The Changing Order, The Ban Treaty, China’s Rise and the Continuing Imperative of Preventing Nuclear War 

Delivered by: Joseph Gerson

International Meeting, 2017 World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs

Hiroshima, August 4, 2017


It is a privilege to again join the World Conference. This year we celebrate our Ban Treaty, won with the Hibakusha’s courage and testimonies that refocused attention back to the human consequences of nuclear weapons. Also central to our victory were the vision and commitments of the Japanese and international peace and disarmament movements and diplomats like Alexander Kmentt who took inspiration from the World Conference.

To consolidate our victory, governments must now sign and ratify the treaty. It provides openings for movements in Japan, NATO and other umbrella states to demand that they reject alliance commitments binding them to preparations for nuclear war. Once again the Japanese movement is at the center of history. But winning nuclear weapons abolition still requires building mass movements within the nuclear weapons and umbrella states. The Ban Treaty is a valuable resource for this movement building.

That said, we face serious challenges. Each of the nuclear weapons states boycotted the Ban Treaty negotiations, and continued their nuclear weapons “modernization” programs, with the price for the U.S. nuclear upgrade now at $1.2 trillion. The U.S., Russia, Britain and France denounced the treaty falsely claiming that nuclear deterrence kept the peace for 70 years, During the NBT negotiations, North Korea “tested” nuclear-capable missiles. Trump responded by threatening “severe” actions, launched ICBM “tests”, and conducted aggressive joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan. New sanctions were slapped on Teheran along with a call for regime change there.

Then there is Trump. The U.S. is becoming a nuclear armed banana republic. Actually, we face a dangerous political and constitutional crisis. Every day there is a new revelation of the President’s ignorance, his and his family’s conflicts of interest, their disregard for the constitution and rule of law, news of more secret meetings with figures tied to Russia, attacks on the media, outrageous lies, and intrigues among warring White House factions.

Trump’s assaults on truth, science and the rule of law are in the fascist tradition, designed to undermine constitutional democracy and to increase the power and privileges of the super-rich, corporations and the military., Our crisis isn’t limited to Trump. It is systemic, arising from the rise of an extreme right wing plutocratic class which has funded extreme right-wing forces and bought local and national elections in recent decades.

All of this has nuclear implications. A year ago Trump didn’t know what the nuclear triad was, suggested that Japan and South Korea become nuclear powers, and asked why we can’t use nuclear weapons. He had to ask his advisors what the New Start Treaty was. Since then, he has pledged to “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, called for a nuclear arms race, and launched a Nuclear Policy Review targeted against Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Trump is increasingly isolated (this morning’s news is that a grand jury panel has been established as part of the criminal investigation of Trump, his family and cronies,) but this makes him more dangerous.

Fears about Trump’s finger being on the nuclear button led half a million people to sign a petition supporting legislation to prevent Trump from launching nuclear war on his own authority.

Let me raise some more disconcerting issues. Our news is filled with reports of China’s aggressive territorial claims and provocative U.S. and Chinese military “exercises” in South China Sea. The Chinese and Japanese militaries operate in dangerous proximity near the Senkaku/Diaoya Islands. Challenging the U.S. and Japan, China is conducting long range drills in and around Okinawan waters and air space.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison and others are raising alarms about the Thucydides Trap, the inevitable tensions that often result in war between rising and declining powers. Allison writes that the closest analogy to the current situation with the China standoff is Germany’s challenge to Britain’s global empire before World War I. He points to the similarity of “China’s ‘aggressive’ behavior and unwillingness to accept the ‘international rules-based order’ established by the U.S., with pre-war Germany. He reminds us that “China feels it has been cheated out of its rightful place by nations that were strong when it was weak. Like Germany…China has the will and the means to change the status quo.” And, like imperial Britain, the U.S. has been defending “its primacy on the world stage.”

Allison warns that “The return to prominence of a 5000-year-old civilization with 1.4 billion people is not a problem to be fixed. It is a condition.” The hold that nearly two centuries of U.S. “manifest destiny” ideology and the vested interests of U.S. corporations and the military-industrial-Congressional complex have on the U.S. world view are powerful obstacles to Americans making necessary adjustments to the shifts in the world order’s tectonic plates.

Add Japan to the mix. Howard French, warns that “It was one thing for China to be humiliated by the West…But the defeats administered by … Japan were a different matter.” From China’s perspective, he argues, Japan must “bow to Beijing’s authority”, with this to be followed by ousting U.S. power from the Western Pacific.. Okinawa, formerly a tributary kingdom and which serves as a barrier to China’s naval access to the Western Pacific, now finds itself at the vortex of this great power competition, while the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands serve as the symbolic locus of conflict.

War and disproportionate Chinese influence over Japan are not inevitable. China’s doctrine has long sought domination by demonstrating overwhelming comprehensive power, leaving its rivals no choice but accommodation. This is beginning to happen economically and militarily. Abe’s militarism is not the answer. Instead, there is the possibility of finding solutions in Common Security diplomacy and in the more opaque traditions that preceded the introduction of the nation state system to Asia. Eduardo Tadem in the Philippines put it well when he urged that “Countries…should meet China halfway…Civil society should bring countries closer together.”

To the north, the U.S.-North Korean confrontation has been described as a “Cuban missile crisis in slow motion”, with North Korea’s “relentless” drive to build its nuclear arsenal, and Trump’s vows that it will not happen. Trump declared North Korea his top foreign policy priority and said that he will take severe actions against North Korea, and that all options are on the table. Recently added “regime change” and B-1 bomber flights have been added to the list. Escalating the crisis could be one way that Trump tries to divert attention from his deepening political crisis.

Bruce Cummings explains that the Kim regime is ruthless but not reckless. It is not suicidal. Rather, its nuclear arsenal is designed to preserve the Kim Dynasty and North Korean sovereignty. Cummings advises that to overcome the crisis we need to address its roots: lingering wounds of Japan’s brutal colonization of Korea, U.S. devastation of North Korea during the Korean War, and the history of U.S. preparations and threats to launch nuclear attacks against the DPRK. Having taken lessons from U.S. regime change wars in Iraq and Libya, Kim Jun-Un will not lightly surrender his nuclear arsenal.

Despite Trump, a rational consensus about how to prevent war with North Korea is developing. William Perry, Richard Haas, and others reject accepting the DPRK as a nuclear power and relying on nuclear deterrence to contain it. They know that this could spur nuclear weapons proliferation, and that deterrence provides no guarantees. With Seoul within range of North Korean artillery positions, they also understand that U.S. preemptive or preventive attacks could be catastrophic. Instead, they advocate direct U.S. negotiations with Pyongyang.
Consistent with North Korean, Chinese and Russian proposals, they advocate seeking a near-term freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenals in exchange for scaling back U.S.-South Korean military exercises and finally ending the Korean War with a Peace Agreement. Negotiations for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula could then follow on the basis of the improved relations. With Moon Jae-in’s election, his commitment to negotiations, and his plan for negotiating the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula by 2020, Trump – if he lasts in office – may have no alternative to diplomacy.

Trump’s campaign to restore U.S. Middle East hegemony, may prove to be the most dangerous crisis we face. Time constraints limit what I can report. Simply to say that Trump has ordered his staff to develop a rationale declaring that Iran has violated the nuclear agreement so that the U.S. can withdraw from it and move to a direct military confrontation with Teheran.

How then to build from the Ban? From lobbying to petition campaigns and demonstrations, our first priority must be getting the states that negotiated the Ban treaty and umbrella states to sign and ratify the Treaty. Those of us in the rogue nuclear weapons states can use the Treaty to help build the movements needed to win our governments’ commitments to nuclear disarmament. September 20, when the Treaty opens for signing, as well as the International Days for Peace and Disarmament and the U.N. High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament provide occasions to rally our forces and to press our governments.

We can draw on Hibakusha testimonies and exhibits to continue building understanding of and opposition to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. And, we have international Move the Money campaigns like IPB’s Global Campaign on Military Spending and PAX’s Don’t Bank on the Bomb, as well as Peace and Planet’s opposition to spending for nuclear weapons and its commitment to build more issue unified movements.

Winning nuclear weapons abolition requires defending, preserving and expanding what remains of constitutional democracy, human and civil rights, and demilitarizing our societies. Without freedom and the rule of law, autocrats and dictators won’t be held accountable.

We also need to create the conditions that prevent war and make great power nuclear disarmament possible, much we did in the 1980s with the nuclear weapons freeze and Euromissile movements, and with Olaf Palme’s Common Security initiative, Advocating win-win common security alternatives can bring the nuclear powers back from the brink. As Eduardo Tandem and others urge, finding compromises that serve each nation’s vital interests can replace dangerous contests for empire and hegemony. Here in Japan this includes supporting Okinawan resistance and building on former Governor Ota’s vision of Okinawa as a bastion of and model for international peace.

Preventing war and nuclear war means pressing Trump and company to abandon their North Korean regime change ambitions and to negotiate a comprehensive agreements with North Korea and Iran. It also means supporting South Korean opponents of THAAD.

Perhaps most important is nurturing the next generation of nuclear weapons abolitionists, because our struggle will take longer than any of us want. Equally important is weaning Americans and Chinese from their manifest destiny cultures and Japan from its enduring militarist myths.

So, let’s celebrate the Ban and get back to work!

No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis! No More Hibakusha! And No More War!

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