By FRANCES LAMBERTS
A number of Jonesborough and Johnson City residents found themselves gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York in June, along with thousands of citizens from across the country, for a walk to the United Nations. They were there to show support for treaty negotiations, ongoing at the UN at that time, to have nuclear weapons banned globally as an instrument of war.
In December, in Johnson City and Asheville, they were amidst some 230 citizens of our region celebrating the successful conclusion of the treaty, and of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the (ICAN) groups that had labored for it for nearly a decade.
These (or International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) include more than 450 medical organizations and churches, peace and civic and environmental and other groups, in over 100 countries. The Red Cross / Red Crescent organizations, among them, had warned of a scale of destruction and human deaths in a nuclear exchange that would make humanitarian assistance impossible, urging adoption of a global ban of these weapons early on in the campaign.
The recent revelations by former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg made all too clear the horrid consequences of a war with nuclear weapons and, by implication, of the blessing of the now international standard banning them, a human and planetary refuge from great danger.
During Ellsberg’s time in Washington in the 1960s, while President Eisenhower’s plan for first-strike nuclear weapons use in any war with the Soviet Union was still in place, the military joint chiefs knew (and accepted “unembarrassedly”) that hundreds of millions of innocent people would be killed. Immense fire storms in the targeted cities would loft millions of tons of smoke and black soot into the stratosphere, with crop losses through blocked sunlight causing starvation around the world as a further consequence.
In a treaty they adopted in 1970, the five nations then possessing nuclear weapons obligated themselves – in exchange for other nations not acquiring them – to “pursue in good faith … nuclear disarmament in all its aspects, under strict and effective international control.”
They have not honored this obligation. The result: nearly twice as many states now have these weapons and maintain them at more than $100 billion cost annually, with ever-increasing risk of their use. Contrary to the pledged disarmament, the current and previous U.S. administrations are engaged in modernizing this country’s nuclear arsenal at cost, as projected by the Congressional Budge Office, of $1.2 trillion.
In July, 127 nations formally adopted the treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons, globally. As the ICAN representative stated in accepting the Peace Prize, it was a crowning moment to “bring democracy to disarmament” and, within international law, provide a pathway toward it, “at a moment of great nuclear crisis.” The world’s people, she rightly stated, no longer accept being held hostage under conditions “were our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away.”