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From Manhattan Project to Nuclear Free: New York City’s Policy and Practice on Nuclear Weapons

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Nuclear submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) entering New York harbor in 1958. US Navy photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory.

New York City is a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ), both as a normative stance and in fact; all nuclear weapons bases within its territory have been decommissioned and the Navy reportedly avoids bringing nuclear-armed and/or -powered ships into the Harbor. This is an impressive achievement, given the City’s role as a key node in the Manhattan Project, as a former base for nuclear missiles and as a former nuclear-capable Navy homeport. In 1983, the City Council passed a resolution establishing the City as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and prohibiting nuclear weapons from the City’s territory.

A new background paper published by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provides a historical overview of the development of New York City’s NWFZ and other relevant policy protecting New Yorkers from the humanitarian and environmental consequences of ionizing radiation. It outlines practical efforts taken, including the removal and barring of nuclear weapons from the City limits and remediation of contaminated legacy sites. This is followed by consideration of several challenges facing the NWFZ, including the continued investment of the City’s pension funds in nuclear weapons production, low public awareness of the NWFZ and the Trump administration’s unravelling of constraints on nuclear weapons.

Emerging humanitarian, human rights and environmental norms on nuclear weapons offer potential models to reaffirm and revitalize the City’s nuclear-free status, notably the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by 122 governments at the United Nations in New York in 2017. Pending New York City Council legislation (Res. 976[2019] and Int. 1621[2019]) addresses policy challenges facing the NWFZ by drawing on emerging global norms, including the TPNW.

Download From Manhattan Project to Nuclear Free: New York City’s Policy and Practice on Nuclear Weapons here.

Readers may also be interested in a more focused discussion paper regarding divestment of New York City’s pension funds from nuclear weapons production, available here.

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