View of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, photo by Zach Stern

June 14, 2022

The Program on Science and Global Security released Notes on Nuclear Weapons & Intersectionality in Theory and Practice, a working paper by Ray Acheson, a Visiting Researcher at the Program. Acheson is Director of Disarmament at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the world’s oldest feminist peace organization.

This essay builds on earlier work by Acheson developing an intersectional approach in both theory and practice to understanding and resisting nuclear weapons. The Working Paper is being made available to encourage wider consideration of this perspective and will be the focus of discussions to be convened by the Program in the coming year.

The Working Paper seeks to foster a conversation on how dismantling nuclear weapons requires dealing not just with the bomb but also the political, economic, and cultural scaffolding—institutional, social, intellectual, psychological and at the level of identities—that have facilitated its existence for seventy-seven years.

The enduring and refractory nature of this scaffolding was discussed in the working paper On Nuclear Embeddedness and (Ir)Reversibility by William Walker published by the Program in 2020.

Acheson argues that a critique of nuclear weapons in the locations and with the language of nuclear weapon proponents may serve to help achieve reductions in nuclear stockpiles, better regulate arms races, and dampen proliferation concerns initiatives. It will not get us to abolition. The Working Paper proposes instead an engagement with ideas about power, violence, and privilege and the concepts of intersectionality and solidarity to create a different approach, one that is more open to nuclear abolition.

In this radically intersectional perspective, Acheson suggests beginning by asking foundational questions: who gets to be heard in debates about nuclear weapons; who gets to change discourse; and, who gets to have any kind of influence over normative thinking, and how can we rethink our relationships to existing institutions of power and authority?

Acheson proposes the struggle to understand and abolish nuclear weapons could benefit from the many other perspectives and experiences contesting and rebelling against current hegemonic systems of thought. The paper points in particular to the critical scholarship and activist strategies challenging social ordering and logics of knowledge production being undertaken by feminist, queer, indigenous, antiracist, and postcolonial struggles.

The Working Paper ends with a final reflection that the struggle against nuclear weapons—as a movement and a goal—can be more effective, more reflective and inclusive, and more supportive of other social justice work if it locates itself at the intersection of and in solidarity with other current abolitionist projects.