The Nuclear Ban Treaty campaign’s secret weapon
The UN Nuclear Ban Treaty is the first major nuclear disarmament treaty in many, many years. It’s an incredible achievement – especially considering the fact that the entire weight of the United States and NATO was pressed against allied countries to not sign the treaty (Canada continues to refuse to sign).
Still, on January 22, 2021 the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) became international law. Hailed by UN Secretary General António Guterres as “a major step toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” it was a moment decades in the making, marked with joy and pride around the world.
This month, PeaceQuest Cape Breton’s Sean Howard interviewed Rebecca Johnson, one of the key strategists behind the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) which has been the lead campaign group for the Nuclear Ban Treaty.
Sean asked Rebecca how ICAN was able to achieve the historic breakthrough.
Sean Howard: You are a prominent campaigner for both nuclear disarmament and climate justice, but while the profound links between these two existential dangers are clear to some, they are often neglected or overlooked. Do you believe the legal ‘birth of the Ban’ has the potential to raise awareness, particularly among young activists, of the monstrous threat to the climate and environment posed by nuclear weapons?
Rebecca Johnson: I love the passion, energy, and nonviolent activism of the young climate justice advocates, who remind me very much of young Greenham Common activists in the 1980s. Nuclear weapons and climate destruction are both existential threats to our planet. One doesn’t cancel the other out, and although I’ve sometimes been asked if nuclear winter would counteract global heating, the answer is No! They both result in billions dying from starvation because each in different ways will cause extreme shifts in our climate and weather systems. So we have to prevent both these extinction threats – and of course recover in green ways from the pandemic – as matters of utmost urgency. It’s not either/or but all. And from my experience campaigning in Extinction Rebellion (XR) locally and participating in the big rebellions of 2019, young activists really get the connections.
As we built ICAN we made deliberate decisions to bring in younger leaders and a lot more women than were previously seen in post-2000 anti-nuclear campaigns. These younger campaigners added enormously to ICAN’s effectiveness, enabling their different ways of campaigning, ideas, outreach, and social media savvy to bring new dimensions to the expertise and experience of older health professionals, disarmament specialists, hibakusha and veteran peace activists. It was this combination that took the Ban over the line in 2017.
Many ICAN campaigners are part of climate justice movements in their own countries, just as I became involved in XR (and we’ve now formed XR Peace). In February 2020, ICAN organized a weekend forum in Paris that brought young activists from across Europe (mostly by train!). From school strikers, XR and climate justice campaigners, to racial justice advocates, it was incredibly inspiring to share ideas for the future and contribute our humanitarian disarmament campaign experiences as we listened to and learned from each other.
Your can read the interview in its entirety where Sean Howard asks Rebecca Johnson about other effective strategies used by ICAN during the campaign. It was published on February 3 in the Cape Breton Spectator.
Read “After the Ban: 6 Questions for ICAN’s Rebecca Johnson” by Sean Howard in the Cape Breton Spectator