Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians)

April 8, 2010: Obama and Medvedev sign New START
(Image: FT)
Barack Obama and Russia's (then) President Dmitry Medvedev signed the "New START" treaty in April, 2010, committing to reduce each side's deployed nuclear warheads to ~1,550 by 2018; the Senate ratified the treaty in December, 2010.

Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The award was about hoped-for results ("Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future . . . "), and some may have thought New START delivered on that promise.

By 2011, however, many of us had come to feel disgust at the number of the ways the Obama administration was perpetuating -- and expanding -- the warmaking of the previous administration.  In a ceremony on December 10, 2011, in Chicago, in front of Obama 2012 Campaign Headquarters, we stripped him of his Nobel Prize. (See "Obama Nobel Peace Prize - REVOKED!")

Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize - stamped "REVOKED"
(Photo courtesy FJJ)

At an event several days later, antiwar activist Tom Hayden was visiting Chicago.  We showed him the oversize facsimile of the Peace Prize certificate with the word REVOKED stenciled in big black letters.  "That's good," he said, "but maybe even better would be to mark it SUSPENDED instead. That way he'd have an incentive to clean up his act, so it could be reinstated!"

Politics in command

Campaign Biography
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices
I had a very interesting discussion with my son several months ago. I was suggesting that, with the early steps in the 2016 presidential election already beginning, the time is now to put pressure on the putative Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, to promise progress in nuclear disarmament.  I had already noticed that Hillary seemed to have discovered that she could make hay out of being a nuclear hawk, and that poses a problem.

My son had an interesting suggestion: Instead of putting your hopes in Hillary, who, during the election, will be in the weakest imaginable position to take a bold stance, expect a breakthrough from Obama. His logic? Obama's at the end of his term, he's not beholden to anyone, and he will want to do something big for his legacy.

It's taken me a while -- several months -- to get my mind around this suggestion.  It's the thick of the election season now, the airwaves are thick with lowest-common-denominator political ads, and I'm now seeing what he was talking about.

What -- if anything -- might it mean for the nuclear disarmament movement?

Here are three possibilities.

Milestone #1: NPT Review, May 2015

The United States, as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has promised to abide by Article VI of the NPT:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Every five years, the parties to the NPT meet for a review conference.  The next review conference will take place in New York in spring, 2015.

Trusteeship Council chamber, United Nations Headquarters, New York
Venue for "Prepcom" (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty/NPT
Preparatory Conference) sessions -- May, 2014
I attended the NPT review preparatory meeting at the UN this past spring, and it was clear to me that the failure of the US to honor its Article VI obligations is very troubling to the other parties to the treaty.

A lot of people are saying that the U.S. failure to honor its obligations is going to mean the collapse of the NPT.

Do we really expect Barack Obama to do anything about this? If he is going to, the time to do so is before the parties to the treaty gather in May, 2015.

Obama may be tempted to "run out the clock" on his presidency, and aim for some kind of action before he leaves office in January, 2017.

It's up to us to tell him he's out of time.

[UPDATE: Obama's January 20, 2015, State of the Union address seemed like a perfect opportunity to tell the whole country about his commitment to nuclear disarmament -- if, in fact, it existed. Many people believe his silence on the issue on January 20 means Milestone #1 has already been missed and it's time to move to other avenues for change.]

[UPDATE: "With its decision on May 22 to block the adoption of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference's consensus statement, the Obama administration gave the human species another hefty push toward nuclear catastrophe, shaking the foundations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)." - see "Obama Administration Sabotages Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference " by Joseph Gerson in Truthout, May 27, 2015. ]

Milestone #2: End of legislative session, fall 2015

Many people believe that it is actually Congress that holds the power to bring about nuclear disarmament - just as it is Congress (and not the President) who is the "decider" on matters of war and peace.

December 22, 2010: New START ratified
(Source: Citizens for Global Solutions)
At what point do we recognize that Congress either can't or won't exercise the power to eliminate the nuclear threat?

It is deeply disturbing the Congress is pouring more money into new forms of nuclear weapons. (See "The Cost of Teaching an Old Nuclear Weapon New Tricks" by Jon Letman, Truthout, August 6, 2014)

Even an outlet as conservative as The New York Times is fed up with the failure of Congress to reverse the buildup in nuclear weapons: "There has been little debate among members of Congress and the public about the decision by Mr. Obama and Congress to pour billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons systems — even as other government programs have been cut significantly." (See "Backsliding on Nuclear Promises" - New York Times editorial, September 22, 2014)

In any event . . . it seems clear to me that if Congress does not take steps to influence the President's behavior with respect to the NPT opportunity, and does not take steps to reduce nuclear weapons on its own in the months immediately thereafter, it will be high time for the people of the United States to recognize that "it's up to us" -- and us alone.

Milestone #3: Primary season 2016

Ultimately, the power to eliminate nuclear weapons resides in the hands of the people of the United States. If our representative democracy worked, we could count on our representatives to act on our behalf to do so.

"This government does not represent us."
Protest against NATO in Chicago (May, 2012)
(Source: I AM is at the doors blog)
If they can't -- or won't -- then we need to raise hell.

Some of us have been raising hell already.

One's thing for sure, if primary season 2016 rolls around and we haven't seen steps to eliminate nuclear weapons, then that will be the deadline for us to make the politics-as-usual system grind to a halt.

Politicians don't give a damn about us most of the time -- I get that -- but the one time they are marginally interested in our support is when they gearing up for a victory lap.

Our message needs to be clear: it stops in 2016. No nuclear disarmament? No victory lap.

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen. 

I know where I'm laying my bets . . . .


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Related posts

In light of the upcoming review of the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and the fact that organizations throughout the country and worldwide are organizing to press the U.S. to substantially reduce its stores of nuclear weapons, it seems like a good time to use social media to get EVERYONE on board!

(See 5 Ways YOU Can Make a Difference on #NoNukesTuesday )

The decision about whether to live with the threat of nuclear annihilation is our decision. And that is why the entire country is mobilizing for mass action for nuclear disarmament in 2015. Are we capable of making sure the messengers -- Obama, Putin, the other agents of government -- hear their instructions from us clearly?

(See NEEDED: Heroes to Bring About Nuclear Disarmament )

Please work with your colleagues (in Congress) and your constituents (here in the 5th district) to regain the People's control over war and injury, and bring to a conclusion the current crisis of our government.

(See An Open Letter to Congressman Mike Quigley: Can We Reduce (or Eliminate) the Nuclear Threat? )

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

As Jimmy Carter has said, "As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years."

(See U.S. Drone Killing: "Without Dissent From the General Public"? )

Other related links

November 2, 2014 - The New York Times published a startling graphic that shows how reductions have stalled in the past six years. "A recent skewering by the Federation of American Scientists details how Mr. Obama, despite calling repeatedly for 'a world without nuclear weapons,' has reduced the size of the nation’s atomic stockpile far less than did any of his three immediate predecessors, including both Presidents Bush." ("Which President Cut the Most Nukes?" By William J. Broad)

The American Nuclear Stockpile
Click to view full size on The New York Times website.

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