A new day

January 23, 2021

On Friday, January 22, people in cities and towns across in the United States and around the world, will celebrate the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons .Those...

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On Friday, January 22, people in cities and towns across in the United States and around the world, will celebrate the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Those gathering, online and elsewhere, stand in sharp contrast with the electric sense of fear felt by policy makers and others that President Trump might push the nuclear button in the immediate aftermath of his failed coup. With President Trump facing possible criminal conviction and terminal bankruptcy, and having the power to initiate nuclear war on his own authority, Nancy Pelosi had good reason to press the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, to ensure that the president couldn’t take us all with him as he went down. For several days, headlines focused on the danger of nuclear war, which should facilitate arms control and disarmament advocacy in coming months.

For decades, absent such desperate circumstances, many world leaders and policy makers have understood that accidents and miscalculations – including the belief the nuclear war can be fought and won – could lead to nuclear catastrophe and urged action to eliminate nuclear weapons. A year before President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev went "eyeball to eyeball" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, speaking from the dais of the U.N. General Assembly, Kennedy warned: "Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness." The weapons of war, he urged "must be abolished before they abolish us."

Since that day, during international crises and wars – on at least 24 occasions – US presidents have prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war. Similarly, leaders of each of the eight other nuclear powers has made similar threats at least once. Human survival indeed hangs from the slenderest of threads, a reality confirmed by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists expert panel who have set their Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the closest to catastrophe since the clock was created in 1953 at the height of the Cold War.

During the 75 years since the unnecessary and functionally criminal indiscriminate atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, A-bomb survivors, scientists and physicians, scholars, community-based activists, diplomats and many national leaders have worked to prevent apocalypse and to create a nuclear weapons-free world.

A high point came in 1970 when, after years of protests, diplomacy and negotiations, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty came into effect. This seminal treaty was a grand bargain made between the nuclear haves and have nots. In exchange for the non-nuclear weapons states foreswearing development or possession of nuclear weapons, the nuclear powers recognized their right to generate nuclear power for peaceful purposes (a mistake).

Excerpted: ‘A New Day for Human Survival: On the Promise of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’

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