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Zero is the Only Option

A GAMEPLAN FOR ABOLITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

Ever since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, people around the world have campaigned for an end to the nuclear age. We now have the best opportunity yet to turn our vision of a nuclear-weapon-free future into a reality. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is a grassroots movement in more than 60 nations calling for a treaty to ban these weapons once and for all.

Despite the end of the Cold War, there are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons across the globe, posing the greatest immediate threat to the future of civilization. The risk of their spread and use is growing in an increasingly climate- and resource-stressed world. But at the same time support for nuclear abolition has never been stronger, with two-thirds of all nations calling for a nuclear abolition treaty at the United Nations, and large majorities of people everywhere, including in nuclear-armed countries, endorse the vision of a nuclear-free world.

THE ACTION PLAN


ICAN aims to galvanize public and government support to start negotiations on a nuclear abolition treaty without further delay. We will bring together humanitarian, environmental, human rights and development organizations to seize the historic opportunity to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Nuclear abolition is not a distant dream. It is an urgent necessity. Together we can make it a reality.

Why Abolition is Achievable

1. A majority of nations want a nuclear weapons ban
At least 127 countries—including China, India, Pakistan and North Korea—support the abolition of nuclear weapons through a binding Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).

2. There’s a draft treaty to make abolition happen
The Model NWC is a draft treaty that would ban the production, possession and use of nuclear weapons, as well as establish ways to verify their elimination.

3. We’ve outlawed other types of weapons
These include chemical weapons, biological weapons and landmines. Now we must turn our attention to banning the worst weapons of all, nuclear weapons.

4. Four countries have given up nuclear weapons
South Africa was the first, followed by former Soviet states Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. More than a dozen other countries have abandoned nuclear weapons programs.

5. More and more people are calling for abolition
Many former political leaders have begun urging their governments to ban nuclear weapons, and some military heads have questioned the utility of these weapons of terror.

 

THE PROBLEM


Nine countries together possess more than 20,000 nuclear weapons. The US and Russia maintain roughly 2000 of their nuclear weapons on high-alert status — ready to be launched within minutes of a command. Most are many times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

“The only guarantee against the spread and future use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them now.”

A single nuclear warhead, if detonated on a large city, could kill millions of people. The failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries or terrorists will acquire these weapons. The more fingers on the trigger, the more dangerous the world will become. The only guarantee against the spread and future use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them now.

The leaders of some nuclear-armed nations have in recent times expressed their vision for a nuclear- weapon-free world. However, all continue to invest billions of dollars in the modernization of their nuclear weapons, diverting money from health care, education and other vital services. They have failed to develop any detailed plans to eliminate their arsenals.

THE WIDER PROBLEM

Five European nations host US nuclear weapons on their soil as part of a NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. A further 23 nations claim to rely on US nuclear weapons for their security. There are now more than 40 nations with nuclear power or research reactors capable of producing nuclear weapons. The spread of nuclear know-how has increased the risk that more nations will develop the bomb.

Many communities around the world continue to suffer from the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing and uranium mining.

 

THE SOLUTION


We must harness the new political support for nuclear abolition by calling on governments to negotiate a Nuclear Weapons Convention — a comprehensive treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons. Opinion polls show that a majority of the world’s people endorse this call. Our challenge is to transform the strong public desire for greater security into real action by governments.

A Nuclear Weapons Convention would outlaw nuclear weapons and the core materials used to create them. Heavy penalties would apply to prevent and deter governments from acquiring nuclear devices or violating the fundamental ban on their use. All nuclear-armed nations would be required to dismantle their nuclear arsenals in accordance with agreed steps, and an international monitoring system would be set up to verify compliance.

WHY IS IT NEEDED?

The Nuclear Weapons Convention would build on the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which despite successive attempts at improvements continues to lack the effective mechanisms needed to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons.

Four decades after the NPT’s entry into force, there is still no comprehensive process under way to achieve nuclear abolition. The current step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament has proven unsatisfactory. With growing proliferation threats and the continued refusal of the nuclear powers to disarm, it is time to seek a new path with a clear road map. Nuclear weapons must be outlawed, just as other categories of inhumane weapons have been outlawed.

 

THE HUMANITARIAN CASE


Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive capacity. A single nuclear bomb dropped on a large city could kill millions of people. In the event of a nuclear attack, medical infrastructure would be destroyed and no effective humanitarian response would be possible. The lingering effects of[/column]

radiation on human beings would cause suffering and death many years after the initial explosion. Those in the vicinity who survive the blast would suffer from extreme dehydration and diarrhea, as well as life-threatening infections and severe bleeding. They would also have a significantly increased risk of developing cancers and passing on genetic damage to future generations.

INTERNATIONAL LAW

Any use of nuclear weapons would be a grave violation of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the use of weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Preventing their future use requires nations to fulfill existing obligations to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons through a comprehensive treaty.

THE SECURITY CASE


Nuclear weapons pose a direct and constant threat to people everywhere. Far from keeping the peace, they breed mistrust among nations. More and more leaders are coming to accept the logic that we must abolish nuclear weapons before they are used again. These instruments of terror have no legitimate military or strategic utility, and are useless in addressing any of today’s real security threats, such as terrorism, climate change, extreme poverty, overpopulation and disease.

FUELING THEIR SPREAD

The continued existence of nuclear weapons fuels proliferation. China’s nuclear status motivated India to go nuclear, which in turn provoked Pakistan to follow, with Chinese assistance. The more value attached to nuclear weapons by powers like Britain, France and Russia, the more desirable they appear for despots and failed states. It is only when nuclear weapons are seen to have no security utility or symbolic power that others will not seek them.

OLD THINKING

While more than 40,000 nuclear weapons have been dismantled since the end of the cold war, the justifications for maintaining them remain largely unchanged. Nations still cling to the misguided idea of “nuclear deterrence”, when it is clear that nuclear weapons only cause national and global insecurity.

ACCIDENTAL USE

There have been dozens of documented instances of the near-use of nuclear weapons as a result of miscalculation or accidents. Nuclear-armed submarines have collided underwater and nuclear-tipped missiles have shot out of storage silos. With thousands of weapons on alert, the risk of unintended use is alarmingly high.

 

THE ENVIRONMENTAL CASE


Nuclear weapons are the only devices ever created that have the capacity to destroy all life on Earth. It would take less than 0.1% of the explosive yield of the current global nuclear arsenal to bring about devastating agricultural collapse and widespread famine.

New research by climate scientists shows that even a regional nuclear war involving 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons — a small fraction of the total global stockpile — would cause tens of millions of immediate deaths and unprecedented global climate disruption.

A war fought with more than a thousand nuclear weapons would leave the planet uninhabitable. These stark realities should have a profound influence on nuclear policies.

NUCLEAR FAMINE

The smoke and dust from fewer than one hundred nuclear explosions would cause an abrupt drop in global temperatures and rainfall by blocking up to 10% of sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface. Sudden global cooling would shorten growing seasons, threatening agriculture worldwide. Infectious disease epidemics and environmental conflict would likely follow, and as many as one billion deaths would result from a nuclear-weapon-induced famine.

OZONE DEPLETION

A nuclear war would cause prolonged and severe depletion of the ozone layer and have a devastating impact on human and animal health. Substantial increases in ultraviolet radiation would cause increases in skin cancer rates, crop damage and the destruction of marine life.

NUCLEAR WINTER

Climate scientists estimate that if the entire nuclear arsenal were used, 150 million tonnes of smoke would be emitted into the stratosphere, resulting in a 45% global reduction in rainfall and average surface cooling of –7 to –8°C. By comparison, the global average cooling at the depth of the last ice age more than 18,000 years ago was –5°C.

 

THE ECONOMIC CASE


Nuclear weapons programs divert public funds from health care, education, disaster relief and other vital services. It is estimated that the nine nuclear-armed nations spend a total of $90 billion each year maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

The US alone spends more than $50 billion annually — enough to meet the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation. In 2008 the British government announced plans to replace its ageing fleet of nuclear-armed Trident submarines, which would cost taxpayers an estimated £76 billion. North Korea’s fledgling nuclear weapons program has exacerbated poverty in the isolated nation. Despite renewed commitments by nations to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, all of the nuclear powers continue to invest exorbitant sums of money in these inhumane weapons. Funding allocated to national disarmament efforts is minuscule by comparison, and the principal UN body responsible for advancing nuclear abolition — the Office for Disarmament Affairs — has an annual budget of just over $10 million. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, “The world is over-armed and peace is under- funded.” It is time to redirect money towards meeting human needs.

SOCIALLY USEFUL JOBS

The International Trade Union Confederation, an ICAN partner, argues that money spent on nuclear weapons and militarism would be far better spent on creating decent work in socially useful sectors of the economy, and on tackling global poverty and climate change. Nuclear disarmament is crucial to overall action to end conflict and reduce international tensions. In 2010, more than six million workers from around the world called on leaders meeting in New York to take urgent action on nuclear disarmament.

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  • Jacob

    This is a more important topic than I thought before– I work hard for the things I have but give away so much power for the welfare of my family inot the hands of politicians to decide. definitely food for thought

  • Paulette

    good information. I didn’t realize how the US is at odds with other countries, I also didn’t realize how much we overspend on these weapons nationally. I don’t want my tax dollars supporting this. Most people just don’t know what’s going on. 

  • Wendy Hardin

    http://www.icanw.org has some great campaigns to educate people going on all over the world. I had no idea that so many people wanted to see these weapons of annihilation completely outlawed if not destroyed. Thanks for talking about this, it’s important.

  • Farza_Janice

    Hearing the news today of North Korea making videos about destroying New York city with nuclear weapons made me remember your issue on the importance of doing away with nuclear weapons.  Although I thought it was not the most important topic at the time, it is really important that we protect our way of life and not let governments have the power to destroy it. 

  • Cyndi

    This magazine is exactly the kind of media we need. I appreciate your articles so much and find myself sharing them all the time. Thanks for making this site because now I can send a link too. 
    Blessings, Cyndi