by Sean Wild
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced H. Res. 77 into the House of Representatives on January 31st, 2023. The full title of this resolution is “Embracing the goals and provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,” and, as the name suggests, is an effort to adopt a policy to curb the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.
The aim of this resolution is for the United States to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The TPNW is a United Nations-negotiated agreement with the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons across the globe. The Treaty has 68 parties, with 65 states having ratified it as of September 2022. However, none of the nine countries in possession of nuclear arms — including the United States and Russia, who together control 95 percent of these weapons — are currently party to the TPNW.
In addition to making the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons the centerpiece of the United States’ national security policy, the main goals of H. Res. 77, as stated at the end of the resolution, are as follows:
actively pursuing and concluding negotiations on a new, bilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament framework agreement with the Russian Federation before 2026 and pursuing negotiations with China and other nuclear-armed states on an agreement or agreements for the verifiable, enforceable, and timebound elimination of global nuclear arsenals;
renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first;
ending the President’s sole authority to launch a nuclear attack;
taking the nuclear weapons of the United States off hair-trigger alert; and
canceling the plan to replace the nuclear arsenal of the United States with modernized, enhanced weapons.
The resolution comes partially in response to the recent update of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists”Doomsday Clock to “90 seconds before midnight.” The Doomsday Clock was first created in 1947 with the first magazine issue of the Bulletin, and serves as “a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.” Due to a number of current factors, especially the war between Russia and Ukraine, the Clock has been moved to the closest to midnight (the time at which the likelihood of a worldwide catastrophe seems to be approaching) as it has ever been.
The world saw the terrible and catastrophic damage the use of nuclear weapons could do at the end of World War II, when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Estimations of the total casualties of these bombings vary widely, but over 100,000 people may have been killed. These figures can often be difficult to evaluate due to the many factors such as the blast itself, heat, radiation exposure, debris from the blast, and a number of potential post-radiation exposure consequences such as leukemia, cancer, and possible birth defects.
Worldwide nuclear tensions increased throughout the years following World War II as the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union coalesced into what became known as the Cold War. In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a big step in diplomatic relations to end the Cold War. The INF Treaty required both countries to “eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers” However, since 2019, both the United States and Russia have withdrawn from this deal.
The grassroots coalition Back from the Brink has composed a letter urging others in the House of Representatives to sign on to H. Res. 77 and to take seriously the goals of nuclear disarmament and the prevention of potential nuclear arms use. A variety of organizations have co-signed this Back from the Brink letter, including Rehumanize International.
You can read the full letter by Back from the Brink here.
The entirety of H. Res. 77 can be found here.