Cutting through the nonsense
7958 said yes to a ban on nuclear weapons.
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As dramatic as the Nayarit conference turned out to be, we cannot let our guard down one bit. 2014 is going to be a huge year for the campaign. As you will have heard by now, the Austrian Foreign Minister announced that Austria will organize a follow-up conference in Vienna. This event promises to be a giant leap for a process to ban nuclear weapons. To achieve this we need you! To stay up-to-date on what’s going on with the campaign and where you can jump in to help, follow us on social media. Interact, engage and inform us about what is happening in your country. Subscribe to our newsletter and get into a banning mood.
Since Oslo civil society has created a chain reaction of success – it can only head one direction – a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Let's do it!
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. Both in the scale of the devastation they cause, and in their uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging radioactive fallout, they are unlike any other weapons. A single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people. The use of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs would disrupt the global climate, causing widespread famine.
As long as we allow nuclear weapons to exist, we can never truly be safe. Some say that elimination will not happen in our lifetime. That depends on whether we are willing to accept the risk we live with today. Unless we act, a nuclear detonation will occur, either by accident, design or miscalculation – the only question is when and where. As experts from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and several UN relief agencies have made clear, no state or international organisation will be capable of responding adequately to that havoc and destruction.
Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are all weapons of mass destruction, which cause immeasurable suffering and unacceptable harm. However, unlike chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons are not yet subject to an explicit legal prohibition. Nuclear weapons are, therefore, an anomaly among weapons of mass destruction. Weapons that cannot discriminate between military targets and civilians, between armed combatants and infants, are anathema to any sense of human dignity. Now is time to address the exception for nuclear weapons and ban the last weapon of mass destruction.
It is time to ban the bomb.
By focusing on the humanitarian impact and the consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, it becomes clear that these weapons are not instruments of power or mythical weapons of stability. Nuclear weapons are quite simply inhumane, unacceptable, and appalling weapons of terror, and just like chemical or biological weapons, no state should be proud to possess them or aspire to acquire them. Maintaining nuclear weapons is not a symbol of strength, but rather a constant reminder of the immense suffering that they have caused and continuously threaten to cause again.
Nuclear weapons are the most destructive devices ever created – the sole intention of their creation and use is to flatten cities and to indiscriminately destroy as much as possible in their path. Since they are such unwieldy and indiscriminate weapons, it is impossible to imagine any use of these weapons that would not be morally and ethically repugnant. It has long been suggested that their value lies in terms of their power as a ‘deterrent’ – a “don’t mess with us” strategy that keeps the major powers of the world from engaging in direct, armed conflict, lest it escalate into mutual annihilation. However, a necessary element of deterrence is ensuring that the enemy believes you are able and willing to respond with a nuclear strike if you yourself are threatened. This “credibility” factor requires a possessor state to ensure that its weapons stand at the ready at all times. Unfortunately, human beings are fallible, and even more so when tensions are high and national interests are at stake. There is no system that can guarantee that nuclear weapons will not be used again.
The process of maintaining a nuclear arsenal is an incredibly complex and perilous endeavour. In his latest book, Command and Control, Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) documents the incredible challenges inherent in possessing, “the most dangerous technology ever invented”, where there was immense pressure to simultaneously make sure these weapons were always ready to be detonated at a moment’s notice, but where there simply could be no margin of error. As Schlosser explains, our ability to maintain these weapons safely is not nearly as assured as we would like to believe, and there have been numerous instances where the incidence of an accidental nuclear detonation has hung on a razor’s edge.
Nuclear weapons ended World War II. We can safely control nuclear weapons. Nuclear deterrence has kept the world safe. Nuclear weapons are here to stay; you can’t dis-invent them. Over the course of the last several decades, from Hiroshima through the Cold War to present day, many supposed ‘truths’ about nuclear weapons have been bandied about to explain and justify their continued existence. In the last few years these theories are being seen for what they are – myths.
The sheer magnitude of the destruction and the number of victims represent the biggest challenges confronting those expected to provide humanitarian assistance in the event of a nuclear weapon detonation. Providing adequate, timely and appropriate assistance to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people would require enormous amounts of manpower, material resources and logistic capability. The International Committee of the Red Cross considers that no organisation or state effort could adequately respond to such a humanitarian crisis. Increasingly, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement at large is becoming more vocal in advocating for outright elimination, underlining its commitment with resolutions in 2011 and 2013 urging the movement to call on states to conclude negotiations on a prohibition on nuclear weapons. Time and again, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has proved to be an extremely powerful force in humanitarian advocacy.
The destructive impact of nuclear weapons have the potential to reach far beyond national boundaries. A recent study by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Physicians for Social Responsibility documents a scenario of a limited regional nuclear war in which the resulting disruption of the climate and agricultural production would lead to a nuclear famine, with a death toll as high as 2 billion.
A ban on nuclear weapons would represent a tangible next step towards elimination. As we have seen with the biological and chemical weapons conventions, the explicit prohibition of those weapons has facilitated the processes towards their elimination, which are currently ongoing. A treaty banning nuclear weapons will not in and of itself entail absolute elimination of the nuclear weapons, but it can and should be seen as the next step forward. Although the very nature of nuclear weapons raises serious questions about whether they could ever be used in a manner compatible with the law of armed conflict, some nuclear weapon states point to the lack of an explicit prohibition, and even the language of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as justification for their continued possession and deployment of nuclear weapons. A ban treaty would clearly fill the legal gap that exists among weapons of mass destruction and place nuclear weapons on the same footing as chemical and biological weapons.
Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet explicitly prohibited by a ban treaty, even though they have the greatest destructive capacity of all weapons. A global ban on nuclear weapons is long overdue and can be achieved in the near future with enough public pressure and political leadership. A ban would not only make it illegal for nations to use or possess nuclear weapons; it would also help pave the way to their complete elimination. Nations committed to reaching the goal of abolition should begin negotiating a ban now.