McGovern is first member of Congress to address UN about Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty

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By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-27-2023 5:28 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and ban anything associated with their development and manufacture has been ratified by 69 countries, with an additional 28 countries in the process of ratification, since the international agreement was signed in 2017.

The United States, though, along with many of its allies and another eight nations that possess nuclear weapons, remain holdouts to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, otherwise known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.

For the first time on Monday, though, as the weeklong Second Meeting of State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons got underway at the United Nations in New York, a member of the U.S. Congress was present for the discussions.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, speaking on behalf of a handful of colleagues who have explicitly called on President Joe Biden to sign the treaty, was expected to be the only member of Congress to address the parliamentarians.

“I’m here because I care deeply about the issue and am quite frankly alarmed by the indifference and lack of urgency in Congress when it comes to nuclear weapons,” McGovern said in a phone interview Monday morning before giving his address.

McGovern said he would like to see leaders across the globe commit to a world where there are no nuclear weapons, and to develop stronger goals and see more movement toward their eventual eradication. He reflected on his recent participation in the March for the Food Bank, which raised almost $500,000 for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and how at the same time food insecurity exists, the United States spends millions of dollars upgrading nuclear weapons.

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McGovern applauded the “very active group” in his congressional district, spanning western and central Massachusetts, who care deeply about nuclear disarmament, including NuclearBan.US, founded by Northampton residents Timmon Wallis and Vicki Elson, and Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of the International Steering Group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

“We’re at a crucial point where the United States needs to get off the sidelines,” McGovern said.

McGovern is one of 12 members of Congress who have called on the Biden administration to sign the treaty, with another 42 telling the White House to embrace the goals and provisions of the treaty.

Also attending the meeting in New York City was state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, who got to be in a private meeting of parliamentarians, while Sen. Paul Mark, D-Pittsfield, who had hoped to attend, instead was working in his district.

Sabadosa said she had an opportunity to speak with the leaders of the two Japanese cities where the atomic bombs were dropped in 1945.

“It has been especially meaningful to spend time at the United Nations and to meet with the mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima,” Sabadosa said. “Their advocacy and stories are a poignant reminder as to the importance of this work.”

During his talk, McGovern spoke about the world situation, where Russia has threatened to use nuclear weapons in its war with Ukraine, while former President Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, leading to that country increasing its capacity for nuclear weapons.

“We need an urgent call to action,” McGovern told those assembled. “We need a massive outpouring of grassroots action in support of nuclear arms control and ending the threat of nuclear weapons, if we are going to move the major nuclear powers toward achieving that goal. We do not see that happening in the United States or many other nations.”

“Without large-scale citizen movements, I fear that we will continue to move in the wrong direction and see the unraveling of all nuclear agreements, a renewed nuclear arms race, and even the actual use of nuclear weapons in current and future conflicts,” McGovern said. “We know that nuclear disarmament is in our best interests. We know each of our nations could redirect funds spent on nuclear weapons to meet urgent domestic needs and to address global challenges like food security, poverty and climate change.”

Wallis said McGovern’s presence gives him optimism. Elected representatives from 27 countries, including Scotland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and many other NATO allies, were to discuss how to get their countries on board the treaty, while Belgium and Germany had official observers, too, and and Australia had representatives as well.

“Having Jim McGovern talk about what he is trying to do in the U.S. Congress could be a big boost to other countries,” said Wallis, who will be speaking to the plenary on Thursday.

McGovern said he doesn’t want to sit idly by.

“For some reason, we have a lot of the establishment that say it’s just a fact that we have to live with it,” McGovern said, disputing that idea. “If we can’t reach our goal quickly, maybe we can engage in curtailing nuclear weapons.”

“Anything can happen if there’s the political will,” McGovern said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.