Interested activists gathered at The Riverside Church on Sunday, March 28, 2010 for a forum on The U.S. and the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons sponsored by the Granny Peace Brigade, The Mission and Social Justice Department of The Riverside Church and the Black Radical Congress, New York Chapter. The United Nations Five Year Review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, scheduled for May 2010, will involve many nations in that review, so the forum was timely. Peace advocates want to ensure that their voices are heard before the official review, especially to push for the elimination of weapons in the lifetime, for example, of President Obama who has said this would not happen in his lifetime.
The Reverend Thomas of The Riverside Church welcomed those present and said that the church was supportive of the forum’s goals and for years had promoted reconciliation between and among individuals and nations. Vinie Burrows, Actor, Writer and UN Representative for the Women’s International Democratic Federation, moderated the program. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ms. Burrows read a portion of his speech, Quest for Peace and Justice.
The first speaker, Frida Berrigan, a Writer and Associate with the Arms and Security Initiative of the New America Foundation provided background on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was signed by 170 countries in 1970. Five nations were Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) at the time of the treaty’s signing: USA, USSR, China, France and Great Britain. Now there are nine [the added nuclear powers are India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel]. Signing countries without nuclear weapons are called Non-Nuclear Weapon States, or NNWS. An NNWS nation could be provided with a “carrot” to encourage them to forego nuclear weapons: help with establishing nuclear energy. Two countries mentioned by Ms. Berrigan which had intended to develop nuclear weapons but discontinued doing so are Brazil and South Africa.
She also discussed nuclear energy, nuclear waste, the cost of both weapons and energy, and the political situation.
About weapons: The US has 27,000 nuclear warheads. President Obama’s budget request for research and development of nuclear weapons for FY 2011 [Oct. 2010 – Sept. 2011] is $7 billion. Non nuclear weapons also continue to be developed by the US, some with power comparable to the smallest “tactical” nuclear weapons, although still 1000 times weaker than the Hiroshima bomb.
The offer of $7 billion to weapons firms was a starting salvo on the complex problem of getting approval in Congress for an agreement to destroy weapons. The problem is that US and Russia will be signing a START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement on April 8th this year, which will call for reductions in the number of missiles that each side has, both deployed and in reserve. The $7 billion is an attempt to buy the acquiescence of the nuclear component of the military industrial complex in this reduction, since they would otherwise tell their friends in Congress to kill the treaty.
About energy: Development of nuclear energy requires uranium which is highly toxic in its extraction from the ground, in testing of weapons and, after it is used, when it is “waste.” The US government has established National Sacrifice Zones, which have been rendered unfit for human beings forever. These areas, in several western states, were deemed by Native Americans as sacred ground for religious reasons, and they have been grievously harmed by the policies of all Federal administrations since 1940.
Currently the US has 104 nuclear reactors which produce 20% of the nation’s power, as well as 2,000 metric tons of waste annually. Meanwhile, 75,000 tons accumulated over years await a storage location. Due to accidents in the industry from 1973 and later, no new reactors have been build for over 30 years. Now, however, for FY 2011 the administration has offered $54 billion in loans to help nuclear power development firms develop 26 new nuclear reactors, at a cost of $12 billion each.
Fortunately the Yucca mountain site which for years was targeted to receive nuclear waste has been ruled not eligible to be the waste disposal reservoir, because scientists discovered that the area is crossed by a large number of geologic faults, among many reasons. Ms. Berrigan urged participation in a War Resisters’ League’s action on May 3rd to declare Grand Central Station a nuclear weapon-free zone.
At the end of Ms. Berrigan’s talk we viewed a 20 minute excerpt of a documentary film by John Pilger titled “Stealing A Nation.” The film documented the Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated on the previous residents of Diego Garcia by Great Britain, in collusion with the US which wanted the site [an island in the Indian Ocean] for military purposes. Its residents had lived there peacefully for three or more generations although Great Britain claimed they were transients. Their expulsion began quietly in 1965, but was intensified brutally between 1968 and 1973. First they were subject to withdrawal of imported goods and then all the dogs owned by the residents were killed [by poison gas], among other injustices. They were then moved from one place to another, subjected to fraud and placed in housing without plumbing; many died of sadness as a result of these atrocities. The 2000 residents of this tiny island nation were persecuted and had been ignored for decades until, in the 1990’s, evidence of the fraudulent removal of the population was uncovered in Great Britain.
Dr. Horace G. Campbell, Syracuse University Professor in African American Studies, International Relations and Political Science, was the next speaker. He praised the important civil rights and peacemaking role played by The Riverside Church and noted Dr. King’s speech therein on April 4, 1967 named Beyond Vietnam, in which he dwelt on how to repair our humanity and called on listeners to develop a new ethos.
Dr. Campbell stated that a radical break in the social organization of society is needed. All of life and society should be organized to enable everyone to live healthy and whole lives. The current practice of excessive military spending and the profiteering by banks, insurance companies, and the military industrial complex constitute oppression. Citizens can be seen as accessories to the warlike policies of their nation.
These horrors are perpetrated by the myth that the people of the US are chosen people who can bring progress and development and freedom to other peoples. This is accomplished by plunder of lands of others which is not just an unfortunate by-product of what we seemingly set out to accomplish — it is what is intended. The peace movement has to focus attention on prevalent falsehoods that belong back in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries such as: individual self interest, and the capitalist idea that land and peoples can be taken in the name of profit, patriarchy and sexism.
Dr. Campbell then spoke of Africa, the Pelindaba Treaty and Diego Garcia. The treaty states that Africa is a nuclear free area. Twenty-nine (29) nations have ratified the Treaty which went into effect on July 15, 2009.
Nuclear Weapons States were invited to ratify the treaty and not place weapons in Africa. France, China and Britain have ratified, but Russia has not because of the placement of US weapons on Diego Garcia. Although Britain signed the treaty, it believes the treaty does not apply to DG because, it says, Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, not Africa. The U.S. has not signed the treaty and also does not recognize DG as being subject to the treaty.
Dr. Campbell also recounted other instances of colonial powers’ activities in Africa, which constitute devastating indictments of the ills of colonialism, such as the treatment of the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium. He said the peace movement needs to pressure governments of the Western Powers to discontinue support for dictators such as Mobuto, who ruled for 37 years. He criticized aspects of the movement which seeks to “protect” troubled developing areas such as Darfur. He stated that Africans don’t want humanitarian saviors, and mentioned a book called Saviors and Survivors, by Mahmood Mamdani, that discusses the importance of self determination by developing nations and the frequent tendency of wealthy nations to act first and understand later.
Dr. Campbell pointed to actions taken by the Women’s movement to improve health. He noted that activities by corporate development firms, such as oil companies, have lead to a decline in life expectancy in Africa from 50 years to 37 years, such as the deleterious effects of corrupt corporate activities by Shell Oil Company’s in Nigeria. Multi-national firms enable corruption by the leaders in underdeveloped nations and prevent improvement of life for the majority of the populations.
Dr. Campbell said that the Peace Movement needs to support President Obama in his quest to resolve the problem of Israel and Palestine. He said that peace in the Middle East will not be achieved until this problem is solved.
The final speaker was Judith LeBlanc, Coordinator, 2010 International Planning Committee (IPC) for Nuclear Abolition, Peace and Justice , and member of Peace Action. Ms. LeBlanc described the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] meetings at the U.N., a conference preceding that event at The Riverside Church (April 30th and May 1st) and a March and Rally planned for May 2nd. She stressed the need for everyone to continue gathering signatures on a petition to President Obama urging him to work toward nuclear weapon abolition. Ms. LeBlanc reported that the disarmament movement in Japan has collected five million names. She urged attendees to take the NPT material she had provided. Her message was – Organize, Educate, Activate and Mobilize to make Visible the Need for Disarmament.
A Q. & A. session followed and then The Raging Grannies sang songs about the need to end war and help people, and to close military bases. Vinie Burrows brought the Forum to a conclusion with thanks to all participants and attendees, and encouraged people to take literature available on tables at both sides of the room.
- Edith Cresmer
for the Granny Peace Brigade