Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Anti-Nuke Day Approaches in Cold War Atmosphere 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, August 26 / 13

Zack Gross

With the United Nations-sponsored “International Day against Nuclear Tests” coming up on August 29th, there is a cold war chill blowing through East-West relations.  A growing list of disagreements has US and Russian Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin scowling and growling at one another. 

It seemed that the sun had set on Russia’s superpower status back in 1990 when the Berlin Wall had come down and the USSR broke up into its former separate states, many of them wanting to join the European Economic Community rather than remain behind the Iron Curtain.  And more recently, financial and employment issues in the US, along with China’s emergence as an economic superpower, seemed to be bringing America’s top-dog status to an end as well.

One wonders if this is the candles of US and Russian super-status flickering brightly before going out, or if it is the two countries wanting to grab the limelight after being trashed as has-beens by so many global observers.  Russia was recently called “the Nigeria of the North,” referring to the West African state known for its resource wealth, but massive violence and corruption.

(By the way, the award-winning Canadian book, 419, recently out in paperback, is an excellent page-turner about present-day Nigeria.)

The United States and Russia have worked relatively well together to curb nuclear development in North Korea and Iran.  The North Koreans have on-again and off-again threatened to develop nuclear weapons and then relented when bribed with international aid to alleviate their poverty situation.  Iran seems to be prepared to “come to the table” on its nuclear program after a recent election changed the leadership in that country.  At the same time, a report from Jane’s Intelligence Review maintains that Iran is developing sites capable of launching missiles.

However, Edward Snowden’s “defection” to Russia after leaking US state security secrets has caused grief for President Obama, especially after he had been criticized by Republicans for being too soft in East-West relations.  Coupled with that is the US-Russian “difference of opinion” on Syria, with the US backing rebel forces and Russia sticking with President Bashar al-Assad. 

This situation reminds us of the Cold War dynamic of “proxy wars,” with each superpower supporting opposite sides in civil and regional conflicts.  While the wars don’t actually happen on their soil, wealthy states always seem to have a hand in stirring the pot and taking sides in poorer countries to their own geopolitical and economic advantage.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, concerned not to let the past generation’s fear of nuclear war be forgotten, and realizing that bad relations can escalate into nuclear tensions, continues to urge recalcitrant nations to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

The first nuclear test took place back on July 16, 1945, leading to attacks on Japan at the end of World War II.  Since then, 2000 more tests have happened.  “Nuclear tests remain a threat to human health and global stability…,” said the Secretary-General at the 2012 event marking the day, “A world free of nuclear weapons would be a global public good of the highest order.”

In the 1950s, many physicians and women’s groups raised awareness and concern about the effects of nuclear weapons and testing, leading to a partial ban – on underwater and outer space tests, but not underground.  By the mid-80s, underground and French atoll tests in the South Pacific were included in a more comprehensive ban. 

By the 90s, the movement to limit tests was extended and by the 2000s a strong campaign arose to greatly reduce and then ban nuclear weapons altogether.  In 2010, the first International Day against Nuclear Tests was marked on August 29th.

Of course, the United Nations is often limited, in dealing with global issues, to issuing press releases, holding conferences and tabling resolutions, many of which generate heat but not light.  Some will tell us that conflict is “natural to the human condition” and, while that may or may not be true, certainly no species wants to put its ecosystem and its very existence in jeopardy.

The 21st Century has been a time of change in some ways, but also a time of same-old, same-old – exploitation of resources, austerity programs, regime change – often to the benefit of only a few. 

One hopes that in this time of tension and violence, we will again step back from the brink.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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