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Reflections from the 2MSP to the TPNW in New York 2023

Reflections from the Second Meeting of States Parties (2MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

By Dr Gari Donn

The precipice to oblivion

The abiding message of this week at the 2MSP for the TPNW in NY is that we are experiencing a calamitous clash of paradigms. The dominant ‘deterrence’ paradigm frames the narrative as “nuclear weapons have kept the peace for 75 years, so they must continue to do so”; “security is having nuclear weapons or being under the umbrella of a state that has them”. The emerging ‘humanitarian’ paradigm frames “security is States having funds for food, health, welfare, housing, education”; “$82 billion per annum global funding on nuclear weapons is immoral, unethical, obscene”; ”corporate and economic drivers to maintain the status quo are out of touch with citizen awareness of and engagement with the humanitarian consequences of possessing nuclear weapons”. History shows us that revolutions in thinking, and paradigm shifts, sometime happen swiftly but most frequently take time and usually occur through the hard labour of those committed to the emerging paradigm. But how to challenge and burst the bubble of that dominant paradigm and supplant it with the humanitarian paradigm. And to do that before oblivion. Because that is what awaits us if we humans continue to accept the ideas, values and policies (political economic social) embedded in ‘deterrence’. Do we engage with the arguments of deterrence and indicate the absurdity of an ideology which is based - ultimately - on ‘sheer dumb luck’? Over this week we have heard the persuasive arguments taking the deterrence paradigm apart. At least we who oppose the rhetoric of the dominant paradigm think the arguments are persuasive: Will the small number of nuclear policy makers begin to think similarly? Will countries’ huge general publics listen, care and demand difference? Will the drive away from the lunacy of deterrence result in commitments to the humanitarian approach? For there certainly is a groundswell of opinion chipping away at contorted logics of ‘deterrence’. But are those chippings sufficient to overturn the paradigm of ‘deterrence’? Would the humanitarian paradigm, in itself, be a sufficient motivation to upend definitions of ‘deterrence provides security’? We have heard from many within that humanitarian paradigm who speak of the horrendous consequences - environmental, economic, social, political, human, medical - of even a small nuclear explosion. The death toll figures of a nuclear bomb will be in billions and - as we know from first, second and third generations of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and from communities where nuclear testing has taken place - life, genetic life, will never be the same. We hear from experts this week that a detonation will result in millions dead - evaporated immediately or dying from burns, burst bodies. There will be ‘nuclear winter’ with dust and particles falling onto lands with unburied bodies and others dying with few or no medical services or personnel. There will be global famine and global dislocations with whole communities on the move, trying to find something “better”. But there is nowhere “better”. It would seem to be a “no brainer” to do everything in our power to prevent that future. To end definitions and images of war as the emblem of security. To forefront versions of ‘security’ as being about having food, health, housing, education - human needs - and harmonious engagement with other species on our planet. That is what the TPNW embraces. The 2MSP has heard from so many experts and civil society representatives that the road of the deterrence paradigm is a one way street to oblivion. That is why we in civil society will work even harder to engage with our governments to have them sign and then ratify the TPNW. With over half the world’s State Parties supporting the Treaty and over a third having ratified it, the ball of political and civil approval is rolling and it’s moving fast. With oblivion around the corner, it has to.

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