by Emily Welty, Director and Associate Professor of Peace and Justice Studies, Pace University New York City
Your attention is a form of currency. When you choose to read or take in information from one source and not another, you are boosting this information source with your views. This means it is more important than ever to think about who is delivering narratives that are careful, nuanced and complex.
Take a long view. If you already find yourself spending periods of time taking in lots of tiny pieces of information, consider how using that time to understand the historical roots of this conflict is actually much more productive. I will provide a list of resources at the bottom but consider how even though it feels like you are informed to keep checking Twitter, your news feed and TikTok, this is not actually providing you with deeper understanding.
Beware of false flags and misinformation. Unless you are both linguistically and culturally fluent in the conflict, you are very unlikely to be able to distinguish good information from bad. Everyone believes that they are not susceptible to misinformation. Assume that you are and turn to information that has been carefully sourced. It is very appealing to watch the short reports of citizens who are livestreaming from their homes – and sometimes this might be a responsible way to know what is happening. But think carefully about what your intentions are when you take this in – is this helping you to engage? Is it deepening trauma? Keep thinking about how we balance the responsibility to witness with the need to not traumatize our own nervous systems.
Amplify people who are calling for peace – especially if they are in some of the most difficult contexts in which to do so. Follow carefully the nonviolent protests that are occurring and how they are being policed. Keep asking how protestors are being treated and if you need to publicly weigh in on the conflict, highlight their bravery and determination.
Avoid simplistic narratives. Think about how to analyze a conflict beyond who is right and who is wrong. What do these actors want? What are their interests? What are the connectors between these societies? How are resources involved? Be skeptical of sources that link a conflict to any one singular cause. If a report claims that a conflict is “all about oil/NATO/something else” be skeptical about the complexity of this reporting. Avoid narratives that present conflict with clearly defined good people and bad people.
Language matters! Using ableist language like “crazy”, “madman”, “lunatic”, “insane”, etc. is not helpful and usually does not accurately describe the way that humans are making decisions. Comparing people to animals or using language like “savage” is rooted in historical dehumanizing language that is both colonial and racist.
Take a break. What is happening right now will have an effect on your body and your mind if you take too much of it in at once. While it feels like we are doing something good by watching endless news, this has actual somatic impacts on our body and our nervous system which cannot always distinguish between what is happening to us and what we are watching. Go outside. Turn off your phone and chat with a friend. Look at the sky. We need people to stay engaged and care long-term which means that we also have to take breaks.
Think about refugee support. There are already refugees moving in this conflict – where are they going? What are their needs? Who is supporting them?
Language matters! If you are signaling support for Ukrainians, use “Ukraine” not “the Ukraine” and “Kyiv” not “Kiev”. These preferred terms indicate the way Ukrainians define themselves rather than the way they have been defined by others.
Think about how this conflict has been heightened and made much more dangerous and scary by the presence of nuclear weapons. Work on efforts to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and particularly the Cities Appeal to get every city in the world to commit to being nuclear-free. Look at how your own banks/institutions invest in nuclear weapons and demand divestment.
The peer-reviewed academic journal Global Policy will soon publish an article by Dr. Matthew Bolton of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute examining the inadequacy of many current responses to the impact of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing on the human rights of people who were living downwind. The following is an abstract of the article and its policy implications:
Atmospheric nuclear test detonations conducted by USA, USSR, UK, France and China, 1945–1980, generated radioactive particles that were dispersed by weather patterns, returning to earth as fallout. People who lived ‘downwind’ face ongoing risks from their exposure to ionizing radiation, as well as psychological, social, cultural and political distress. However, testing states obscured these humanitarian consequences by claiming that fallout could be contained to specific spatial zones, that there are ‘thresholds’ below which radiation exposure has negligible health impacts and that socio-political forms of harm should be disregarded. While the scientific consensus concludes fallout circulates in complex, nonlinear patterns; there is no safe level of radiation exposure; and nuclear testing can generate tremendous anxiety, what Liboiron calls ‘threshold thinking’ continues to underlie policies ostensibly assisting victims of nuclear weapons. This article offers examples from responses to French Pacific nuclear testing, showing how access to compensation and other assistance has often been conditioned on threshold qualifications that function to limit downwind communities’ access to assistance and remedy. Victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations in the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offer opportunities to move beyond reductive policy logics to multifaceted, human rights-based approaches to affected communities’ concerns.
Policy making on assistance to victims of nuclear weapons testing must put the voices of survivors themselves – rather than the structures responsible for the test program – at the center of the conversation, taking seriously the disability rights slogan ‘Nothing about us, without us’.
Policy makers should avoid designing policies of assistance to victims of nuclear testing that limit eligibility to people living in pre-determined spatial zones, given the widespread dispersal and non-linear circulation of radioactive fallout.
Victim assistance policy making should start from the presumption that there is no thresh- old below which exposure to radiation is safe, or politically unimportant.
Decision-makers should not deny access to benefits based on qualifying threshold radiation doses; such policies may discriminate against women and girls; Indigenous Peoples; and those with genetic predispositions to cancer.
Global standards of ‘permissible doses’ of radiation protection – based on a trade-off for the claimed benefits of peaceful uses of nuclear energy – should not be used to evade responsibility for the harms of nuclear weapons activities.
Policy makers should design victim assistance programs that recognize and remedy the complex medical, psychological, social, political and economic harms of nuclear test programs.
Policy makers, associations of nuclear weap- ons survivors, civil society organizations and scientists should consider using the forums offered by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to build more holistic and human rights-based approaches to assisting victims of nuclear weapons activities.
Pace University undergraduate student Jeremiah Williams ’23 delivered a statement on youth engagement and disarmament education to the UN General Assembly First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), 8 October 2021.
“More than 40% of the world’s population is under the age of 25, most of whom live in the Global South. We are not just ‘the future,’ young people are also here now,” said Political Science major Williams, speaking on behalf of 34 global civil society organizations and campaigns, including two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. “We have the right to intergenerational equity, with a voice in the international community.”
The statement was drafted by Dyson College of Arts and Sciences students Taylor Mangus ’23 and Williams, who together lead the Pace Debates team. They had input from Pace University’s Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class and diverse youth and disarmament education stakeholders around the world. They received support from Dr. Matthew Breay Bolton, director of Pace’s International Disarmament Institute and Dr. Emily Welty, director of the Peace and Justice Studies program.
In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted its first resolution “Youth, disarmament and non-proliferation,” calling for “meaningful and inclusive participation of young people in discussions … of disarmament and non- proliferation.” The General Assembly has also adopted a biennial resolution on “Disarmament and non-proliferation education” since 2000, including last year.
Drawing linkages between youth, disarmament, and other pressing issues such as climate action; and
Addressing concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The brief also provides a detailed review of the importance of youth and disarmament and disarmament education agendas for year’s UN General Assembly First Committee, as well as the upcoming Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and First Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
A new paper co-authored by Dr. Matthew Bolton of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, argues for a legally-binding instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). There is a need both for a legally-binding prohibition of certain autonomous weapons and for strong positive obligations to ensure meaningful human control of the use of force rooted in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law. The Alliance for Multilateralism has endorsed voluntary Guiding Principles on LAWS. Its Member States should now lead the Principles’ upgrade towards more robust international agreements. One venue for this could be an additional protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
The paper, published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, is available for download here.
The peer-reviewed academic journal Global Policy will publish a Special Section on “Addressing the Humanitarian and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear Weapons” in its February issue, edited by Dr. Matthew Breay Bolton of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute and Elizabeth Minor of Article 36. Pace University graduate student Sydney Tisch also co-authored one of the articles, on the impact of UK and US nuclear testing in Kiribati. In recognition of the January 2021 entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the Global Policy team are releasing the articles early online and making them open access over the next couple weeks.
The Special Section aims to be a resource for researchers, policymakers, advocates and journalists, compiling in once place key information on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear detonations and humanitarian, environmental and development policy efforts to address them. The Special Section includes an overview of the locations all nuclear weapons detonations and a review of their humanitarian and environmental consequences; a detailed case study of US and UK nuclear testing in Kiribati; an interview with survivors in Japan and Kazakhstan; a commentary on existing victim assistance and environment remediation; and a commentary on how best to implement the TPNW victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations. The overall argument running through the articles is that policy interventions to date have not adequately addressed the needs and rights of hibakusha, atomic veterans and test survivors, nor ongoing environmental concerns. The authors argue that the TPNW victim assistance and environmental remediation obligations offer an important new opportunity for addressing the consequences of nuclear detonations, by focusing policy attention and constituting a new field of development assistance.
The Trump administration is reportedly considering restarting U.S. nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 1992. If President Donald Trump proceeds down this path, the United States would be the first, other than North Korea, to flout the global norm against nuclear test detonations in 22 years. Is it possible to stop a superpower from exploding a nuclear bomb? The story of Cook Islands, a “small” country in the Pacific, which was downwind from UK and French atmospheric nuclear tests, suggests people at the margins of global politics have unexpected agency.
Since gaining self-governance in 1965, key aims of Cook Islands’ foreign policy have been achieved: the Pacific is a nuclear weapons free zone; the U.K., the U.S., and France stopped their nuclear tests; the UN has adopted a nuclear ban treaty; and there is growing pressure to help nuclear test victims and remediate contaminated environments. Cook Islanders achieved these successes not by force – they have no military – but rather through diplomacy, international law, and connections with global activist networks. If we define power as the ability to shape the world according to one’s interests and values, Cook Islanders have been unexpectedly powerful.
Read the full op-ed in Just Security, by Jean Tekura Mason and Matthew Breay Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute, here:
Crystal Isidor, Pace University senior and Model United Nations head delegate, speaking at UN headquarters on youth and nuclear disarmament. Photo by Veronika Datzer and Yury Medvedev, UN.
On 20 January 2020, Crystal Isidor ’20, a Pace University senior and Model United Nations Head Delegate, spoke on a panel about nuclear disarmament at UN headquarters, alongside such distinguished speakers as Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and H.E. Ambassador Cho Hyun, Permanent Representation of Republic of Korea to the UN. Crystal “discussed means for youth to become involved in disarmament—including through social media, volunteer opportunities and internships.” In the following blog post, she reflects on her experience.
I was very honored the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) invited me to be a part of their panel, especially with such a distinguished group of professionals. The topic of nuclear disarmament can be intimidating. But it is an issue that becomes more pressing everyday. On the panel, I spoke about my background and how youth like myself can get involved in disarmament without having prior experience in the field or having finished their studies. There are a number of organizations doing remarkable work on this issue that offer many internships and volunteer opportunities to get involved, as well as events like the Youth4Disarmament Initiative to learn more about the topic.
Joining the Model UN team at Pace was one of the best ways to get first hand experience to how diplomatic work is done. It is a great way for the younger generation to actively gain more experience in this field. Youth are the future. It is imperative for youth to be engaged in a substantive conversation on disarmament. The past generation of diplomats need to collaborate with the next generation of leaders and thinkers to continue and make leaps in disarmament at large.
May 2018 Protest by New York City Activists Calling for Divestment from Nuclear Weapons. Photo by Robert Croonquist, 2018.
The majority of the world’s governments – along with many faith leaders, Nobel Prize Laureates and civil society voices around the world – see nuclear weapons as morally abhorrent. On 7 July 2017, 122 states adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which comprehensively bans nuclear weapons, including assistance to those engaged in prohibited actions like production, manufacture and stockpiling. As a result, there is growing momentum for divestment from nuclear weapons, with some of the world’s largest pension funds already disinvesting.
According to a new report published by the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University, disinvestment is not simply a moral stand; it is a prudent and perspicacious assessment of the significant long-term downside risk and stigmatization inherent in nuclear weapon production. Nuclear weapons investments strongly conflict with fiduciary responsibility given their increasing regulatory, reputational and environmental legacy risks. Further, nuclear weapons themselves pose catastrophic risks to the global economy that have no simple technocratic fixes. Removing investments in nuclear weapons producers, which are limited to about 0.25% of New York City’s pension fund assets, is a wise course of action with respect to both future returns and the progressive reputation of New York City. Divestment captures the long-term externalities created by nuclear weapons production.
Download Nuclear Weapons are Risky Business: Divestment as Financial Prudence for New York City’s Retirement Systemshere.
Readers may be interested in a more general review of New York City’s policy and practice on nuclear weapons, available here.
The New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN) also published a report on divestment in January 2019, which is archived here.
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 and Int. 1621) 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 Weaponshere.
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.