“Humanity faces two existential threats: the increasing dangers of nuclear war and climate disruption. Human beings created these threats, which can only be reversed by mass popular actions.” Online World Conference 2020
On August 6 and 9, 1945, the United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This began the nuclear arms race, which escalated during the Cold War years. Today the world faces proposals for new nuclear weapons in Europe and the expansion of existing nuclear systems around the world.
The Nuclear Weapon Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was first proposed in 1968 and came into effect in 1970. The NPT had three core goals
Peaceful use of nuclear energy
The original treaty was a twenty-five-year agreement. In 1995 the Treaty was extended indefinitely with five years reviews.
April 2020 was set to be the 5-year review of the NPT and organizations across the globe planned to come to New York City during the conference. In 2015 the participants failed to come to an agreement on the Treaty, so 2020 was considered an important opportunity to move forward on nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, 2020 Marks the 75th Anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and there is a growing concern that nuclear proliferation, climate change, and increased government repression and xenophobia pose a historic threat to humanity.
For this reason, the 2020 conference was an important event. World powers had the opportunity to come to consensus on key issues. This included the nuclear states following through on their Article VI responsibilities to “undertake to pursue good-faith negotiations on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general and complete disarmament” in a period where proposals for new land-based nuclear weapons in Europe and a growing number of nuclear states are underway.
Organizers wanted to mark this importance with an overwhelming turn out from nuclear disarmament, climate justice, and organizations fighting for social and economic justice. The plan was to hold a massive conference bringing these organizations together. A thousand representatives from Japan alone were scheduled to attend, and groups like the Sunrise Movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the International Trade Union Confederation would bring climate, labor, and social justice organizations together to confront what is normally a singularly focused event. In addition to the conference, a festival and mass march were being planned.
The new COVID-19 health crisis has delayed all of these events, but it has not prevented work from happening. The pandemic has given us a taste of what the aftermath a worldwide emergency looks like and the incompetent responses by international governments who ignored warnings and science. It also gives us a taste of how quickly the far right can mobilize and how xenophobia can grow at alarming rates.
The World Conference was presented in a truncated version. International speakers presented via live stream.
Speakers included Sharron Burrow (General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation – Australia), Xiye Bastida (Fridays for Future, Mexico), Joseph Gerson (American Friends Service Committee, Executive Director of the Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security and Vice President of the International Peace Bureau, US), Emad Kiyaei (Industrial Development Group, Iran), Hiroshi Taka (Gensuikyo, Japan), Rev. Liz Theoharis (Poor People’s Campaign, US), Dr. Carlos Umaña (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Costa Rica) and a Representative of the Japan Confederation of A- & H- Bomb Sufferers.
Speakers presented on the importance of continuing the struggle. The 2020 NPT Review Conference is now scheduled for 2021 and we must continue our mobilization.
While the NPT aims to control the creation and use of nuclear weapons, this is nowhere near the answer. Countries across the globe have spoken, and as stakeholders in any result of a nuclear use, agreed to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. (TPNW), also known as the “Nuclear Ban Treaty,” a Treaty which looks to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons, with the goal of leading towards their total elimination.
The Nuclear Ban Treaty would be a legally binding international law that would start the process of ending nuclear weapons. The Treaty must be ratified by 50 countries and now has 36 signed on.
While the cancellation of mass actions and mobilizations around the NPT and the postponement of the UN NPT review is disappointing, there is a new unified movement of organizations fighting for the elimination of nuclear weapons, for climate justice, and for labor, social and economic justice. This growing coalition needs to step up in a time when environmental devastation and now world-wide health emergencies are pressing threats. Socialists need to be involved in this work.
The Socialist Party is clear in our Statement of Principles that “The cleanup of the contaminated environment and the creation of a nuclear-free world are among the first tasks of a socialist society.” The Party has a long history in the movement to end nuclear weapons. As we continue to organize within movements against war and imperialism, our commitment to fighting nuclear proliferation needs to be a key focus.
Gregory Pason is the chair of the Socialist Party’s Anti-War working group and a board member of New Jersey Peace Action.