by Alyn Ware

“Tree let your arms fall

Raise them not in supplication

To the bright enhaloed cloud

Let your arms lack toughness and resilience

For this is no mere axe to blunt

Nor fire to smother

For this is no ordinary sun”

No ordinary sun by Hone Tuwhare

Witnessing the destruction of  Hiroshima in 1945 let the Aotearoa-New Zealand serviceman Hone Tuwhare to write the classic anti-nuclear poem “No Ordinary Sun”, lamenting the powerless of life in the face of nuclear weapons.  As the new millennium dawns, 30,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world’s arsenal many poised for immediate use, and the nuclear weapon states show no signs of giving them up. Are we as powerless in opposing the bomb as Tuwhare’s tree ?

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  My experience over the past seven years lobbying for nuclear disarmament at the United Nations (UN) and in the capitals of key countries around the world reinforces these words. A relatively small number of activists, backed by numerous supporters, are now using international for a usually restricted to governments, such as the International court of Justice, United Nations General Assembly, Conference on Disarmament and the Nuclear No0n-Proliferation Treaty Review Conferences, to challenge the dogma of nuclear deterrence. These, in conjunction with grassroots anti-nuclear efforts, could indeed lead to complete nuclear disarmament sooner than we may currently imagine.

In 1996 the International Court of Justice , also known as the World Court, concluded that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is generally illegal and that there is an obligation to negotiate for their complete elimination. The implications of this decision are enormous. No longer can the nuclear weapon states assume that their nuclear policies or practices are legal unless proven otherwise. Now the reverse is true. The case was pioneered by a small group of citizens and picked up by anti-nuclear governments through personal contacts with key government officials. A citizen’s campaign, the World Court Project , was established to help governments understand the inevitable pressure from nuclear-weapon states to block the initiative, and to provide assistance to strengthen the case .

In New York, the Lawyers committee n Nuclear Policy acted as the center of the campaign , co coordinating the lobbying for the United Nations  Resolution which was required to get the case to the Court, and reporting to supporters around the world on how their governments were acting at the UN

On the long hard road to the Court there were many small actions by ordinary citizens that impacted significantly on the result. I will relate a couple of these:

In 1993 when the movement of non-aligned nations (NAM) discussed introducing the resolution, Malaysia, a key member of the movement, questioned the wisdom of the initiative at a NAM meeting in New York. As NAM requires decisions to be made by consensus, Malaysia’s hesitancy threatened the proposal. Dr Ron McCoy, head of the Malaysian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Made a special appeal to the Malaysian UN Ambassador, some of whose children he had delivered, responding to the specific concerns Malaysia had expressed. This helped move Malaysia not only to support but take a leading role in the case and its implementation. They appointed LCNP President Peter Weiss as a legal consul in order to present a particularly strong  submission in the Court’s hearings in 1995 and then followed up on the court’s decision in 1996 by introducing a strong implementing resolution in the United Nations General Assembly.

On the eve of the vote in the UN General Assembly, in 1994 on whether or not the case would be taken to the Court, one diplomat told me that he had not received instructions from his government and therefore would have to abstain on the vote, To his surprise, I was able to hand him a letter to one of our supporters from his Prime ministers in which he endorsed the imitative, As a result the diplomat not only voted in favor, he also strongly encouraged other countries to support. The General Assembly adopted the resolution and the case went ahead.

Japan did not support the case going to the Court in 1994 and looked unlikely to make an oral presentations during the hearings in 1995, This would have been most unfortunate as Japan is the only country which has been attacked with nuclear weapons during war time and thus had specific experience to offer in the case. However, LCNP member Jerome Elkind , who had been appointed consul for the Pacific island state of Nauru, announced that they were not invited by Japan, Nauru, would invite the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be witness on their behalf, a situation  which would be somewhat embarrassing for Japan. On a trip to Japan, U made this invitation public through one of the major Japanese newspapers. The Japanese government subsequently agreed to participate in the hearings and invite the Mayors to be witnesses, their testimony proved vital in persuading judges of the inhumanity and indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons.

Another great worry arose two weeks later before the start of the Court’s oral hearings at the Hague,. The list of speakers released by the Court revealed that due to the alphabetical order, the UK and the US would speak last, and that there would be no right for other states to reply afterwards. How to avoid that  these two states should conclude the hearings, thus giving the pronuclear side a strong advantage ? A couple of  World Court Project supporters managed to solve that problem a week later. At a meeting of the NAM Heads of States meetings in Colombia they used the opportunity to approach the leader of Zimbabwe and persuade him to apply to the Court for Zimbabwe to join the proceedings. Speaking last, on the last day, Zimbabwe concluded the hearings with a stunning rebuttal of the arguments made by the UK and US.

The World Court Project is but one example that cooperative efforts between citizens groups and governments re now achieving greater success than earlier efforts by each alone. Abolition 2000 formed in 1995 is a network of 1300 citizen’s organizations campaigning for nuclear abolition through a binding international convention (treaty) The network members have succeeded in promoting the idea of a nuclear weapons convention to such an extent that public opinion polls indicate over 80% support in nearly every country polled including the UK and US, both nuclear weapon states. The feasibility of eliminating nuclear weapons has been demonstrated in a model nuclear weapons convention., which was drafted by a group of citizen experts and has been circulated by the United Nations to member states. The cooperation again was successful in 1998, When the foreign ministers of eight influential countries- Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Aoteroa-New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden- joined in a call for nuclear  disarmament, These eight, the “New Agenda Coalition (NAC) , sought a vote of support at the UN, but the US, UK and France cracked down on the initiative , using all their lobbying might to persuade western countries and the NATO alliance to stay firm and oppose it. The citizen’s networks jumped to their aid. Using their contacts with media, parliaments and governments, the citizen’s groups helped to gain not only a solid majority vote but also to break the massive nuclear discipline in NATO, only Turkey voted with the US, UK and France, while the rest of the NATO countries abstained. This subsequently led to the German and Canadian governments, both members of NATO challenging the current policies of first use and keeping nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert. . As A Result there is now a very real possibility of a change in NATO nuclear policy, the first real move away from deterrence by a nuclear alliance.

This strategy of citizens working with international bodies such as the United Nations and with sympathetic governments is becoming a powerful tool, which has the potential to break the nuclear weapons state’s hold on nuclear weapons. It is a strategy of persuasion, and cooperation with governments, not merely one of protest. As such it is generating a new form of barefoot diplomat, citizens able to converse equally with government officials with other citizens and media. The “barefoot diplomat “ now thinks global and acts global, linking with other citizens and governments around the world in the development of a new global order  in which human concerns come first not and nuclear weapons have no place. This is the vision and the emerging reality of the new millennium.