Home > Columnists > Joseph Gerson > Geopolitical Struggle and the Imperatives of Nuclear Weapons Abolition | Dr. Joseph Gerson

Geopolitical Struggle and the Imperatives of Nuclear Weapons Abolition | Dr. Joseph Gerson

Feb. 28, 2016

“There are two grim shadows that loom over everything that we consider: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war, the latter threat much underestimated… In the case of nuclear weapons, we at least know the answer: get rid of them, like smallpox, with adequate measures, which are technically feasible, to ensure that this curse does not arise again.” ~ Noam Chomsky

About The Author

Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs and Director of Peace & Economic Security Program of AFSC’s Northeast Region and co-convener of the Peace & Planet Network.

Shizuoka — Friends, it is an honor to be here again among steadfast Gensuikyo leaders and activists. It has long been my privilege to work with you and Hidankyo, the leading moral and political forces for nuclear weapons abolition. It was also a privilege to be in the presence of Tony De Brum in the U.N. two years ago when he announced that the Marshall Islands would sue the world’s nuclear powers for breach of contract and for violating traditional humanitarian law. Diplomats and NGO activists were awed by the importance, imagination and courage of this initiative. Tony has been no less courageous in making his way to our Peace & Planet conference and in his work to reverse climate change.

 A nuclear test during Operation Crossroads in 1946, one of 67 conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands.

A nuclear test during Operation Crossroads in 1946, one of 67 conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands.

Yesterday, in London, CND organized the largest nuclear disarmament demonstration in recent years to oppose Trident replacement (1). If CND prevails, it could be a turning point in the struggle for a nuclear weapons-free world. We are thus privileged to be learning from and inspired by Jenny Clegg.

Shamefully, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter responded to CND’s campaign by insisting that if Britain is to continue to play its “outsized role” in the world and to maintain its special relationship with Washington, it must proceed with Trident replacement, a weapon system capable of inflicting the world with nuclear winter, ending of all life as we know it.

Friends, we did exceptional work together for the NPT Review. True, the U.S. sabotaged the Conference with its refusal to honor its commitment to co-convene a conference for a nuclear weapons and WMD-free zone in the Middle East. So, we have much to do. Last month the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that it will keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock set at three minutes to midnight. Their announcement was “an expression of dismay” towards world leaders who continue to fail to focus the world’s attention on what they termed the imperative of reducing the extreme dangers posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.

The Bulletin did celebrate the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the voluntary commitments made in Paris to limit – if insufficiently – greenhouse gas emissions, but they warned that the “narrowing channels for averting crisis recall the dark days of the Cold War.” They called attention to the renewed U.S.- Russian nuclear arms race, to Russia’s “disturbing nuclear rhetoric,” to the risk of “short launch times,” and to the superpowers’ massive nuclear stockpiles. They denounced the nuclear powers’ modernization programs, including the dangers of China, North Korea, Pakistan and India increasing their nuclear arsenals. They warned that “recent US efforts to assert a right of free passage in the South China Sea by sending a naval vessel and airplanes close to those islands have the potential to escalate into a major conflict between nuclear powers.” The Bulletin also cited the “urgent threat” posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs saying “Now is not the time to tighten North Korea’s isolation but to engage seriously in dialogue.” In the wake of Fukushima, they decried “ambitious programs to expand… nuclear capacity” warning that “the international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation challenges that large-scale nuclear expansion poses.” (2)

With the exception of the absence of a Russo-Japanese Peace agreement and the still unresolved Korean War, the Cold War has been history for more than a generation. It is thus time to take a fresh and hard look at the geopolitical forces that are now fueling wars and tensions that could trigger great power war, even nuclear war, and which are impacting our political cultures and systems. We might begin with Russian President Medvedev’s recent statement that “we have slid back into a new cold war.” (3)

U.S.- Chinese and U.S.-Russian tensions may be better understood as those that are inevitable between declining and rising powers. The challenge is to manage them diplomatically. Unlike the duality of the Cold War era, ours is multi-polar. The U.S., China and Russia are the great military powers, with the U.S. still wielding the most menacing military forces. Countries like Japan, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are today’s mid-level powers aligned, but they are also in military competition with great powers and in some instances each other. And, like the Balkans, Korea and China in the early 20th century, there are nations that are seen and abused by the powers as pawns. Think in terms of Vietnam, the Philippines, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. As Michael Klare has explained (4), unlike the Cold War era, this is a time of extremely fluid, contentious, complicated, provocative and potentially dangerous military geopolitical struggles for power and influence, which is comparable to the years that preceded World War I.

As you know, the U.S. is engaged in military, diplomatic, and economic maneuvers – many of them provocative – to preserve and reinforce what is described as its “stewardship of the world order,” (5) its imperial realm. We see this in the Pivot to Asia, in U.S. insistence on building a new base in Henoko, in the restoration and expansion of U.S. bases in the Philippines (6), the Trans-Pacific Partnership, its naval exercises in the South China and Black Seas, in NATO’s expansion and in the quadrupling of U.S. military spending for forces in Eastern Europe.

Russia and China are pushing back, challenging what they experience as threats to their security and to their geopolitical ambitions as they seek to restore what their elites believe are their historic roles: China as the pre-eminent power in Asia and the western Pacific and Russia as the Eurasian Empire. China is thus infringing on other nations’ territorial claims in the South China Sea, is provocatively transforming reefs and rocks into air, naval and missile bases, is creating a 21st century Silk Road across Central Asia to the Middle East, and is ramping up its military modernization.

Putin responded to NATO expansion, the U.S. backed coup in Ukraine, and Washington’s regime change campaign in Syria with the re-occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, its murderous military intervention in Syria, its reported simulated nuclear attacks against members of NATO and Sweden (7), its claims to the North Pole’s seabed, and by circumnavigating Japan with a nuclear-capable bomber.

Disregarding the reality that an exchange of 50-100 of the world’s 15,695 nuclear weapons would claim the lives of up to two billion people (8), as well as their NPT and other international law obligations, the nuclear powers – led by the U.S. – are “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals, making nuclear war more likely than before (9).

Here, contrary to Japan’s real security interests, your nation continues to be exploited as an American pawn, or maybe as a powerful rook. In addition to using Japan as its unsinkable aircraft carrier, Washington has collaborated militarist right-wing Japanese forces to relegate the lessons of the Fifteen Year War to history and to transform Japan into a major, if not great, military power. Abe’s war laws, the LDP’s campaign to revise and replace the Peace Constitution, and increased Japanese military spending are all integral to Washington’s pivot, even as Abe has ambitions of his own. With its vision of restoring much of the Emperor-centric, militarized and undemocratic political system of the 1930s, the LDP’s alternative constitution is enough to make your hair stand on end (10).

The situation is no better in the U.S., where divisive political dynamics have polarized the country. First, are the vulgar and dangerous racism and Islamophobia of the Republican presidential candidates who are pandering to white working class fears as they suffer increased economic insecurity and people of color become the majority? The foundation for this dynamic was laid in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” Republican financial and corporate interests allied themselves with southern racists and Christian fundamentalists. As we saw with Sarah Palin, and now with Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, these extreme right-wing forces now dominate the Republican Party. Note the parallels to the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

Next are the geopolitical uncertainties. Faced with challenges to U.S. dominance in East Asia and the Middle East, uncertainty in Europe, and fears of another domestic terrorist attack, powerful political, economic and social forces are pressing to strike back at Russia, China, ISIS and the world, along with pressures to retain the nuclear triad and add more warplanes and warships to U.S. arsenals.

Cruz threatened a nuclear attack against ISIS. Trump pledges to ban the world’s Muslims from the U.S., to bring back torture, to build a new Great Wall on our southern border, and – please excuse the term – to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS regardless of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, other Republicans compete to show that they are equally brutal.

With the exception of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democrats are little better. The economist Jeffrey Sachs tagged Hillary Clinton for the neocon that she is, describing her as the Military Industrial Complex’s candidate (11). She shares a consulting firm with Republican candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, considered perhaps the most Hawkish among Republicans, and Ted Cruz (12). Also Recall that it was Hillary who launched the Pivot to Asia, TPP, and the destruction of Libya. And it was our Democratic president’s Pentagon that launched an ICBM on the eve of the second session U.N. Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament, who boasting that the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next eight greatest military spender…combined, and that our military “reach has no limits.” And, the U.S. is on track to spend $1 trillion for nuclear arsenal and triad.

U.S. political madness even includes all of the Republican presidential candidates either denying climate change or opposing ameliorative action.

I know there are hopes for Bernie Sanders here. His rise and growing support for socialist policies are manifestations of the urgent need for greater economic justice and equality. But he has said little about foreign and military policy. Sanders described Lawrence Korb – an adviser to Reagan, Bush Senior, and Obama – as his most important foreign policy advisor. Korb reports that Sanders is a realist in the tradition of Bush Senior’s National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and that while Sanders opposed the Iraq War, he voted for the wars in Afghanistan and against Serbia [in violation of the U.N. Charter]. Korb says that Sanders will be restrained in using military force, and that he would follow Colin Powell’s Doctrine: when the U.S. uses military force abroad, its “objectives should be clear, we should be prepared to use all the force necessary to achieve those objectives, and we should know when they have been achieved.” (13) Sanders has called for reducing spending for the U.S. nuclear arsenal by roughly a quarter, and for cutting wasteful military spending – even as he has supported the $1.5 trillion F-35 fighter/bomber program.

Friends, we know that nuclear weapons abolition, peace, climate change and democracy cannot be won with a magic wand. As Ban Ki-moon reminded us in 2010, they require steadfast work: the petition gathering, educating, the vigiling, organizing demonstrations, writing articles and letters to the editor, all to challenge to those who wield illegitimate power and enjoy illegitimate privileges. It requires build the people’s power from below to move, and sometimes change, governments.

In Cambridge we are winding up a month-long exhibit of Hidankyo’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki posters and our four-part speakers series. Mary Popeo who walked in last summer’s Japan Peace March, has produced a wonderful YouTube video that should reinforce campaigning to protect the Peace Constitution. With partner organizations we are organizing a major nuclear disarmament conference at MIT. And partner organizations across the U.S. are doing their share.

I am happy to report that Peace & Planet built international support for CND’s powerful rally on Saturday. It has promoted and responded to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday announcement, and we are planning forums and webinars in the U.S. on the imperatives of nuclear weapons abolition and the need to challenge NATO. With you, we are doing what we can in support of the Marshall Islands’ law suits, and with Gensuikyo and European partners are organizing an important nuclear weapons abolition conference as part of the International Peace Bureau’s Disarmament and Development Congress next fall. And, along the way, we are keeping a close eye on the U.N. Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament to discern how it might contribute to our future strategies and actions.

Friends, the Hibakusha teach that nuclear weapons and humanity cannot coexist. Let us use this opportunity to do all that we can to ensure our children, grandchildren and future generations can enjoy a nuclear weapons-free and environmentally sustainable future.

Domo Arrigato

 


 

1 Yevs Herman, “U.S. Defence Secretary says UK needs nuclear weapons for ‘outsized’ world role”, Reuters, Feb. 13, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-security-trident-idUSKCN0VM0E4
2 Doomsday Clock hands remain unchanged despite Iran deal and Paris talks”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 22, 2016, http://thebulletin.org/press-release/doomsday-clock-hands-remain-unchanged-despite-iran-deal-and-paris-talks9122

3 http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1602/13/cnr.06.html
4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5uEsn6KWls&feature=youtu.be
5 Robert Burns. “Carter says Russia, China pose potential threat to world order.” New York Times, Nov. 8, 2015
6 Javier C. Hernandez and Floyd Whaley. “Philippine Supreme Court Approves Agreement on Return of U.S. Forces”, New York Times, January 13, 2016
7 “Armin Rosen. “NATO report: A 2013 Russian aerial exercise was actually a ‘simulated nuclear attack’ on Sweden”, Business Insider, Feb. 3, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/nato-report-russia-sweden-nuclear-2016-2
8 Ira Helfand. “Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?” November, 2016, http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/two-billion-at-risk.pdf
9 William J. Broad and David E. Sanger. “Smaller Bombs Are Adding to Nuclear Fear”, New York Times, January 12, 2016
10 Muto Ichyo. “What drives Abe in reckless dash? Dissociative identity of Japan’s postwar statehood unravels”, April 4, 2015, http://www.asiapacificinitiative.org/?s=muto
11 Jeffrey Sachs. “Hillary Is the Candidate of the War Machine”, Huffington Post, February 5, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-sachs/hillary-is-the-candidate_b_9168938.html
12 Clinton, Rubio, Cruz Receive Foreign Policy Advice From Same Consulting Firm, Dec. 18, 2005 The Intercept. http//interc.pt/1mrWtdg
13 Lawrence J. Korb. “Bernie Sanders is More Serious About Foreign Policy Than You Think”, Politico, February 11, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/bernie-sanders-foreign-poicy-213619

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