Call to a Fast for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

[Drafted and issued by Daniel Ellsberg, April, 1995]

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference taking place at the United Nations from April 17 to May 12 offers a unique and historic opportunity for global rededication to the goal – expressed in the Treaty – of a world free of nuclear weapons.

We are asking world political and religious leaders, outstanding figures in the arts and sciences, and concerned citizens in every country to participate, by fasting for one day, or more, wherever they are, in a worldwide Fast for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons during the period of the Conference.

We invite you to join us in this Fast to bring a sense of moral urgency to the decisions being made in our name at the Conference.  They will affect the future of humanity and the fate of the earth.

Nuclear danger has not – as many people mistakenly believe – gone away with the end of the Cold War.  It has shifted form, from a race to oblivion between the US and the former Soviet Union, to the possible spread of nuclear materials and weapons to an increased number of nations, and potentially to ethnic or criminal terrorist groups.

If we keep going in the direction we are headed – without a committed, global effort to delegitimize and to ban, under international inspection, the possession of nuclear weapons by anyone (as chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are now banned) – we are likely to experience within coming decades not only threats but actual explosions of Hiroshima-size bombs in regional wars or terrorist acts.

The more than 170 nations that have signed the Treaty since 1968 have all declared in its Preamble their desire to facilitate “the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.”  And in its Article VI they have accepted the legal obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith” toward total nuclear disarmament.

This is the first NPT Review Conference in which members will be reviewing the record of (non)compliance with this obligation in a post-Cold War context, and it is the only conference since the Treaty went into effect in 1970 at which members will then vote on the length of extension of the Treaty.  Facing that vote, for once the nuclear weapons states must take seriously the recurrent demands from non-nuclear weapons states for effective steps toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

There has never been – and may not be again – as good an occasion for citizens of every country in the world to demand recommitment by the Treaty members, particularly the nuclear weapon states, to the abolition of nuclear weapons and to concrete steps toward that goal. Those precise demands are sure to be echoed and reinforced by a great many of the states represented during the Conference.

For the 26 days of the Conference – April 17 to May 12 – there will be a presence at the UN of fasters supporting the abolition of nuclear weapons, in addition to others around the world fasting one day, or more, in support of this goal.  (Those planning to fast more than three days should have doctor’s advice.)  Some fasters in New York will meet with delegations to the Conference at the UN.  There will be vigils and presentations outside the UN.

The purpose of the presence at the UN, the Fast worldwide, and other activities in New York with which the Fast will be closely coordinated—including the International Citizens Assembly Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons, April 20-21—is to put the abolition of nuclear weapons squarely on the international agenda, to help launch a continuing international movement toward the goal of nuclear weapons abolition, and to demand that the nuclear weapons states:

  1. Reaffirm their goal of a world free of nuclear weapons;
  2. Schedule the onset of multilateral negotiations to this end, aimed at signing by the year 2000 a Global Convention on Comprehensive Nuclear Disarmament; and,
  3. Commit to take concrete steps in this direction, such as signing a (truly) Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, committing to no-first-use of nuclear weapons, banning the production of nuclear weapons, fissile materials and delivery vehicles, committing to progressive deep cuts toward zero nuclear weapons, and instituting strict and reciprocal international inspection of all nuclear facilities, stockpiles, and agreements.  (These have all been generally recognized since 1968 – by the US, among others – as essential measures toward implementing Article VI of the NPT.  Not one has yet been committed to, let alone carried out).

Article VI of the NPT needs at last to be fulfilled; it expresses a simple reality.  Nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament are inextricably linked.  It will soon be all or none.  Abolition or proliferation.  Either all nations forego the right to possess and threaten the use of nuclear weapons or every nation will claim that right, and many nations and groups will act on it.

Join us in this moral call to all nations to take the actions necessary to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

Abolition Fast Participants (selected list):

Michael Affleck, Robert Alpern, Richard Barnet, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Margaret Brenman-Gibson, Steven Brion-Meisels, Jerry Brown, Robert McAfee Brown, J. Daryl Byler, Helen Caldicott, RAdm. Eugene Carroll, Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Fr. John Dear, Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg, Joan (Mrs. Erik H.) Erikson, Richard Falk, Lachlan Forrow, Carol Garman, Joseph Gerson, Anthony Guarisco, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Howard Hallman, Edie Hartshorne, David Hartsough, Fr. Brian Hehir, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, Amy Isaacs, Michio Kaku, Randall Kehler, David and Carolee Krieger, Art Laffin, Joanne Landy, Frank Langella, Robert Lifton, Robert Livingston, Bernard Lown, Joanna and Fran Macy, Julianne Malveaux, Erik Markusen, Jim Matlack, Pamela Meidell, Rev. Robert Moore, Guruji Mutalik, Marcus Raskin, Joseph Rotblat, Jonathan and Elspeth Schell, Susan Shaer, Duane Shank, Stanley Sheinbaum, Michael Shuman, Victor Sidel, Alice Slater, Ted Taylor, Fr.Louis Vitale, Frank von Hippel, Jim Wallis, Alyn Ware, and Rev. G.W. Webber.

Daniel Ellsberg and Rev. William Sloane Coffin conducted a vigil and water fast at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the UN for the 26 days of the NPT Renewal Conference, April 17 to May 12, 1995.

The leaflet calling for the “Abolition Fast” also included the pledge and the selected quotes below.

Nuclear weapons threaten life, liberty and security of person.  A world free of nuclear weapons is a human right.

Nuclear weapons serve no justifiable military purpose, and pose a long-term threat to all forms of life.  Reliance by governments on these weapons, which threaten massive death and destruction, is immoral.  The responsibility for ending this reliance lies with all of us, and particularly the citizens of nuclear-weapons states.

Article VI of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signed by more than 160 states, calls for “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

I support the goal of nuclear disarmament.  I urge all governments, and specifically my own government, to immediately initiate negotiations for an International Treaty on Comprehensive Nuclear Disarmament.

I pledge to seek the abolition of all nuclear weapons in the world, and to take all actions within my capabilities toward realizing this goal.

Citizen’s Pledge Signatories (selected list; * = Nobel Laureates)

Christian B. Anfinsen*; Oscar Arias (Costa Rica)*; Kenneth J. Arrow*; David Baltimore*; David R. Brower; Elise Boulding; Rodrigo Carazo (Costa Rica); James W. Cronin*; His Holiness The Dalai Lama (Tibet)*; Gerard Debreu*; William A. Fowler*; Johan Galtung (Norway); Donald A. Glaser*; Mikhail Gorbachev (Russia)*; Herbert A. Hauptman*; Gerhard Herzberg (Canada)*; Father Theodore Hesburgh; Roald Hoffman*; David Lange (New Zealand); Sally Lilienthal; William N. Lipscomb*; Mairead Corrigan Maguire (N. Ireland)*; Elisabeth Mann Borgese (Canada); Alan McCoy; Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemala)*; Lord Yehudi Menuhin (UK); Dr. Leland Miles; Robert Muller (Costa Rica); Octavio Paz (Mexico)*; John C. Polanyi (Canada)*; Frederick Sanger*; Arthur L. Schawlow*; George D. Snell*; Jack Steinberger (Switzerland)*; Ernest J. Sternglass; Maj-Britt Theorin (Sweden); Studs Terkel; R.E. (Ted) Turner; Archbishop Desmond Tutu (South Africa)*; Tadashi Ueno (Japan); John Vasconcellos; Alla A. Yarosminskaya (Russia).

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