U.S. Increases Nuclear Energy Spending as It Fights Global Weapons Ban
David Swanson of World Beyond War says the Trump administration is increasing nuclear energy spending while seeking to thwart a landmark global campaign for a UN treaty banning the possession and use of nuclear weapons
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. President Trump’s new budget targets science programs across the board. Areas like environmental protection and public health are seeing major cuts, but one field actually gets an increase, the nuclear program. Trump’s budget would boost the National Nuclear Security Administration by 11.4%. The NNSA maintains the US nuclear stockpile. Trump also wants it to revive the long delayed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Facility in Nevada. All this comes as the UN prepares to consider a landmark treaty that would ban the possession and use of all nuclear weapons. The treaty is being pushed by more than 100 countries, but the US is leading the opposition.
Joining me is David Swanson, author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org. David, welcome.
DAVID SWANSON: Hello, Aaron.
AARON MATE: Hi, David, welcome. Let’s start with this UN treaty. This is the result of a major effort by more than 100 countries over several years now wanting to ban the use and possession of nuclear weapons, and now the draft text of it has just been released. Can you talk about what is going on here?
DAVID SWANSON: Yeah. As you know, it has long been in place, the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty, under which the nonnuclear nations are permitted to get nuclear energy, but not nuclear weapons, and the nuclear weapons nations are supposed to work on getting rid of their nuclear weapons, and they haven’t been doing so, so it’s out of frustration with that failure that there’s this new initiative to ban nuclear weapons entirely and immediately that has the support of most of the nonnuclear nations on Earth. When the negotiations were begun at the United Nations, one nuclear state, North Korea, voted for them to be undertaken, and a few, China, India, Pakistan abstained while the other nuclear armed nations were opposed to even considering the idea and have been opposing it ever since, but it’s been gaining support.
There have been big discussions, meetings held around the world, in Austria and Norway and Mexico, and this past spring, in New York City, negotiations began, and we now have the text of this treaty that is very thorough, very comprehensive, bans any possession, creation, sharing, use, testing of nuclear weapons whatsoever. Does not touch nuclear energy, which is a big weakness because, as you know, when a nation like Saudi Arabia, at the moment, acquires nuclear energy for the clear purpose of being close to having nuclear weapons, that’s a danger, but it still is an incredible step forward, and there’s an international campaign advancing it, the ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and there are big marches planned because the final negotiations for the treaty will happen starting June 15th in New York City, and there will be a big march, the Women’s March to Ban the Bomb, but you don’t have to be a woman, June 17th in New York City and solidarity marches all over the world, and you can start up your own on the website for the marches.
AARON MATE: David, your mention of North Korea’s engagement with this process is interesting because when the US has pushed back against this treaty, they’ve sighted the nuclear threat from North Korea as a reason why a categorical ban would be unacceptable and why they say they want to just strengthen the existing NPT. What’s your response to that?
DAVID SWANSON: Remember, that when Clinton was President, Bill Clinton, and did just about everything wrong, one of the things he did right was begin a peace process between the two Koreas, and North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program and complied with everything it said it would comply with right up until George W. Bush labeled it part of an axis of evil and began threatening it and destroying another member of that axis in Iraq. North Korea has repeatedly, up to the current moment, said, “If you will negotiate with us, if you will stop running test flights to nuke and bomb our country, uh, we will be willing to consider halting our nuclear weapons program.”
Again, North Korea, at the time, President Obama was President of the United States, but North Korea was the sole nuclear power to vote in favor of this treaty, so there’s every indication from North Korea that they’re open to talking, they’re open to negotiating. Never mind that they don’t actually have any missiles that can hit the United States. The United States is the aggressor here, is the powerful military on North Korea’s border, flying, threatening flights and putting drones and so-called missile defense systems that are seen as missile attack systems by North Korea and China into South Korea.
North Korea is an excuse for the United States, which is leading the way, who’s the ambassador to the United Nations, staged a press conference denouncing this treaty outside the doors of the room where it was being negotiated.
AARON MATE: What about the countries that are trying to stake out what they call a middle ground approach, like Australia? Australia is campaigning against this UN treaty by arguing that we need a building block approach, not a total ban, but just a treaty that would reduce the stockpile. What’s your take on that?
DAVID SWANSON: We’ve had successful treaties that have reduced the stockpile, but we all still have a stockpile that can destroy this planet and many other planets many times over. There’s limited advantage in reducing that stockpile. We have treaties in place, adhered to, and ratified by most nations on Earth that ban numerous lesser weapons, that don’t do remotely the damage that nuclear weapons do. They’ve got 15,000 of these things, and maybe 4,000 of them on hair trigger alert, ready to go, and we’ve had numerous incidents and accidents that have nearly destroyed the Earth unintentionally with hostility being built up now between the two big nuclear powers in the United States and Russia that have most of them.
The idea that you shouldn’t ban them is ridiculous, and once the majority of nations on Earth have agreed to a treaty that bans them and they are understood to be illegal, it will be possible to put pressure on banks and investors to get the money out of them and on these middle ground nations to join the ban, these so-called umbrella states and these nations in Europe that allow the US to keep nuclear weapons there and nations like Poland that are asking to join that list. This will be a step in the right direction, and I think a smaller step would be fairly pointless.
AARON MATE: You mentioned a lack of oversight of nuclear energy to be a big weakness. Let’s apply that to this top story that I mentioned at the beginning of this segment, which is the new US budget, which includes an increase to the nuclear safety program while cutting billions of dollars to various other programs like the EPA and Health and Human Services. Could one perhaps see the increase to the nuclear budget as a positive because that might lead to greater oversight of the program?
DAVID SWANSON: Certainly, that could be a silver lining in a massive storm cloud that this budget is, that takes money out of just about everything else and puts 54 billion dollars of it into the military and disproportionately into new nuclear weapons, which has already resulted in other nuclear nations around the world investing in new nuclear weapons that they say they can’t afford to invest in, that they say they don’t want to invest in, but they’re trying to keep up, so you’re creating an arms race. You’re not making the world more safe. Yes, greater attention to the existing nuclear weapons and oversight of maintenance of the nuclear weapons and figuring out a solution for the waste that’s been produced, those are all very, very good things that should be pursued and should be funded more heavily, but it’s a silver lining in a disastrous budget that advances militarism while slashing diplomacy, slashing aid, slashing any efforts that could result in serious global disarmament.
AARON MATE: Finally, in terms of the nuclear energy infrastructure here in the US, you mentioned nuclear weapons having almost brought us to disaster several times before. What about cases of lack of oversight of nuclear energy here in the US and the dangers that that poses? What are the key areas that you’re concerned about on that front?
DAVID SWANSON: It poses incredible dangers as we saw at Three Mile Island, as we’ve seen at Chernobyl, as we’ve seen at Fukushima. It’s absolutely untenable that insurance companies won’t insure it. The US public has to be on the hook for it. It’s not market-based. It’s not an energy solution. It’s not green. It’s not clean. It’s not peaceful. It is described as a peaceful use of nuclear energy. The countries that are acquiring nuclear energy are acquiring it in order to be closer to having nuclear weaponry. As long as we have this divide between the two and treat one as safe and the other as unacceptable, we’re going to continue to have both.
I see this treaty banning nuclear weapons as a major step in the right direction, but we’re going to have to ban nuclear energy and we’re going to have to do it for safety reasons, for financial reasons, and for environmental reasons all at once.
AARON MATE: David Swanson, author, activist, journalist, and radio host, Director of WorldBeyondWar.org. David, thank you.
DAVID SWANSON: Thank you.
AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.