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Nuclear weapons: the road to prohibition

December 2, 2014

Nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to the health and survival of mankind. This statement from the World Health Organisation in the 1980s is echoed in the recent call to action from the International Red Cross: Nuclear weapons must be abolished.

But climate change? Is that not the greatest danger? OK, let’s not argue. Climate change is already here and experienced by most of us. We know that if strong and decisive action is not taken soon by all states we will face grave problems for mankind, in this century and worse in the next. But as far as we can prophesize, mankind and human civilisation will survive the climate catastrophes, maybe with tremendous losses.

Nuclear war, on the other hand, could mean the end of everything that humans have created, maybe even the end of mankind. We have recently learned that the climate change after a large nuclear war—the Nuclear Winter—would be both more severe and much longer that we thought thirty years ago. The “winner” in the nuclear confrontation would starve and freeze to death.

There are differences: We know—with more than 90% certainty—that a serious change in the climate will come. We cannot calculate the risk for a nuclear war.

Certainly, thoughtful and well informed politicians and generals have told us that if nuclear weapons are allowed to persist, they will be acquired by more states, and they will be used. (See e.g. the Canberra Commission of 1997!) They may be used in a big nuclear war, maybe by mistake, because Russia and the USA have thousands of very large nuclear weapons on alert for immediate firing. Or there may be a more “limited” nuclear war, e g between India and Pakistan. Even such a war might cause a worldwide famine because of the global climate change.

An important difference is in the action needed. It would take immediate and serious and permanent cooperation between all states to decrease the impact of the global warming. This is very difficult to achieve, even if the political will develops. Nuclear disarmament, on the other hand, is easy. If the nuclear weapon states decide to cooperate, they can rid the world of this danger in a decade. The necessary steps on the road to a world free of the nuclear weapons threat have been described in international documents, such as the Blix Commission report or in Securing our Survival, issued by organizations of experts in health, science, and international law, including IPPNW.

But the nuclear weapon states do not want to throw this Ring of Sauron into the abyss. They want their nukes, this symbol of their power and recklessness. They do not want to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention.

So, we who see the danger of a nuclear holocaust and who believe it can be avoided if the will is there, have now left the Nuclear Weapons Convention on the side table and turned our focus to the approximately 185 nuclear-weapons-free states in the world, who are hostage to the nuclear-weapon states, those who are subjects to the power of the Ring of Mutually Assured Nuclear Destruction. We want a Prohibition of all nuclear weapons.

There have been two conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in the last year and a half, in Oslo, Norway, and in Nayarit, Mexico. At the latter 146 states participated. The conclusion was that any use of nuclear weapons would have such severe humanitarian consequences that they must be abolished completely.

Now, on December 8 and 9, in Vienna there will be a third conference on this subject. We hope the meeting will be an important and irreversible step on the road to a Prohibition of all Nuclear Weapons. The meeting is preceded by an Civil Society Forum for peace organisations.

Yes, a Prohibition, a Ban. Just like there is a ban for chemical weapons. If the Nuclear-Weapons-Free States agree on this goal, they can certainly achieve it. With such a prohibition the Nuclear-Weapon States will be the outlaws, the rogue states, and the nuclear-free States will be the norm.

This Ban will not be realized in Vienna, but the process is running. Next step is the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2015. And later, probably, a Humanitarian conference in South Africa.

We are on the road.

In Vienna the USA will be present, for the first time at these conferences, and the first of the P5 nuclear-weapon States: Russia, USA, UK, France and China.  We will carefully observe the moves of this new participant.


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