Two minutes to midnight

Toronto Star | 5 August 2018

Despite an initial de-escalation in the nuclear confrontation between the United States and North Korea, the world is still at the greatest risk of a nuclear catastrophe since the Cuban missile crisis. With an erratic American president in control of the U.S. nuclear button, the Doomsday Clock stands at 2 minutes to midnight.
President Donald Trump has wondered why, if the U.S. has nuclear weapons, it would not use them and has warned Iran that the country would face, “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED.”

The nuclear weapon states are modernizing their nearly 15,000 nuclear war heads. Eighteen hundred missiles, both Russian and U.S., are on launch-on-warning, threatening North American and Russian cities with weapons many times more devastating than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The disarmament promised by the nuclear weapon states is at a standstill. By accident, miscalculation, or design, nuclear annihilation looms.

One year ago, on July 7, 2017 at the United Nations, 122 countries took a bold, historic step when the delegates voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty filled a gaping hole in international law, providing a comprehensive prohibition on the last weapons of mass destruction to be declared illegal; the only weapons that could not only end all of us, but deny future generations the very possibility of being born.

As a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I felt stunned and speechless with tears of joy welling in my eyes when the voting results were displayed at the UN Conference. In the din of thunderous applause, I understood the significance of the event.

I intuitively shared my euphoria with the spirits of those massacred indiscriminately in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 72 years before, to whom we made a vow that their deaths would not be in vain, that we would commit our lives to ensure that their suffering would not be repeated.

With great conviction I declared, “Nuclear weapons have always been immoral, now they are illegal! This is the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons! Let us move forward together and change the world!”

Last December, I was elated and humbled to co-accept the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The treaty combined with the Nobel Peace Prize have become a powerful force to further stigmatize nuclear weapons and their possession.

The treaty opened for signatures at the United Nations on Sept. 20, 2017 and the second signing ceremony will be opened this Sept. 26. We are now up to 59 signatories and 14 ratifications from diverse regions. When the 50th nation ratifies the treaty it will enter into force.

Regretfully, Canada has been shamefully absent in the worldwide effort to abolish nuclear weapons. At the behest of the Trump government, which directed its NATO allies to oppose a ban treaty, Canada boycotted the UN negotiations. When questioned in Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that the UN treaty was “useless.”

Canadians have the right to know from their government whether their cities are targeted by nuclear weapons or how they would be affected by radiation fallout from nuclear explosions in the United States. What emergency measures do the federal, provincial and city governments have in place if nuclear weapons are used?

Toronto City Council asked its Board of Health to hold public hearings this April on the dangers of nuclear weapons and radiation fallout. After presentations by myself and dozens of other peace, faith and environmental organizations and individuals, the Board of Health unanimously called on Toronto City Council to request that the Canadian government sign the UN ban treaty.

City Council unanimously passed this motion and sent it to the prime minister, the minister of Foreign Affairs, and to the minister of Health, but none of them has responded. City councils across Canada may well want to hold similar public hearings and convey their concerns to the prime minister.

Canada must return to its legacy of global peace building and be on the right side of history by ratifying the UN Ban Treaty.

Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, will speak at the Hiroshima Nagasaki Commemoration at the Toronto City Hall Peace Garden on Monday, 6 August.