January is a time for taking stock: How far have we come and what shall we do next? This time the answer is mixed. There are new and scarier dangers, but also remarkable new grounds for hope. And most of the highs and lows are about nuclear weapons. That’s the chief theme of this issue.
The uppermost fear on everyone’s mind is about the tensions between North Korea and the US over Kim Jong Un’s remarkably fast-developing nuclear weapons and missiles, to which there are no good answers. Rex Tillerson calls for talks, but his boss in the White House demurs. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile all nuclear states are forging ahead, spending trillions to modernize their nuclear arsenals, converting them from analog to digital—with new potentials for mistakes.
We might despair, were it not for the brilliant young ICAN activists who somehow, against the demands of all nuclear weapons states, managed to get a nuclear ban treaty approved by 122 nations. The mainstream media in the nuclear states ignored it as long as possible. But when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to ICAN, and the pope called a conference in the Vatican to prohibit the possession of nuclear weapons with the sanctions at his disposal, even the regular press paid attention. In December, ICAN received the prize, which was accepted in a two-part speech by Sweden’s director of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, and Toronto’s beloved hibakusha activist, Setsuko Thurlow.
Moreover, we received news of another breakthrough just before going to press. It will strengthen the rule of law against, not only nuclear, but also all other kinds of warfare by making aggression a crime for which individual leaders of nations can be prosecuted.
From its beginning in 1998, the Rome Statute listed aggression as one of its four war crimes. However, the definition and provisions for jurisdiction were not determined until its first review conference in 2010. The act of aggression is “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.” Now, in December, the Assembly of States Party to the Rome Statute has decided to activate the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over that crime. The ICC can soon hold leaders individually responsible.
This is a moment for jubilation, so let’s celebrate!