by Nick Mele
Pax Christi USA Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament
Ed. Note: One month from today, on January 22, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force.
A decade before the first test of a nuclear weapon, physicist Erwin Schrodinger proposed an unusual image to illustrate a question in quantum physics: A cat is sealed into a box with a capsule that will release poison gas at an unknowable time. The only way to know whether the cat lives is to open the box. Since 1945, the human race has been locked inside a box with nuclear weapons, an existential threat akin to the poison gas capsule. We are all still alive but without any way to know when a nuclear war will kill billions. The difference is that humans created and can eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons.
In late January 2021, the entry into force of the international Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons will take a major step toward eliminating nuclear weapons. The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 2017, and was signed and ratified by many nations in the midst of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from multiple nuclear arms control agreements. The US and the other nuclear-armed nations currently oppose the nuclear ban treaty but public pressure in the democracies can change that. In the 1980s, the SANE/FREEZE movements convinced then President Ronald Reagan to negotiate deep cuts to the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and the USSR; at the Reykjavik Summit, Reagan even proposed total elimination of all nuclear weapons by both nations.
The entry into force of the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons is an occasion to celebrate—nuclear weapons are outlawed under international law for the first time!—but also an opportunity to press our elected leaders to take steps to reduce the nuclear threat. The Back from the Brink Campaign (preventnuclearwar.org) advocates five steps, several which have been written into pending legislation:
- renounce first use of nuclear weapons;
- end the sole authority of the US president to launch a nuclear attack;
- take US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert;
- cancel the plan to replace the entire US nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons; and
- actively pursue a verifiable agreement with other nuclear-armed states to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Pax Christi USA has signed on to the Back from the Brink Campaign and urges local and regional groups to take action locally wherever possible. Some regions, like Pax Christi Western Washington, have joined coalitions created to eliminate nuclear weapons through education and advocacy. Help disarm the nuclear threat and help all of humanity escape from the box we have been trapped in for 75 years, vulnerable at any time to nuclear war and devastation.