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Rick Wayman Examines Nuclear Weapons Issues from Dangerous, Hopeful Perspectives

Rick Wayman Examines Nuclear Weapons Issues from Dangerous, Hopeful Perspectives

Just say, nuclear weapons, and you’re sure to get a reaction. During much of Donald Trump’s presidency so far, nuclear weapons have been a topic mostly linked to talks he and his administration have had with North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Typically, any talk of nuclear weapons contributes to a sense of danger and thinking about the ultimate consequences. It festers when talk turns to the continuing arms race among various countries, including the United States, and the slow process that exists regarding countries’ willingness to sign treaties to reduce or prohibit nuclear weapons.

Rick Wayman, deputy director of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation whose founding affiliation and work that links to what the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) does, came to the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre on March 20. Here he shared thoughts on both the dangers connected to nuclear weapons and hopeful efforts to abolish them.

A Dangerous Time: Arms Race and North Korea

Wayman spoke about the arms race that exists among a handful of countries and effort the United States makes with its nuclear weapons. He noted that the U.S. is in the process of spending at least $1.7 trillion over 30 years to rebuilding nuclear warheads, delivery systems and production infrastructure.

He noted, too, that it isn’t just a new under President Trump’s administration. This “modernization” plan came under former President Barrack Obama’s administration. One difference is that Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review is more transparent about the aggressive nature of U.S. nuclear policy, and it introduced some additional new nuclear weapons that will undoubtedly increase the $1.7 trillion price tag further if suggested programs get the go-ahead.

The U.S. is one of nine nuclear-armed nations — Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are the others — who are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

While the total number of weapons in the world has gone down substantially, there are still about 14,500 in the world — more than 90 percent are held by Russia and the U.S. But even with the number of weapons in decline, the current nuclear arms race is more qualitative, meaning “countries are racing to develop new capabilities and evade defenses.”

Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Wayman states, requires all parties 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.” But, he added, disarmament through the NPT is stalled, and only five of the nine nuclear-armed nations are members of that treaty.

Another potential danger has been the two U.S.-North Korea talks between Trump and Kim Jong-un. The summits haven’t resulted in significant commitments and the policies and postures of each country could still lead to serious escalation, Wayman said.

He stated there were moderate expectations of some sort of agreement could get signed at the Hanoi summit in February, but the summit ended early and nothing materialized.

“U.S. officials initially claimed that the summit collapsed when North Korea demanded that the US lift all sanctions against it. But it was later revealed that North Korea’s request was for all sanctions imposed since 2016 to be lifted in exchange for irreversibly shutting its Yongbyon nuclear complex.”

Wayman points to the actions of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton for his role in the breakdown, saying he “substantially moved the goalposts on what was actually being negotiated. His demand during the Hanoi summit was that North Korea not only dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but also its ballistic missile program, its chemical weapons program, and its biological weapons program.”

Wayman went on say that Bolton is largely responsible for U.S. violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, U.S. suspension and withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, and Bolton unexpectedly appeared in Hanoi and contributed to the derailment of possible progress with North Korea.

Wayman gave a rundown of North Korea’s arsenal. It may have produced enough fissile material to build between 30 and 60 nuclear weapons, and might possibly have assembled 10 to 20, but it is still uncertain whether North Korea has demonstrated an ability to develop a functioning re-entry vehicle to deliver an operational nuclear warhead. It has, Wayman said, conducted six nuclear weapon test explosions and numerous missile tests of varying ranges.

A Hopeful Time: North Korea, Treaty, and a Nobel Peace Prize

Just as much as there is danger, so, too, is there hope that emerges amongst Wayman, work done by his organization and countless others around the world to maintain order.

Showing a photo of South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un taken moments before the first time a North Korean leader ever stepped foot in the South, “it was a huge deal, and not nearly enough attention is paid in U.S. media to the inter-Korean peace process,” he said.

Wayman noted that the Korean War never officially ended. An Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953, but it wasn’t followed up by an official declaration or peace treaty. Wayman expressed hope that such an event could be a truly next step. While not agreeing with some of the approaches the Trump administration has taken in its dealings, Wayman admits that “diplomacy, flawed as it might be, is happening.”

Wayman is also encouraged by seeing more women leaders getting involved. “We’re seeing strong moves to get women seats at the table in these negotiations,” he said. “My friend, Christine Ahn, a Korean-American woman who is co-founder of an organization called Women Cross DMZ, has been working tirelessly to make this happen. I believe when women are included in the peace process, it leads to a peace agreement —and not just a peace agreement, but a really durable one.”

Obviously, the appeal of getting agreements and cooperation is essential to the prospect for peace. Wayman discussed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was negotiated in 2017 at the United Nations. He noted it was “the culmination of a few years of countries and civil society organizations organizing international conferences to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.”

In July 2017, 122 nations voted to adopt the treaty with only one, the Netherlands, against it. Nonetheless, the nine nuclear-armed countries and their NATO allies (except for the Netherlands) chose to boycott negotiations, despite the well-established norm in the Non-Proliferation Treaty that requires good faith negotiations for nuclear disarmament. Today, 22 countries have ratified the treaty, but it won’t be enforced until 90 days after the 50th country ratifies it. Wayman is hopeful of seeing the ratification sometime before the end of 2020.

Wayman still expressed hope during the negotiation process in that “the deep level of involvement by civil society — organizations like the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, humanitarian organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross, and voices of people who have been directly impacted by nuclear weapons.”

The last part was particularly meaningful to Wayman, who said it contributed to his dedication and involvement. “When I was 23, I attended an event at which two survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing described their experiences. I was deeply moved, and knew that I had to be involved in making change. The voices of survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of people impacted by nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, Australia, Kazakhstan, and right next door in Nevada tell an unmistakable story about what nuclear weapons do, and what they are designed to do.”

Indeed. Wayman believes “one of the biggest reasons for our success has been shifting the narrative on nuclear weapons from theoretical things like deterrence and military strategy to the very real and tangible humanitarian consequences.”

It was cited as a major asset for ICAN, which now has a network of more than 500 partner organizations in 103 countries, when it received the Nobel Peace Prize. Wayman’s organization’s connections with ICAN, enabled him to meet Pope Francis in late 2017 at the Vatican. “when he advanced Catholic teaching against nuclear weapons, stating that the threat of using nuclear weapons, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

The business of nuclear weapons, as much as the workings of those seeking to abolish nuclear weapons continues.

“I mentioned earlier that the nuclear-armed countries chose to boycott the negotiations for this treaty. The U.S., under both Obama and Trump, has been aggressively hostile to the treaty. But that doesn’t mean we sit back and hope the next administration is more favorable. To build momentum, we've been working with cities and states across the nation to pass resolutions calling on our national government to embrace the treaty and make nuclear disarmament the centerpiece of national security policy.”

Talking about nuclear weapons always garners a reaction. So, too, for Wayman and many others, is the need for action.

— Talking points by Rick Wayman were arranged into this story by Ryan T. Blystone

Rick Wayman, deputy director of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, spoke in the KIPJ Theatre on March 20 on dangers and hopefulness surrounding the issue of nuclear weapons.Rick Wayman, deputy director of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, spoke in the KIPJ Theatre on March 20 on dangers and hopefulness surrounding the issue of nuclear weapons.

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