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Peace on the Far Side of Nuclear Weapons

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“. . . real security can only be shared . . .”

I call it news in a cage: the fact that the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

In other words, how nice, but it has nothing to do with the real stuff going on across Planet Earth, like North Korea’s recent test of an ICBM that puts the entire U.S. in the range of its nukes, or the provocative war games Trump’s America has been playing on the Korean peninsula, or the quietly endless development of the “next generation” of nuclear weapons.

Or the imminent possibility of . . . uh, nuclear war.

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not like, say, winning an Oscar — accepting a big, flashy honor for a piece of finished work. The award is about the future. Despite some disastrously bad choices over the years (Henry Kissinger, for God’s sake), the Peace Prize is, or should be, utterly relevant to what’s happening at the cutting edge of global conflict: a recognition of the expansion of human consciousness toward the creation of real peace. Geopolitics, on the other hand, is trapped in the certainties of same old, same old: Might makes right, ladies and gentlemen, so you gotta be ready to kill.

And the mainstream news about North Korea is always, solely about that country’s small nuclear arsenal and what should be done about it. What the news is never about is the slightly larger nuclear arsenal of its mortal enemy, the United States. That’s taken for granted. And — get real — it’s not going away.

What if the global anti-nuclear movement was actually respected by the media and its evolving principles continually worked into the context of its reporting? That would mean the reporting about North Korea wouldn’t simply be limited to us vs. them. A third global party would be hovering over the entire conflict: the global majority of nations that last July voted to declare all nuclear weapons illegal.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — ICAN — a coalition of non-government organizations in some 100 countries, led the campaign that resulted, last summer, in the United Nations treaty prohibiting the use, development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. It passed 122-1, but the debate was boycotted by the nine nuclear-armed nations (Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States), along with Australia, Japan, South Korea and every member of NATO except the Netherlands, which cast the single no vote.

What the remarkable Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has accomplished is that it takes control of the nuclear disarmament process away from the nations that possess them. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty called on the nuclear powers to “pursue nuclear disarmament,” apparently at their own leisure. Half a century later, nukes are still the bedrock of their security. They’ve pursued nuclear modernization instead.

But with the 2017 treaty, “The nuclear powers are losing control of the nuclear disarmament agenda,” as Nina Tannenwald wrote in the Washington Post at the time. The rest of the world has grabbed hold of the agenda and — step one — declared nukes illegal.

“As one advocate put it, ‘You cannot wait for the smokers to institute a smoking ban,’” Tannenwald wrote.

She added: “The treaty promotes changes of attitude, ideas, principles and discourse — essential precursors to reducing numbers of nuclear weapons. This approach to disarmament starts by changing the meaning of nuclear weapons, forcing leaders and societies to think about and value them differently. . . . The treaty’s prohibition on threats of nuclear weapons use directly challenges deterrence policies. It is likely to complicate policy options for U.S. allies under the U.S. nuclear ‘umbrella,’ who are accountable to their parliaments and civil societies.”

What the treaty challenges is nuclear deterrence: the default justification for the maintenance and development of nuclear arsenals.

Thus I return to the quote at the beginning of this column. Tilman Ruff, an Australian physician and a co-founder of ICAN, wrote in The Guardian after the organization was awarded the Peace Prize: “One hundred twenty-two states have acted. Together with civil society, they have brought global democracy and humanity to nuclear disarmament. They have realised that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, real security can only be shared, and cannot be achieved by threatening and risking use of these worst weapons of mass destruction.”

If this is true — if real security somehow must be created mutually, even with North Korea, and if walking the edge of nuclear war, as we have done since 1945, will never result in global peace but rather, at some point, nuclear catastrophe — the implications demand unending exploration, especially by the media of the world’s wealthiest and most privileged nations.

“For far too long reason has given way to the lie that we are safer spending billions every year to build weapons which, in order for us to have a future, must never be used,” Ruff wrote.

“Nuclear disarmament is the most urgent humanitarian necessity of our time.”

If this is true — and most of the world believes that it is — then Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s nuclear missile program are only a small piece of the threat faced by every human being on the planet. There’s another reckless, unstable leader with his finger on the nuclear button, delivered to the planet a year ago by the flawed U.S. democracy.

Donald Trump should be the poster boy of nuclear disarmament.

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Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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