Paris-like Accord needed on global nukes

Prevention is the only option to avoid nuclear Armageddon

Paris-like Accord needed on global nukes
This March, the United Nations convened a process to negotiate a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons. A draft of the proposed treaty was released in May, and negotiations are now underway at the UN with the intent to reach a final agreement on treaty language. Skeptics call this approach naive, noting that the US and other nuclear weapons nations all refuse to participate.

The rationale for pushing forward with the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty is clear: Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited in a universal manner like biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions which have all been explicitly and completely banned under international law. Nuclear weapons remain available despite their well-documented catastrophic impacts on human health. Nuclear weapons must be banned as well.

The new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will strengthen global norms against using and possessing these weapons, and will reinforce existing nuclear weapons treaties, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the treaty banning nuclear test explosions.

The United States is one of 189 sovereign nations joined in the multilateral Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enacted in 1970 that commits all signatories to nuclear disarmament. If the NPT would have not have come into existence today we would have 126 countries with nuclear arms, according to the IAEA (United Nations assessment).

This treaty has been crucial in slowing the spread of nuclear weapons, but it has not stopped their spread and nuclear weapon proliferation has entered a new era of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Worse yet, efforts by nuclear-armed nations to reduce their nuclear arsenals are now completely stalled. The delivery system of nuclear weapons has exceeded the limits of our imaginations. China, the US and Russia have tested a new kind of delivery system in which an ICBM will not be needed and in near earth orbit this weapons delivery system will attain a speed of 5000mph, dodge the detection system and hit the target without a return address.

In stark contrast to the behavior of the nine countries that now cling to their nuclear weapons, there is a renewed commitment throughout the rest of the world to achieve nuclear disarmament. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (of which Physicians for Social Responsibility is a part) has led the movement, culminating in a series of international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, in which the governments of 158 countries participated. The initiative to negotiate a “legally binding” treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons is the result of a years-long process that grew out of a renewed recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the rising risk of accidental or intentional nuclear use and a growing sense of frustration that key nuclear disarmament commitments made by the nuclear weapon states were not being fulfilled.

The US government’s boycott of the nuclear ban treaty negotiations is a profound disavowal of its basic duty to safeguard our health. The US has been heading in exactly the wrong direction, with current plans to build an entire arsenal of new nuclear bombers, submarines and missiles—at a staggering cost of $1 trillion dollars through the next 30 years, diverting public resources away from basic human needs. That plan ignores decades of rigorous scientific research and testimony from the medical community, illustrating the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. For example, the use of less than one percent of the global nuclear stockpile would immediately and indiscriminately kill millions of people. The victims would burn within 8 seconds like figures of wax. Ensuing long-term climate disruption would cause a famine, putting up to two billion people at risk, as well as causing chromosomal defects in generations to come. There is no emergency response plan for nuclear war and there cannot be. It is a perfect example which scholars and politicians miss that in case of nuclear Armageddon there is no after-event management.

Experience shows that the prohibition of a particular type of weapon provides a solid legal and political foundation for advancing its progressive elimination. Weapons that are outlawed are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political and moral status and, along with it, the resources for their production, modernization and retention.

The choice is ours: to move toward a safer world by supporting the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty or to provoke a new nuclear arms race and increase nuclear risks by rebuilding our entire nuclear arsenal.

The writer is with the Physicians for Social Responsibility Washington DC Chapter