Abolition 2000 is rapidly approaching the year 2000, a moment of truth for the global Network. General Lee Butler, a powerful advocate of abolition, offered these observations: “Turning specifically to the agenda, tactics and timetable of the abolition community, I see a widening gulf between its aspirations and their prospects, especially in the near term. That disparity is most immediately obvious in the disjunction between the name of the umbrella organization, ‘Abolition 2000,’ and the self-evident reality that its implied goal is not yet in sight, much less in hand. That is a real Y2K problem that must be addressed to ensure that the vitality of the ongoing work of the organization is not diminished by the intimations of a failed strategic objective.”
When Abolition 2000 was initiated in 1995, it seemed reasonable to set as our primary goal a treaty by the year 2000 calling for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons. The goal was never to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons by the year 2000, but rather to achieve an international treaty leading to the total elimination of these weapons by early in the 21st Century.
Abolition 2000 was born at the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference. It came about as a result of disappointment by many NGOs with the apparent blank check given to the nuclear weapons states when the treaty was extended indefinitely. The extension was given without regard for the widely perceived failure of the nuclear weapons states to act on their Article VI obligations for good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Abolition 2000 sought in some respects to be the conscience of the international community by demanding that Article VI obligations be upheld in the aftermath of the indefinite extension.
Abolition 2000 began with the drafting of a common Statement by some 60 peace and disarmament NGOs at the 1995 NPT Conference. Supporters of the Statement quickly expanded to about 300 NGOs. Over the past nearly five years, the number of supporters has expanded to 1,358 organizations in 88 countries. As the year 2000 approaches, questions arise as to what will become of Abolition 2000 and its global Network. If an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons is not achieved by the end of the year 2000, will the Network have failed? Will it lose its credibility? Will the Network continue after the year 2000?
The Network made a bold decision at the outset by adopting the name Abolition 2000. It was prepared to press the issue of moving forward with a nuclear weapons abolition agenda, setting a timeframe for tangible progress. It was not content to leave the timeframe open-ended. It refused to accept vague declarations by the nuclear weapons states that they were for the “ultimate” goal of eliminating their nuclear arsenals. While it may be perceived that it would have been safer for the Network to choose a name that did not force a timeframe for success, the choice of the name serves an important function by making clear that an agreement to abolish nuclear weapons is a matter of urgency. Abolition cannot be put off to some indefinite future time whenever the nuclear weapons states decide they are ready to act.
Inherent in the name Abolition 2000 is the understanding that we should not cross the threshold into a new century and millennium without a clear commitment to the global elimination of nuclear weapons. Abolition 2000 has taken a stand on the side of morality, legality, and democracy, and has given a voice to the opinion of most of the world’s nations. Abolition 2000 has spoken truth to power.
The problem is that power, in the form of the governments of the nuclear weapons states, have responded by stonewalling and a continuation of business as usual. These governments seem locked into a Cold War mentality based on the theory of deterrence, despite the fact they can no longer identify who it is they are deterring or from what they are deterring them.
Since the initiation of Abolition 2000, the Network has opposed continued nuclear testing of all kinds, including sub-critical and laboratory testing. It has called for ending the nuclear threat by taking specific steps such as de-alerting nuclear forces and agreeing to policies of No First Use. It has not only called for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, but has participated in drafting a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention which Costa Rica has introduced in the United Nations. Abolition 2000 has also mobilized citizen actions throughout the world in favor of abolishing nuclear arms, including the gathering of over 13 million signatures in Japan alone. The Network has also encouraged prominent individuals and municipalities to declare themselves committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons.
After nearly five years, Abolition 2000 remains committed to the only outcome that can safeguard humanity’s future. But it faces powerful opposing forces in the form of the governments of the nuclear weapons states, the wall of secrecy that surrounds their nuclear policies, and the wall of complacency that engulfs large segments of the public throughout the world.
Abolition 2000 can help to remind the people of the world that they have choices. They don’t need to leave the fate of humanity in the hands of a small number of leaders of nuclear weapons states. They do not need to sit by while countries such as India and Pakistan test and deploy nuclear weapons, repeating the mistakes made by the five declared nuclear weapons states. They do not need to continue to feed the defense contractors and politicians that remain eager to develop and deploy the Ballistic Missile Defenses – defenses that have little likelihood of working and will actually make the world far more dangerous as other nuclear armed countries respond with stronger offensive capabilities.
With such dangers as the deployment of Ballistic Missile Defenses on the horizon in the United States, Abolition 2000 is needed more than ever. The year 2000 will be a year of focused actions for the Network throughout the world. The Network has set as goals for itself to grow to 2000 organizations; to identify 2000 prominent supporters of abolishing nuclear weapons; to engage in a week of education and advocacy from March 1-8, 2000; to have a strong and vocal presence at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference; and to join in millennial events throughout the world.
Abolition 2000 will not simply fade away. Its international symbol is the sunflower. Like the sunflower, it has given birth to a thousand seeds of peace, which will be carried by the wind, take root and grow in many places. These seeds will be borne by the winds of change. They will cross boundaries and will be carried over walls of indifference. Abolition 2000 may not fulfill its goal of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons in the year 2000. But it is critical that this grassroots movement stay the course and continue to grow until its goal is achieved.