On Saturday the 28th of April, representatives of several anti-nuclear organisations and other individuals gathered together in Geneva for the Abolition 2000 AGM. In a section of Challenges and Opportunities, Tony Robinson from the Abolition 2000 Coordinating Committee, Pressenza editor, and member of World without Wars and Violence was invited to present a paper on Opportunities. We republish it here for the benefit of our readers.
I have been invited by the committee to give an overview of what the current opportunities for the Abolition movement are. Given that our network is a collection of different groups working in different areas and with different priorities, any one person’s overview will be different and in any case the intention here isn’t to define an Abolition 2000 common position, it’s just to put a few ideas on the table that may or may not be useful in our subsequent exchange of views and on our reflections for where to go from here. We should bear in mind that this subject will also be dealt with in the strategy meeting in New York in two weeks’ time.
Our landscape seems to have changed radically over the last year with the fruition of ICAN’s and others’ efforts to achieve a Ban Treaty. In legal terms it is an instrument that fills the legal gap it intended to fill and is on the face of it a valuable component in the elimination of nuclear weapons. Even now, and especially when it comes into force, it will provide an even higher moral ground from which to campaign.
Yet despite this treaty, we are still a long way from elimination, and while ICAN have their hands full for the next year or so bringing the treaty into force, Abolition 2000’s scope is wider than the Ban Treaty and in complementation and cooperation will we be able to advance in all 11 points of our Founding Statement.
In thinking about Opportunities, the first thing to say is that the media are paying more and more attention to nuclear weapons so our cause is gaining more space in the public’s consciousness, especially in western countries. This is largely due to the Ban Treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize which made even the mainstream media take note, but there are other reasons that more attention is going to the issue. Rising tensions throughout 2017 in Korea including, nuclear weapons testing, has led to the remarkable pictures yesterday of North and South Korean leaders shaking hands at the border and talking for the first time in years. The Iran deal is under increasing threat and there are powers in the Middle East who have the resources and are seeking ways to be ready to arm themselves. Rumours already abound about a Pakistan and Saudi Arabia arms sharing agreement and there are countries in the region seeking to advance in nuclear power, which as we all know is the precursor to nuclear weapons.
So our opportunity is that more and more people know about the problem so starting a conversation should be easier.
But what can we do with this opportunity?
It is a good question and each one of us, from our different field of campaigning and geographical location will give a different answer.
But I wanted to focus my intervention here today on what we can do as an anti-nuclear movement because to me at least it is clear that we have to start to think of ourselves as a movement and not as a network of individual organisations, many of whom are no more than one or two committed activists. As an anecdote, I remember my first Abolition 2000 AGM in New York in 2009. I arrived full of excitement at the thought of an enormous hall full with 2000 people (at least one person per organisation in the network, right?) You can imagine my surprise and slight disappointment at a meeting of “only” 100 people! This is not a criticism, it is the reality that no one makes any money from being an anti-nuclear activist and it is hard to find committed volunteers who will work for years on a thankless task for no more reward than the spiritual satisfaction of knowing that what one is doing is right, not only for oneself, but for humanity as a whole.
So what are the areas we could advance in?
- Geographical scope
Representation in our network is too unequally distributed among western countries. Where are the Russian peace activists? Where are the Koreans? The Indians and Pakistanis? Where are the African, Latin American and Asians whose regions and populations will be so utterly devastated by a limited nuclear war? The opportunity to open Abolition 2000 even more in these regions (because it’s not true that we don’t have contacts in these place) is heightened with new awareness of nuclear weapons.
- Language diversity
Too much of what we do, in fact nearly all of what we do, is done in English. It comes with the condition of origin, and is not a criticism, but it is a limitation. We cannot hope to create a global movement if we do not intentionally try to communicate with the world’s population in their own languages. We have tried to advance in this over the last year, with a new website which is capable of supporting multiple languages. A good start was made with French and Spanish, but has since come to a bit of a halt. This is partly my fault, but even 3 languages is not enough, we should be communicating in all 6 official languages of the UN, plus the languages of all the nuclear weapons states and the languages of the weasel states.
- Non-Proliferation Treaty Universality.
For decades, we’ve been coming here to NPT conferences and we hear nations repeat the same tired lines about urging universality. When this comes from the nuclear weapons states it is cynical and in bad faith. It is a justification for doing nothing.
Yet, this is a serious problem and maybe we can do something to help. Can we from Abolition 2000 support efforts for peace in the Middle East? For peace between India and Pakistan? For peace in Korea? We don’t talk about these issues because we don’t have representatives from those places here. But could we? Achieving those things would be great in themselves. The recently disbanded Israeli Disarmament Movement under the drive of Sharon Dolev is promoting a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East. What can we do to help her and other such initiatives?
- Creating awareness
All of the above in large part comes down to creating awareness in the population as a whole. I remember as a 15 year old boy watching the film “Threads” and feeling terrified. What I didn’t know until last year is that more or less at the same time Ronald Reagen was watching “The Day After” and was so shocked by it that he initiated a rapprochement with the Soviet Union that almost led to the end of nuclear weapons in the Reykjavik meetings. It is down to all of us to continue to raise awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons by informing the general public as much as possible. I am convinced that the only politicians who vote to keep nuclear weapons are the ones who have never seen or read the presentations by IPPNW on the nuclear winter and the up the 2 billion human beings who will die as a result of a limited war of 100 bombs.
- Expanding our networking.
We may think that our problem is nuclear weapons, but it’s only one symptom of a much bigger systemic problem. The root of our problem with nuclear weapons is the same root of the problem of discrimination against women, the same root underlying the destruction of the environment, the same root underlying global poverty, human rights violation, gun violence, and many others.
This underlying problem is a disregard for human life. If we put our society’s values in an order of importance, above the value of human life comes the value of money, power, sex and prestige. It is this scale of values that allows for the existence of nuclear weapons, that allows for environmental destruction, for violence against women and all the other forms of violence in the world today. The violence that underlies our world today; the physical, economic and psychological violence in our world today, stems from an inverted scale of values which are frankly anti-humanist.
In this context, part of our work in the anti-nuclear movement is to recognise that we share a common purpose with all those other movements. And so, part of our work as a movement should be to build relationships with those other movements, so that we can create a common intelligence among us all, and a network of mutual support.
There are those who will correctly say that we don’t have enough time to do what we’re doing as it is, but it is equally correct to say we will not eliminate the violence that creates the conditions for nuclear weapons until we understand how that violence manifests and affects all of us working in all those diverse fields of activism, and we will not eliminate that violence until we understand that we can’t do it alone.
So before I finish, I wanted to leave us with one final thought: that violence that exists in our society also exists within us. When we treat other human beings as objects to be used for our purposes, when we objectify others, when we treat others very differently from how we would like to be treated, we are reflecting in our personal behaviour the violence that exists in our society and which is transmitted to us through our culture and the education we receive. In this context, while fighting to eliminate nuclear weapons, we should not forget to work on ourselves, we should not forget the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be treated, because it is only in a process of simultaneous personal and social change that we will create the future world in which every human being can fully enjoy a dignified life.
I hope these comments are useful, and if not, I hope they haven’t wasted too much time.