UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has championed efforts for nations to make good on their pledges to abolish nuclear weapons. In 2009 he published a five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament, urging nuclear weapons states in particular to fulfill their promises under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to negotiate for the total elimination of nuclear weapons as well as other complementary steps to that end such as banning missiles and space weapons.
At the end of his term this year, there have been some stunning new developments after years of global gridlock and blocked efforts. At the UN General Assembly First Committee for Disarmament, 123 nations voted this October to support negotiations in 2017 to prohibit and ban nuclear weapons, just as the world has already done for biological and chemical weapons.
The most remarkable upset in the vote was a breach in what had always been a solid single-minded phalanx of 5 nuclear weapons states recognized in the NPT, signed 46 years ago in 1970 – the US, Russia, UK, France, and China. For the first time, China broke ranks by voting with a group of 16 nations to abstain, along with India and Pakistan, non-NPT nuclear weapons states. And to the great surprise of all, North Korea actually voted YES in support of negotiations going forward to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The ninth nuclear weapons state, Israel, voted against the resolution with 38 other countries including those in nuclear alliances with the United States such as the NATO states as well as Australia, South Korea, and, most surprisingly, Japan, the only country ever attacked with nuclear bombs. Only the Netherlands broke ranks with NATO’s unified opposition to ban treaty talks, as the sole NATO member to abstain on the vote, after grassroots pressure on its Parliament.
All nine nuclear-weapon states had boycotted a special UN Open Ended Working Group for Nuclear Disarmament last summer, which followed three conferences in Norway, Mexico, and Austria with civil-society and governments to examine the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, thus opening a new pathway for how we think and speak about the bomb.
This new “humanitarian initiative” has shifted the conversation from the military’s traditional examination and explanations of deterrence, policy, and strategic security to an understanding of the overwhelming deaths and devastation people would suffer from the use of nuclear weapons.
Today there are still almost 16,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, with nearly 15,000 of them in the United States and Russia, now in an increasingly hostile relationship, with NATO troops patrolling on Russia’s borders, and the Russian Emergencies Ministry actually launching a sweeping nationwide civil-defense drill involving 40 million people. The US, under President Obama, has proposed a $1 trillion program for new nuclear-bomb factories, warheads, and delivery systems, and Russia and other nuclear-weapon states are engaged in modernizing their nuclear arsenals as well.
Perhaps one additional way to break the log jam for nuclear disarmament and find a silver lining in the crumbling neo-liberal agenda for globalization evidenced by the Brexit event and the shocking and unanticipated election of Donald Trump in the US, is to encourage Trump’s repeated statements that the US should make “a deal” with Putin and join with Russia to fight terrorists.
Trump has criticized the NATO alliance, the expansion of which has been very provocative to Russia and was the reason Russia gave, together with the US walking out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and installing a new missile base in Romania, for putting a halt to further US-Russian agreements for nuclear disarmament.
Trump, who promotes himself as a “deal maker” has also suggested that he would have no difficulty in sitting down and talking with North Korea. These efforts should be encouraged, as North Korea has actually shown it is willing to enter into negotiations to ban the bomb, which is more than the other eight nuclear weapons states have been willing to support.
Furthermore, North Korea has been seeking an official end to the Korean War of 1953, during which time the US continues to station about 28,000 troops on its borders while trying to starve North Korea out with drastic sanctions all these many years.
Perhaps Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can leave his office with an important victory at the end of his term by seizing this opportunity and encouraging the “deal maker” in Trump to move forward with a US-Russia rapprochement, clearing a pathway for the elimination of nuclear weapons as well as putting an end to the hostilities on the Korean peninsula.