One day before global stakeholders began a month-long meeting to review progress on the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a broad coalition of civil society groups delivered eight million petition signatures to United Nations officials, calling for swifter action toward the complete elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals.
The NPT, enacted in 1970, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament. Representing 189 states, including five nuclear-weapon states, the NPT "has become a critical mechanism to achieve nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament goals," World Future Council and Right Livelihood Award founder Jakob von Uexkull wrote last week.
However, as von Uexkull and other anti-nuclear activists are quick to point out, NPT states are moving far too slowly toward disarmament. "Seventy years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 45 years since the entry into force of the NPT, and 18 years of deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, what is currently on offer as constituting progress on nuclear disarmament is simply insufficient," von Uexkull charged.
"We face a moment in which policies that benefit a fraction of the world’s population feed conflicts that could precipitate catastrophic wars, even nuclear wars, and in which the power to make war is wielded by largely unaccountable elites."
—Peace and Planet Mobilization
As per the treaty's language, state parties are required to meet every five years to evaluate progress on the agreement. The 2015 Review Conference begins Monday at the United Nations in New York, and will run through May 22.
Marking the start of the conference, the Peace and Planet Mobilization—an umbrella group endorsed by more than 300 environmental, racial justice, anti-war, and organizations in 20 countries—convened over the weekend in New York City, for its own International Peace & Planet Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World; an interfaith convocation attended by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shinto religious leaders; and a rally with over 7,500 peace, justice and environmental activists.
"Recognizing the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference, with a clarion call for negotiations to begin immediately on the elimination of nuclear weapons," said Jackie Cabasso of the California-based Western States Legal Foundation. "We also recognized that a multitude of planetary problems stem from the same causes. So, we brought together a broad coalition of peace, environmental, and economic justice advocates to build political will towards our common goals."
Those common goals, in addition to nuclear abolition, include deep reductions of military spending and "measures to reverse the devastation being wrought by climate change."
In its Call to Action published in February, the coalition declared:
We issue this call at a crucial juncture in history, a moment when the unresolved tensions of a deeply inequitable society, great power ambitions and the destructive effects of an unsustainable economic system are exploding into overlapping crises. Tensions among nuclear-armed countries are rising amidst circumstances that bear worrisome resemblances to those that brought the world wars of the last century. For the first time in the nuclear age we are in a sustained global economic crisis that is deepening the gulf between rich and poor in a starkly two-tier world. Both climate change and fossil fuel-based economies generate conflicts within and among states. Extreme economic inequality and the economic policies that create it, NATO’s aggressive expansion, struggles over diminishing fossil fuels, food price spikes and crop failures drive wars and revive arms races from Iraq to Syria to Ukraine to South Asia and the Western Pacific. We face a moment in which policies that benefit a fraction of the world’s population feed conflicts that could precipitate catastrophic wars, even nuclear wars, and in which the power to make war is wielded by largely unaccountable elites.
In his analysis of this year's NPT Review Conference, von Uexkull noted that "progress has stalled" since the last meeting in 2010.
Von Uexkull pointed out that none of the nuclear-armed states has signed onto the "Humanitarian Initiative"—a series of joint statements on the humanitarian dimension of nuclear disarmament co-sponsored by more than 150 states.
What's more, he added, "they largely boycotted the humanitarian consequences conferences, calling it a 'distraction'," as well as UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) sessions, which were borne out of frustration at the lack of progress in other forums.
"It leaves us wondering how serious they can really be about achieving a world free of nuclear weapons—a goal to which they have all professed their commitment," von Uexkull wrote. "In fact, the nuclear-armed states are in the process of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on modernizing their nuclear weapon systems and continue to place critical importance on these weapons in their security doctrines."
As Peace and Planet points out, over 16,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world's arsenals, with 10,000 in military service and 1,800 on high alert. All nuclear-armed states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, to the tune of over $100 billion per year on nuclear weapons and related costs.
The weekend's actions "showed the commitment of international civil society to peace and disarmament, as thousands of people from around the world gathered in New York on the eve of the NPT RevCon," said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action and co-convener of Peace and Planet. "Now, we'll be watching to see if the U.S. and other nuclear states take their treaty obligation to pursue global nuclear weapons abolition as seriously."
Meanwhile, in the 24 hours leading up to the start of the NPT Review Conference, communities around the world participated in the Global Wave 2015, bidding a symbolic farewell to nuclear weapons through public actions in cities from Geneva to Buenos Aires to Tokyo to New Delhi.