Until quite recently, ‘the 3 Rs’ simply meant reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic. One could very well get by with basic competencies in literacy and math. Yet once Ida Noddack proposed her theory of nuclear fission, the rethinking of our knowledge base began. As Hans Bethe revealed in his interview with Dr. Mary Palevsky, we might not have had nuclear bombs if the discovery of fission had not coincided with the movements of world war.
John Borrie of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) explains ‘reframing’ as a move from what is deemed acceptable. The shift we see through acceptance of a total and legally binding ban on nuclear weapons is, at its core, an ideological and philosophical one. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a milestone in the ongoing reframing of global security concepts. While some may see the ban treaty as a stand against nuclear weapons states, we can also understand the action as taking a stand for peace by legally de-legitimizing weapons of mass destruction.
However, reframing is directly linked to access to knowledge. The less we know, the less we question what is acceptable. The more we know the more action we are likely to take when the human consequences of the nuclear cycle are recognized. Hence, the 3 Rs of Human Security embedded in the nuclear ban treaty: Recognition, Restitution, and Remediation.
The nuclear ban treaty recognizes the “unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to” those who experienced – and continue to experience – the effects of nuclear weapons, those whom Bo Jacobs and Mick Broderick term “Global Hibakusha.” The ban treaty also recognizes “the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons activities on indigenous peoples” like the Pacific populations of the Marshall Islands, Australia, Kiribati, Hawai’i, and Te Ao Maohi.
It is the lived experiences of those who continue to suffer from the effects of nuclear attacks and nuclear weapons testing, and their unwavering activism, that have led us to reframe and define Human Security through a lens of humanitarian consequence and human rights.
Moreover, the treaty recognizes nuclear physics applied through tools of war – quite simply the intentional twisting of science into devastation. Or as Oppenheimer famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita when he witnessed the Trinity test, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Victims of nuclear activity are entitled to restitution. Full stop.
During negotiations on the nuclear ban treaty, government and civil society delegations lobbied vigorously for the inclusion of article 6(1), which addresses “victim assistance.” This key point is an imperative for countries like the Marshall Islands where more than USD$2 billion have been awarded to the Enewetak, Rongelap, Utrik, and Bikini communities through the Nuclear Claims Tribunal – awarded claims that the United States refuses to honor.
When my oldest son was 6 years old, he told me that he wanted to be a scientist. I said that was great but asked why. He replied that he wanted to be a scientist so he could figure out a way to clean up his islands; if scientists could figure out a way to put poison in his islands, there must be a way to take the poison out.
To those who continue to experience the effects of ionizing radiation, like my sons, remediation is a responsibility not an option.
Article 6(2) of the treaty compels state parties to take responsibility for their nuclear actions through “necessary and appropriate measures towards the environmental remediation of areas so contaminated.” In other words, taking the poison out of our children’s islands.
Nuclear states would like us to believe in deterrence, yet Borrie argues the need to critically analyze the knowledge base for such a one-sided theory. In light of the Pacific finding itself in the crosshairs of current nuclear aggressions, can nuclear states provide empirical evidence that deterrence works? The burden lies with nuclear states to prove that the consequences of nuclear weapons do not poison systems of sustainability thus cultivating global insecurity.
Not all 122 states that voted for the ban treaty in July have ratified the legally binding instrument. Some are following their own constitutional procedures to ensure ratification, while others are constrained by agreements and conflicting treaties. However, the very existence of a nuclear ban treaty illuminates the philosophical shift resulting from more than 70 years of active reframing. The treaty shows us that we have evolved beyond the use of atomic science as a show of weaponry force; instead, recentering humanity to establish an era of remediation and peace.
We must continue to broaden our context of security through well-researched policy with privilege given to lived experience, and recognition of insecurity as a result of atomic “peace.”
How much longer must we live in fear?
Brooke Takala is a mother, PhD candidate at the University of the South Pacific, and co-coordinator of an Enewetak NGO called Elimon̄dik.
For information on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/
For more information on US human radiation experimentation, including experimentation on the Marshallese people, refer to http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/radiation/
Follow the treaty signatures/ratifications at http://www.icanw.org/status-of-the-treaty-on-the-prohibition-of-nuclear-weapons/