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Pope Francis’s Condemnation of Nuclear Weapons

The stirring condemnation of nuclear weapons by Pope Francis today at the United Nations and his call for their prohibition and complete elimination in compliance with promises made in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by the US in 1970, 45 years ago, should give new momentum to the current campaign to start negotiations on a ban treaty. 

This initiative endorsed by 117  non-nuclear weapons states to sign the Humanitarian Pledge being circulated initially by Austria, to “fill the legal gap” for nuclear disarmament and ban the bomb just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons would create a new legal norm, which was not established in the NPT which provided that the five nuclear weapons states (US, Russia, UK, France, China) would make “good faith” efforts for nuclear disarmament, but didn’t prohibit their possession, in return for a promise from all the other nations not to acquire nuclear weapons.  

Every nation in the world signed the treaty except India, Pakistan, and Israel who went on to get nuclear weapons. North Korea took advantage of the NPTs Faustian bargain to give “peaceful” nuclear power to nations who promised not to make bombs and walked out of the treaty using the keys it got to its own bomb factory to make weapons.

At the NPT five year review conference this spring, the US, Canada, and the UK refused to agree to a final document because they couldn’t deliver Israel’s agreement on a promise made in 1995 to hold a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone conference for the Middle East. South Africa, condemned the nuclear apartheid enshrined in the double standard of the NPT which allowed the five signers to not only keep their nukes but to continue to modernize them with Obama pledging one trillion dollars over the next thirty years for two new bomb factories, delivery systems and new nuclear weapons.  

Indeed, on the eve of the Pope’s UN talk, it was reported that the US is planning to upgrade its nuclear weapons stationed at a German NATO base, causing Russia to rattle a few nuclear sabers of its own. The obvious bad faith of the nuclear weapons states is paving the way for even more non-nuclear weapons states to create the legal taboo for nuclear weapons just as the world has done for other weapons of mass destruction. Inspired by the Pope’s talk, this may be a time to finally give peace a chance. 

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Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, which works for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 

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