In the 1990s, tens of thousands of people surrounded the SemiPalatinsk nuclear test site. Impacted by Soviet testing for decades, concerned community members and their allies demanded the site be closed down. On 29 August 1991 it was.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s concerned communities took a range of bright visible public actions against nuclear weapons. From the Greenham Commons camp, to the Russian steppe, people demanded change to nuclear policies- and got them. In Western Europe the protests against deploying cruise missiles to the continent resulted in a change- and a treaty that has only recently collapsed.
Bringing an end to nuclear testing, closing Greenham, and removing 7000 nuclear weapons from Europe were excellent efforts a generation ago, but one problem still remains. Some governments still that think nuclear weapons are a good idea. This is the fundamental problem that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons seeks to change.
The recent Russian accident testing a nuclear powered missile along with the recent demonstration that the US has ground based missiles it can launch in the formerly prohibited INF range are made possible by governments that subscribe to policies relying on the ability to mass murder civilians with nuclear explosions (also known as nuclear deterrence). Policies that suggest there can be no end to nuclear weapons until all nuclear weapons are ended utterly fail us all in their lack of imagination. They reinforce an entrenched dogma that somehow assumes it is okay to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in a blinding flash, and put an end to the global economy as we know it. (From energy provision, to agricultural export, there’s no way that the nuclear possessing states can limit the catastrophic consequences of using nuclear weapons- on humans, environment and economy).
The best way to put an end to the nuclear arms racing and out of control nuclear threats (hurricanes, really?) is to end nuclear weapons. That means building the norm against their legitimacy. Countries wouldn’t suggest their security relied on chemical or biological weapons, why should anyone accept their suggestion that nuclear weapons are somehow okay?
To change society’s perceptions we need to activate society, and that’s what we’re doing through our partnership in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. We’re reminding people, young, old, activist, and advisor, that nuclear weapons are fundamentally unacceptable. Today Kazakhstan is ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, bringing the treaty more than hallway towards entry into force, and acting on their promise to reject nuclear weapons.
On this day, as we remember the power of the people to put an end to nuclear testing, we can take heart in knowing that it will be the power of the people that ends the nuclear weapons era once and for all.