The Nuclear History of Micronesia and the Pacific

Season of Hiroshima
August 12, 1999
Defended to Death
August 24, 1999
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The Nuclear History of Micronesia and the Pacific

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“The first shot, Bravo, the largest single nuclear explosion conducted by the United States, with a destructive capability more than one thousand times that of the Hiroshima bomb, was detonated on 1 March 1954. The explosion was so powerful it vaporized several small islands …”

“…To this day, peoples of Rongelap, Bikini, Enewetak, and many in the Marshall Islands continue to suffer from cancer, miscarriages, and tumors.”

While it is harrowing that Japanese cities became the ultimate target, Micronesians (Marshallese) and French-Polynesians have never really overcome the disastrous consequences of the nuclear testings that made the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki possible. In French-Occupied Polynesia, 180 tests were conducted for over 30 years beginning with atmospheric testing in the Tuamotos in 1966. Only sometime later did the testings move underground in the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa; but unlike the Americans, in the case of documentation of test results and effects on environmental and human health, the French have always been and continue to be secretive about their own tests in Polynesia. Tahitians and Marshall Islanders who were exposed, including test site workers, have been dying slow, excruciating deaths. Often they are unable to receive proper medical treatment because French authorities continue to deny officially that the nuclear tests did in fact cause any significant environmental or human damage.

At the conclusion of World War II after Japan’s defeat, Micronesia was taken by America. In January 1946, the US Naval Military Government selected the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands chain for the first series of nuclear tests–known as Operation Crossroads–which were intended to demonstrate the destructive capacity of the atomic bombs on a fleet of wartime ships (Robie 1989, p.142). In July 1947, the US Government became our “Administering Authority,” with the blessings of the UN. Immediately after the war, eleven territories were under UN supervision. Micronesia became administratively the “Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands,” and consisted of the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands (which included the islands of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Truck/Chuuk, Yap, and Belau), and the Marianas Islands (which include Guam, Saipan and Tinian).

In Belau (Palau), where I come from, we were spared the harrowing experiences of the atomic testings. Kwajalein, Bikini and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands, however, were chosen for a supply base and a smaller command center, respectively, and which were used for the bomb testings. The Marshall Islands suffered the most from these military occupations and tests. Kwajelein also became a vital link in the supply route for American forces during the Korean War as well as a base for missile tests later. On Saipan, the main island of what is now the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Central Intelligence set up a camp which operated a secret training for Chinese nationalist guerillas who were part of an unsuccessful plan to invade the Chinese mainland (Robie p.144).

Micronesia, therefore, was where the beginnings of important aspects of these US military activities took place. These integral aspects of US military strategy in the western Pacific were the beginnings of a strategic concept at work in U.S. Asia-Pacific policy. Ever since, as Joseph Gerson has written, Micronesia has been shaped and influenced by “the goal of maintaining and increasing U.S. power and advantage in the region.” In the Marshall Islands, the US tested a total of 66 atomic and hydrogen bombs between 1946 and 1958. Six islands were vaporised by nuclear weapons and hundreds of people were irradiated. Today, more than 40 years later, many islands are still uninhabited. Many Bikinians and Rongelapese who were downwind of the bomb explosions remain exiled peoples. (Alexander 1994, pp. 28,30).

In the book, Blood on their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific, David Robie writes,

…the more than 2000 islands of Micronesia have played a vital role in modern strategic history. Japanese aircraft launched their attack on Peal Harbor from Micronesia, plunging the United States into the Second World War. And it was from Tinian Island in western Micronesia that the Enola Gay took off with its deadly weapons for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the war and ushered in the nuclear age. The islands of Micronesia have been used by Washington ever since as pawns to enhance its strategic posture (Robie, ibid, p.142).

This ‘strategic posture’ was largely the result of a Cold War strategy that relied on massive military might. It emerged as well from a rational calculation of the use of deadly power. Cold War strategy, Alexander observed:

…required an assessment of both the political and military potential of the atomic weapon in a strategic sense. While the political assessment was made in the context of East-West rivalry, the military assessment required taking note of both the strengths and weaknesses of the new weapon. Two of these weaknesses, the scarcity of bombs and the limited range of the only available delivery vehicle, the B-29 bomber, served to govern US strategy in the first years after World War II, and prompted an all-out effort for research and development, including an ambitious testing program. At the same time, US confidence in its ability to maintain its nuclear lead was bolstered by a new-found strength, the efficacy of which had been demonstrated by the Manhattan Project (Alexander, ibid, p.18).

A comprehensive program of nuclear research appeared necessary; however, there had been concerns within the US Congress about safety issues. After considerations, the US Atomic Energy Commission told Congress in 1953 that tests should be held overseas until it (can) be established more definitely that continental detonations would not endanger the public health and safety (Weisgall 1980, p. 76). Micronesia, which was captured from the Japanese, seemed, to the AEC, as the most natural place. Bikini was chosen as one of over 20 atolls scattered over close to 400,000 square miles of ocean which make up the Marshall Islands to carry Operation Crossroads, the first series of tests which were conducted near the surface of the atoll, in July 1946. These first tests consisted of two 23 kiloton detonations, one named Able and the other, Baker.

The explosions gouged out a crater 240 feet deep and 6,000 feet across, melted huge quantities of coral, sucked them up and distributed them far and wide across the Pacific. The island of Rongelap (100 miles away) was buried in powdery particles of radioactive fallout to a depth of one and a half inches, and Utirik (300 miles away) was swathed in radioactive mist. Also in the path of the fallout was a Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon No 5, and all 23 crew rapidly developed radiation sickness. (Alexander 1994, pp.22,23,24). Jonathan Weisgall, in an article titled “Nuclear Nomads of Bikini” noted that according to one report, “Baker alone left 500,000 tons of radioactive mud in the lagoon” (Weisgall, ibid, p.84.).

But the “US navy [only] sent ships to evacuate the people of Rongelap and Utirik three days after the explosion. These (and other) Pacific people were used as human guinea pigs in an obscene racist experiment – a particularly sharp snapshot of colonialism and the horrors wrought by the arrogant mindset which goes with it,” as a Peace Movement Aotearoa/New Zealand Action Alert put it (Peace Movement Aotearoa, March 1999).

These two tests were just two of the total 66 nuclear tests that the Department of Defense announced it conducted between 1946 and 1958, 23 of them at Bikini Atoll and 43 at Enewetak, located in the northern Marshall Islands. Operation Sandstone was the name of the series of tests conducted at Enewetak Atoll between April and May 1948. A 49 kiloton blast code-named Yoke, yielded “an explosion which was more than twice the size of any prior atomic bomb detonation.” There was something significant about Operation Sandstone, as Alexander observed. Partly quoting from Harvey Wasserman’s and Norman Solomon’s book, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, Alexander wrote,

Operation Sandstone was significant in that the tests, conducted jointly by the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission, ‘evidently did result in substantial improvements in the efficiency of use of fissile material,’ and according to Herbert York this ‘success’ ‘boosted morale at Los Alamos and helped garner further support for the laboratory in Washington. As a result, the construction of a new laboratory, located nearby on South Mesa (New Mexico), was authorized as a replacement for the wartime facilities which were still being used.’ This response is an example of the way in which the nuclear industry and nuclear strategists developed their own momentum. Each successful explosion not only helped create the mystique of American nuclear preeminence, but also spoke to the possibility of the development of more and more powerful weapons, resulting in greater insecurity not only for the people involved in the tests, but for the entire world (Alexander, ibid., p. 24).

Other series of tests, Operation Greenhouse, for example, were conducted at Enewetak in April and May 1951. On November 1, 1952, Mike was exploded on the island of Elugelab. Mike was the name of a cylindrical bomb measuring 22 ft in length and 5-1/2 ft in diameter and weighing 23 tons. Mike’s detonation yielded a force of over 10 megatons, nearly one thousand times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The island of Elugelab completely disappeared.

The US Government listed the Mike explosion as the first detonation of an experimental thermonuclear device (Wasserman and Solomon, pp. 80-84). A total of six islands would simply vanish as a result of further tests of similar magnitude. The Mike bomb paved the way for the development of future hydrogen bombs. Operation Castle tested these bombs between March and May 1954, using Bikini and Enewetak Atolls. The operation included the following detonations: Bravo (15 megaton), Romeo (11 megaton), Union (6.9 megaton), Yankee (13.5 megaton), and Nectar (1.69 megaton).

Again, according to Alexander:

The first shot, Bravo, the largest single nuclear explosion conducted by the United States, with a destructive capability more than one thousand times that of the Hiroshima bomb, was detonated on 1 March 1954. The explosion was so powerful it vaporized several small islands and parts of islands in Bikini Atoll and left a hole one-mile deep in diameter in the reef. Years later, some Bikinian leaders would return to Bikini and weep openly at the sight of the sandbars and open water, all that remained of the islands destroyed by the Bravo shot. They would declare that the islands had ‘lost their bones.’

Bravo coated Rongelap and Utirik Atolls with two inches of radioactive fallout. (Alexander, ibid., 28).

To this day, peoples of Rongelap, Bikini, Enewetak, and many in the Marshall Islands continue to suffer from cancer, miscarriages, and tumors. Eighty-four percent of those who lived on Rongelap who below 10 years old at the times of the explosions have required surgery for thyroid tumors (Alexander, ibid., p.30).

Movement for a Nuclear-Free Belau (Palau)

As someone who is intimately involved in anti-nuclear movements and know of the health consequences of radiation exposure, I grieve today for my Marshallese sisters and brothers. By a kind hand of fate perhaps, my island nation of Belau was spared the harrowing nightmare of nuclear testings. However, we were not spared the full brunt of what is described as nuclear colonialism. By the end of the 1970s, over a decade after the official creation of a larger Micronesian effort to decolonize (Congress of Micronesia), it was clear to us what the monstrous legacy of nuclearism had done just a few thousand miles to the east of us in the Marshall Islands. (Subsequent nuclear catastrophes would contribute to strengthening the anti-nuclear movement). Marshall Islands, the French-Occupied Polynesia, and several places around the world that had been unkindly dealt by nuclearism impressed themselves strongly upon our minds, to say the least.

In our movement to decolonize, we wrote a Nuclear-Free Constitution in April 1979. Overt and covert American efforts to sidetrack issues and or at the least undermine Belau’s position on anti-nuclearism were unconvincing; via various diplomatic and not-so-diplomatic means, they failed initially to arrest what was quickly becoming a popular movement against what was felt to be outright colonial behavior. The history of the Constitutional Convention that produced the world’s first nuclear-free Constitution offered an explicit rejection of American demands, which were to compel Belau to acquiesce to US military and nuclear requirements. The increasing anti-base movement in the Philippines, where the US maintained its largest foreign military base operation, contributed to the tensions between Belau and America. Belau was always seen as a potential fallback area in the event the Philippine people did successfully evicted the US military. Belau, the Philippines, Guam, Kwajelein and other parts of Micronesia were parts of the network of what was described as a “forward military strategy” which aimed to project US military strength as close as possible to the Asian mainland and throughout the Pacific Ocean. This was part of a grand strategic plan outlined in a US National Security Action Memorandum No. 145 (NSAM-145), signed by John F. Kennedy in April 1962, and designed to formally incorporate all of Micronesia within US’s political and military network in the Pacific.

NSAM-145 provided the political context in which Kennedy would, over a year later, send a mission to Micronesia to plot the contours of a colonial conspiracy which had been faithfully adhered to by subsequent US administrations. The mission was headed by a Harvard University Business School Professor Anthony M. Solomon. The mission’s report came to bear his name. The Solomon Report, was the blueprint for US neocolonialism in the Pacific [and] provides disturbing reading on American political ambitions (Aldridge and Myers 1990, pp.22, 23). Resisting this grand colonial scheme, we attempted to create a nation-state. The next 15 years proved to be a painful period of radical political and social transformations, as we struggled to preserve our nuclear-free Constitution amidst aggressive US Pentagon attempts to undermine it.

It is impossible to describe a 15-year movement here in a page or two. I will only refer the reader to the extensive report of the United Nations Visiting Mission to Belau in November 1993. The UN mission was sent there to observe the November 9th 1993 plebiscite on the Compact of Free Association, the treaty negotiated by Belau and the US which details the economic and military conditions of a treaty-relationship between the US and Belau (for more details, refer to UN Trusteeship Council Document T/1978, December 1993). This is the treaty that the United States was adamant in compelling Belau to adopt, and which after 15 years and seven attempts to say NO to it, was finally “approved” in 1993. The treaty has essentially laid to rest the nuclear-free provisions of Belau’s Constitution for 50 years; the US, in return, will give Belau some economic assistance only for 15 years.

The crucial issues to consider here, or in similar nation-building efforts, are those of democratic principles and military imperatives. Between 1983 and 1993, Belau peoples exercised their democratic right to freely express their common wishes in founding a nuclear-free island nation. In all of these democratic exercises, we said No each time. US military imperatives overrode all of those No’s and undermined democratic practice; but this is not something new. Cultures of militarism and nuclearism are, by nature, cultures of secrecy. They erode openness and democracy and make indispensable a culture of death and terror which legitimizes militarism and production and use of weapons of mass destruction. The theory and practice of nuclear deterrence have been extremely hostile to democratic practice. National military strategies have often required the absence of free democratic thought while, on the other hand, a commitment to nuclear disarmament and demilitarization will allow communities to participate more fully in both the political sphere and civil society” in working to ensure a world free of the nuclear dangers that confront us.

Belau’s first popularly-elected president, Haruo Remeliik, was assassinated, partly as a result of the intricate web of Compact of Free Association politics and internal power struggles shaped by America’s obstinate military policies.

As a result of the November 1993 plebiscite, the Compact of Free Association was approved and came into force on October 1, 1994, a day hailed as “Independence Day.” A year later, Belau joined the South Pacific Forum, an organization of Pacific Island Governments. In December of 1995, Belau joined the United Nations. As a result, in the South Pacific Forum and within the United Nations, Belau will assume responsibilities for keeping the issue of nuclear disarmament alive.

One of the stipulations of the Compact of Free Association which made possible its passage in 1993 was that the United States would only seek to exercise its right to militarize (which implies the stationing of nuclear weapons) “during periods of crisis or hostilities.” To be sure, a May 6, 1993 Letter of Assurances from US Secretary of State Warren Christopher failed to explicitly define what such crisis or hostilities would be. In any event, the stipulations expressed in Secretary Christopher’s letter were incorporated within and legislated into binding Belau law. A greater portion of these assurances would rely on the “good faith” of the United States and the Belau Government, in accordance with the provisions of stated military objectives of the Compact treaty (see Republic of Palau Public Law No. 4-9, Sections 5, 6). Regional peace, we must then conclude, will depend to a greater or lesser extent on the responsibilities of these two nations to decrease (or de-escalate) the potential for actual military conflict or violence.

It is worth noting that for the basic international legal instrument mandating global nuclear disarmament is the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT forms the integrated network of unilateral, bilateral, regional and multilateral treaties and other standard-setting arrangements that seek to control/curb the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear disarmament is premised on the good faith efforts by nuclear weapon states to take unilateral or multilateral initiatives to achieve disarmament. Highlighted in Article Six of the NPT, such a premise has been a controversial issue because of lack of action to pursue good faith initiatives to disarm. That premise of good faith, however, was reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in 1996 and remains vital to the trust that must be built within on-going disarmament efforts.

The nuclear disarmament challenge in Belau would be to compel a good faith compliance to US and Belau laws.For Belau and the United States, respectively, Republic of Palau Public Law No. 4-9 (signed by our president on July 16, 1993), US Public Law 99-658 (approved on November 14, 1986) and US Public Law 101-219 (approved December 12, 1989) are the American legal mandates of the Compact of Free Association. In addition to this July 1993 Belau law which merely restated some interpretations and positions of the Belau Government vis-a-vis the Compact of Free Association as well as subsidiary agreements to it developed in Hawaii and Guam, and authorized what became the final Compact plebiscite, for Belau’s part, we are bound as well by the legal imperatives elaborated in the two US laws referenced above.

In January 1997, at its regional meeting in Moorea, French-Occupied Polynesia, the Abolition 2000 network passed a resolution denouncing the military/nuclear option of the Belau/US Compact of Free Association, and the undemocratic process within which it was “approved.” More importantly, the Abolition 2000 resolution stated that any attempt to use the option for nuclear purposes would violate the Pacific nuclear-free zone as well as violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and would risk adding to the genetic damage already perpetuated on the Pacific peoples.

Not to be forgotten, there were British Tests in Australia, Kiritimati (Christmas) and Malden Islands in the Line Islands. Jacqui Katona (Gundjehmi Aboriginal Organization, Mirrar peoples) from Australia has information on these.

In French-Occupied Polynesia, the French have conducted a total of 153 nuclear weapons tests, in addition to those conducted in 1995. There is a lack of official information about the tests, so no comparison with how the Americans have done in Micronesia is done. Again, Jacqui Katona may be able to provide information about Moruroa and Fangataufa, and the Te Ao Maohi (French-Polynesians) anti-nuclear movement. And Lysiane Alezard, from Le Mouvement de la Paix in Paris, should also be able to share more information about the French tests.

The French nuclear test site workers face similar problems that all nuclear test site workers elsewhere face. Amidst the difficulties in Tahiti however, Hiti Tau has worked along with peoples from a university in Belgium to gather personal information and testimonies of previous nuclear test site workers, now published in the book Moruroa and Us: Polynesians’ Experiences during Thirty Years of Nuclear Testing in the French Pacific (See De Vries and Seur 1997). Theirs is a narrative of struggle as well as a triumph of collective grassroots action. It speaks as well to the role of networking within the international anti-nuclear information infrastructure, of which this gathering is part.

What Can We Conclude From All of This?

Unfortunate as we Micronesians were for being the unwilling hosts to preparations, testings, and launchings of weapons of mass destruction against civilian populations, over the years within our demilitarization and nuclear-free struggles, we have been constantly reminded of our role within the world-wide struggle for demilitarization and denuclearization. While we grieve for the on-going legacy of human and environmental health resulting from nuclear testings, a greater portion of our nuclear-free Pacific struggles has been inspired by what Betty Burkes described in her talk at an Abolition 2000 conference in Northern California in 1997, that we are constantly making inquiry into the culture of war and violence we inhabit, check out how we participate and are organized to acquiesce in our own exploitation (Burkes 1997). At least we have tried to work along with Japanese, Native peoples, and other victims of the Nuclear Age in forging common struggles of resistance against nuclearization and militarization everywhere.

We recognize the responsibility for tailoring our struggles in ways that inspire peoples in comparable sites of struggle. As far as we have been able, we have sought to wage our struggles non-violently. Being witnesses to the violence and brutality of nuclearism–and the colonialism which legitimizes nuclear violations of our islands in the first place–Pacific Islanders sensed early on that a struggle for genuine justice had to reject the adoption of violence as a means to end the violence we saw around us. Colonialism provided the ruthless infrastructure from which we yearned to be free from political oppression.

It was owing partly to the nature of Pacific peoples to reject the principle of violence. Violence killed all in its path, and here we were struggling to survive. Instinctively, decisions were made for a nuclear-free Pacific movement to respond accordingly. A friend in Hawaii, Rolf Nordahl, recently reflecting on this tendency, rejects violence as a means to achieving resolution of the sovereignty movement there and commented to our Allies group, “Violence begets more violence and the resulting desire for revenge leads to twisted thinking such as Milosevic explaining that the reason he can conduct ethnic cleansing is because of what happened 600 years ago.” We need to make the connections between the violence of colonialism and a culture of militarism which allows the militarization/nuclearization of colonial outposts, and funnels resources away from more urgent social needs in Western nations. Moreover, we need to constantly question the many justifications for militarism and its role in economic affairs.

Writing about the role of weaponry in international trade, John Ralston Saul says in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West that “We are living in the midst of a permanent wartime economy.” He continues, “The most important capital good produced in the West today is weaponry. The most important sector in international trade is not oil or automobiles or airplanes. It is armaments.” Saul does not necessarily add anything new to what we already know about the trade in weapons; but he does reiterate the backwardness or the lack or higher moral values that ought to influence the trading of goods and services. Among many others, Seymour Melman has been writing about these issues for 20 years; his book The Permanent War Economy is recommended reading. John Stanley and Maurice Pearton, Steven Lydenberg, Robert De Grasse, William Hartung, Carol Evans, James Adams, and Martin Navias also have provided compelling analyses of military spendings and economic waste (there is a list of their books in the Works Cited section at the end). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute publishes an annual accounting of arms sales, while The Council of Economic Priorities in New York has addressed the subject in a number of reports which hold to the old liberal approach–that arms are a waste of money and that statistics prove it.

In the preface to their book Resisting the Serpent: Palau’s Struggle for Self-Determination Bob Aldridge and Ched Myers reflect that “For nowhere else are the concrete mechanisms of the military-industrial-academic complex so sanitized, so overlaid with official mystification. How else could the citizenry of the world’s largest debtor nation continue to accept and subsidize such huge levels of military spending? Militarism, to extend the metaphor, has ‘colonized our minds…But our domestication is most troubling when it deludes us to think that militarism, apart from an overt foreign intervention and short of nuclear war, is at best an economic boom and at worst a victimless crime. The fact is, without a strategic missile ever being launched, militarism is wreaking destruction upon human life and culture. Perhaps North Americans might see this more clearly if we suspend our scenarios of what might happen to our world in the event of all-out war long enough to listen to the voice of those whose worlds have already been ravaged” (Aldridge and Myers 1990, p. xx-xxi)

Beginnings of the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement

The grassroots Pacific anti-nuclear movement was launched at the first Nuclear-Free Pacific conference at Suva [Fiji] in April 1975, backed by the Against Tests on Moruroa (ATOM) committee which had been formed in 1970. It consisted of people from the Pacific Theological College, the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji YWCA. The committee was merged into the Pacific People’s Action Front in the mid-1970s and then the movement went into decline. It surfaced again as the Fiji Anti-Nuclear Group (FANG) in 1983. Other Pacific anti-nuclear groups existed already but the Suva conference established a Pacific-wide network. This movement proved to be a major factor in persuading Pacific governments to take a stronger nuclear-free stand and shaping public awareness and opinion throughout the region.

A draft People’s Charter for a Nuclear-Free Pacific was produced at Suva and influenced the then New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk to call for a nuclear-free zone treaty at the 1975 South Pacific Forum–an ideal that took a decade to be realized. After the draft was reaffirmed at a second conference in Pohnpei [the capital of what is now the Federated States of Micronesia] in 1978, the third meeting two years later at Kailua [O’ahu], Hawaii, expanded the group’s identity as the Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement. Resource centres were set up in Honolulu and Port Vila [Vanuatu].

The fourth–and biggest–congress was held in Port Vila during 1983 in recognition of the Vanuatu Government’s support of a niuklia fri pasifik, as it is expressed in pidgin (Robie, ibid, p. 146-147). At the opening of this conference in Port Villa, Vanuatu, Deputy Prime Minister Sethy Regenvanu told the delegates that, “We are seeking a Pacific…free of every last remnant of colonialism… [F]reedom and independence will have no meaning if our very existence is threatened by the constant fear of total destruction” (Robie, ibid, p.147).

In Vanuatu, the People’s Charter for a Nuclear-Free and Independent Pacific, adopted in Hawaii, was reaffirmed. The Charter’s Preamble declared the following:

1. We, the people of the Pacific want to make our position clear. The Pacific is home to millions of people with distinct cultures, religions and ways of life, and we refuse to be abused or ignored any longer;

2. We, the people of the Pacific have been victimised for too long by foreign powers. The Western imperialistic and colonial powers invaded our defenceless region, they took our lands and subjugated our people to their whims. This form of alien colonial political and military domination unfortunately persists as an evil cancer in some of our native territories such as Tahiti-Polynesia, Kanaky, Australia and Aotearoa. Our home continues to be despoiled by foreign powers developing nuclear and other means of destruction, oppression, and exploitation that advance a strategy that has no winners, no liberators and imperils the survival of all human kind;

3. We, the people of the Pacific will assert ourselves and wrest control over the destiny of our nations and our environment from foreign powers, including Trans-National Corporations;

4. We note in particular the racist roots of the world’s nuclear powers. We are entitled to and we commit ourselves to the creation of a just and equitable society;

5. Our environment is further threatened by the continuing deployment of nuclear arsenals in the so-called strategic areas throughout the Pacific. Only one nuclear submarine has to be lost at sea, or one nuclear warhead dumped in our ocean from a stricken bomber, and the threat to the fish and our livelihood is endangered for centuries. The erection of super ports, Nuclear Testing Stations, may bring employment but the price is destruction of our customs, our way of life, the pollution of our crystal clear waters, and brings the ever present threat of disaster by radioactive poisoning into the everyday life of the peoples;

6. We, the people of the Pacific reaffirm our intention to extract only those elements of Western civilisation that will be a permanent benefit to us. We wish to control our destinies and protect our environment in our own ways. Our usage of our natural resources in the past was more than adequate to ensure the balance between nature and humankind. No form of administration should ever seek to destroy that balance for the sake of a brief commercial gain;

7. We, the people of the Pacific will strive to be politically, economically, and spiritually self-determining. This includes the right to secede from oppressing nations.

The Pacific anti-nuclear movement, like the movement of indigenous peoples to assert their rights, was partly a response to the West’s persistent colonial domination in violation of the United Nations Charter’s call for decolonization at that time and the West’s Cold War pretext for use of the Pacific islands for devastating nuclear testing. By that same year, the United Nations Cobo Report [in Geneva] concluded that discrimination against indigenous peoples was due to their lack of self-determination, that imposed assimilation was a form of discrimination, and that the right of indigenous peoples to cultural distinctiveness, political self-determination and secure land resources should be formally declared by the UN (Blaisdell 1998a).

As a result of previous work then on-going, the UN created, under the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, in order to address, among other things, the continuing abuses of the world’s Indigenous peoples by existing Nation-states. That working group completed, after 12 years of work and intense lobbying in Geneva, the Pacific and around the world, a draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples are still working to get it passed by the United Nations. More significantly, that working group provided an additional forum wherein we attempted to broaden discussions and debate regarding our anti-nuclear struggle, hoping to develop international consensus for final cessation of foreign domination in our homes. We look forward to the future with hope when all the final vestiges of colonialism will have been eradicated.

Our anti-nuclear movement has been inextricably linked to our struggle to bring about an end to colonialism and neocolonialism. Had Pacific Islanders been able to freely self-determine their political futures–taking serious consideration of informed consent in a climate devoid of fear and economic blackmail–there would absolutely be no doubt we would have rejected hosting the preparations and testing of other foreign countries’ dangerous nuclear bombs in our island homes.

On July 9, 1999 which was Constitutional Day in my island nation of Belau, we celebrated the full 20 years since we wrote what was once a nuclear-free Constitution! A mere twenty years have taught us much. A grassroots global nuclear abolition movement has been created and continues to grow. Moreover, a campaign to abolish nuclear weapons within the United States has been created and will be formally launched in October 1999.

The International Court of Justice, the world’s highest court, issued a legal advisory expressing the general illegality of nuclear weapons. For us in Belau, the struggle was long and painful. Assassinations, killings of innocent civilians, and official involvements (of officials in both the Belau and US governments) in the breakdown of law and order, now vindicate the rightness of the nuclear-free idea, once radical and unrealistic but now chic (See Butler, Edwards and Kirby 1988, “Palau: A Challenge to the Rule of Law in Micronesia,” for a description of the systematic breakdown of law engaged in by “top government officials”). Now a broad spectrum of mainstream organizations and individuals are working to create a nuclear-free world, largely because we have now come to understand the depth of the crisis of relying on weapons of mass destruction to ensure “security.”

For Micronesians generally, it made sense to do the right thing. For Belau peoples particularly, we must have either been ready and willing to pay the price or crazy enough to stand up to the US Pentagon. Whatever the case may have been, twenty years after we wrote that Constitution, on July 9, 1999, the young peoples of Belau–many of them were the children of those who authored the Constitution as well as our nation’s Founding Fathers–hosted a Constitutional Forum wherein the surviving members of the 1979 Constitution Convention spoke about their experiences during the convention. The Forum addressed the challenges now facing the island nation. With all that we have seen take place in the last twenty years, it was encouraging to know that we had been vindicated.

In July 1978 however, just a year before we authored our own nuclear-free Constitution, the UN General Assembly was scheduled to hold its 10th Special Session between May 23 to July 1, devoted to disarmament. Surprisingly, and by consensus, the General Assembly adopted a Final Document about 20 days ahead of schedule–something unheard of in current multilateral disarmament forums.

That Final Document declared:

Mankind today is confronted with an unprecedented threat of self-extinction arising from the massive and competitive accumulation of the most destructive weapons ever produced. Existing arsenals of nuclear weapons alone are more than sufficient to destroy all life on earth. Failure of efforts to halt and reverse the arms races, in particular the nuclear arms race, increase the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Yet the arms race continues. Military budgets are constantly growing, with enormous consumption of human and materials resources. The increase in weapons, especially nuclear weapons, far from helping to strengthen international security, on the contrary weakens it. The vast stockpiles and tremendous build-up of arms and armed forces and the competition for qualitative refinement of weapons of all kinds to which scientific resources and technical advances are diverted, pose incalculable threats to peace. This situation both reflects and aggravates international tensions, sharpens conflicts in various regions of the world, hinders the process of detente, exacerbates the differences between opposing military alliances, jeopardizes the security of all States, heightens the sense of insecurity among all States, including non-nuclear-weapon States, and increases the threat of nuclear war… (United Nations Office of Public Information 1978, pp.4-5).

An accompanying program of action identified several key actions and proposals for disarmament work to proceed. I recount that 1978 declaration on disarmament in order to highlight the fact that nation-states cannot be trusted. Twenty years is a bit too long to wait on a sincere promise made to halt development of weapons of mass destruction. Arguably, since 1978, the world has witnessed an increase of nuclear arsenals and the threats now facing humanity have increased as a consequence of the arms race conducted since that time. We now only have approximately 20 weeks before the new millennium comes, making it ever so crucial that we join together as representatives of civil society to develop a more progressive grassroots agenda for a nuclear-free world.

Envisioning/Ensuring Our Future — Abolition 2000

This is the legacy of what we in the Pacific have been witnesses to: the violence of colonial aggressions and nuclear colonialism, and the resulting effort to re-think the whole basis of planetary security. Thinking along shared responsibilities of caring for our planet compels us to network far and wide with sympathetic allies who inspire us and help us in a common effort to bring sanity, every precious bit of sanity, to the way we live on this planet. Genuine peace can come when we allow a sense of justice to guide our affairs vis-a-vis one another, and more crucially, in the way we relate with our precious Mother Earth. “We are a culture organized around death, war, profit, and violence,” Betty Burkes proclaimed, “where power is based on the principle of power-over others.” She explains that power over [another] is the power of punishment, weapons, competition, the power of annihilation that supports all the institutions of domination. Nuclear weapons serve the preservation and continuance of that culture.However, to realize a secure and livable world for our children and grandchildren and all future generations, the stated goal of Abolition 2000 requires that we make some inquiry into the culture of war and violence we inhabit, check[ing] out how we participate and are organized to acquiesce in our own exploitation (Burkes, ibid.).

Describing what was at stake at a US nuclear disarmament meeting in Chicago last year when the US Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was being established, Jackie Cabasso, one of Abolition 2000’s founders, wrote in Abolition 2000: Speaking Truth to Power: “We had lots of questions: What exactly does abolition mean. How long would it take?…We recognized that a nuclear weapons free world must be achieved carefully and in a step by step manner, and we spelled out the steps. But we were unyielding in our objective: ‘definite and unconditional abolition of nuclear weapons.’ From the basement of the United Nations in New York we faxed out the Abolition 2000 Statement” (Cabasso 1998, pp.2-3). And the rest is history! Abolition 2000 is now a global movement with more than 1,300 organization members around the world.

Many individuals who were involved in founding the global Abolition 2000 network have created a US campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. Such a short history, less than 5 years–speaks volumes to what a caring and active grassroots movement can do in 5 years what more than 180 Nation-states cannot do in twenty! But this disparity of action–and excessive amount of rhetoric–on the part of nation-states, must also tell us something fundamental: that there may be an unfortunate lack of concern and or sincerity on the part of governments collectively to achieve anything to reduce the increasing dangers humanity faces. It is up to us then, including all concerned peoples and grassroots movements around the world, to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. Failing to do so and remaining indifferent to this global effort to rid the world of nuclear arms is to participate in a conspiracy of silence that is ultimately deadly.

I take this issue very personally, as everything that I and my brothers and sisters in Belau and around the Pacific value politically, culturally, spiritually have been and continue to be challenged in the extreme by the arrogance of power, maintained by the ability to threaten to murder the mass of humanity. Threatening to mass-annihilate peoples in order to defend a certain “way of life” should be crimes against humanity. It is the same logic that inspired colonial excursions across the globe in the past 500 years.

The excessive amount of financial resources used to sustain nuclear arsenals is a larceny of the mass of peoples who toil daily in America to pay taxes that are then diverted from urgent social needs to maintaining ever-increasing arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. It is a moral bankruptcy that is driving all these policies; the bankruptcy knows no boundaries as we are all deeply impacted in many ways. We have, in essence, all returned to the scene of a crime, and we do so largely to find within ourselves the will to live as human beings.

* Richard Salvador is currently a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, where he lives. He is writing a dissertation on the colonial history of Micronesia and Micronesian decolonization movements. He is also gathering research about Belau (Palau), with the goal of writing about Belau’s effort to produce a nuclear-free Constitution; the American Government’s counter-effort to strike down the nuclear-free provisions of that Constitution; and the subsequent effects of the anti-nuclear movement on society and people. Richard is also active in international anti-nuclear work and currently serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000 representing the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs.

Works Cited

“Abolition 2000 Resolution Against the Military/Nuclear Option of the Republic of Palau-United States Compact of Free Association,” (Moorea, Te Ao Maohi, January 20-28, 1997). See website of Abolition 2000: A Global Network for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

http://www.napf.org/abolition2000/index.html

Adams, James. Engines of War. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Aldridge, Bob and Ched Myers. Resisting the Serpent: Palau’s Struggle for Self-Determination. Baltimore, Maryland: Fortkamp Publishing Company, 1990.

Alexander, Ronni. Putting the Earth First: Alternatives to Nuclear Security in Pacific Island States. Honolulu, Hawaii: Matsunaga Institute for Peace, 1994. (ISBN: 9994371576)

Bailey, Emily, Richard Guthrie, Daryl Howlett and John Simpson, The Evolution of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime, 5th edition. (Programme for Promoting Nuclear Non-Proliferation). Southhampton, UK: The Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, 1999.

Blaisdell, Kekuni. “The Indigenous Rights Movement in the Pacific: 1998 Marks the Centennial of the U.S. Colonial Expansion in the Pacific and Caribbean,” published by In Motion Magazine, 1998a. Available on the Internet: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/pacific.html

Blaisdell, Kekuni. “Decolonization: Unfinished Business in the Pacific (Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organizations Discussion Paper for the Regional Seminar of the United Nations Decolonization Committee,” Nadi, Fiji, 16-18 June 1998. Published by In Motion Magazine. Available on the Internet: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/fiji1.html

Butler, William J. and George C. Edwards and Michael D. Kirby. Palau: A Challenge to the Rule of Law in Micronesia: Report of a Mission on Behalf of The International Commission of Jurists and The American Association for the International Commission of Jurists. New York: The American Association for the International Commission of Jurists, 1988.

Burkes, Betty, “What can one Abolitionist Movement Learn from Another? Comparing Abolition of Nuclear Weapons with Abolition of Slavery,” Text of speech at a Northern California Abolition 2000 Conference, February 22, 1997.

Jacqueline Cabasso, “Abolition 2000: Speaking Truth to Power,” Text of speech at US nuclear demilitarization campaign planning meeting, October 9-10, 1998. Chicago.

Churchill, Ward and Winona LaDuke, “Native North America: The Political Economy of Radioactive Colonialism,” in M. Annette Jaimes (ed), The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance. Boston: South End Press, 1992.

De Grasse, Robert, Jr., Military Expansion–Economic Decline. New York: Council on Economic Priorities, 1983.

Evans, Caron. “Reappraising Third World Arms Production,” in Survival (March 1986).

Joseph Gerson, “U.S. Asia-Pacific Hegemony and Possibilities of Popular Solidarity, Fresh Look: Re-examining the role and impact of US bases in Asia-Pacific Seoul, South Korea,” June 26-27, 1999.

Hartung, William. The Economic Consequences of a Nuclear Freeze. New York: Council on Economic Priorities, 1984.

Lydenberg, Steven. Weapons for the World. New York: Council on Economic Priorities, 1977.

Melman, Seymour. The Permanent War Economy: American Capitalism in Decline. New York: Simon and Shuster, 1978.

Moruroa and Us: Polynesians’ Experiences during Thirty Years of Nuclear Testing in the French

Pacific, published by the Documentation and Research Centre on Peace and Conflict, Lyon, France, 1997.

Summary: “‘Moruroa and us’ is the final report about the experiences of the Polynesian test-site workers and islanders who lived in the vicinity of Moruroa and Fangataufa. The report is the result of a sociological research conducted by Hiti Tau and the Eglise Evangélique and supported by Pieter de Vries and Han Seur of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.

To see a longer summary of Moruroa and US, please visit: http://www.antenna.nl/ecsiep/resource/moruroa.html

Navias, Martin. Ballistic Missile Proliferation in the Third World. London: IISS/Brassey’s, 1990.

Peace Movement Aotearoa (New Zealand), “Action Alert – Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Day,” March 1999.

Republic of Palau Public Law No. 4-9, Fourth Olbiil Era Kelulau (4th Congress), Third Special Session, May 1993. “An Act to State the interpretations and positions of the Republic of Palau as to the Compact of Free Association between the Republic of Palau and the United States of America…” See especially, Sections 5 and 6.

Robie, David. Blood on Their Banner: Nationalist Struggles in the South Pacific. Leichhardt, NSW, Australia: Pluto Press, 1989.

Salvador, Richard N. “Indigenous Peoples Speak Truth to Power: Environmental and Human Health Aspects of the Nuclear Age,” NGO Statement to the Third Preparatory Committee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 2000 Formal Review, May 10-21, 1999. New York.

Salvador, Richard N. “Nuclear Colonialism and Environmental Racism: An Indigenous Perspective,” unpublished NGO Statement to the Second Preparatory Committee of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 2000 Formal Review, 27 April to 8 May 1998. Geneva, Switzerland

Saul, John Ralston. Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, Toronto and New York: Penguin Books, 1992.

Stanley, John and Maurice Pearton, The International Trade in Arms. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies [IISS], 1972.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute [SIPRI], The Arms Trade with the Third World. New York: Council on Economic Priorities, 1977.

Wasserman, Harvey and Norman Solomon, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, 1945-1982, New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1982.

Jonathan Weisgall, “The Nuclear Nomads of Bikini,” Foreign Affairs 39, 1980.

United Nations Office of Public Information, “Final Document of Assembly Session on Disarmament 23 May-1 July 1978,” New York: United Nations Headquarters.

United Nations Trusteeship Council, “Report of the United Nations Visiting Mission to Palau, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, 1993.” In Official Records of the Trusteeship Council, Sixtieth Session, Supplement No. 1 (T/1978).


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