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US Attends then Defies Conference on Nuclear Weapons Effects

VIENNA, Austria

A pair of conferences here this week have tried to raise public and government awareness of nuclear weapons.

The first, a Civil Society Forum put on by the Int’l Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, brought together non-governmental groups, parliamentarians, and activists of all stripes to try and boost morale and renew enthusiasm in efforts to ban the bomb.

About 700 participants spent two days delving into the ghastly health and environmental effects of nuclear war, the hair-raising frequency of H-bomb accidents and near detonations, and the horrifying impacts of bomb test fallout — and other human radiation experiments conducted without informed consent upon our own unwitting civilians and soldiers.

This is ground that’s been plowed before, and for decades, but it’s nevertheless staggering to the uninitiated and is never repeated too often — especially in view of the destabilization and skyrocketing death toll of what the Pope has called today’s “World War Three.”

ICAN’s infusion of youthful encouragement and high-energy mobilization is a welcome relief for the doddering anti-nuclear movement that’s seen a generation of activists lost to campaigns against corporate globalization and the perpetrators of climate collapse. Mary Olson, of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who presented expert testimony on the shocking gender bias in radiation dose effects, said she had gotten a “surprisingly big jolt of hope from the youngness of the gathering.”

A second conference of about 1,000 government representatives, NGOs and others followed the ICAN meeting. The “Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons” (HINW) was the 3rd in a series and your felonious Nukewatch reporter was somehow granted permission to attend the deeply stuffy affair.

After decades of negotiations over the numerical size of nuclear arsenals, the HINW meetings have finally faced the harsh ugliness and catastrophic health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons.

Expert witnesses spoke directly to 180 state governments about the ethical, legal, medical and ecological consequences of H-bomb detonations which are — in the language of diplomatic nicety — “foreseeable.” Then, scores of state delegates called on nuclear-armed countries (US, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) to dissolve their reliance on the worst of our WsMD and see them abolished.

But the naked emperor can’t see his own bare ass.

It turns out that a gathering of elites like this is like a prison population: there is a strict observation of a certain etiquette; a rigorous separation of social, political and economic classes; and a blatant violation of all the rules by privileged, rich, and pampered imperial chieftains.

The worst violation here came at the start of the first question-&-answer session. And it was my own government — which skipped both previous HINW meetings — that put a radioactive foot in its bomb-cratered mouth, and everyone noticed. Immediately following harrowing personal testimonies from downwind bomb test victims, and a review by Ms. Olson of the science showing women and children to be far more vulnerable to radiation than men, the U.S. interrupted.

Although conveners explicitly directed participants to only ask questions, US delegate Adam Scheinman was the first at the mic and he declared flatly, “I will not ask a question but make a statement.” The bully then completely ignored the panel’s discussion of the brutal, gruesome, and long-term effects of nuclear weapons testing and use. Instead, in ringing non sequitur, the U.S.’s prepared remarks declared opposition to a nuclear weapons ban treaty, and noted support for [endlessly] ongoing negotiations for a Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. Mr. Scheinman also lauded the White House’s embrace of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is code language for continued winking at open US violations of the NPT.

(Principle among U.S. NPT violations are Pres. Obama’s planned $1 trillion, 30-year budget for new nuclear weapons; “nuclear sharing” agreements that keep 180 U.S. H-bombs spread across Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Turkey; and Trident nuclear missile sales to the British submarine fleet.)

American’s rude defiance of conference protocols was of course a microcosm of its global militarism: oblivious, contemptuous, pompous, galling and dismissive of the law. Conducted at 1:20 in the afternoon, the scene-stealing disruption of protocol by the U.S. was well-timed to be the lead headline on nightly TV news, if the conference is even reported.

The U.S.’s refusal to support (and its dismissal of) the movement for a nuclear weapons ban/treaty should be the story today, but corporate media can be counted on to regurgitate Obama’s encouragement of interminable negotiations to nowhere.

The desired result of its bombast is that the U.S. will momentarily divert attention from the indiscriminate, uncontrollable, widespread, persistent, radiological and genetically destabilizing impact of its nuclear weapons — and gotten television to pat it on the back merely for showing up and “listening.”

Indeed, after its usurpation of center-stage here — and after having ignored and then temporarily recast the subject of the conference — the U.S. may now leave the building and get back to its one-thousand-billion-dollar upgrade of infrastructure for producing 80 new H-bombs a year by 2020.

John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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