly that it mandate the opening of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban them.

For most people, this recommendation makes a lot of sense.  Nuclear weapons are the most destructive devices ever created.  If they are used―as two of them were used in 1945 to annihilate the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki―the more than 15,000 nuclear weapons currently in existence would destroy the world.  Given their enormous blast, fire, and radioactivity, their explosion would bring an end to virtually all life on earth.  The few human survivors would be left to wander, slowly and painfully, in a charred, radioactive wasteland.  Even the explosion of a small number of nuclear weapons through war, terrorism, or accident would constitute a catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude.

Every president of the United States since 1945, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, has warned the world of the horrors of nuclear war.  Even Ronald Reagan―perhaps the most military-minded among them―declared again and again:  “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Fortunately, there is no technical problem in disposing of nuclear weapons.  Through negotiated treaties and unilateral action, nuclear disarmament, with verification, has already taken place quite successfully, eliminating roughly 55,000 nuclear weapons of the 70,000 in existence at the height of the Cold War.

Also, the world’s other agents of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, have already been banned by international agreements.

Naturally, then, most people think that creating a nuclear weapons-free world is a good idea.  A 2008 poll in 21 nations around the globe found that 76% of respondents favored an international agreement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and only 16% opposed it.  This included 77% of the respondents in the United States.

But government officials from the nine nuclear-armed nations are inclined to view nuclear weapons―or at least their nuclear weapons―quite differently.  For centuries, competing nations have leaned heavily upon military might to secure what they consider their “national interests.”  Not surprisingly, then, national leaders have gravitated toward developing powerful military forces, armed with the most powerful weaponry.  The fact that, with the advent of nuclear weapons, this traditional behavior has become counter-productive has only begun to penetrate their consciousness, usually helped along on such occasions by massive public pressure.

Consequently, officials of the superpowers and assorted wannabes, while paying lip service to nuclear disarmament, continue to regard it as a risky project.  They are much more comfortable with maintaining nuclear arsenals and preparing for nuclear war.  Thus, by signing the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968, officials from the nuclear powers pledged to “pursue negotiations in good faith on . . . a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”  And today, nearly a half-century later, they have yet to begin negotiations on such a treaty.  Instead, they are currently launching yet another round in the nuclear arms race.  The U.S. government alone is planning to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to refurbish its entire nuclear weapons production complex, as well as to build new air-, sea-, and ground-launched nuclear weapons.

Of course, this enormous expenditure―plus the ongoing danger of nuclear disaster―could provide statesmen with a powerful incentive to end 71 years of playing with their doomsday weapons and, instead, get down to the business of finally ending the grim prospect of nuclear annihilation.  In short, they could follow the lead of the UN committee and actually negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons as the first step toward abolishing them.

But, to judge from what happened in the UN Open-Ended Working Group, a negotiated nuclear weapons ban is not likely to occur.  Uneasy about what might emerge from the committee’s deliberations, the nuclear powers pointedly boycotted them.  Moreover, the final vote in that committee on pursuing negotiations for a ban was 68 in favor and 22 opposed, with 13 abstentions.  The strong majority in favor of negotiations was comprised of African, Latin American, Caribbean, Southeast Asian, and Pacific nations, with several European nations joining them.  The minority came primarily from nations under the nuclear umbrellas of the superpowers.  Consequently, the same split seems likely to occur in the UN General Assembly, where the nuclear powers will do everything possible to head off UN action.

Overall, then, there is a growing division between the nuclear powers and their dependent allies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a larger group of nations, fed up with the repeated evasions of the nuclear powers in dealing with the nuclear disaster that threatens to engulf the world.  In this contest, the nuclear powers have the advantage, for, when all is said and done, they have the option of clinging to their nuclear weapons, even if that means ignoring a treaty adopted by a clear majority of nations around the world.  Only an unusually firm stand by the non-nuclear nations, coupled with an uprising by an aroused public, seems likely to awaken the officials of the nuclear powers from their long sleepwalk toward catastrophe.

 

Lawrence Wittner is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany.  His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

 

 

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 46 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 15 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.