This week, in New York City, representatives from more than 100 countries will begin collaborating on an international treaty, first proposed in 2016, to ban nuclear weapons forever. It makes sense for every country in the world to seek a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons. It would make even more sense to immediately deactivate all nuclear weapons. But, by boycotting and disparaging the process now underway, the U.S. and other nuclear armed nations have sent a chilling signal. They have no intention of giving up the power to explode, burn and annihilate planetary life. "The United States is spending $1 trillion USD over the next thirty years to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenals and triple the killing power of these weapons," says Ray Acheson, program director at Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Acheson also notes that the excessive spending for nuclear weapons contrasts with US cuts to vital anti-poverty programs. On June 19th, more than a dozen people blocked the US Mission to the UN entrance to protest Washington’s boycott of the negotiations. They were arrested for disorderly conduct, but I believe it’s incomparably more disorderly to plan for nuclear war.
During the past weekend, to support the negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, WILPF called for "Women’s March to Ban the Bomb" actions in cities across the US and around the world. Jane Addams, who helped found the League in 1919, was a Chicago woman who understood the crucial need to put an end to war, all war, and instead care for the neediest people. She dedicated herself to assuring that many new immigrants in her city were treated with respect, given assistance to meet basic needs and encouraged to live and work together, peaceably. Addams worked passionately to prevent nations from sleepwalking into the horrors of World War I, and she vigorously campaigned to stop the United States’ entry into it.
On June 15, 2017, the New York Times reported that the government of Saudi Arabia aims to ease the concerns of some U.S. legislators over US weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis plan to engage in “a $750 million multiyear training program through the American military to help prevent the accidental killing of civilians in the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.”
Since entering the war in Yemen, in March of 2015, the Saudi coalition’s airstrikes, with US assistance, have destroyed bridges, roads, factories, farms, food trucks, animals, water infrastructure, and agricultural banks across the north, while imposing a blockade on the territory. For a country heavily dependent on foreign food aid, that means starving the people. At least seven million people suffer now from severe acute malnourishment.
When activists like me return from visiting the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, Afghanistan, young seamstresses there often entrust each of us with about fifty sky-blue scarves. The word “Borderfree” is carefully embroidered, in English, on one end of each scarf; on the opposite side, they’ve stitched the translation in Dari, the language they speak. The scarves express their yearning to end four decades of war in Afghanistan, a land dominated by ruthless warlords.
“We are the generation who must try to put an end to all war and violence,” wrote Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteers member who teaches children from internally displaced families. His students, most of them displaced by war, live in a wretched refugee camp.
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his boldest and perhaps most defining speech. It alienated liberal allies in the North and the Northern press, plus many in King’s own civil rights movement, and prompted President Johnson to withdraw King’s secret service detail. Exactly one year later, forty-nine years ago on April 4, he was assassinated. He said, “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems … Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” It was his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
Today, the 100th anniversary of the US entry into World War I, billed as “the war to end all wars,” wars rage and conflict-fueled hunger crises have culminated in potential famines hitting almost simultaneously in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan.
It seems that some who have the ears of U.S. elite decision-makers are at least shifting away from wishing to provoke wars with Russia and China.
In recent articles, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Thomas Graham, two architects of the US cold war with Russia, have acknowledged that the era of uncontested US global imperialism is coming to an end. Both analysts urge more cooperation with Russia and China to achieve traditional, still imperial, US aims. Mr. Graham recommends a shifting mix of competition and cooperation, aiming toward a "confident management of ambiguity." Mr. Brzezinski calls for deputizing other countries, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran to carry out the combined aims of the US, Russia and China so that this triumvirate could control other people’s land and resources.
It’s surely worthwhile to wonder what effect opinions such as Brzezinski’s and Graham’s might have upon how US resources are allotted, whether to meet human needs or to further enlarge the US Department of Defense (DOD) and further enrich the corporations that profit from US investments in weapons technology.
In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, we visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II.
These leaders and their top advisors were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the “Cold War” was underway soon after. Reviving tensions between the United States and Russia make it seem as though the Cold War might not have ended.