A nuclear weapons free world is achievable

27Sep 2020
The Guardian
A nuclear weapons free world is achievable

After the worst of times, we are perhaps entering the best of times for proponents of nuclear disarmament. At long last, advocates of the elimination of nuclear weapons have reason for some guarded optimism. The road to a nuclear-weapons-free world will be long and bumpy,-

-but those expected to take the initiative seem to have finally decided to lead. That is encouraging.

Sixty-four years ago the world was free of nuclear weapons, but after the production of some 140,000 of these artifacts of mass destruction, there seems to be a significant shift in the role some Governments have assigned to them. They are no longer generally considered to be the best means to ensure national security. Deterrence and mutually-assured destruction have become outdated concepts in a world now more concerned with other questions and challenges, including widespread poverty, climate change, a worldwide economic and financial meltdown, and other threats such as the recent alarm over the pandemic outbreak of a new kind of influenza virus.

Above all, the motivation for seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons now seems to be a fear of the further proliferation of these weapons to other States and possibly to the so-called non-State actors, including terrorist groups. There is the rub. Nuclear weapons are intrinsically dangerous and pose an unparalleled threat to the very existence of humankind. They do not enhance a country's security but, rather, imperil the survival of all nations, which should be the point of departure of nuclear disarmament efforts.

To dwell on the potential danger that they may fall into the wrong hands is to misconstrue the argument for their elimination. They should be banned because they are immoral -- and probably illegal -- tools of destruction. Since their use would likely be fatal for all, they cannot even be considered instruments of war.

The twin questions of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy have been on the agenda of the United Nations since its beginning: the dawn of the atomic age coincided with its birth. The UN Charter, however, makes no mention of nuclear weapons for the simple reason that it was adopted at the San Francisco conference three weeks before the first test and six weeks before their use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The transcendental nature of the discovery of atomic energy prompted the delegates to the UN General Assembly's first session to address the issue immediately. In its very first resolution in January 1946.

Today, the cold war has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centred on a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point where the centre cannot hold.

Nuclear weapons are explosive devices with a destructive power that comes from nuclear energy being released. More than half the world's population live in countries that have nuclear weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. There are at least 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. One single nuclear device can destroy a whole city and eliminate the natural environment and lives of future generations. They have already destroyed entire cities, like Hiroshima in Japan, where at least 150,000 people were killed or wounded after the city was bombed during World War II.

One of the UN's oldest goals is to achieve worldwide nuclear disarmament - in other words, to see the world free of nuclear weapons. In December 2013, the UN decided to create a day to inform people and push governments to see the social and economic benefits of not having nuclear weapons. The Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons is one of the UN's efforts to seek more action on nuclear disarmament. It is observed on September 26 every year.

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