U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres mounted a thinly veiled attack on the Trump administration during his Aug. 9 peace ceremony address here to mark the 73rd anniversary of this city’s atomic bombing.
Guterres, the first U.N. chief to attend the annual ceremony in Nagasaki, deftly sidestepped naming the United States, but there was no disguising that his speech was a scathing indictment of the Trump administration’s position on nuclear arms.
“States in possession of nuclear weapons are spending vast sums to modernize their arsenals,” he said. “More than $1.7 trillion was spent in 2017 on arms and armies, the highest level since the end of the Cold War.”
Guterres noted “that is around 80 times the amount needed for global humanitarian aid.”
He stated that nuclear weapons states “have a special responsibility to lead” efforts toward nuclear disarmament.
The speech reflected his chagrin with the Trump administration over its refusal to be a party to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and its pursuit of low-yield, more “usable” nuclear weapons.
Guterres’ decision to speak to a global audience from Nagasaki allowed him the freedom to voice concerns away from the confines of the U.N. headquarters in New York, and the ever-present threat of meddling from Washington.
Guterres also cited the “frustration” felt by many countries over the slow pace of disarmament. This was clearly a dig at the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and Russia, and the inability of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to move the issue forward.
“Disarmament processes have slowed and even come to a halt,” he said.
It clearly took courage to refer to the treaty banning nuclear weapons during his speech.
The nuclear prohibition treaty was adopted in July last year with 122 countries in favor, or more than 60 percent of the 193 U.N. member nations.
The treaty’s preamble touches upon hibakusha. It says states that are parties to this treaty are “Mindful of the unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (hibakusha), as well as of those affected by the testing of nuclear weapons.”
When the signing ceremony was held at U.N. headquarters last Sept. 20, Guterres said: “Civil society played a vital role in bringing the treaty to fruition. The heroic survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki–the hibakusha–continue to remind us of the devastating humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.”
By the end of that day, 50 countries had signed the treaty.
But only 10 more countries have signed it since then. So far, 14 countries have ratified the pact, far below the 50 required for it to enter into legal force.
Resistance to the treaty by the nuclear powers is the key reason for this. A stark example of how this plays out was evident at the ceremony last December in Oslo to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists.
Ambassadors to Norway from the United States, Britain and France boycotted the ceremony, an unprecedented slight.
Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, attended the gathering to give a speech on behalf of the ICAN.
She said nuclear weapons are “not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil.”
Thurlow also denounced the U.S. use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “war crimes.”
But her speech got little coverage in the U.S. media.
U.S. “pressure” was felt in other ways. For example, the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT held this spring at the U.N. office in Geneva made no mention of the nuclear weapon ban treaty.
Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said, “The ban treaty doesn’t belong in the NPT.”
Relations between the United Nations and the United States have increasingly soured, like the return to the Cold War that emerged when George W. Bush was the U.S. president.
In 2000, at the end of the Clinton administration, the United States and the other NPT members agreed to a final document at the NPT review conference that called for an “unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals,” among other steps.
But the incoming Bush administration switched to unilateralism in the face of the 9/11 terror attacks, dashing any hopes of an “unequivocal undertaking.”
The Bush administration sought to go its own way and ignore multilateralism.
The result was the quagmire of the Iraq War waged by a “coalition of the willing” led by the United States and waged without a U.N. resolution.
Fast-forward to the Trump administration, which champions “America First.”
President Donald Trump has made a mockery of a “world without nuclear weapons” that was touted by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
In a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) released in February, the United States called for the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.
Washington also withdrew from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was pushed by the Obama administration, intensifying tensions in a region already beset by conflict.
The United Nations also faces a financial crisis as the United States, the largest contributor to the global body’s regular budget, at 22 percent, has failed to pay its dues, along with 80 other member nations.
Asked about the NPR and U.S. refusal to pay its U.N. dues, Guterres adroitly avoided any direct criticism of the United States, telling reporters in Nagasaki that it was a U.S. decision. He added that the United Nations is still deciding what to do.
In his address at the Nagasaki ceremony, Guterres also touched on his agenda for comprehensive disarmament, which he initially announced in May.
“My agenda for disarmament is based on concrete measures that will lower the risk of nuclear annihilation, prevent conflict of all kinds, and reduce the suffering that the proliferation and use of arms causes to civilians,” he said. “The total elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.”
Guterres is a humanitarian at heart. As Portugal’s prime minister, he led efforts to resolve the conflict in East Timor. As U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres pushed programs to help refugees based on humanitarianism.
In Nagasaki, the U.N. chief held the hands of hibakusha he met there, praising them as true heroes.
“Let us all commit to making Nagasaki the last place on Earth to suffer nuclear devastation,” he said, concluding his speech.