Nuclear issues addressed in Oregon

TAKING advantage of the visit of  Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, their friend and a prominent physicist from Pakistan, Dr. Pritam K. Rohila and his wife, Kundan Rohila, of Association for Communal Harmony, organized a symposium, entitled “For a better, safer tomorrow: Is nuclear disarmament better than nuclear non-proliferation?”

Dr. Nayyar was honored by the American Physical Society, with its Joseph A. Burton Award, in 2010. He is a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (an independent group of arms-control experts from seventeen countries), and has been an Associate Member of the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy. Since 1998, he has been a visiting researcher in the Program on Science and Global Security, at Princeton University, Princeton. New Jersey.  Also he has been active in international and South Asian peace movements.

The symposium was co-sponsored by Oregon PeaceWorks, United Nations Association-Salem, Fellowship of Reconciliation-Salem, Linus Pauling Veterans for Peace, and Corvallis Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Thanks to Pastor Charles Mantey, it was held at St. Mark Lutheran Church, in Salem, Oregon, on May 29.

Besides Dr. Nayyar, other featured panelists were Kelly Campbell, Executive Director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Dr. Linda Richards, a professor from the Oregon State University’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion.

Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar addressing the audience in Salem, Oregon.

Dr. Nayyar addressed the issue of how the Non-Proliferation versus Disarmament politics is being played out on the global scene. He started with distinguishing between three terms used in nuclear diplomacy – nuclear disarmament, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation – in order to emphasize that while the first one envisages a complete elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, the latter two mean to let the nuclear weapon states keep nuclear weapons, and disallow all the others, retaining a global system of haves and have-nots. This is the reason that the nuclear weapon states are happy with Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and Nuclear Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) – wherever countries get together to form such zones. On the other hand, in spite of an obligation under NPT, the nuclear weapon states have not taken even a single step towards disarmament and have even opposed the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which an overwhelming majority of states of the world debated and approved at the United Nations in July 2017.  All the nine nuclear weapon states abstained from the debate and have chosen to oppose it. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has yet to come into force because the United States has failed to ratify it in spite of the Treaty being an arms control measure, only because USA has kept the option to improve its stock of nuclear weapons open. 

The arguments given by the nuclear weapon states against the Ban Treaty have no standing because they contain glaring contradictions. For example, the US Department of State says:  “TPNW subverts nuclear deterrence and the global non-proliferation regime”. If the nuclear deterrence is so valuable that its subversion is unacceptable then why should it not be allowed to other nations of the world, and why should nuclear non-proliferation be so precious?

The US State Department further says that “A transformation of the international security environment is a necessary pre-condition for nuclear disarmament”. But international security environment is vitiated more by nuclear weapon states than by non-nuclear states.

Russia, similarly justifies its opposition to TPNW by giving the reason that “Because it is unrealistic and because NPT already contains disarmament as an objective” without realizing the contradiction in this argument. If NPT already contains obligation to disarmament then how can the treaty to disarmament which is meant to facilitate adherence to its article VI be unrealistic?

Russia further says: “TPNW does not account for factors other than nuclear weapons posing threat to international security, like strategic non-nuclear   armaments, space weapons, missile defense systems, and failure of CTBT”. Indeed non-nuclear smart weapons pose a grave danger to the world peace. But precisely for this reason the four US strategists Shultz, Kissinger, Perry and Nunn had suggested to the US government to go for nuclear disarmament because USA remains unmatched in the invention of lethal smart weapons, and has an edge over the rest of the world.

The speaker finally lauded the effort of local peace movements in USA which are trying to push their local governments to become TPNW compliant in order to generate pressure on the federal government to accede to TPNW.

Kelly Campbell explored the intersectionality of nuclear weapons and social justice

Kelly Campbell explored the intersectionality of nuclear weapons and social justice. She pointed out that we don’t live single issue lives. Therefore, we need to address the problem of nuclear weapons, in the context of the other social and environmental issues.

With the help of a slide she enumerated about 9, 500 nuclear weapons in the possession of nine countries of the world, which are either deployed and ready for lauching, or require some assembly before they can be launched. Russia and United States have more than 87 percent of them.

She told the audience that the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons about $1.7 trillion over 30 years, which amounts to about $4.6 million every hour, for the next 30 years.

And President Trump has requested $1.19 trillion as discretionary budget for 2019. Of this 61 percent is earmarked for military, which leaves less than two-fifth for everything else. But according to a study by N-square, young people today are most concerned about entirely other issues, such as the environment, social justice, education, and health.

Considering the issue from all aspects including mining of the ore, production, testing and use of nuclear weapons and cleanup of the sites involved, Ms. Campbell pointed out that often communities of color and low income populations are affected adversely. For example, uranium required for the weapons is mined mostly in minority areas and colonized countries.  And workers were often not told about the health impacts and dangers of mining uranium and working with it to produce weapons.

Setting up production of plutonium used in the 60,000 nuclear weapons the US made, at Hanford, WA, she continued, displaced Native American tribes, who had used the area for centuries to hunt, fish, and gather food. And they were given no compensation.

She remarked that similarly just one test of nuclear weapons in Marshall Islands completely vaporized an entire island. And the residents were used as “guinea pigs” by the US government. Also people of these islands suffered malnutrition and sometimes starvation when they were relocated to different islands. Besides they had birth defects, tumors, and other diseases from radiation exposure. And some islands are still too radioactive for habitation. Although the Marshallese were allowed to work and live in US, yet they were not granted citizenship, and therefore they cannot receive Medicare or Medicaid.

Further, Ms. Campbell said that nuclear weapons dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, resulted in approximately 100,000 deaths of innocent civilians almost instantly, and roughly 1000,000  of them died later from radiation poisoning and other associated injuries and illnesses. Many have argued that the use nuclear bombs in Japan, was racially motivated. It is worth noting that , now the U.S. nuclear weapons are up to 75 times more destructive than those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She said, even cleanup of nuclear sites is very difficult and very expensive.  For example  the cleanup of Hanford, starting in 1989 was originally scheduled to be done in 30 years. Now it is expected to take at least 75 more years to complete. And the cost of cleanup continues to go up.

Dr. Linda Richards was the last to speak. She has a Ph. D. in History of Science and teaches full-time at OSU’s School of History, Philosophy and Religion. Her current book project, for the Energy and Society series published by West Virginia University Press, is Human Rights and Nuclear Wrongs. She is co-principal investigator on a three year National Science Foundation grant “Reconstructing Nuclear Environments and the Downwinder’s Case” concerning the history of Hanford Nuclear Reservation contamination from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. In 2018, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she was honored with Oregon State University’s Phyllis S. Lee Award for her dedication to social justice and nonviolence.

Also she has talked to government officials and negotiators (including the UN Ambassador to Iran) as well as nuclear scientists, who work on nuclear weapons. She has spent time with Susan Voss (who worked on the Iran agreement) and last year interviewed Ambassador Graham, who was the lead negotiator for the US regarding nonproliferation, as well as the Director of Physics for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) looking at peaceful uses of nuclear power. Therefore, she has somewhat of an inside look at why nonproliferation experts feel disarmament is not considered viable and that it might even undermine nonproliferation.

Dr. Linda Richards provided historical perspective on the issue of nuclear weapons.

Dr. Richards provided historical perspective to the issue of nuclear weapons. She indicated that there was a time when United Nations and IAEA had used the rhetoric of human rights to actually spread nuclear technology as a right to nuclear medicine, nuclear energy for development and nuclear science as a right to education. But she pointed out that the humanity also has a right to not be threatened by nuclear war, nuclear radiation or nuclear ecocide.

She talked about her experiences at the 2013 NPT Prep Com, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in Vienna, which she had attended as a representative of the Disarm! Committee of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). There she had shared her work about human rights and nuclear contamination. She reminded the audience that it was at this meeting that the idea of pursuing a nuclear weapons ban was first endorsed by 13 countries. However, in just a few years the number of countries who have endorsed the ban has risen to 122! And now that we do have 85% less nuclear weapons in the world today than at the height of the Cold War, in 1986, when there were about 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world, it is an amazing victory for civil society. But we must continue to do our best for a nuclear weapons free future.

With Peter Bergel as the moderator, panelists respond to the audience questions and comments.

A prolonged but lively discussion followed. It was moderated by Peter Bergel, who is a long-term peace activist and Executive Director of the Salem-based Oregon PeaceWorks.

According to Peter Bergel, “Taken as a whole, the evening provided a comprehensive summary of the nuclear weapons issue.”   But he wished, there was more discussion of the actions to address the problem.

Later by email, Mark H. DeCoursey, a member of the audience argued that the path to nuclear disarmament should be through general peace.  “We must relax the hand that grips the button, cool the tempers that call out the threats, and comfort the fearful.  When the world is at peace and not threatened with conventional weapons, nuclear weapons will not be the ‘necessary’ defense….We must teach our children that war is not an honorable activity unless we are protecting ourselves from a genuine threat.  A soldier is not always a hero, and soldiering is not a worthy profession: It is something you do when necessary, but only when necessary.  The life of a soldier is not the life of liberty and we should not all become robot soldiers to protect a liberty that no one is free enough to enjoy.”

Dr. Nayyar expressed his complete agreement with the comments of Mr. DeCoursey. And said that we should emphasize that peace cannot be achieved without justice. Therefore, he agreed that justice and struggling for a just society is everyone’s business.

Dr. Nayyar’s talk on May 30 at the University of Oregon.

Next day, Dr. Nayyar spoke in Eugene, at the University of Oregon. The title of his talk there was “Nuclear Escalation in South Asia and Long Term Prospects for Peace.” A presentation of the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies and Global Studies Institute, it was held in the prestigious lounge of Gerlinger Hall.

The talk had been organized by Dr. Anita Weiss, a South Asia scholar and professor in the University’s Department of International Studies,. She has visited Pakistan several times and currently is working on her book project: Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Local Actions, Local Voices.

After his talk, Dr, Weiss treated us to lunch at a local restaurant, showed us around her office and the University campus, before we left Eugene.


– Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.