So many words, but so little action on nuclear disarmament

Earl Turcotte
Opinion Hil Times January 20, 20201

Who in their wildest dreams would have thought that the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, would feel compelled earlier this month to plead with the chairman of the Joint  Chiefs of  Staff to deny access by an increasingly unstable president to the nuclear launch codes, for fear that he might order a nuclear strike? As if this were even possible, since, under U.S. law, no one can counter such an order by the commander in chief.

In the dying
days of his
presidency, senior
U.S. politicians,
including House
Speaker Nancy
Pelosi expressed
concern about
Donald Trump
having access
to the country’s
nuclear codes.
Flickr photograph
by Gage Skidmore

And it was not only the Democrats who were worried. A number of Republicans openly expressed concern, given President Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged behaviour in the dying days of his presidency.

Tell me this: how is it that one man, or his counterparts in nine nuclear-armed states, can be allowed to hold the fate of the world in their hands? It takes only one accident, miscalculation, or tragically misguided impulse for everything to spin out of control and bring an end to life on Earth as we know it.

But the status quo is about to change in a big way. In 2017, 124 countries came together at the United Nations to negotiate a legally binding instrument that would outlaw nuclear weapons for states that would become a party to it. When the dust settled, 122 nations endorsed the text of the historic Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Already, 51 have ratified it and the Treaty will enter into force on Jan. 22.

Upon the announcement last October that the threshold of 50 ratifications to trigger the Treaty’s entry into force had been reached, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres observed that this Treaty is “the culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It represents a meaningful commitment toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.”

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said that, “For too long, we have looked to the past for guidance on what to do about nuclear weapons. We have witnessed how the dangerous logic of nuclear deterrence repeatedly has led the world to the brink of unimaginable destruction, threatening the very survival of humankind…. [This] is a victory for humanity.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is indeed a major milestone in the global campaign to prevent nuclear catastrophe.

How profoundly tragic that all nine nuclear-armed states and their enablers—including Canada—boycotted negotiation of this Treaty and that they continue to denounce it. All the while, professing their commitment to global nuclear disarmament. So many words, so little action.

In my more cynical moments, I think it may well take a madman deliberately or accidentally opening the gates of nuclear hell to shake nuclear powers’ naive belief that nuclear weapons help maintain peace—when just the opposite is so obvious to the other 80 per cent of the planet.

Earl Turcotte is chair of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The Hill Times