Nuclear weapons treaty: Will it save the world?
- Ray Acheson, director of the Reaching Critical Will project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and a member of the International Steering Group for ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
- Dr. Timmon Wallis is the author of Warheads to Windmills and a co-founder and the executive director of NuclearBan.US.
- This is a rush transcript and may not be in its final form. Some non-grammatical forms have been edited to conform more with the apparent intent than the exact verbiage, and links and notes have been added. Anyone finding errors or confusing statements is invited to correct them here or raise them in the accompanying "Discuss" page or add updates in notes and / or subsequent sections.
Ann Suellentrop 00:00
I'm Ann Suellentrop with Spencer Graves, Board members of PeaceWorks - Kansas City. PeaceWorks has been working for 30 years in Kansas City for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The focus of our program tonight is the ban treaty, the TPNW, or the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which enters into force in three short days on January 22 2021. This Friday, it becomes international law. PeaceWorks will celebrate this historic occasion at the Plaza fountain for an hour starting at 2pm. And that's at 47th. In Maine, we'll have huge banners announcing that nuclear weapons are illegal. We'll have banners that are patterned after our billboards that are up around town. And we're going to have 51 flags representing the 51 countries that have signed or ratified the treaty so far. And we'll have speakers. We'll ring bells.
Ann Suellentrop 01:02
So the ban treaty actually is a local story. Because the city of Kansas City, Missouri, actually, believe it or not, owns title to one of the eight major factories or sites in the US that together make nuclear weapons for the United States. And so since 1949, Kansas City has made or procured 85% of the non radioactive parts for nuclear weapons. We make nuclear weapons work. Our plant makes the guidance systems, the arming, the fusing, the metals, the foams, other materials that hold the radioactive parts that blow up, the plutonium, uranium, the tritium.
Ann Suellentrop 01:48
Tonight, we have two very distinguished internationally known guests here to discuss this treaty. We have Ray Acheson, she is the director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Ray represents WILPF on the steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or ICAN. And this is a group which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban nuclear weapons. Ray has an honors BA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Toronto, and an MA in politics from The New School for Social Research. She is currently a visiting research collaborator at Princeton University's program on science and global security, and has a book coming out in June, called Banning the Bomb: Smashing the Patriarchy, which I have ordered, and I can't wait to read it.
Ann Suellentrop 02:48
Timmon Wallis, our other guest, has a BA in Human Ecology and a PhD in peace studies. He has written and campaigned extensively on peace and environmental issues over several decades. And his most recent publication in 2019 is a booklet Warheads to Windmills: How to pay for a Green New Deal. It is available on the website, nuclearban.us. He is currently the executive director of NuclearBan.us, a partner of ICAN.
Ann Suellentrop 03:20
And so we'll begin by asking Ms. Acheson if you could give us just a little summary of the ban treaty. What it does a little bit of the history that led up to it.
Ray Acheson 03:33
Absolutely, yeah, thank you so much for having me on tonight's program, it's really great to be here. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in 2017. The treaty took about 10 years really to develop. And, of course, anti nuclear organizing has been going on for a long time before that, since 1945, and diplomatic efforts at the United Nations have been going on for about that long as well. So it comes from a long history of opposition to nuclear weapons.
Ray Acheson 04:07
But this specific treaty and the approach to develop it has been really unique, because we've recognized that the nuclear armed states were refusing to comply with their legal obligations to disarm under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that they're investing, in fact, billions of dollars into the modernization of their nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapon facilities and factories that produce these weapons. And really, really engaging in a new arms race. And you know, we hear, of course, in the media about Russia's modernization or China's development of nuclear weapons or North Korea's. But also the United States is massively investing in a new generation of nuclear weapons and new capabilities for their missiles and bombs and things like that, too.
Ray Acheson 05:02
So this treaty was really an effort by the non nuclear countries in the world working with activists in ICAN to do something despite the nuclear armed states. And despite their objections to us making new international law. So it's a really incredible David and Goliath situation where you have the majority of countries in the world, who have been very silenced on this issue for decades and told that, no, no, you don't have to worry about this issue. We've got it under control, you know, us big boys with the massive military hardware: We'll sorted out amongst ourselves, and you just need to accept it, basically.
Ray Acheson 05:42
And so countries finally said "no" to this. And we worked together to develop this treaty, which is the first categorical prohibition on nuclear weapons. It's kind of amazing to think about that. They're not banned the way that chemical weapons and biological weapons, other weapons of mass destruction were banned. You know, even landmines and cluster bombs have been prohibited by international law, but nuclear weapons have have escaped this for so long. So it puts nuclear weapons on the same footing as these other terrible inhumane indiscriminate weapons. And it also puts all countries on the same footing before the law, so that we don't have this situation where the nuclear armed states, you know, get to say that they can retain their weapons, but others can't acquire them and that sort of discriminatory policy. It's comprehensive in what it prohibits. It prohibits all nuclear weapons-related activities. So possession, development, use, threat of use, testing, deployment, everything to do with nuclear weapons.
Ray Acheson 06:52
It also contains provisions for the elimination of nuclear weapons, because we believe that this treaty will compel the nuclear armed states to eliminate their arsenals over time. It also outlaws assistance with any of the prohibited activities I just mentioned. So this is really where the impact on the nuclear weapon complex in particular comes in.
Ray Acheson 07:17
And we can already see the ways that this treaty is helping with our campaign for financial divestment from nuclear weapons. We've been getting for years now financial institutions, like banks and pension funds to remove their money from nuclear weapon producers. And this is already happening all over the world and will only grow in impact once the treaty enters into force. And so even though the nuclear armed states don't support this treaty yet. And they've put so much pressure on other countries not to develop it, and now not to join it, and they're objecting to its entry into force, and they say things like, it will never affect customary international law, and they'll never be bound by it, blah, blah, blah, and all these things that, you know. I don't know, democratic states probably shouldn't say that they'll never change their positions on things.
Ray Acheson 08:07
But this also really tells us that we're on the right track, because they're scared, they're obviously scared of this treaty. They've put in a lot of effort to try and prevent it from coming into being. They know that it's going to have a stigmatizing effect on the possession of their weapons. They know it will be a change to international law and the implications that this will have on their behavior, on their policies.
Ray Acheson 08:33
Nuclear weapons were already considered to be immoral by most people. But now they're also illegal. And while the treaty is only binding on the states that ratify it, international law has a normative effect. And we see this time and time again. We saw it with the bans on landmines and cluster bombs. These weapons aren't completely gone yet, but we're getting there. Their use is condemned. Most countries don't possess them anymore. Most countries don't produce them anymore, including the United States, which hasn't joined either treaty, and yet doesn't produce them anymore, and has been, is one of the biggest donors to landmine clearance in the world.
Ray Acheson 09:11
So we can see the normative impacts that international law has: Over time, stigmatizing bad behavior works. We can see this in our personal lives. We can see it every day on the internet. Stigmatization is not something that has a transformative effect overnight in an immediate sense, but it changes over time. It's an iterative process. It's how all social movements work, and how all social change progresses.
Ann Suellentrop 09:41
And could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book. What kind of things does that talk about?
Ray Acheson 09:48
It talks a lot about what I've just discussed. It covers the history of how we got to the point of wanting to develop a treaty that bans nuclear weapons, even if the nuclear armed states objected. And it kind of walks through the different attempts that had been made by other governments, by diplomats, by activists, what we've been trying for nearly 70 years to do to get them to disarm. It covers a feminist and an anti-racist critique of nuclear weapons. And really situates these weapons as part of the discriminatory, racialized, capitalist system that promotes violence, and that invests in violence over peace and cooperation and equality and justice. It tries to tie it also into other movements that we see right now for abolition of structures of violence in the United States and around the world, other social movements throughout history that have really confronted power in a similar way.
Ray Acheson 10:50
And then it offers a first hand account of what this process looked like to ban nuclear weapons from my perspective, from a perspective of a feminist anti-war activist working within the activist side of things, from the very beginning of the process, collaborating with diplomats, doing different actions around the world, with other anti-nuclear movements, and really building up a sense of community to go ahead with this treaty, which we always knew was going to be a heavy lift for everyone involved. And it covers all of the obstacles, and the pressure that we faced from the countries that were against us. And it goes through the negotiations as well and looks at why things are the way things are the way they are in the treaty: Why we decided on particular language for things and tries to really break it down and explain it to an audience that doesn't necessarily have a background in international law or nuclear weapons, but tries to make it more accessible and more interesting, I think, as a case study of how people can come together to change the world. You know, we're just a bunch of individuals. We're not fancy people. We're just doing this work and trying our best and getting things wrong and getting things right. And so it's sort of a story of how we got to where we are now and and where we hope to go from here.
Ann Suellentrop 12:21
Sounds fabulous. I can't wait to read it.
Ray Acheson 12:24
Thanks so much, Ann.
Ann Suellentrop 12:25
So Timmon, Mr. Wallis, could you tell us a little bit about the ideas in your booklet Warheads to Windmills, because while we definitely want to abolish nuclear weapons, we're concerned about our 5,000 employees here in Kansas City that work in our nuclear weapons plant. We don't want to suddenly put them out of a job. But we're like one of our billboards says we want to repurpose the plant. And we put a billboard out there on the highway leading to the plant.
Timmon Wallis 13:03
Terrific. Thank you. I worked on this report. It's based on a report that was done in the UK a few years ago that looked very specifically at similar plants where they make the Trident submarines in England and what could be done with those workers to address another existential threat to the globe, which is climate change. The report in the UK went into a lot of detail about the actual job descriptions of people working in this submarine factory and all the things that were needed to build tidal power electricity generation in that very part of England. It wasn't just looking at the jobs that could be transferred. But people wouldn't even have to move house. They need those people right there in the north of England working on green energy technologies. The same kinds of skills, engineering skills, and the same kind of scientific and technical skills for building a submarine were needed for building these new green energy projects.
Timmon Wallis 14:29
So I took that idea and wanted to know what we could do here in the US on the same kind of lines? There's a much bigger industry here. It's not as big as many people think. You've got 5,000 people in Kansas City right here. But across the whole country, there's only a matter of 100,000 or more workers actually working directly on manufacturing and development of nuclear weapons in this country, which is was a lot of people to find new jobs for. But compared to the job market of tens of millions, it's a small portion.
Timmon Wallis 15:09
And so we looked at, first of all, what do we actually need to build a green economy? We obviously need to build lots more windmills and solar panels. And we need to get electric cars going and high speed rail, and all those kind of things.
Timmon Wallis 15:28
But we also need to develop a lot more technological solutions that we don't have yet on making batteries more efficient and effective, on how to get air travel electrified or using other non-fossil fuels. The production of cement, the production of steel, there's a lot of industrial processes that we use for all kinds of other things that rely on fossil fuels. We need to be doing research, we need to be doing engineering projects, to figure out how to how to solve these problems.
Timmon Wallis 16:10
And it's not just a matter of finding jobs for people who are going to be out of work when we get rid of nuclear weapons. We actually need these people. We need them urgently to work on these projects. We've got a lot of catching up to do from the last four years of undermining the whole progress towards addressing the climate crisis. But there's urgency to this, and there's real need for using our best scientists and engineers and technicians and put them to work on really addressing the problems that we face as a society. Instead of making weapons of mass destruction, we need those people.
Timmon Wallis 16:59
Ray talks about the billions of dollars going into the nuclear weapons developments, all these new systems that are underway right now. Over the next 30 years, the US government's already committed trillions, literally, towards a whole new generation of nuclear weapons. And instead of doing that, we need that money, we need that brainpower and the workers to actually be addressing something like the climate crisis as well as many, many other urgent pressing social needs that are out there.
Timmon Wallis 17:33
And the other piece of it, which we looked at, is it just so happens that the countries that are pointing nuclear weapons at each other are also the countries that are spewing out the most carbon into the atmosphere. And unless we find ways of working together more cooperatively, we're not going to solve the climate crisis. We need to stop the whole idea that we're only safe if we point nuclear weapons and threatened to destroy other whole countries. And once we get beyond that and start looking at how we can work together and collaborate more, we can solve all these other problems. So that's what we were trying to do in that report.
Ann Suellentrop 18:18
Brilliant. I was fascinated the other day on a webinar, where you talked about how the multinational corporations that currently make nuclear weapons around the world, I think you said it was 36 of them, how they will be impacted by this treaty, in a very real concrete way. And you specifically talked, which really caught my attention, was Honeywell, which manages our plant. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Timmon Wallis 18:51
Sure. Honeywell claims to have operations in 110 countries. So if you look at which countries they're operating in, you will find straightaway a number of them have already signed and ratified the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, like Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand. And there's many others that are on their way to ratifying the treaty that will have further impact: Indonesia, Philippines, Brazil, and so on. So a company like Honeywell, operating in these countries that as of this Friday are making everything to do with nuclear weapons illegal in those countries.
Timmon Wallis 19:37
We don't know yet what what kind of restrictions they may face, what kind of penalties they may face. But certainly there's a precedent. Ray was talking about these other treaties like the landmines treaty and the cluster munitions treaties. Those both use the exact same language about prohibition of assisting with any of these companies making these prohibited weapons. And for many of those countries, they've included investments as explicitly prohibited, not just in some cases prohibition for the country to have investments in the companies, but prohibition for anybody who have investments in those companies. We're going to be working very hard to encourage those countries to really take as strong a stand as they're willing to on this issue of assistance.
Timmon Wallis 20:33
As Ray was saying, there's already a very strong movement to divest from the nuclear weapons industry. Two of the five largest pension funds in the world have already made that commitment. Other banks and financial institutions were just getting started in this country. But we've already got some very exciting entities that have divested. You may have heard, New York City has a majority on the New York City Council ready to divest the New York City pension funds, which would be very exciting. We have a bill in the Massachusetts State House for divestment of pension funds in Massachusetts. There's other movements going on all around the country. So divestment is definitely an issue.
Timmon Wallis 21:15
But also contracts. We started out with a campaign to boycott Honeywell thermostats, because I've got one right here in the room. They're everywhere. And this was this was one of the campaigns in the 1980s that got General Electric and other companies to pull out of the nuclear weapons industry. Because there was a campaign to boycott General Electric light bulbs. And Honeywell. Morton, Morton Thiokol, made table salt. There were these campaigns: Everybody buys salt and has light bulbs. And everybody has a thermostat, or many people do.
Timmon Wallis 22:01
But then after the first couple years of our campaign, we wrote 1,000s of letters to the CEO of Honeywell, Darius Adamczyk. And we went to the Honeywell shareholders meeting. We've done all kinds of things. And in 2019, I think it was, they sold their thermostat division, which was clever on their part. It was annoying for us, because they don't make thermostats anymore. They've sold it.
Timmon Wallis 22:32
But they do make other things. And the big thing that these companies are involved in, not so much consumer products like that, but big infrastructure projects and IT projects that they do with cities and states and large institutions. A lot of them make medical equipment. Honeywell makes for hospitals. We're working with our local hospital, which is part of a consortium of 20 hospitals in Massachusetts, to say, we don't want to buy any medical equipment from these companies. Doctors are very much on board with the anti nuclear message. And so we're quite confident that we can start getting that message out there.
Timmon Wallis 23:11
Our town Northhampton in Massachusetts recently voted to refuse contracts with any of these companies for a city contract, like buying radios for the police department or whatever. That was not allowed by Massachusetts State law. Because they control what kind of criteria you can use to choose a contract. So we had to go to the state of Massachusetts. It took us 18 months. They passed a bill in the State House. It was signed by the governor. And now we have the right to refuse contracts with those companies. And now every other town in Massachusetts is trying to do the same thing.
Timmon Wallis 23:57
Kansas City should have a go at it. There's things happening all around the country to try to raise this issue and put the pressure on the companies because those companies, it's not just that they're directly making these weapons, those companies are pouring millions into trying to control how the Congress and the President makes these decisions and how they vote on these things. They put money into their reelection campaigns. They put all the money into lobbying. And they hire these people for their boards or for special consultancies and so on. And these companies need to be held to account. They need to feel that people are caring about this issue, and they're really going to do something about it. And it's not, as we said at the beginning, it's not just to punish these companies or the workers because we want them to be doing life affirming work instead of death work. We want them to be building or addressing other issues.
TPNW Positive ObligationsEdit
Ann Suellentrop 24:56
Yes. And just to wrap up, Ray, could you tell us a little bit about the positive obligations of the treaty for assisting victims and remediation of environments?
Ray Acheson 25:13
Yeah, this is the first nuclear weapon related treaty that includes positive obligations. And it's building off of, again, the landmine and cluster bomb treaties. And it's considered part of this growing landscape for what we call humanitarian disarmament, which is putting people first -- people and planet first in the way that we think about weapons and conflict and war.
Ray Acheson 25:44
And so the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons includes provisions for assistance to victims of nuclear weapon use and testing, and also for environmental remediation. We understand, of course, that this type of cleanup environmental remediation is a very difficult long term project and that there is many complex issues around assistance to victims as well. But the point of them being in the treaty is really to highlight and remind states of their human rights obligations to their citizens and to the citizens of other countries where they may have used or tested these weapons. Because there is a long legacy of the nuclear armed states testing these weapons, not on their own soil, but on the soil of other countries or on the soil of indigenous lands at home. And so this is really important for highlighting those concerns and bringing help to those communities.
- Time to extinction of civilization, which provides more detail behind part of this present discussion.
- Time to nuclear Armageddon, which includes a video with a transcript of a presentation at the 2019 Joint Statistical Meetings.
- Forecasting nuclear proliferation, which predicts continuing increases in the number of nuclear weapon states, thereby seemingly increasing the threat of nuclear war and Armagedon.
- Confirmation bias and conflict, which explains how the mainstream media everywhere exploit basic features of human psychology to enhance the social status of those who control media funding and governance in ways that threaten the extinction of civilization.
- Timmon Wallis (2019), Warheads to Windmills: How to pay for a Green New Deal (PDF), NuclearBan.US, Wikidata Q104969895.
- Spencer Graves, Wikidata Q56452480.
- Ray Acheson, Wikidata Q104939379
- Reaching Critical Will, Wikidata Q41716175
- Timmon Wallis, Wikidata Q104966108
- Wallis (2019).
- NuclearBan.US, Wikidata Q104970579.
- Radio Active Magazine, KKFI, Wikidata Q57451712.
- Spencer Graves; Ann Suellentrop; Ray Acheson; Timmon Wallis (19 January 2021), Entry Into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, Radio Active Magazine, Wikidata Q104978126.
- Ray Acheson (1 June 2021), Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-1-78661-489-6, Wikidata Q104982754.
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- Morton merged with Thiokol in 1982 then split in 1989 after the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and campaigns to avoid buying Morton Salt. See Ronnie Dugger (20 September 1987), "The Company As Target", The New York Times Magazine, ISSN 0028-7822, Wikidata Q104984201 and Michael Kinsley (22 November 1990), "Rules for Consumer Boycotts", The Washington Post, ISSN 0190-8286, Wikidata Q104984826.