The majority of the world’s countries just adopted a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, placing them in the same category of international law as other weapons of mass destruction (chemical and biological weapons) or that cause unacceptable harm (landmines and cluster munitions). Despite this being the most significant development in global nuclear politics since the end of the Cold War, discussion of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is almost absent from the U.S. news media and often misunderstood in DC policy circles.
The treaty was approved by a vote at the UN on July 7: 122 countries voted in favor, the Netherlands against and Singapore abstained. The treaty will be available for countries to start signing it on September 20.
The successful adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017 was a significant step forward for efforts to stigmatise, and ultimately ban, the final weapon of mass destruction not addressed by a specific legal prohibition. Much has, and will continue to be written on the treaty’s potential impact on ossified state-centric debates about nuclear security. The Humanitarian Initiative on Nuclear Weapons intentionally posed a direct challenge to the rarefied world of nuclear experts and think tanks, particularly those captured by, and actively participating in, the prevailing state security discourse. However, beyond the conflict between the state and human security advocates, there was another story playing out, and it was a story that highlighted the fact that disarmament doesn’t really do “the environment” as effectively as it should. Addressing this weakness would strengthen future humanitarian disarmament initiatives.
Faced with recurrent political and inter-communal violence since 1992, the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret in Kenya has responded in numerous ways to alleviate, contain and end the conflicts that have divided local communities. In a new book co-published by the Diocese and Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, Bishop Cornelius Korir follows up on the success of his 2009 book Amani Mashinani (Peace at the Grassroots), by turning his attention to reconciliation.
With co-authors from the Diocese and beyond, Korir shows how reconciliation after violent conflict is a subtle, slow and often difficult process that is not just about ending observable fighting. Drawing on almost 25 years of experience with peacebuilding at the community level, Korir argues that reconciliation requires communities to recognize the worth of other, atone for injustice, heal wounds of the spirit and commit to building a non-violent, equitable and just society. While external actors can support it, sustainable reconciliation requires an intensive focus at the grassroots – maridhiano mashinani – by faith institutions and local civil society to build relationships of interdependence.
The book also offers insight into processes of disarmament at the very local level, often overlooked in global and national policymaking processes on arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament.
Click here to read a free e-copy of the new book, titled Mardiano Mashinani (Reconciliation at the Grassroots),click here.
Bonnie Docherty (left) of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Matthew Bolton (right), Director of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute on a panel regarding positive obligations in the proposed nuclear weapons ban treaty at the UN in March 2017.
The case for the nuclear weapons ban treaty has been rooted in the traditions of international humanitarian law and humanitarian disarmament law, which bind states to acknowledging the suffering caused by war, establishing prohibitions on inhuman methods and means of warfare and taking positive harm-limiting measures.
The Geneva Conventions – the most well-known treaties forming the core of international humanitarian law – prohibit states from targeting civilians, wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, the shipwrecked and relief workers. But they also commit states to a positive “duty to ensure respect” for the conventions (Common Article 1). And they mandate the International Committee of the Red Cross and the National Societies to provide relief and to raise awareness of humanitarian norms.
A rarely acknowledged irony of the post–cold war era is that it ushered in a moment when the world came closest to achieving “General and Complete Disarmament” (GCD) but, simultaneously, the concept was discursively marginalized and discredited as “unrealistic”. The sort of comprehensive disarmament envisioned by the GCD concept — reducing security forces and arsenals to no more than is needed for national safety—can now be talked about in policy circles only as something that is “done to” a former conflict zone, usually in the Global South. Reviewing the history of GCD reminds us that it was taken seriously by “serious people” and even written into international law. It allows us to pay attention to a concept that haunts the edges of our conventional wisdom about global security policy. The point is not to indulge in nostalgic “what if” counterfactuals, but to have the past challenge our present complacency and reintroduce GCD as a “thinkable thought.”
Pace University was featured in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s report on “disarmament and non-proliferation education” in August 2016, which calls on “schools in all countries to inform and empower young people to become agents of peace by helping them to mobilize, act and promote the importance of disarmament and non-proliferation.”
“We are proud to see the UN recognize Pace for the excellent work it does in educating students in global citizenship,” said Dr. Matthew Bolton, Director of the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University in New York City.
Pace University’s full submission to the UN is available here.