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Countdown to historic UN vote, watch live tomorrow or Friday; Nov 11 talk, Santa Fe

Oct 26, 2016

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Mark your calendars: the Study Group will host a special talk and discussion of "New Directions in Disarmament," on Friday, November 11, at 6:30 pm in Santa Fe at the Center Stage Performance Space, 505 Camino de los Marquez (map). We'll Skype in some special guests to be announced next week, after the UN vote.  

Dear friends --

There are now 51 54 55 co-sponsors to UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution L.41, up from 48 five days ago. L.41 mandates negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons next year.

As we said this past Sunday in Bulletin 223, the First Committee vote may occur tomorrow afternoon in the UNGA First Committee some time after 1 pm Mountain time, perhaps closer to 3 or 4 pm Mountain. The First Committee will reconvene on Friday at 1 pm Mountain time, and voting on L.41 could be then as well.

Two-thirds of UN member states support negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Check with ICAN's First Committee blog for updates, of which there have been quite a few since I last wrote. 

First Committee meetings (and the vote on L.41) can be seen live on UN live TV. Choose "First Committee" from the right-hand menu.

I am writing to share the sense of drama which hundreds of activists and diplomats are experiencing right now around the world. This is a big deal, unprecedented. It could gradually affect "our" labs and state in a number of ways.

On Monday we provided an update and heads-up to national and regional reporters about the ban process ("Historic UN vote to mandate negotiation of treaty banning nuclear weapons").

Trish is starting to build a web page for the ban here. We've been distracted by a visiting Japanese TV team for the last couple of days but will return to this project ASAP.

Not a day passes without news of another country, or medical group, or religious spokesperson, or political leader, or Nobel group, expressing support for a ban treaty. It's very easy in New Mexico to think "nothing can change," because change is hard here. Corruption is normal, political aspirations for change weak, civil society limited, poverty and ignorance high, and divisive identity politics has grown across the progressive garden like a noxious weed.

While it looks like we have the votes, a veteran from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in New Zealand (Bob Rigg) reminded his extensive email list of diplomatic and activist friends as follows:

My own experience of US lobbying in a multilateral disarmament organisation may be relevant here. When I was working for a UN organisation in The Hague I worked in the Executive Council Chamber, drafting meeting reports for adoption by Member States. Once, when there was a major confrontation between the US and most of the other members, the charming head of a developing country delegation approached me and said, with a deadpan expression: "Bob, they say that the Americans twist arms. It isn't true. They break them!" At the same meeting the head of a North African delegation told me how he had been lobbied by the State Department to do what the US wanted. He did what all delegations do when they are away from home, and said: "I am terribly sorry, I cannot come down on this issue until I have consulted with my capital." At this the State Dept. official produced his mobile and called a number, saying: " I have your foreign minister on the line!" Once, when Argentina was blocking a desperately important resolution for the US, its ambassador was approached at the bar, was shouted a drink, and was told: 'If you would like the IMF to approve that multi-billion dollar IMF loan that your country so badly needs, all that you have to do is to vote with us on this issue." Very many states crumble in the face of such blackmail. Will the US succeed in this case?

That is the Halloween specter haunting the UN right now.

What is going on is easily misunderstood. This is not a vote to eliminate nuclear weapons, or to set up negotiations to do that. The negotiations L.41 would mandate in 2017 are toward a treaty that would prohibit the possession, development, and use of nuclear weapons. Joining such a treaty would be voluntary. Such a treaty would stigmatize nuclear weapons. As countries join a ban treaty, the so-called "legal gap" would close. This "gap" has opened because the nine nuclear weapons states do not believe, and in all cases (other than Israel) say they do not believe, they are under any definitive obligation to disarm. All are modernizing their arsenals. India and Pakistan are expanding their arsenals and the U.S. has definite plans to do so in a horrible way, exploiting a loophole in the New START treaty. The five nuclear states (the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China) are simply intransigent vis-a-vis their Article VI disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea are simply not signatories to any treaty that would require disarmament.

Worse, in 1996 the International Court of Justice refused to say whether all uses of nuclear weapons would violate international humanitarian law (the body of law limiting the nature, extent, and objects of violence of war).

Under such conditions, nuclear war is eventually inevitable, and the world knows it.

The U.S., U.K., France -- and lately also Russia -- are very concerned that L.41 and the ban treaty process will take away some of their power and prestige. Even talking about such a treaty is causing headlines in some Western democracies, speeches in parliaments, a surge in party statements against nuclear weapons, and in some cases (e.g. Holland) formal letters from parliamentary majorities to governments urging them to support ban negotiations.

For countries that fancy themselves to be "protected" by U.S. nuclear weapons (and which are therefore under intense U.S. pressure to vote "no"), abstention on L.41 would be a step toward independence. Japan is contemplating that step. The decision has been kicked up to Prime Minister Abe. 

If progress continues, it will affect New Mexico. The work designing nuclear weapons at Los Alamos and Sandia is in the process of being declared illegal.

Two of the state's larger employers are mostly involved in work which most of the world wants to ban. The labs directly account for only ~20,000 / ~822,000 nonfarm jobs, or ~2.4% of state employment. How many employees work on nuclear weapons? Say ~60% of the ~11,000 at SNL, ~75% of the ~9,000 at LANL, a few hundred at KAFB, or maybe 16,000 in all, or about 2% of the state's employment. (It is not worth looking for exact figures for this note, in part because they are so squirrelly to begin with.)

Two percent ain't much. The economic multiplier from these jobs is more than offset by the political baggage involved, as historical data show (Does Los Alamos National Lab Help or Hurt the New Mexico Economy?, July 2006).

On Monday Dan Boyd of the Albuquerque Journal article:

To bring New Mexico employment back to pre-recession levels, a total of 147,177 “economic base” jobs will have to be created over the next decade, according to findings of the Jobs Council, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, trade officials and business leaders formed in 2013 to study ways to boost the state’s economy. Economic base jobs are defined as positions that bring in money from outside the state.

The state's nuclear weapons jobs are almost lost in the weeds compared to this very real employment gap.

The nuclear weapons economy -- such as it is -- is an aging, dangerous dinosaur. The sooner we break free of it and get on with a sustainable, post-fossil-fuel future, the sooner we can escape the "death spiral" these aging industries are bringing us us.

Greg and gang

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