California Embraces Nuclear Disarmament

By |2019-01-04T10:36:06-07:00January 4, 2019|

NAPF Deputy Director Rick Wayman wrote this article for Gensuikyo Tsushin, the newsletter of the Japan Council Against A & H Bombs. To see a scanned image of the article in Japanese, click here.

On August 28, 2018, California became the first state in the U.S. to declare its support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty, negotiated in 2017 among the majority of the world’s nations and many NGOs, was adopted at the United Nations by a vote of 122-1. The efforts of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to achieve this treaty were recognized with the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, the United States has been aggressively opposed to a treaty that would outlaw these cruel, indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.

That’s why it’s such a big deal that California has taken a stand. About 12% of the U.S. population lives in California. The state has a long and proud history of setting positive legislative trends and kick-starting the process of change nationwide.

The Japanese government has also been opposed to the TPNW, ignoring pressure from hibakusha, activists, and scholars who believe that Japan’s reliance on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” is improper.

Hundreds of municipalities around Japan have already encouraged the Japanese government to sign the TPNW. It is my hope that by sharing my story of how and why California adopted its resolution, more people throughout Japan will be inspired to get their local governments to speak out as well.

How It Began

In October 2017, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation held its annual Evening for Peace, which that year honored Dr. Ira Helfand and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War for their decades of work for nuclear weapons abolition.

One of the members in the audience that evening was our local representative to the California State Assembly, Monique Limón. She was always generally supportive of our work, but had never indicated any particular interest in taking action to further nuclear weapons abolition.

Dr. Helfand’s talk that evening was very powerful. He discussed in great detail the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and made it clear that the threat of nuclear weapons being used continues to be very real.

This shook many attendees to the core, and Assembly Member Limón was among them. She contacted us after the event to ask what she could do to help. Together with a couple of other NGOs, we created an informal group to consult with her office on the wording for a resolution in the California State Legislature.

What It Says

The California resolution, officially called “Assembly Joint Resolution 33,” is written in the traditional style of laying out background information with multiple “WHEREAS” statements, followed by several action points.

The action points in this resolution are strong, and are worth examining in closer detail.

  1. “Resolved… that the Legislature urges our federal leaders and our nation to embrace the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of our national security policy.”

The TPNW has received some media attention in many countries around the world, but the U.S. mainstream media has been virtually silent about the treaty’s existence. Nuclear deterrence has been the centerpiece of U.S. national security policy for over seven decades. Making the first action point about both the TPNW and nuclear disarmament makes it clear that these are high priorities for the most populated state in the U.S.

  1. Resolved, That the Legislature calls upon our federal leaders and our nation to spearhead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first, ending the President’s sole, unchecked authority to launch a nuclear attack, taking U.S. nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, canceling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons, and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

This language comes directly from the Back from the Brink campaign, which lays out five common-sense steps that the United States should take to reform its nuclear policy. While these steps in and of themselves will not lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons, it is also a top priority to make sure that nuclear weapons are never again used.

  1. Resolved, That the Chief Clerk of the Assembly transmit copies of this resolution to the President and Vice President of the United States, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, to the Majority Leader of the Senate, to the Minority Leader of the Senate, to each Senator and Representative from California in the Congress of the United States, and to the Governor.

It is important that the resolution did not just get passed and filed away in an obscure record book. By sending the resolution to all of the national-level representatives, it ensured that they knew that the body representing nearly 40 million Americans has made a strong call for nuclear disarmament.

Why It Matters

For 50 years, the United States has been a part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This treaty has been remarkably successful at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries. But it has failed to compel the nuclear-armed nations to fulfill their obligation to negotiate in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament.

In February 2018, the U.S. released its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a document that publicly declares the United States’ positions and priorities around nuclear weapons. In the introduction to the NPR, and repeated later in the body of the document – and subsequently repeated in official statements the U.S. has made – the authors write, “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

The glasses they are looking through are very, very dark. Because what they propose over and over in this document is a readiness and a willingness to use nuclear weapons, including to use nuclear weapons first. They unashamedly say that they are ready to resume nuclear testing in response to “geopolitical challenges.”

I dedicated my life to achieving the abolition of nuclear weapons after hearing two survivors of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima speak when I was 23, just before my two countries of citizenship – the U.S. and U.K. – invaded Iraq under the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction.

To this day, some of the people I admire most in the world are hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who openly share the unimaginable suffering imposed upon them when nuclear weapons were used on their cities. One of my personal and professional role models was Mr. Tony de Brum, who passed away last year from cancer, a fate that has befallen so many of his fellow Marshall Islanders following 12 years of brutal atmospheric nuclear testing by the U.S. I’ve spoken with nuclear testing survivors from many countries around the world, and their stories are real.

That is reality. To see the world as it is, we must look into their eyes.

Conclusion

To all of my friends in Japan, I understand the frustration of having a national government that refuses to take action for nuclear disarmament. In fact, as a dual national of the U.S. and UK, both of my national governments act in this shameful way. Even amidst this challenging circumstance, it is essential to persevere and not to be discouraged.

While the national governments of the U.S., UK, Japan, and other nuclear-armed and nuclear-allied countries continue to resist the valiant global effort to achieve nuclear abolition, we can find creative ways to make progress so that change on the national level is inevitable. Towns, cities, states, provinces, prefectures, trade unions, religious groups, and so many others have a responsibility to speak out in support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Never give up!