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24 August 2021
Toward a Nuclear Weapons-Free World: Ethics, Social Justice, and Civil Society Activism
By Adam Wolf, Chuck Wooldridge, Pauline Placide, Patrick Realiza and Micayla Costa

Organized by the UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee in partnership with the 

UNA-NCA International Law Committee and All Souls Church, Unitarian of Washington, DC


“The voices of civil society continue to form important conversations on nuclear disarmament to this day.” - René Holbach, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA)

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), through its Peace and Security Committee and International Law Committee, hosted a panel discussion, entitled “Toward a Nuclear Weapons-Free World: Ethics, Social Justice, and Civil Society Activism” on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, in partnership with All Souls Church, Unitarian of Washington, DC. The event took place virtually and welcomed panelists and participants from across the United States and Japan. The panel was moderated by Mr. Melvin Hardy, President of the Millennium Arts Salon, and Ms. Karen Mulhauser, UNA-NCA Past President and UNA-USA Past National Council Chair.


Introduction:

UNA-NCA Board Chair Jill Christianson formally welcomed all attendees to the program by acknowledging the event’s primary organizers and sponsors. Upon mentioning the subject matter for the evening, she then briefly noted her undergraduate days at the University of Massachusetts and cited a fellow student who was a former reporter sent to Hiroshima, Japan who understood the interconnectivity of people and society.

Ms. Christianson further emphasized the power of citizens, including faith-based organizations such as the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) that actively works in conjunction with the United Nations to promote a more peaceful and just world. She then highlighted several key activities and initiatives that UNA-NCA currently undertakes year-round such as advocacy-related Congressional efforts, strategic programming aimed at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), DC for CEDAW, the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows Program (GFP), working with UN-based institutions, and the Global Classrooms DC program to name a few.

Lastly, Ms. Christianson encouraged all non-members to highly consider membership, which would further allow them to partake in these important global issues. Immediately, following her remarks, Mr. Patrick Realiza, Co-Chair of the UNA-NCA Peace and Security Committee formally introduced the next speaker for the evening, Reverend Rob Keithan.

Reverend Rob Keithan welcomed participants on behalf of All Souls Church Unitarian (ASC) to the inaugural event jointly sponsored with UNA-NCA, emphasizing the topic of eliminating nuclear weapons was both timely and necessary. It marked nearly 76 years since the dropping of the atomic bomb by the United States on Hiroshima.

He emphasized that ASC has historic ties with Japan that began in 1947. The children of ASC and the students of Hiroshima’s Honkawa Elementary School responded to the inhumanity of nuclear weapons through the beauty of children’s artwork, known as The Hiroshima Children’s Drawings (1947). The documentary film “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” reverberates with the message of the triumph of hope over despair.  

He finished by noting the importance of partnerships and the promise of the emerging ASC - UNA-NCA collaboration to support global, multilateral solutions for not only peace and reconciliation but for a host of critical humanitarian issues such as the climate crisis, racial justice, LGBTQI rights and many more. 


Framing the Conversation:

Ms. Karen Mulhauser and Mr. Melvin Hardy were introduced as the co-moderators of the panel and invited panelists to elaborate on the theological, moral and ethical questions associated with nuclear weapons. Mr. Hardy began the conversation by noting Pope Francis' Encyclical Letter (Fratelli Tutti) of October 3, 2020, presenting the Roman Catholic case for the immorality of the nuclear weapons eco-systems.  He asked a framing question:  Can we move from St. Augustine's "Just War Theory" to what Marie Dennis of Pax Christi refers to as "Just Peace?"

Noting her experience in disarmament advocacy, such as her leadership of a 2-day conference during the first summit meeting of President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, Ms. Mulhauser showed her previous experience in advocacy. She added that it was and still is important for civil society to educate the general public so nuclear weapons are better understood and politicians are held accountable. Her framing question for the panel was: Is it possible to totally destroy all nuclear weapons and how does the general citizen help bring about that change?


What the experts say:

René Holbach, Programme Manager Officer, United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs

Mr. René Holbach opened his remarks by emphasizing that the UN and the nuclear age were born almost side-by-side, with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki taking place only a few months prior to the UN Charter’s ratification. Their destructive power shows that nuclear disarmament is not a fantasy but a pressing reality, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has taken a stance that the total elimination of nuclear weapons remains the UN’s highest disarmament priority.

Mr. Holbach underscored that nuclear disarmament negotiations at the UN have coincided with advocacy efforts from civil society, as evidenced by the largest ever anti-nuclear protest in the U.S. having taken place in New York in 1982 during the second special session of the UN General Assembly on disarmament. 

Mr. Holbach then transitioned into the deep risk to humanity that nuclear weapons posed and the humanitarian consequences of their use. He commended civil society, with leadership by the International Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, for pressing these humanitarian concerns and catalyzing negotiations for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

The coming year will be pivotal for addressing nuclear disarmament with both the postponed Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference and the first meeting of States Parties to the TPNW happening early in 2022. Mr. Holbach ended his remarks by stating that the role of civil society through raising awareness and advocating for progress will continue to be crucial in achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.

To learn more about nuclear disarmament at the UN, please visit: https://treaties.unoda.org and https://education.unoda.org

Bruce Knotts, Director, Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations

Mr. Bruce Knotts opened with an assertion that the Pope declares, “the attainment of nuclear weapons as immoral.” After highlighting his philosophy of religious peace and how it ties into nuclear disarmament, he asked a simple question: “If missiles were launched against the United States, would it be immoral to retaliate?” He argued that it would, emphasizing it would be devastating to enter a nuclear war with Russia as it would end human life. 

As American citizens, Mr. Knotts emphasized that we hold our elected officials accountable, influencing where they ultimately spend tax dollars. We have to press our members of congress and ask them about their stances and vote accordingly. 

The importance of U.S. policy cascades into international policy, as Mr. Knotts notes with the TPNW which was not signed by the United States, Canada, nor Japan, a country devastated by a major nuclear bomb. He gave the example of the U.S. using its stance on nuclear weapons and position as allies of Japan and the Netherlands to influence their governments not to sign it.

Aside from advocacy, Mr. Knotts offered different methods individuals can take to stand against nuclear weapons during the Q&A. This included looking into socially responsible investment options, such as funds that do not support companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons. He also suggested that we take “small steps, if not big steps,” and supported smaller policies that could reinforce nuclear disarmament, such as no-first-use policies, in which nuclear weapons states agree to never use their nuclear weapons unless in retaliation to another nuclear attack.

Hiroyo Murayama, Program Coordinator, Religions for Peace Japan

When asked about nuclear weapons and if they should be used, Ms. Hiroyo Murayama stated that simply nuclear weapons cannot and should not be used because all life is precious. Working with Religions for Peace Japan (RFP), one of the main missions since its establishment in 1970 is the belief that all life should be cared for and cherished.

When asked about the Hibakusha or survivors from the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and the children of those directly affected by nuclear weapons she said to hear the testimonies of those affected can be tough but that there is an importance in the sharing of their stories to make it known what the nuclear weapons can do to people firsthand. She says another important part of her work and a way that we can work towards nuclear disbarment would be making sure that there is awareness of the issue.

Ms. Murayama said one of the ways RFP in Japan is working towards nuclear disarmament is by using social media as a platform to put out reliable information on the Issue for the general public. The more people are aware of the issue the more involved people will be on the topic. 


Conclusion:

Mr. Chuck Wooldridge closed the program by offering to the audience the idea of imagining a nuclear weapons free world and if then perhaps the world could consider committing to take action. The recent UN Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons along with the messages of the speakers this evening have given hope. He further reminded the audience that each one of them could do something about this. In this connection, he personally invited participants to join in one of the other upcoming events. Lastly, Mr. Wooldridge also shared a number of relevant links to advocacy-related resources that could further equip attendees to take action following the conclusion of the event.


Follow our experts on social media:

Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations - @UUOfficeUN

René Holbach - @UN_Disarmament

Religions for Peace - Facebook: @religionsforpeaceintl Twitter & Instagram: @religions4peace


Advocate for a nuclear weapons-free world:

During the panel, we learned a lot from our speakers about the importance of actively engaging with the public and elected officials to push advocacy for nuclear disarmament. Below is a mix of advocacy resources provided by our panel and members of the Peace and Security Committee for you to explore:

Get involved with civil society

Check out the All Souls Church Unitarian Heiwa Peace Project: http://all-souls.org/heiwa/

Contact the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office: uua.org/un    

Contribute to the Disarmament Times Publication: Disarmament Times

United Nations public awareness campaigns

“What if Spesterra” Video Challenge: https://www.youth4disarmament.org/spesterra-video-challenge

#StepUp4Disarmament Youth Campaign: https://www.youth4disarmament.org/news/stepup4disarmament-youth-campaign

Knowledge and Best Practices

UNA-NCA Youth Advocacy Toolkit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EiYtwpGA-TwXWKuDGViCw5abHV5F4lqm/view

Learn how you can build grassroots support on nuclear disarmament policy: https://jointheban.icanw.org/build_support

Learn how to leverage social media for nuclear disarmament advocacy: https://jointheban.icanw.org/social_media

Petitions to explore

The following are resources for our members who may wish to take action immediately. UNA-NCA doesn’t necessarily endorse the stance of each petition.

Union of Concerned Scientists - Petition calling for the Biden administration to reform nuclear weapons policy: https://secure.ucsusa.org/a/2021-05-18-a-petition-biden-action-nuclear-weapons

Friends Committee on National Legislation – Don’t fund new nuclear weapons petition: https://fcnl.quorum.us/campaign/34562/

Mayors for Peace – Petition calling for countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: https://www.ssl-z.city.hiroshima.jp/pcf/signature_en/index.html

The Atom Project - Petition for a nuclear weapons free world: https://www.theatomproject.org/100K/