Transcending Nukes

EDITORIAL, 2 Oct 2017

#501 | Diane Perlman, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Surprisingly few people know about the historic event at the UN in New York on July 7, 2017. A Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved by 122 member states. All nuclear weapons states, allies, and most NATO members boycotted the negotiations to draft the Ban Treaty. The Netherlands attended due to public pressure, but was the only party to vote against it. Singapore, abstained.

Diane Perlman at the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty proceedings.

On September 20, 2017 the treaty opened for signatures at the General Assembly. So far, 53 countries have signed and three have ratified it – the Holy See, Guyana and Thailand. The treaty becomes international law 90 days after 50 states ratify it.

Having secured UN accreditation, I was honored to represent the TRANSCEND Network, along with many devoted Civil Society NGOs. I raised our perspective, presenting two side events. We can increase our presence to fill a void at future UN meetings.

Check out and endorse statement HERE.

SOCIAL SCIENTISTS FOR SANITY AND SURVIVAL Nuclear Ban Treaty Statement. pdf file

The Nuclear Ban Treaty

The treaty prohibits states parties from developing, testing, stockpiling, manufacturing, possessing, transferring, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. The full text of the Treaty IS HERE.

After three weeks of negotiations, the vote was followed by a joyous standing ovation, see HERE.

Delegates and civil society representatives expressed mutual gratitude and admiration for the skillful leadership of Elayne Whyte Gomez, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the UN who presided. Hiroshima survivor, Setsuko Thurlow, who waited seven decades for this treaty, movingly invoked the witness of victims of the1945 atomic bombings, HERE.

Opposition to the Ban Treaty

Immediately following the vote, the US, UK and France issued a Joint Statement refusing to accept it as international law; they complained that most “states relying on nuclear deterrence have also not taken part in the negotiations.” They were all invited, but chose to boycott. Furthermore, they said,

 “This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment. Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years. A purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security… This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that make nuclear deterrence necessary. A ban treaty also risks undermining the existing international security architecture which contributes to the maintenance of international peace and security.”

Nonproliferation vs. Disarmament – the Primary Nuclear Conflict

This statement, rich with possibilities for transcendence, reflects the decades-long conflict between advocates of disarmament and advocates of nonproliferation and deterrence. In addition to twisted logic, it contains some truths.

The simplistic belief in deterrence fails to consider conditions under which it might break down and flip into spiral dynamics of proliferation. Former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara said we survived the Cold War by “dumb luck.” There have been many near misses and we are now at a new brink. Political psychologist Richard Ned Lebow noted that “… deterrence can provoke the very behavior it seeks to prevent.”

They say, “This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program.” Neither does their approach. They are correct in saying the Treaty does not “address other security challenges,” as it only eliminates the weapons, the symptoms – known as first order change.

The TRANSCEND approach can help. Neither deterrence nor disarmament analyze underlying conflicts, consider what the parties want, identify legitimate goals and create a new reality – known as second order change.

Let’s understand some background of this conflict at the heart of all other nuclear conflicts.

Evolution from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Process

The (NPT) came into force in 1970, based on a bargain that non nuclear weapons states would not acquire nuclear weapons. In exchange, the five nuclear weapons states, the US, UK, France, Russia and China promised to give up theirs. Article 6 states,

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

I have attended all NPT conferences in New York since 2000 – all marked by intense conflict between abolitionists versus those believing the powerful few must possess a “nuclear deterrent” to keep the world safe.

The Ban Treaty arose from decades of frustration, demoralization and urgency resulting from the failure of nuclear weapons states to meet their Article 6 commitment.

We have reduced the number of nuclear weapons from 65,000 in 1986 to about 15,000. Nuclear possessors have extensive modernization plans. Detonation could occur by accident, miscalculation or escalation, causing unimaginable suffering and environmental devastation including nuclear winter and famine. This arouses fear and moral outrage among the nuclear have-nots and all publics. Possessors miss the fact that power asymmetry, nuclear inequity, is unsustainable with no endgame, no path to resolution.

Nuclear Narcissism

The Nonproliferation Treaty is actually truth in advertising. It seems the nuke states never intended to disarm, as promised. Nonproliferation means we keep our nukes. You don’t get yours. Our nukes are good. Our allies’ nukes are good. Your nukes are bad. We can have nukes because we are responsible. You can’t.  We need our nukes to deter you to keep us safe, but it is unacceptable for weaker states to deter us when they feel threatened.  This asymmetry is unsustainable.

The Humanitarian Initiative – Paving the Way to the Ban Treaty

For decades we have racked our brains for ways to overcome the domination of nuclear interests. Collaboration has increased between UN delegates and civil society, including Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivors, lawyers, physicians, religious leaders, youth, peace groups, Marshall Islanders, US nuclear testing downwinders, economists, environmentalists, Mayors for Peace, Parliamentarians, scientists, etc. NGOs have done excellent work on illegality, immorality, and medical consequences of nuclear weapons, de-alerting from hair-trigger status, safety, detection, inspection, improving treaties and verification, organizing Parliamentarians and Mayors for Peace.

A recent intervention is the Humanitarian Consequences Initiative. It reframed the debate on the horrors of nukes with three major international UN conferences, all boycotted by the nuclear weapons states. This made a tremendous impact, leading to the ban treaty negotiations, mandated by the more democratic General Assembly.

What’s TRANSCEND Got to Do with It?

Applying the TRANSCEND method, consider identifying legitimate goals, illegitimate goals and bridging incompatible goals.

Both sides have a legitimate goal of security from nuclear and conventional threats. Abolitionists focus on eliminating nukes – the symptom. Nonproliferators insist on the necessity of deterrence. Neither addresses the underlying conflict. Deterrence theory is challenged if they recognize that North Korea and others will inevitably insist their own deterrent, and if we can educate about spiral theory. We can bridge the legitimate goals for safety with “cheaper deeper security,” including tension reduction, reassurance, satisfying basic human needs, legitimate goals, just grievances and creative conflict transformation.

Money and empire are illegitimate goals. The military industrial congressional media complex infrastructure drives policy by manipulating fear and exaggerating threats. The legitimate goal of profit can be addressed by conversion to life enhancing endeavors that create more jobs – environment, infrastructure, health, climate chaos, but will be resisted. The Ban Treaty opens opportunities for international divestment. Check out HERE.

Johan Galtung has written extensively about empire and the ability to dominate. Recognition that asymmetrical power backfires with the law of opposites is putting cracks in the system. A campaign of demystification is necessary and mobilization of civil society.

The escalating nuclear threat is at a height we have not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, but with leaders far more pathological. It is a teachable moment if we can survive it. Concrete, black-and-white thinking-believing in increasing pressure lack empathy and fail to understand the role of fear, provocation, and cause and effect. And ultimately the causes of war itself.

The Ban Treaty reflects and creates a shift in collective consciousness and norms, delegitimizing nuclear weapons. Recognizing desires of two-thirds states parties and a majority of humanity, it shifts the burden of proof to possessors. This can inspire more engagement in the movement that has all but disappeared since one million people marched for a nuclear freeze Central Park in New York in 1982.  The hard work begins now, and the TRANSCEND community has a specific and necessary contribution to make.



Diane Perlman, Ph.D. is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and a Visiting Scholar, George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Oct 2017.

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12 Responses to “Transcending Nukes”

  1. An excellent wrap up. Thank you Dr. Perlman. And thank you for your excellent side panels during the negotiations. Enlightening and helpful.

    One comment from above: “Abolitionists….don’t address the underlying conflict.” , the citing some useful tools “…including tension reduction, reassurance, satisfying basic human needs, legitimate goals, just grievances and creative conflict transformation.” I’m an abolitionist, and along with those I know for abolition I believe would generally be supportive and long active in those pursuits. But for sure for those who just hurl names and judgements at the other… yes, there is much to learn…. from your work.

    a short video in support of signing this Treaty (with many you know, mostly abolitionists):

    Also, yes, very importantly, each of us knowing how we know it or not are invested in armament companies, especially nuclear weapons. Unless you take the time to have your financial advisor dig into those mutual funs, retirement funds, etc.. You will be shocked. Don’t Bank on the Bomb will be coming out later this week with their second article on our first US bank, Amalgamated Bank, based in NYC with a branch in DC, which has publically come out with their announcement “Divesting in Warfare”. If you would think about divestment, it would greatly help this cause, and the underlying support citizens give to our military industrial media congressional complex.


    and keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for your comments Anthony.

      I watched your video. It features many representatives of civil society who were together at the UN, some for 3 weeks, several I have had the privilege of being with for a few decades. I intend to get Transcend accredited to future UN meetings so any of you who wish to build our presence can join me.

      Also yesterday, on Gandhi’s birthday, I opened up an account at Amalgamated at the DC branch. Those in the US who are not in NYC or DC Can open up an account with Amalgamated for online banking and get cash at designated ATMS without a fee. Many ways to turn the tide.

  2. Mohamed says:

    Thanks for the great news

    Some comments:
    Keeping nukes in the hands of few bullies will force many third world countries to seek to build them.
    What is the difference between North korean nukes and US nukes, why should we ban North Korea from having them while allowing US to have Nukes? Is trump wiser then Kim, I doubt that.

    Nukes are not the only problem, look at the international justice Court and it’s decisions, most of them are against african leaders (The crimes of G W Bush in iraq are a lot worse), and by the way Africans are withdrawing from it and not accepting it’s laws.

    Why only the largest 5 Nuclear powers have a VETO right in the security council?

    This system need to be changed, and change is comming

    • Thanks Mohammed for all excellent points. Your comments on North Korea describe what I call “Nuclear Narcissism” in the article. What do we expect? People seem to be catching on to the fact that NK will not give up their nukes but are slower to see the flaws in deterrence theory, or that it works both ways. I appreciate your comments about the ICJ. Thanks

  3. Anne says:

    Thanks Diane.
    I am really interested in the humanitarian consequences approach and hope we can keep a focus on it. Might make a dent in the US mindset, since we are facing Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands natural destruction–how can we afford to risk the human-caused hurricane of nuclear firestorm and radiation? Reminds me of that old skit with the realtor talking about how hard it would be to sell a radioactive hole in the ground. Keep on keeping on!9W

  4. Ian Hansen says:

    Keep up the good work. I am sickened by the language from some states about “nuclear deterrence.” There’s an Orwellian term if I ever heard one. Here’s what I think that patriotic members of these “nuclear deterrence”-practicing nations should say to their leaders:

    My fellow [members of nuclear deterring nation], test out the morality of this statement in your own conscience: “Any nation that truly loves its people and way of life should be ready to commit genocide in order to defend them.” Can you square your conscience with that statement? I cannot.

    Nuclear weapons are weapons of genocide. To build them or possess them is to threaten genocide and express implicit agreement with the morally atrocious Hitlerian statement above. Any nation that would claim to be thoroughly committed to not committing genocide under any circumstances should get rid of their nuclear weapons, unilaterally, and yesterday if possible.

    I do not support nuclear deterrence because it involves threatening genocide, and genocide is not a morally appropriate response to any action, even genocide itself. If genocidal mass murderers attacked millions of our nation’s people with their nuclear weapons, I would NOT want the country I love to retaliate by genocidally mass murdering millions of the same ethnic group as the leader launching that attack. So if we do NOT consider ourselves Hitlerian utilitarian pragmatists, ready to use genocide if necessary to protect our national interests, then we should dismantle and destroy our weapons of genocide immediately.

    No nation needs weapons of genocide to defend themselves and their way of life, and our nation is no exception. As leaders of this great nation, I urge you to dismantle our nuclear arsenal on principle–the principles we should stand for as those who would claim to be better than the Nazi murderers of millions who are the modern standard-bearers of evil incarnate.

    Please read Psychologists for Social Responsibility’s statement on nuclear brinkmanship and disarmament:

  5. James t. Ranney says:

    North Korea proves the insanity of the whole business. By 2020 they could have 100 nukes, making this pis sant country a major nuclear power.

  6. Mohamed says:

    Congrats for the Nobel Peace Prize to all signatures of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

  7. Per-Stian says:

    There have been many questionable laureates in recent years, but this was finally a Nobel Peace Prize winner we can all gleefully celebrate. Thank you for all the hard work for decades, and especially on the incredibly important resolution in the United Nations.

    Congratulations on the prize, and I look forward to hopefully a strong speech in December. Please point out that Norway were opposed ;-)

  8. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War won. I was then a speaker for PSR, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the US affiliate of IPPNW, and in 1995 Joseph Rotblat, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. I interviewed Rotblat in 1999 for my research on the courageous personality. In 2005 it was the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, usually on the 10 year anniversaries after the 1945 US atomic bombings.

    At the UN I did a presentation of my slide show, Nuclear Mystique which is an engaging orientation to the psychological history of the evolution of nukes, I am available for teach-ins and presentations of my slide show, hopefully more people will be interested now. Thanks t Transcend for the opportunity to write this editorial which is more timely than expected.

  9. Marilyn Langlois says:

    Thank you for this timely and compelling editorial, followed by the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize to the highly deserving International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Yes, we need to stop making killing machines and invest in life-affirming endeavors!