The following reflection is from Magnolia Garcia Garcia, a Pace University undergraduate who participated in the POL297L Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class in Fall 2021. Students were given service learning assignments with disarmament advocacy organizations working in and around the UN and New York City. Magnolia’s assignment was with the network of organizations that planned the 2021 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum on Race and Intersectionality.
The 2021 Humanitarian Disarmament Forum (HDF) focused on intersectionality, specifically regarding race and racism in the humanitarian disarmament community. Working with the amazing planning team of the event was rewarding and fulfilling. The members of this team included Hayley, Isabelle, Farah, Ousman, and Clare, some of them working with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and others with Soka Gakkai International.
There were many things that this civic engagement experience taught me about myself, the disarmament process, and international politics.
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.
Pace University student Angelica Roman ’19 at UN headquarters in New York City.
The following reflection is from Angelica Roman ’19, a Pace University undergraduate who participated in the POL297L Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class in Fall 2018. Students were given with service learning assignments with disarmament advocacy organizations working in and around the UN General Assembly First Committee (International Security and Disarmament). For more on the class, click here.
I walked through the doors of the United Nations on September 27, 2018, clenching my grounds pass, anxiously walking through the halls, feeling the nerves creep through every vein of my body. “I don’t deserve to be here,” my thoughts piercingly echoed in my head.
“Why was an inexperienced philosophy undergraduate student attending First Committee?”, I asked myself. In a room full of expert Delegates and activists I felt like the pariah. I was the young adult who knew very little about nuclear weapons, missiles, drones, or really any topic at First Committee.
Yet I was guaranteed a seat for two weeks. I was allowed to hear, take notes, and ask questions to the leaders of the world. I realized that this opportunity I had was one of a kind. And while other college students read and studied the reports of First Committee that week, I was able to physically be present in the room with all of the delegates.
Pace University Katherrine Ketterer ’20 did her service learning assignment with Control Arms during the 2018 UN General Assembly First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).
The following reflection is from Katherine Ketterer ’20, a Pace University undergraduate who participated in the POL297L Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class in Fall 2018. Students were given with service learning assignments with disarmament advocacy organizations working in and around the UN General Assembly First Committee (International Security and Disarmament). For more on the class, click here.
Even though I am a head delegate of Pace’s New York City Model UN program, I have always felt the United Nations was an elusive thing. I learned about the people who work there, how they are supposed to speak and act, along with their policy. But I never really understood what exactly went on during the meetings.
Now I have a much better idea. During the UN General Assembly First Committee this October and November, I worked with Control Arms, an NGO coalition that works to curb the negative impact of the conventional arms trade. Taking notes, I had the opportunity to hear the concerns and opinions from almost every country in the world, and compile them together for analysis. Pretty cool!
Dr. Emily Welty and Dr. Matthew Bolton, both professors at Pace University, delivered a joint keynote address about their advocacy with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, 6 November.
“We need to live out our faith by openly and rigorously opposing nuclear weapons,” said Welty, director of Peace and Justice Studies at Pace. “Make a public declaration that you and your faith community reject nuclear deterrence as a false ideology that violates what you hold most dear. And then follow that up with action.”
The Parliament of the World’s Religions was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions in order to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world. From 1 November to 7 November, thousands of civic, spiritual and grassroots changemakers gathered in Toronto, Canada to reaffirm their commitment to the global interfaith movement and interfaith community.
“From the very beginning of the nuclear age, the harm of nuclear weapons has been indiscriminate and multinational,” said Bolton, director of Pace’s International Disarmament Institute. “But the global extent of nuclear harm means there are opportunities for solidarity across national and religious boundaries. Learning about the suffering of nuclear survivors close to home may enable empathy for those farther away. It creates possibilities for collective action.”
Welty and Bolton are a married couple who teach at Pace and made a conscious decision together to devote their lives to promoting peace and disarmament. Their life’s mission was featured in a video last year when they were nominated for a national Jefferson Award.
Participants in the 27th UN Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima lay flowers at the Cenotaph honoring those who died in the atomic bomb attack.
Full Written Remarks by Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute, for Session on “Education for the Next Generation on the Realities of the Atomic Bombings” at the 27th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues (UNCDI) in Hiroshima, 29-30 November 2017.
I must admit that when asked to speak on this panel, I initially felt awkward about the request. I have no personal experience with the realities of the atomic bombings here in Hiroshima, or Nagasaki. I have not myself suffered the impacts of nuclear weapons testing in the places where I live. However, in preparing for this panel I have been reflecting on how I came to know about the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons.
I spent some of the first years of my life here in Japan. Though we left when I was only three-years-old, I still have memories of Tokyo and the friends my parents made there would often visit our home in Leicester, England. As a result, I grew up with a positive regard for Japanese people and so always felt disturbed when history classes debated whether the atomic bombings “ended the war.” I could not so easily dismiss the lives of Japanese people as “collateral damage.” I could imagine people in the casualty statistics.
The successful negotiation of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has provided new political and legal impetus for disarmament education. The preamble specifically recognises “the importance of peace and disarmament education in all its aspects and of raising awareness of the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons for current and future generations, and committed to the dissemination of the principles and norms” of the TPNW. It also stress the role of UN, “International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, other international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, parliamentarians, academics and the hibakusha” as representatives of the “public conscience” in pressing for nuclear disarmament. This framing represents a welcome turn toward a more vigorous approach to disarmament and nonproliferation education.
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.