Co-authored with Brenna Gautam who is a member of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty’s Organization’s Youth Group and a J.D. candidate at Georgetown University Law Center.
Donald Trump’s alarming “fire and fury” statement on North Korea does not represent America’s tradition as a peace seeking nation. His latest rhetoric, which seems to threaten a nuclear attack, directly contradicts the words of past leaders such as President Dwight Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, who made nuclear diplomacy a top priority, denounced the idea of nuclear war openly: “With such weapons, war has become, not just tragic, but preposterous.” And he was only one of many presidents to promote diplomacy over an arms race. Since the Cold War era of nuclear weapons began, the United States has continuously sought negotiations to control the threat.
With good reason: as Ronald Reagan once warned, "I can't believe that this world can go on...with this kind of weapon on both sides, poised at each other, without someday some fool or some maniac or some accident triggering the kind of war that is the end of the line for all of us." Diplomacy is a matter of survival in the nuclear age.
Today our best hope for stopping North Korea's nuclear weapons program lies with this tradition of diplomacy that averted nuclear disaster during the Cold War. It lies in talks with the North Korean regime in concert with China, South Korea, Japan and other allies.
The thought of war today on the Korean peninsula is unthinkable: "preposterous," as Eisenhower might say. But tragically, North Korea's nuclear tests and missile launches have escalated an already dangerous situation. With each Tweet or instance of careless bluster on the part of President Trump, we edge closer to the unthinkable. Rather than continue down this path, let's try some serious diplomacy.
Getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program is not going to happen overnight, but through diplomacy, there is at least a chance at beginning disarmament and preventing an unnecessary war. As Derek Johnson, the director of Global Zero says, “The potential consequences of a military confrontation between the United States and North Korea can’t be overstated. Every diplomatic effort must be made to avoid any scenario that risks the use of nuclear weapons. The time for crisis talks is now.”
The international community already has come together to put tough sanctions in place on North Korea for its nuclear threats. Ambassador Nikki Haley says, “This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime. The price the North Korean leadership will pay for its continued nuclear and missile development will be the loss of one-third of its exports and hard currency.”
But in addition to the recently approved UN sanctions we need a diplomatic breakthrough with negotiations and confidence building on both sides.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear test explosions, can give us this chance for peace.
We want North Korea to refrain from its menacing nuclear tests, which are conducted at the tragic expense of their starving citizens. Ambassador Haley says “the North Korean regime is literally starving its people and enslaving them in mines and factories in order to fund these illegal nuclear programs.”
According to the UN World Food Program seventy percent of North Korea’s population lives in hunger. The money spent on their nukes should be going towards food for their hungry, malnourished children, rather than towards weapons that will rob them of their futures.
This situation in North Korea is a uniquely horrific example of how nuclear spending robs from the poor. By ratifying the CTBT, North Korea could begin to change course, taking a step towards disarmament and away from needless human suffering.
We also call upon the United States to ratify the CTBT, as our country has no need to test nukes. This would be a safe and rational move, allowing us to maintain our current arsenal while sending a signal to the world that we are committed to future disarmament.
It would allow the U.S. to negotiate from a position of strength and security rather than from a position of hypocrisy. The U.S., China and North Korea all ratifying the CTBT simultaneously would be an even greater confidence-building measure towards negotiations, sending a signal of cooperation to frightened allies and laying the groundwork for future agreements.
Nuclear tests only heighten international tensions and jumpstart expensive arms races. Despite some bluster from leaders, neither the U.S. or China wants to get involved in a nightmare of nuclear tests. Neither nation wants to go backward to the Cold War days of testing.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is the safest and most rational diplomatic entry point towards disarming North Korea. Already ratified by hundreds of countries, including Russia, it can serve as powerful opening step toward more agreements that would end missile tests and lead to disarmament.
We call on our country to pursue the diplomatic option of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty before it is too late, and Reagan’s warning becomes reality.