Nuclear Weapons at the Grassroots

Global Zero's Brittany Kimzety Bird-Dogging Hillary Clinton in Coralville
Global Zero’s Brittany Kimzey Bird-Dogging Hillary Clinton in Coralville

Full of exuberance after the election of Barack Obama, author of the April 5, 2009 speech on nuclear abolition in Prague, Czech Republic, we believed U.S. Senate ratification of the New START Treaty with Russia would proceed easily. Our attention could then be focused on ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed by president Bill Clinton in 1996.

It didn’t happen that way.

In 2009 I was part of a coalition of organizations advocating for CTBT ratification. The Senate minority had banded together to leverage their power. Ratification of New START became an epic struggle, rather than the slam dunk we expected. The final result was laced with irony. In order to get a cloture vote on New START, the Obama administration agreed to modernize the U.S. nuclear complex.

It was a bitter pill and an example of how the congressional minority was capable of blocking legislation advanced in a Democratically controlled congress. CTBT remains on the back burner.

Since then, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has gained support from more than 140 countries for a new treaty to abolish nuclear weapons. Next week, the United Nations General Assembly will be voting on several related resolutions advanced from the U.N. First Committee.

“Each December, the First Committee resolutions goes to the full General Assembly for a second vote,” Beatrice Fihn, ICAN executive director wrote in an email. “The four key resolutions (humanitarian consequences, humanitarian pledge, ethical imperatives and open-ended working group) will be voted upon again on Dec. 7. This is a great chance for us to improve the voting results from First Committee and a good opportunity to put additional pressure on some governments.”

UN Ban NWWhether the U.S. will vote for the resolutions is unclear, and Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller has repeatedly said the U.S. seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons through the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is already in force, rather than in a new treaty.

ICAN, a global campaign coalition working to mobilize people in all countries to inspire, persuade and pressure their governments to initiate and support negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, is expected to lose a major portion of their funding for next year from the Norwegian government. The campaign, launched in 2007, and now with more than 400 partner organizations in 95 countries, is reacting to the funding stream change. Loss of the funding may have a significant impact on the campaign.

In Iowa, home of the first in the nation political caucuses, advocacy groups are asking questions about nuclear abolition at campaign events. Yesterday Brittany Kimzey, of Global Zero bird-dogged Jeb Bush at an event.

Others published letters to the editor and opinion pieces on nuclear abolition, and plan to get platform planks regarding abolition into party platforms. The Iowa Democratic Party state platform contains planks regarding elimination of nuclear weapons, containing the Iranian nuclear program, and engaging in diplomacy to contain North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Because of the word limits imposed by the party, some slight modification of these planks may be possible. The Republican Party of Iowa platform is devoid of mention of nuclear weapons.

As I write, corporations are making a handsome financial return on modernization of the nuclear weapons complex. Conflicts in Asia, Africa and Europe escalate tension and raises concerns nuclear weapons may be used again or captured by terrorists. Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball posted one of the issues on Twitter:

Nuclear weapons should never be used again. At the grassroots it is unclear there is adequate support for abolition as 2015 ends. The work continues nonetheless.