Citizens Response to President Trump and North Korea

Concerned Citizens Gathered for Talks, In Response to North Korea’s Nuclear Armaments and President Trump’s Belligerent Threats

On August 9th, 2017, concerned citizens gathered at the First Church of Boston in response to North Korea’s achievements in potentially adding miniaturized nuclear weapons to its missiles and President Trump’s belligerent threats. During the forum, citizens expressed their concerns regarding North Korea’s actions and their disappointment toward the failures of powerful states to fully honor their commitments to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ratified in 1970. The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and further the goal of achieving disarmament, but unfortunately, four additional states have acquired nuclear weapons since the treaty’s ratification.

During the event, guest speakers elaborated on the ways in which the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced the adoption of the NPT as well as the activism that followed. Other speakers spoke of the negotiations that should occur between the Korean peninsula, the U.S, and the UN newly adopted treaty, resolution 71/258, which called for the prohibition of  nuclear weapons. The forum revealed that the fight for denuclearization is far from over and it is crucial, now more than ever, to adopt effective solutions as states continue to acquire nuclear weapons.

The ratification of the NPT in 1970 had encouraged a number of states to take steps towards nuclear disarmament, but events preceding the treaty transformed the discussion towards denuclearization. During the forum, guest speaker John Loretz, discussed the involvement of the Hibakusha, who the surviving victims of the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States in 1945. Their stories of radiation poisoning had spread throughout the world, and their activism played a tremendous role into shifting the disarmament discussion on a more humanitarian level. The stories of the Hibakusha influenced the formation of many disarmament activism worldwide and influenced the ratification of the NPT. Although activism towards denuclearization persisted following the treaty’s ratification, the biggest challenge that remained was encouraging nuclear-armed states to take more serious actions and truly honor their commitment to the NPT.

Among the speakers at the forum was UMass Lowell’s very own Ashley Squires, a Masters student in Peace and Conflict studies and intern at Massachusetts Peace Action. While sharing her experience at the UN conference to prohibit nuclear weapons, in July 2017, she noted that various non-nuclear states had signed the UN Resolution 71/258, but powerful countries such as the Netherlands, deliberately abstained from signing. Like many other activists, Squires believes that all states have a responsibility to pursue global nuclear disarmament. She also shared her thoughts on improving the US/Russia relations and highlighted the ways in which US foreign policy have pushed Washington to confrontation with Russia. The path towards disarmament is a very long road and encouraging nuclear-armed states to partake in these efforts is becoming more difficult as powerful states abstain from peaceful treaties.

Another speaker at the event was Angela Kim, a senior at Wellesley College and a Mass Peace Action intern. She spoke on the North Korean nuclear issue and on the impact of the 1945 nuclear bombings on Korean conscripted laborers who were working in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time. Many Koreans died during the bombings, and like the Hibakusha, the survivors suffered from radiation poisoning among other health effects. Koreans were forced to live in the radiation affected areas and most lived in extreme poverty. Following the end of Japan’s occupation, Koreans had sought compensation from Japan, but their cries had fallen on deaf ears like many other WWII victims. Like many activists, Kim believes that discussions between the U.S, South Korea and North Korea are necessary in order to clarify each party’s intentions and proceed to peaceful compromise. President Trump’s belligerent threats and the strict new sanctions of UN Resolution 2270 imposed on Pyongyang by the security council, is pushing North Korea further away from peaceful discussions. It is pertinent to encourage all states, especially nuclear-armed ones like North Korea, to partake in the fight for denuclearization through negotiations and peaceful talks.

Following the speakers’ remarks, President Trump’s threats toward North Korea’s actions were discussed. Various news sources, including the Washington Post and NBC News, reported that North Korea successfully created miniaturized nuclear weapons that can fit in its missiles. Rather than extending an invitation towards peaceful negotiations, President Trump warned North Korea to refrain from making “any more threats to the United States,” and that “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In light of these threats, some of the strategies discussed at the forum included lobbying in Washington and encouraging Members of Congress to co-sponsor Senator Ed Markey and Representative Ted Lieu’s bill. This particular bill would prohibit the President from launching nuclear weapons without a Congressional declaration of war or in response to a nuclear attack.  Other suggestions by audience members included petitions to cease military exercise in the Korean peninsula.

The forum, which took place on the 72nd anniversary of the bombings in Nagasaki, was certainly educational to many and fueled citizens’ passions for nuclear disarmament. The event also reinforced the idea that nuclear-armed states are one of the key actors who could advance disarmament efforts. Although the adoption of the UN resolution 71/258 and the efforts of activists worldwide towards nuclear disarmament has produced a glimmer of hope, one thing is certain: the fight for denuclearization and the battle for a more peaceful world is far from over.