Particle Beams

"Luminous Quanta of Divine Intelligence…" dispelling the nuclear delusion

Non-nuclear nations take the lead at Vienna Disarmament Conference

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Prospects for the abolition of nuclear weapons took a great leap forward last month, and judging by the present standoff between the US and Russia over Ukraine, it can’t happen a moment too soon.

Nearly seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite numerous attempts at abolition, 17,200 of these horrible weapons exist, many of them on high alert. Humanity has been haunted by their terrifying power, but the discourse about reducing their numbers has always taken place within the context of their presumed mission of security and deterrence. Now, a new movement focusing on the humanitarian impacts of their use has awakened growing numbers of people and nations from the trance of numbers and abstractions to recognize the dire straits we are truly in. An accident, a war between nuclear powers, a cyber-attack, or a terrorist with a small amount of radioactive material could set up a confrontation that would not only maim or kill thousands or even millions of people, but could bring on a nuclear winter that would so dark and severe that crops could not grow. No nation today is equipped to deal with such an emergency.

Frustration among citizens and the governments of non-nuclear nations over the failure of the nine nuclear nations to adhere to the mandates of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty of 1970 which requires the progressive elimination of nuclear weapons is driving this new push for a legally binding international treaty to ban them entirely. In December, 800 representatives from 158 nations, the International Red Cross, and the United Nations met at the former Hofburg Palace for the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Two days earlier, members of 300 organizations from civil society had a parallel meeting organized by the International Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of 360 partner organizations in 93 countries created in 2006 by the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). It was the third meeting of its kind. The first was in Oslo in 2012, the next in Mexico the following year. Happily, the impetus for this movement is coming from the youth.

The results of this year’s meeting were impressive. Austria amazed participants by announcing its pledge to work for abolition. Forty-five states agreed to support the effort to create a legally binding treaty and convention that would ban nuclear weapons like the conventions that have successfully banned chemical weapons, and landmines.

Consideration of nuclear weapons in terms of humanitarian impact has brought the reality home, breaking through the mesmerizing cloud of numbness and denial that hangs over the issue. By examining the cost to civilians, the disruption of civil society, the contamination of water and land, and the possibility of human extinction, the truth is poking through the gloaming: nothing is worth the risk of another nuclear explosion on this planet.

States have realized the world need not wait – indeed, had better not wait – for the nine nuclear nations to take the lead. Frederick Douglas famously said that elites will never willingly give up their privilege. Nuclear weapons endow their possessors with incomparable supremacy in the political arena. People seem almost afraid to speak of them, as if they were instruments of magical potency and the epitome of manhood. Nuclear nations continue to hoard these weapons of terror while mouthing platitudes about eliminating them.

Needless to say, the nuclear powers have not been eager to attend these conferences; but this year, four participated. The United States and its sidekick the United Kingdom, India and its enemy Pakistan all attended. The behavior of the US delegation was strange, reports John Loretz of IPPNW. After painful presentations by survivors of nuclear bombs, the Chair invited questions, but specifically limiting commentary. But the US immediately launched into the reading of a five-minute comment justifying the American approach to nuclear weapons reduction within that same-old national security context. The attendees were stunned. “The Canadian delegation approached the US representative incredulously,” said Loretz, “saying, what were you doing? You made us all look bad.” The embarrassed Americans took pains the next day to thank the victims for speaking.

Still trapped in the nuclear mindset, Russia bragged recently about its ability to bomb the United States; and in a report published in September, the US State Department admitted that Russia’s nuclear weapons capability has surpassed ours. Despite the signing of the START Treaty in February 2011, in which the two superpowers agreed to reduce their deployed warheads to 700 each, both have increased their number to about 1600. And last month the US Congress approved the Omnibus Authorization Bill, funding $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons modernization programs expected to cost $1 trillion over the next decade. China is now developing missiles that will be able to strike the US mainland.

It’s the razor’s edge. Wrote Ward Wilson, Senior Fellow at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), in an email, “Keeping nuclear weapons now is like clutching a bottle of nitroglycerin to your chest in a whirlwind.”

This article was published by The Populist Progressive,, on Feb 1, 2015


caption: “The Austrian Red Cross deployed personnel in hazmat suits who used Geiger counters to screen all participants for radioactivity as they streamed in the front entrance.”


Written by stephaniehiller

March 18, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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