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TPNW, Equality and Transformation of the Nuclear Community: Nuclear Science Specialist Dr. Interview with Aditi Verma

On Friday, in anticipation of the landmark Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW) coming into force, I was honored to correspond with Dr. Aditi Verma, Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Researcher on the Harvard University Belfer Center’s Management Project. Atom and International Security Program. He holds bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from MIT in Nuclear Sciences and Engineering. Verma is largely concerned with how traditionally excluded perspectives of nuclear technologies can be designed in collaboration with the public so that they can be brought into these design processes. He is one of the five authors of the article titled “Call for anti-racist action and accountability in the US nuclear community”.

(And if you haven’t had the chance to read our colleague Miyako Kurosaki’s thoughtful post that puts the TPNW in the context of the hibakusha community’s decades-long struggle, “To ensure that no one else suffers, except that we suffer,” please do.)

LG: The nuclear ban treaty comes into effect this week as an instrument of international law. This is not surprising: 122 states voted to accept the treaty text, 50 states signed the treaty on the first day they opened for signature, and since then there has been a steady stream of state signatures and ratifications. Yet the US-based nuclear policy community has consistently underestimated the nuclear ban treaty movement; At the 2019 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, an expert panelist, and over a third of the audience surveyed, the ban ten percent or less chance To take effect in March 2021. How do so many people in our policy community can’t guess a huge improvement within the area? Is this a consistent weakness and if so what are the consequences?

Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University Belfer Center’s Manage the Atom Project and International Security Program. Don’t Admit

AV: Most of the surprises regarding the success of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty (TPNW) come from the deep-seated wisdom surrounding the non-proliferation regime as we have known it until recently. I am referring specifically to two things: first, a persistent belief that only nuclear weapons owners should decide what constitutes nuclear security and non-proliferation; second, excessive adherence to deterrence as a way of ensuring security. We must admit that ‘deterrence’ is itself a structure and was created after the truth to justify the existence of nuclear weapons and their possession by a handful of countries. The belief in deterrence is so widespread that policymakers in the US and other armed states cannot imagine a different set of institutions and norms to control nuclear proliferation, let alone distribution. What is so groundbreaking about the TPNW is that it reverses the existing logic of normative deterrence that defines security as a deterrent to weapons accumulation and the threat of force, and instead calls for a ban on nuclear weapons for humanitarian reasons. because the existence of nuclear weapons is a threat to human security rather than a security guarantee.

The treaty is also noteworthy because, perhaps for the first time, it represents a nuclear security and governance instrument that is democratic and represents the views of people and communities of color from around the world, especially from the Global South. The Treaty fully complies with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for “general and complete disintegration” in Article VI. Still, opponents of the TPNW sought to legitimize it, claiming that it undermined the existing non-proliferation regime. In fact, it is truly in line with it and advances it by reframing the normative logic that should form the basis of disarmament and non-proliferation. We must strive to gradually redesign and rebuild our global governance institutions in more democratic and humane ways, as TPNW has done by promoting justice and equality. In other words, while TPNW is certainly a landmark achievement, we should also consider it as a starting point for significant institutional restructuring on a global scale.

LG: Nuclear weapons are sometimes called indiscriminate weapons, but you and your co-authors describe that the costs of developing, testing, and using nuclear nuclear are disproportionately borne by indigenous communities and people of color. What is the responsibility of the nuclear policy community to nuclear weapons victims?

AV: I think ‘victims’ is an interesting word to use here. Of course, we are referring here to those who were killed and suffered unimaginable losses as a result of the United States’ use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are also referring to the huge losses that could result from the future of nuclear weapons. But we also It refers to numerous communities around the world that are affected by the design, development and testing of nuclear weapons, as well as the extraction processes used to provide the materials needed to make them.

It is the responsibility of the nuclear community to quickly but diligently repair the damage done to these communities around the world – which, perhaps not surprisingly, is largely colorful communities. Consider the Native Americans whose lands were seized for weapons development facilities as part of the Manhattan Project, and the Native American communities whose people were poisoned by uranium mines that had not yet been treated. Consider the indigenous and Pacific Islander communities considered “distant” by policy makers and weapons developers of the time and therefore displaced as a result of nuclear weapons testing in unimportant land. This is a shortened list of serious damages incurred during the design, development, testing and use of nuclear weapons. The list is not only shortened but also incomplete because in many ways we have not fully understood the damages done and are still working to understand them.

To this end, the responsibility of the nuclear community requires embarking on a long process of introspection and internal transformation, which includes not only removing the obvious damages as we know it, but also rewriting a more complete history of the field – globally in the United States. This will require collaborating with scientists who have not previously identified with the nuclear field – anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and others, and using this new information to rethink what counts as knowledge, how we construct that knowledge, and how we incorporate ethical considerations. to our practice and policy making. I do not recommend these measures as an academic or intellectual exercise. We must do this so that future decisions, including yet undiscovered technologies and artifacts, do not repeat the mistakes of the past and can be made fairly and fairly.

LG: The nuclear policy community takes into account a collective, decades-long failure to integrate racism and anti-colonialism into our work. What was the community’s response to your and others’ calls for accountability?

AV: The response has been largely positive and supportive – from both the nuclear science and engineering community and the nuclear policy community. One of the most encouraging examples of this support is that many academics in the fields of engineering, social science and humanist have told us that they plan to include our article and a recent podcast in the curriculum of nuclear history and politics.

However, ensure that support and involvement largely understand what is at stake and why the field needs to recognize its racist and colonial history, working to repair the damage it has done, and at the same time ensure that the gross mistakes made are not repeated. I hope these individual statements of support lead to a more permanent, epistemic and institutional transformation of the field. Such a transformation is needed because this field has been epistemically and institutionally racist from its inception. One area is epistemically racist when their knowledge creation practices are unfair and normalize the racist and colonial dehumanization of Black and non-Blacks and non-white communities. One area is institutionally racist when it creates exclusionary mechanisms that prevent the entry, full participation and professional advancement of Black and non-Blacks.

Broader, and more importantly, I hope these ways of thinking about the epistemic and institutional racism of the field will inform, as far as possible, how we are making policies regarding nuclear technologies, including the impending US administration. The ultimate goal here is from being an epistemic and institutionally racist field to a field that strives for epistemic and institutional equality at the individual, organizational and cultural level.

LG: The death of George Floyd this summer and the organizational response of the Black Lives Movement has led many people in the United States to examine racism, especially anti-Black racism, in personal and professional contexts. The nuclear policy community is no exception. However, some expressed concern about what would happen to anti-racist work after the media’s focus on anti-black racism. What steps can we take now to help ensure the sustainability of anti-racism in the nuclear policy community?

AV: Anti-racist work and action should be part of the nuclear sphere and the epistemic and institutional structure of the community. Only in this way can the nuclear field and community become accountable on an ongoing and perpetual basis.

Continuous anti-racist action in the field is particularly important because we need to make the field more open and inclusive so that it can attract Black and non-Black students and non-white professionals whose excellence and talent has long had it. -mertocratic reasons are left out, weakened and unappreciated.

We must also admit that this anti-racist action is inherently desirable from the perspective of justice and at the same time desirable as it makes the field more solid. It does this because it forces us to approach our familiar, stubborn and unsolvable problems in the field from newer perspectives that push us to think more and create new types of solutions – just as TPNW did by reframing the discourse on humanitarian disarmament. The nuclear security community must commit to examining many critical issues from an anti-racist and anti-colonial perspective. For example, consider the question of what we mean. security and whose security we participate in; or how we should think about creating information in ethical and fair ways; or how should we turn this information into technologies that are used equitably and fairly?

It is in the interest of the nuclear field and the community, and indeed society is writing big, that it strives to make the nuclear field more equal not only now but in every aspect of its future.

Featured image on this blog is courtesy of ICAN | Aude Catimel.

UPDATE: 21.01.21: The number of authors for the article titled “Call for anti-racist action and accountability in the US nuclear community” was initially reported at four, but has since been updated to accurately report that there are five authors.

Posted in: Nuclear Weapons Tags: NPT, science for justice, TPNW

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