Monday, August 26, 2013

Moral Obscenities

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement earlier today about the apparent chemical weapons attack that took place last week in Syria. I agree with him 100% that an attack with chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children is a "moral obscenity." In fact, I would go much further than Mr. Kerry to say that any attack (regardless of the weapon used) against innocent men, women and children is a moral obscenity.

However, in calling chemical weapons "the world's most heinous weapons," I must unfortunately disagree.

There is no doubt that chemical weapons are heinous, should not exist and must never be used again. There is no doubt that - whatever weapons were used on August 21 in Ghouta - the attack was cowardly, shocking and horribly killed hundreds or even thousands of people. But chemical weapons are not the world's most heinous weapons. That dubious distinction belongs to a class of weapons in the arsenal of the United States itself, along with eight other countries around the world: nuclear weapons.

Here are a few of Secretary Kerry's quotes from today along with my thoughts as they relate to nuclear weapons:

1. Kerry: "Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity."

The indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on them 68 years ago was unlike anything the world had ever seen. Today, the U.S. maintains a total of around 8,000 nuclear weapons (including those classed as "awaiting dismantlement"), most of which are much more powerful than the bombs used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Current U.S. nuclear policy allows for these weapons to be used first in a conflict (not merely in retaliation for a nuclear attack against it).

I can't shake the images that I have seen over the past few days of the victims of the attack in Syria. But I also carry with me each day the images shared by brave hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings) like my friend Shigeko Sasamori. The use of nuclear weapons is a moral obscenity and is a crime against our humanity. Continuing to threaten to use these weapons is also a moral obscenity. There is no excuse.

2. Kerry: "There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons."

There is a clear reason why many countries are seeking to ban nuclear weapons: the catastrophic humanitarian consequences are severe and well-documented. What is not clear is why some countries continue to cling to nuclear weapons while demanding that no other nations be permitted to acquire them. What is not clear is why, 43 years after the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force, the United States and the other nuclear weapon states (P5) continue to fail to even come close to fulfilling their Article VI obligations to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

 3. Kerry: "All peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again."

Similarly, we must assure that nuclear weapons are never used again. The only way to do that is by abolishing them in a verifiable, irreversible and transparent manner. What does it say for the cause of our common humanity that the P5 are capable of collaborating to boycott the Oslo conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, but are incapable of collaborating to eliminate the most obscene weapons ever created?

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