The New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation believes that the United States has never been ready to acknowledge its “immoral” use of nuclear weapons during the World War II in Japan, and does not honor its promise to make good faith efforts for nuclear disarmament.
“It’s clear that the US is not honoring its promise in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty to make good faith efforts for nuclear disarmament,” said Alice Slater in an interview with Fars News Agency. “And with the US always the first to set a bad example, the other nuclear weapons states are swift to follow the US lead as they all continue to upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals.”
Alice Slater is a member of the Global Council of Abolition 2000, serves on its International Coordinating Committee and directs its Sustainable Energy Working Group. She is a member of the NYC Bar Association and serves on the Coordinating Committees of World Beyond War and the NY Campaign for 100% Green Energy by 2030.
Ms. Slater has written several articles and op-eds about the US nuclear policies and the exigency of global disarmament and a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone.
“As South Africa argued so eloquently during the recent failed NPT Review, we are living in a state of unacceptable nuclear apartheid apparent in the current “security” system of nuclear haves and have-nots – a system holding the whole world hostage to the security doctrine of the few. It’s time for just and virtuous nations to take the lead and ban the bomb,” she noted.
FNA spoke to Alice Slater on the occasion of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and discussed a range of issues with her, including the impediments to the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, the violation of NPT terms by the world’s 9 nuclear weapons states and the failure of the recent 2015 NPT Review Conference in New York.
Q: The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a catastrophe that marked the final stages of the World War II. The United States was not brought to account over the attacks which resulted in massive casualties and set an alarming precedence in the use of unconventional weapons in warfare. Is it conceivable that any other nation in the world would employ nuclear weapons during the wartime and get away with it?
A: There are 16,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, even though 70 years have passed since the US dropped the only two nuclear bombs ever used in war on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 220,000 people by the end of 1945, with many tens of thousands of more dying from radiation poisoning, and its lethal after-effects over the years. Today, nine countries possess nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, UK, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, although 15,000 of the existing nuclear bombs are in the US and Russia. President Obama had to pay a huge price to get the modest START treaty through a corrupt Congress bought and paid for by the military-industrial complex. He promised what is predicted to be one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, new delivery systems, and nuclear warheads, one of which, a dummy nuclear bunker buster warhead, was tested in Nevada this August as tens of thousands of people were holding commemorations around the world for the two catastrophic 1945 nuclear bombings in Japan.
Q: So, as you know, under the New START treaty signed on April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia have committed to reduce the number of their nuclear missile launchers by half until February 2021. Have the two parties moved towards fulfilling their commitments under this strategic nuclear disarmament pact? It’s been on the reports that the United States plans to spend about $1 trillion in the next 30 years on the modernization and expansion of its nuclear arsenal. Is this decision consistent with its non-proliferation obligations?
A: It’s clear that the US is not honoring its promise in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty to make good faith efforts for nuclear disarmament. And with the US always the first to set a bad example, the other nuclear weapons states are swift to follow the US lead as they all continue to upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Indeed, after the atomic bombings in Japan at the end of World War II, Russia’s President, Joseph Stalin, asked US President [Harry] Truman to turn the bomb over to the UN for international supervision. After the US rejected this request, Russia went on to get its own bomb as did three other countries, the UK, France and China, which was the impetus for the negotiation of the NPT. Only India, Pakistan and Israel refused to sign the NPT and they went on to develop their own nuclear weapons.
The Faustian bargain in the NPT, in which all the countries that promised not to get nuclear weapons, including Iran, were given the keys to their own bomb factories in the form of peaceful nuclear energy, is a major cause of possible nuclear weapons proliferation. Indeed, North Korea used its “peaceful” nuclear power to make nuclear bombs when it quit the NPT. Other countries like Japan have many tons of highly enriched plutonium, and every now and then some of Japan’s generals are heard to rumble that it’s time for Japan to get a bomb. While there are only 31 countries that actually have “peaceful” nuclear power, the new Iran deal may have been the impetus for efforts in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt to now acquire nuclear power with construction having already started in the UAE. When we know that we can power the whole world with clean, abundant energy from the sun, wind, water, and heat of the earth as early as 2030 if we made a united global effort to phase out nuclear, fossil and industrial biomass fuel and avoid catastrophic climate catastrophes, this makes no sense at all, unless they too want their bombs in the basement. This is a direct result of the bad faith shown by the US and other nuclear powers in failing to negotiate for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons as they promised in the NPT.
Q: It’s an accepted standard that people should practice what they preach. The Federation of American Scientists reported in its Status of World Nuclear Forces 2015 that the United States has an inventory of 7,200 nuclear weapons, including 1,900 deployed strategic warheads. With such a big stockpile of atomic weapons, is the United States in a right place to advocate global nuclear non-proliferation? When should the US government start with dismantling its own nuclear arsenal?
A: While it seems that the US and Russia with their huge arsenals must take the lead in eliminating nuclear weapons, in order to get the remaining seven countries to agree, numerous opportunities to do so have been sabotaged by the US over the years since Truman rejected Stalin’s initial effort to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. During the Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations after the wall fell, Gorbachev and Reagan had almost reached agreement on totally eliminating their nuclear arsenals, but Reagan wouldn’t give up his plans for US domination of space warfare with his “Star Wars” system. Putin offered Clinton a deal to reduce their massive nuclear arsenals to 1,000 warheads each and then call all the nuclear weapons states to the table to negotiate a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons, provided Clinton stopped plans to place missile bases in Eastern Europe. Clinton refused to forego US missiles in Eastern Europe, and Bush actually walked out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile negotiations with the USSR and then planted missiles in Poland, Romania, and Turkey.
The NATO expansion, after promises were made to Gorbachev when the wall came down and all of Eastern Europe was set free, that NATO would not expand eastward beyond a unified Germany, is also exacerbating the relationship between the US and Russia, including the provocative actions by NATO states in Ukraine, thus making it difficult to foresee negotiations for nuclear disarmament in the near future. Further, the US rejected a Chinese-Russian draft treaty to ban weapons in space, submitted to the UN Committee on Disarmament in 2008 and again in 2014 where the US blocked consensus to even discuss the draft treaty. It also refused to discuss a proposal from a group of nations including China and Russia to provide for a code of conduct to prohibit cyber warfare.
Q: In one of your pieces, you alluded to the failure of the recent NPT Review Conference in New York earlier in May, which crumbled as the United States, Britain and Canada refused to accept the Egyptian proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East and the organization of a conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone. Why are the major powers opposed to the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East? They struggled for more than 12 years to sign a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with Iran. Now, why don’t they want to extend this experience to the other states in the region, and those they know are in possession of atomic bombs?
A: The US has never been willing to acknowledge its immoral use of nuclear weapons on Japan. In 1995, the US’s leading museum of history in Washington D.C., the Smithsonian, planned a historical exhibit of the decision to drop the bomb, with letters and correspondence from US generals and other experts advising Truman not to use the bomb, while Churchill was urging him to go ahead so they wouldn’t have to divide up Asia with Stalin who, after defeating the Nazis at a cost of 27 million Russian lives, was now prepared to join the allies in the Pacific. The US Congress fired the historian at the Smithsonian rather than allow the US to view its own true history.
As part of the promises made during hard-driven negotiations to extend the 1970 NPT, which was due to expire in 1995, the parties to the treaty promised to hold a conference for a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. They have been unable to deliver on their promise, as Israel refuses to participate. It is yet another blow to the NPT regime. There is however good news and movement in a positive direction. During the past two years, there have been a series of conferences on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, in partnership with civil society and governments in Norway, Mexico and Austria. At the last meeting in December, 2014, the Austrian government issued a pledge to enroll countries in a process “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.” There are now 113 nations who have signed the pledge, including Iran, indicating their willingness to stigmatize and delegitimize these weapons just as the world has done for biological and chemical weapons. The next step is to convene a meeting of those nations together with civil society to start the process to ban the bomb. While it’s not expected that the nuclear weapons states will join this conference, it could have an excellent effect on the nuclear “weasel” states who hypocritically proclaim their support for nuclear disarmament while sheltering under the US nuclear umbrella in the NATO states, five of which actually house US nuclear weapons on their territory [namely] Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Germany, Italy, and in Japan, South Korea and Australia in the Pacific. With a ban treaty under negotiation, it is expected that they will respond to the pressure from civil society to give up their nuclear alliances and move to make nuclear weapons illegal, closing the huge loophole in the NPT.
Q: The major world powers, including the United States, justify the possession of nuclear weapons with the rationale of deterrence, saying that they need such weapons in order to protect their sovereignty and national interests and prevent military action on their soil by the aggressors. Is it really the case that nuclear weapons can introduce security and integrity? If so, then are the entire world nations required to mount up nuclear weapons to remain secure?
A: It is clear that the myth of nuclear deterrence is crumbling. The logical conclusion of deterrence is that if it really works, every country should have a nuclear deterrent. The world is barely aware of the many close calls we have escaped as a result of careless accidental handling of these instruments of catastrophic destruction. Even Pope Francis has recently shifted Catholic policy, changing the former policy of the church that would not condemn the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence, to now saying they are illegal in every instance and should be prohibited and banned. It is excellent that the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif has used the successful negotiations to lift the sanctions and have more stringent inspections of Iran’s nuclear capacity as an opportunity to a call upon the nuclear weapons states to now give up their nuclear weapons and to move forward on taking nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert and urging once again the conference on the WMDFZ in the Middle East. It is truly time for the non-nuclear weapons states to take the lead. As South Africa argued so eloquently during the recent failed NPT Review, we are living in a state of unacceptable nuclear apartheid apparent in the current “security” system of nuclear haves and have-nots – a system holding the whole world hostage to the security doctrine of the few. It’s time for just and virtuous nations to take the lead and ban the bomb. With the looming climate catastrophe, growing poverty, and depletion of global resources, we can ill afford to waste our precious intellectual and financial assets on weapons that can never again be used because of their terrible and disproportionate destructive power.
Q: Let’s also touch upon an issue which is broadly discussed these days in the global media. Many nuclear experts and political scientists lauded the recent nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers a major diplomatic achievement and a breakthrough in the history of nuclear non-proliferation. What’s your viewpoint on the nuclear accord? Although it was always clear that Iran’s nuclear program was a civilian and peaceful one, can this agreement serve as a basis for future non-proliferation agreements around the globe?
A: The recent negotiations conducted by the P5+1 with Iran in which Iran made extraordinary promises to open its peaceful nuclear facilities to stringent and unprecedented international inspection and monitoring in return for an end to the sanctions that have severely hobbled its economic development and well-being over the years, has created a fissure in the geopolitical landscape, now erupting with enormous opportunities for nuclear disarmament as well as for its opposite: an outbreak of further rampant nuclear proliferation.
Here in New York City, more than 600 people marched last week in protest outside New York’s Senator Schumer’s office on two days’ notice, when Schumer, a member of President Obama’s party and slated to be the leader of the Democratic party in the Senate when the present leader, Harry Reid retires next year, announced he would oppose the deal negotiated with Iran. While the majority of public opinion polls show that Americans support the agreement negotiated with Iran, and a newly awakened peace movement, including J-Street and Jewish Voices for Peace is organizing to support it, a powerful lobby of right-wing Christian fundamentalists whose religious prophecies require that the Jewish people must return and occupy all of Israel before the second coming of their Messiah can occur, coupled with a powerful right wing US lobby of Netanyahu supporters, are spending tens of millions of dollars in high priced advertising and campaign contributions to corrupted members of Congress to kill the negotiated agreement. At this time, indications are that President Obama will have enough support in Congress to sustain a veto of any negative action Congress might take to reject the hard-won negotiations with Iran.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari