With the election of Donald Trump, nuclear weapons are receiving attention they have not seen since the 1980s, and rightfully so. Since the campaign, Trump has repeatedly voiced his disdain for the Iran nuclear deal, asked why we cannot use nuclear weapons, and made clear his intention to follow through on the $1 trillion modernization plan and possibly resume nuclear testing. Trump has suggested that other nations produce their own nuclear weapons and in perhaps the most alarming news to date, Reuters reported that while on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump paused to ask aides what the New Start treaty was and then told Putin it was a “bad deal.” With all that said, is there any hope to avoid nuclear war? In a word, yes.
History was made last October. While most of us were watching video of Trump bragging about sexually abusing women, the United Nations adopted a landmark resolution to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. With the passage of this resolution, talks will be held in March, June, and July to finally negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
As most of the nine nuclear-armed nations voted against the resolution in addition to many of their allies, an overwhelming amount of nations in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific voted in favor and are likely to be key players at the negotiating conferences. Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) explains that this treaty would “strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament.” While Fihn admits the “treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” she makes clear “it will establish a powerful new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”
It is no surprise that this current attempt to eliminate nuclear weapons is being led by many nonwhite nations. In 1955, ten years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, twenty-nine nations of Asia and Africa gathered in Bandung, Indonesia and declared “freedom and peace are interdependent.” The “Bandung Conference,” highlighted the need to eliminate European colonialism, white supremacy, and nuclear weapons. Delegates declared that nuclear weapons threatened the human race and disarmament was imperative to save mankind from “wholesale destruction.” Nuclear disarmament was “an absolute necessity for the preservation of peace” and it was their “duty” to bring about nuclear disarmament. Delegates requested the UN and all concerned countries prohibit the production, testing, and use of nuclear weapons as well as establish international control to ensure this outcome.
The significance of the first all Asian-African meeting was not lost on African Americans, who since 1945 had consistently fought for nuclear disarmament. Richard Wright and Adam Clayton Powell attended the Bandung Conference. The NAACP sent a message of support to the delegates. Paul Robeson wrote to the group, “Discussion and mutual respect are the first ingredients for the development of peace among nations. If other nations of the world follow the example set by the Asian-African nations, there can be an alternative to the policy of force and an end to the threat of H-Bomb war.”
In 1959, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin led a team in Ghana to stop the French from testing a nuclear weapon in the Sahara. Two years later, Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, joined by African American activists, held the “World Without the Bomb” conference. African leaders remained focused on disarmament throughout the 1960s. Nkrumah and Haile Selassie expressed deep concern to the Soviet Union about their intent to test a 50-megaton bomb and Nnamdi Azikiwe, governor general of Nigeria, urged President Kennedy to “redouble his efforts” to prevent nuclear war.
While China, North Korea, Pakistan, and India have produced nuclear weapons, the overall trend of the nonwhite world pushing for nuclear abolition has only grown over time with the passage and ratification of the Tlatelolco Treaty (Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean) and the Pelindaba Treaty (African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty).
Of course the recent UN vote, much like the history of nuclear weapons, reeks of colonialism. Indeed, the U.S. has called on its NATO allies to join in boycotting the upcoming negotiations. Moreover, one only needs to look at Trump and Putin, two authoritarian leaders controlling most of the world’s nuclear weapons, both expressing a white nationalist world-view, while much of the nonwhite world joins together to ban nuclear weapons to see how race, colonialism, and nuclear weapons are linked.
In addition to those calling for a boycott, there remain those who characterize a nuclear weapons ban as naïve and idealistic, arguing that “arms control,” rather than abolition should be the focus. That said, this summer nations will gather inside the UN to negotiate a ban on nuclear weapons. From the moment there was even a possibility of a Donald Trump presidency, I along with many others have been calling for a return to the 1980s when over one million people marched at the UN for nuclear disarmament. Now may be that time. There is nothing more important at this moment than eliminating nuclear weapons. We must support those nations fighting to save humanity, raise our collective voices, and demand: “No More Hiroshimas.”