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The Nuclear Winter of our Discontent

Donald Paneth May 11

UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. – The most important nuclear disarmament conference in decades can’t get started because the U.S. and Iran won’t agree to an agenda. And should the conference fail, the nuclear impasse will become much, much worse very soon. Nuclear weapons will run wild, and nobody will like it.

“I’m very worried about the course of the NPT review conference,” Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) told a May 9 press conference at the U.N. “The whole NPT regime could just die, and lead to nuclear escalation. That’s why I’m here.”

Joseph Gerson, author of With Hiroshima Eyes and The Deadly Connection, forecast that the conference would end in “a train wreck.”

Rhianna Tyson, head of Reaching Critical Will, a project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said that she didn’t expect much to be accomplished.

Every five years, an NPT review conference takes up the status of the treaty. At the last NPT review conference in 2000, 13 Practical Steps were adopted to realize the principal NPT aims. None of the steps has been taken.

The current review conference runs through May 27.

The difficulties with the treaty and the questions it presents are enormous, complex, and dangerous. One of the troubles is public ignorance and indifference to not only the NPT but to nuclear weapons.

Right now, the U.S. mass media are not providing the American public with an accurate appraisal of the treaty, the information needed to understand it. They are blacking out the desperate, frightening nature of the nuclear arms race, U.S. nuclear policy, and the failure of nuclear disarmament measures.

Though nuclear weapons experts such as Dr. Helen Caldicott, Robert Jay Lifton and Jonathan Schell, along with many others, have spoken out forcefully about the increasing threats of nuclear war, their views have not been widely distributed – and they certainly have gone unheeded.

Speaking May 2 at the CUNY Graduate Center, Caldicott estimated that the world has five years to negotiate its way out of the nuclear weapons crisis.

The public has not responded to this crisis, as it did during the nuclear freeze campaign of the 1980s.

A scant 4,000 to 5,000 people showed up in Central Park on May 1 for a “No nukes, no wars” rally.

The following day, the NPT review conference opened. The atmosphere at the U.N. was hectic. Journalists arrived from across the world to cover it. Aging Japanese survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were present (See related story).

The likely scuttling of the NPT reflects the Bush administration’s aversion to international treaties or negotiations, for example, its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and its refusal to re-submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for Senate ratification.

A high-ranking U.N. official pointed out that the U.S. was trying to push “some sort of tough stance” at the NPT conference.
That stance was evident as this report was being written: the U.S. was objecting to the inclusion of an agenda item for the discussion of whether previous NPT agreements should be reaffirmed. Its adversary, Iran, was insisting that the issue of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing not be discussed. Enrichment and reprocessing can not only be used to fuel nuclear reactors for energy production, but can produce the fissile material necessary to make nuclear bombs.

The U.S.-Iran conflict relates to the fundamental issue presented by Article VI of the NPT. The article refers to a “bargain” in which nuclear powers would pursue measures to end the nuclear arms race and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons.

In return, non-nuclear-weapons states committed themselves not to develop nuclear arms. The nuclear powers also agreed to provide other nations with nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Led by Washington, the nuclear powers have refused to fulfill their part of the bargain. Instead, they have continued to increase the size and destructive capacity of their nuclear arsenals.