Remember this date: Friday the 22nd January 2021. It’s an important date. It’s personal. I think we should push to make it an International Public Holiday.
My father used to say “You can’t put Old Heads on Young Shoulders”, often condescendingly after I’d done something stupid; I resented that saying. But of course, there was a modicum of truth in it. Young Men, full of passion, go off to war at the direction of Old Men. They go for King and Country, they go for God, they go to defend their homes and their families, they go fight the war to end all wars, they go to make the world safe for Freedom and Democracy, they go to liberate an oppressed people and because the enemy is profoundly evil. Like all good lies, there is a modicum of truth in it, at some time or another. Nevertheless, they go, they kill and they sometimes do terrible things and they come back scarred or changed for the worse. War belongs to the bigger world, the world where all things are decided by “Our Betters”, unless of course, we are naïve enough to believe that “we” make all these decisions with our ballot card once in every four years or so. Still, we should never forget, it’s personal.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is a legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons.
It has the ultimate goal of total elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
Negotiated at a conference that took place in March 2017 the U.N. General Assembly adopted the treaty on July 7, 2017 by a vote with 122 states in favour and it was opened for signature by the U.N. Secretary General on September 20, 2017. Ratified by Honduras in late October this year, the treaty reached the requisite 50 ratifications, and hence, is set to enter into force on January 22, 2021. It’s profoundly important.
Even Old Heads can go MAD. At the very beginning of the 1960s, the era of “Peace and Love”, after the US installed Nuclear Warhead missiles in Turkey, aimed of course at Russia, their having had the audacity to experiment with a Socio-Economic alternative to Capitalism, the Soviet Union sought to counterbalance by installing their own Nuclear Warhead missiles in Cuba, which is close enough to the US coast that even American Presidents know where it is. The resulting confrontation brought the world to a chilling realisation; the very real possibility of total, global annihilation. The world was fortunate to have the last sane President at the helm of the Empire. It cost him his life, naturally, but he came to a realisation that the world needed a more rational means of conflict resolution than violent, mutual murder and destruction.
Amid the froth of hippie sex, drugs and rock and roll a good many people around the world were now mindful of the very real and persistent possibility of Mutually Assured Destruction; complete erasure of Humanity and most other life from Planet Earth. Nevertheless, there are still nutters of the Doctor Strangelove mind-set who remain committed to the Ultimate MAD Deterrent. So it’s Us and Them and our only hope is to remain mindful that We are Many, They are Few. They are Psychopaths; people who can inflict Pain, Suffering, Injury, even Death without Empathy, Compassion or Remorse. This is the inescapable Bottom Line, the ugly truth.
To consider the way that some of these people think of this problem we need to look seriously at some of their reactions to the Treaty. In 2017 during the ongoing negotiations of the treaty, a dozen allied ambassadors stood gathered around U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the corridors of the U.N. building in New York, protesting against it. No brownie points for guessing who these ambassadors might represent. For decades the Nuclear Armed States have maintained an exclusive club, deciding who should be admitted and who should not, bullying non-members with the threat of Nuclear Attack ultimately to assert dominance over the world’s most critical and most wastefully abused resources and assuaging public concern with the hollow words of a string of disarmament Treaties. Most ridiculous among them being the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); all of its provisions being as optional as corporation tax, even secretly admitting non-parties to the treaty as new members of the club (The Jewish State of Israel).
As we might expect, as the treaty negotiations were in progress all nine of the Nuclear Armed States, the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea (and of course, Israel) boycotted the UN negotiations and the July 2017 vote. A joint statement was issued by the United States, France and the United Kingdom declaring they “do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it” and a similar statement was issued shortly afterwards on behalf of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Unsurprisingly, Christopher Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for the only state that has ever actually used Nuclear Weapons, called the initiative “obviously a misguided and counterproductive one” and “a colossal mistake”, and later “emptily divisive virtue-signaling”. In a Nuclear Posture Review the Trump Administration labelled it “unrealistic”.
With the ratification by Honduras this year and imminent coming into force next January the club is clearly taken aback. The threat of stigmatization of the nuclear- armed states and their allies by the signatories of the treaty and global and local nongovernmental organizations has become a matter of concern. As is always the case with politicians and their masters in such a situation, like Octavius after the Assassination of Caesar, they want to present a less hostile attitude and so there is a softening of the rhetoric. Never forget; they come to bury the treaty, not to praise it.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg even said that “at first sight [the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons] seems attractive” (after which he criticized it).
As the Trump era has driven a Pick-Up Truck through the already fragile provisions to maintain what international peace we have and the coming Biden era promises only a meagre cherry-picking of provisions to restore for what political kudos might be garnered we can be sure that the Armageddon Clock, now measured in seconds, will not be drifting away from Midnight. We face, though many of us fail to see it, a very real existential threat. As we all attend to our own little lives, up here building our treehouses, they are out there among our trees, an insane mob, with their chainsaws.
This is a time and a cause worthy of the global common, a cause for which we should seek the very first truly significant measure of International Solidarity among ordinary Men and Women of ALL Colours and Creeds, a show of strength to face down the psychopaths; an International Public Holiday on the 22nd January marking the coming into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.