No Going Back: What Could the Resumption of Nuclear Testing Mean for A New Normality?

Editors’ Introduction. Any and all progress made toward the control of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and efforts toward their elimination, are placed in jeopardy by the possibility of the resumption of nuclear testing. If we are to achieve the renewed normality that we have begun to contemplate in the Corona Connections, peace education must give serious and immediate attention to this Statement from Abolition 2000.

Read the Abolition 2000 Statement on Nuclear Testing

“A world without nuclear weapons is a shared aspiration of humanity.” Founding statement of Abolition 2000, 1995

Among the conditions of the pre-COVID normality, which has no place in the aspirations of a new normality, is the existential threat of nuclear weapons. This recent Statement by Abolition 2000 (see also below), was issued in response to reports that the US administration has discussed the resumption of nuclear testing. It is a call to peace educators to muster every bit of our pedagogical potential to hold the ground gained thus far toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. It comes on the heels of the Appeal of Women Parliamentarians that includes a plea for the reduction of military spending, especially expenditures on nuclear arms (see also “Vulnerability and the Virus: The Other End of the Hammer”). As a threat to a new normality, it is also a prompt to review the Corona Connection on citizen action for nuclear abolition; and to vigorously pursue learning that would capacitate citizens to lead their governments to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Peace educators pursuing this inquiry might want to have learners review those treaties and others dealing with nuclear weapons.

Inquiring into the Consequences of and possible Alternatives to the Resumption of Nuclear Testing

We hope that all peace educators will, indeed, include this statement and the founding statement of Abolition 2000, as well as the relevant treaties, as basic reading in guiding peace learners through an inquiry into the implications and potential consequences of the resumption of nuclear tests. The following comprise queries that might be included in the inquiry:

Normative Queries: There seem to be values differences between those who advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons and those who are considering the resumption of testing.

  1. What might we designate as the environmental, social, and political values held by abolitionists and those held by testing advocates? 
  2. What normative standards, i.e., treaties and international agreements have been adopted as a consequence of the values held by the abolitionists? Note especially the provisions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, including those summarized in this statement and in the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. 
  3. Considering the consequences that nuclear tests have had on the environments of and the populations in or near the test sites, what norms and international standards have been and would be violated by nuclear testing? 

Strategic Queries: The politics of the issue of nuclear testing are to a large degree determined by conflicting notions of security and threat perceptions that lead to conflicting strategies and plans for national security.

  1. What threat perceptions are likely to underlie the consideration of the resumption of nuclear tests? What dangers do testing advocates believe can be countered by further development of nuclear weapons?
  2. What do abolitionists perceive to be the threats that they took action against? What alternative strategies and plans might assure national security in light of these threats?
  3. What education and political strategies might be brought to facilitating a dialogue that could lead to resolving these differences and bringing citizens together around common notions of security? What notion of security underlies a strategy nuclear preparedness, best assured by further testing and development of nuclear weapons? What notion of security underlies a strategy of abolition?

Conceptual/Speculative Queries:    The Statement asserts that resumption of US testing would provoke other nuclear nations to do the same, increasing the ever-growing threat of the actual use of the weapons.

  1. What scenarios might unfold should one or more other nations determine to resume testing? Consider the possibilities of multiple tests in various parts of the world, the likelihood of a nuclear war, and the potential for “nuclear winter, famine, near extinction of humanity.”
  2. Beyond the possibilities of what a renewed nuclear arms race would produce in terms of social, economic and environmental consequences, how might resumption affect the development of economic equity envisioned in CLAIP’s New Normality? How might it affect the climate crisis? Do you foresee human rights consequences?
  3. What effects on international relations and the possibilities of global solidarity for a new normality based on human security would you speculate might result from a renewed arms race?

Summarizing Scenario of Possibilities for an Alternative Future of a New Normality

In preparing for the following discussion, learners might view the Abolition 2000’s “Food for Thought” (a series of videos of members of the Abolition 2000 network giving their thoughts on “Nuclear abolition in the post-COVID-19 world), giving special attention to the presentation by the Youth Network’s by Vanda Proskova.

Recognizing that only through the constant, concerted cooperation of civil society and responsible citizens will nuclear weapons be contained and ultimately eliminated, how might a scenario of a post-COVID mobilization toward those ends play out? What form might a successful world-wide movement for banning all nuclear tests and abolishing nuclear weapons take? How might such a movement reinforce efforts to establish a “new normality”? What role might education play? What might be the state of global security should the Comprehensive Test Ban be ratified by enough nations to enter into force? What might you and others seeking a world free of nuclear weapons do to bring about the legal establishment of the standards to be set by the CBT?

Absolutely Unacceptable: Resumed Nuclear Explosive Testing

Statement of the Annual Meeting of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

(download a pdf of this statement)

Resumption of nuclear explosive testing is absolutely unacceptable. Even discussing nuclear testing again is dangerously destabilizing. Yet according to news reports such discussions have recently been held in the Trump White House. US resumption of nuclear testing would lead to testing by other states – possibly China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and DPRK. It would accelerate the emerging nuclear arms race and damage prospects for nuclear arms control negotiations. A nuclear explosive test is itself a kind of threat. Testing would generate fear and mistrust and would entrench reliance on nuclear arms. It would move the world away from rather than towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Nuclear explosive testing must not happen, and there must not even be signals of its possibility. Instead, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty should be brought into legal force.

This episode comes in the context of the ongoing upgrading of nuclear forces by the world’s nuclear-armed states. It is supported by extensive laboratory research and experimentation which in part serves as a substitute for functions once served by nuclear explosive testing. So, even as we demand that such testing not be resumed, we must recognize the dangers inherent in the ongoing nuclear weapons enterprise. Those dangers are now mostly out of sight of the public and subject to little media scrutiny, but they are real. They too must be addressed, which in the end will require the global abolition of nuclear arms.

Drafted on behalf of the AGM by:

John Burroughs, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Daniel Ellsberg, author of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
Andrew Lichterman, Senior Research Analyst, Western States Legal Foundation


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