Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty Could Become Law Next Year

John LaForge

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear  Weapons, spoke at Augsburg University in Minneapolis September 15.  Photo by John LaForge
Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, spoke at Augsburg University in Minneapolis September 15. Photo by John LaForge

“GENEVA (Reuters) - A treaty banning nuclear weapons could come into force by the end of 2019, backers of a campaign that won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize said in an annual progress report on Monday.”
This October 29 news report came with the announcement of the premier of the “Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.” The Monitor, published by Norwegian People’s Aid, is a newly established watchdog for the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Monitor can be downloaded on
The Monitor’s first sentence re-broadcast “the disarmament shot heard round the world” last summer: “Adopted by 122 states on 7 July 2017 at a United Nations diplomatic conference, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) provides a reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Prohibiting its parties from developing, testing, possessing, hosting, using, and threatening to use nuclear weapons, as well as assisting, encouraging, or inducing those prohibited acts, the Treaty codifies norms and actions that are needed to create and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. It also provides a yardstick against which progress towards the abolition of nuclear weapons may be measured.”

The new Monitor reports that so far 19 governments have formally ratified the ban treaty. Once 50 governments ratify, it comes into force and is binding on its signers. Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, told Reuters, “We have about 25 or 30 countries that say they will be ready [to ratify the treaty] by the end of 2019, so it’s definitely possible” to pass the 50 country mark.

The new ban treaty puts nuclear weapons in the same outlawed category as biological weapons, gas weapons, land minds and cluster munitions. All are banned under treaty law. Thirty-two rogue countries including the United States continue to ignore the land mine ban, and the US deploys them in great numbers in Korea and elsewhere. But 164 adherents continue to stigmatize and shame the outliers who can only pretend to respect international law. The new TPNW likewise aims to stigmatize nuclear weapons.

The United States under president Obama led a boycott of the treaty negotiations that led to the TPNW. When the final negotiations were launched March 27, 2017, Trump was in the White House and Governor Nikki Haley, his appointee to the UN, explained the boycott this way. “[W]e have to be realistic. Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?”

 Realists for Unilateral Disarmament

Yet we don’t have to believe it to be realistic. Military hawks of every stripe will remember the Cold War military strategist and presidential advisor to Ronald Reagan Paul Nitze. As a former Secretary of the Navy, and Deputy Secretary of Defense in the 1960s and ‘70s, Nitze drafted and implemented US nuclear war plans and preparations himself. 

Yet this hard-nosed realist wrote the ultimate epitaph for nuclear weapons and war strategy in the New York Times (“A Threat Mostly to Ourselves,” Oct. 29, 1999). Nitze wrote: “I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for their prior use against us.” 

This harshly realistic conclusion was the view of a life-long anti-Soviet ideologue. Nitze’s view demolishes Ambassador Haley’s badly re-written US history lesson of March 27, 2017. Haley had the nerve to announce, “…we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.”

Even ignoring the US military’s “trying to keep peace” by today bombing seven different countries, Haley’s defense of the Bomb is preposterous in view of non-nuclear forces at the Pentagon’s disposal. Paul Nitze’s opinion piece emblazoned this point: “In view of the fact that we can achieve our objectives with conventional weapons, there is no purpose to be gained through the use of our nuclear arsenal.”

Haley and all the nuclear weapons hold-outs in the world can take a lesson from Nitze, the father of all bomb threats known as “NSC 68.” Nitze tried to undo his long career of nuclear threat mongering with his in-print confession. Following his advice would save the world some devastating trouble.
And now with the TPNW to grab hold of, the United States can simply end its obstruction, join the crowd, and sign on. As the uber-realist Nitze wrote: “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them … adds nothing to our security.”

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