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Sue Lani Madsen: Resolution on nuclear-free community a distraction from city priorities

Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting agenda lists four recorded roll call votes. Sandwiched between a resolution on a $77 million bond proposal for library projects and an ordinance vacating an alley is a resolution declaring Spokane a nuclear-free community and calling for a day of remembrance on Aug. 6.

Resolution No. 2018-0070 will be introduced by Councilwoman Kate Burke. It has nothing to do with the operation of the city of Spokane. Evaluating United Nations resolutions and advising the federal government on international security aren’t among the “priorities established by years of public engagement” in developing the Joint Council-Administration 6-year Strategic Plan.

The resolution uses as its cover painful memories of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, rightfully cited as a cautionary tale on the cost of war in the nuclear age.

The first seven “whereas” statements in the preamble read as boilerplate fitting any community. One statement claims general civic interest because components might pass through a city on the interstate highway system. It does not mention rail traffic, which has been a local council hot button. In any case, declaring Spokane a nuclear-free zone will not change interstate commerce.

The first Be It Resolved calls for “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembrance Day.” Councilman Mike Fagan said he was contacted several months ago by the Spokane chapter of the group Veterans for Peace and asked to sponsor the resolution. Fagan’s mother is a Japanese national and he stays in contact with relatives in Japan. He declined, because of the second Be It Resolved, “that the City call upon our Congressional delegation and our nation as a whole to ensure that the United States signs and ratifies the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, passed by the United Nations on July 7, 2017.”

Almost 40 nations boycotted the discussions, including all NATO nations except the Netherlands, which participated but voted against the resulting treaty. All nations known to possess nuclear weapons or benefiting from protection under the “nuclear umbrella” rejected it, including Japan. They have been working on a different approach to updating the existing 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The 2017 treaty is described by nuclear physicist Peter D. Zimmerman as having noble aims but being rushed in its development, with a preamble “bearing only the most tangential relationship to the topic at hand.”

Zimmerman is a former chief scientist of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and science adviser for arms control in the Department of State. In a Washington Post op-ed, he points to examples of how the existence of the nuclear option has prevented conventional war from breaking out in areas where nuclear powers might collide. Zimmerman concludes “it’s a good thing, then, that the Treaty is probably going nowhere.”

Just like this resolution is going nowhere. It’s a distraction from the community-focused priorities of the Strategic Plan.

Fagan questioned whether there had been any attempt to contact representatives of local Japanese organizations regarding the resolution, since Japan opposes the 2017 treaty. The resolution does refer to three local groups with historic connections to the negative impacts of nuclear weapons, including the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Marshallese community and Hanford downwinders. Burke did not respond to an email asking for information on whether local groups other than Veterans for Peace had been engaged in developing the resolution.

The Marshallese community organization is loosely organized, but an unofficial contact was unaware of any particular discussions on the resolution. The Spokane Tribe’s connection is the impact of cleaning up the old uranium mines on the reservation. Mike Tedesco, executive director of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, said he wasn’t aware of any conversations on this specific resolution, but “dialogue occurs regularly, and if the city missed a contact on this one it wouldn’t be taken as a slight.” But he agreed resolutions like this can be a distraction.

Maybe even a distraction from that fourth recorded roll call vote on the agenda: “Resolution 2018-0068 Proposing $____ million in general obligation bonds for City recreational facilities.”

The council’s time would be better spent discussing filling in that blank than dabbling in international policy.


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