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International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

Monday, September 26, 2016

United Nations General Assembly
Special Plenary Session

“The consequences of any further use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by mistake, would be horrific. When it comes to our common objective of nuclear disarmament, we must not delay — we must act now.”
Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon

Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. After general and complete disarmament first came onto the General Assembly’s agenda in 1959, nuclear disarmament has remained the most important and urgent objective of the United Nations in this field. Since 1975, it has been a prominent theme of the review conferences of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 1978, the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament reaffirmed that effective measures for nuclear disarmament have the highest priority. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.

Yet today, some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2016, while there have been major reductions in deployed nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear warhead has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. This is so—despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them.

Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Should we let an unstable person have control of the nuclear arsenal? No, but that’s not the right question

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm

By Ira Helfand and Robert Dodge. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2016.
A growing chorus of politicians and national security experts have questioned whether it would be safe to have Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button. But are they asking the right question?

In an open letter, 50 leading Republican national security experts warned that Trump possesses “dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, it would be very dangerous for an unstable, ill-informed person to have control of the nuclear arsenal.

Implicit in these admonitions, however, is the notion that it is OK to have a “normal” person in charge. In fact, many of Trump’s critics explicitly endorse the idea that nuclear weapons, in the right hands, constitute an effective deterrent to nuclear attack by other powers and are the best, even the ultimate, guarantors of our national security.

Their argument — for the continued maintenance of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying human civilization — depends on the assumption that these weapons only exist to persuade other nuclear powers not to attack, and that we will never actually use them.

The “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.
Unfortunately, the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review explicitly rejects the notion that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence, and the U.S. has threatened to use them many times. Leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance, the U.S. refused to take the nuclear option off the table. Russian nuclear policy is even more dangerous, explicitly endorsing the early use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional war with NATO.

Pakistan has a similar nuclear doctrine that envisions the early first use of nuclear weapons if it should find itself in another war with India.

So the “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.

Even if none of these nuclear powers ever makes a deliberate decision to use its nuclear arsenal, there is a very real danger that these weapons will be deployed because of miscalculation or computer error.

An article published this summer in the journal Space Weather described for the first time how a solar flare in May 1967 knocked out communication with a number of key radar installations in the Arctic. The U.S. military incorrectly concluded that the Soviets had disabled these early warning stations as the opening move in a surprise attack and prepared American nuclear armed bombers for takeoff. War was averted at the last minute when the Air Force received information about the true cause of the black out.
There have been at least five other major episodes when computer errors or misinterpretation of intelligence data led either Moscow or Washington to prepare to launch a nuclear war in the mistaken belief that the other side had already initiated an attack. The most recent of these took place in 1995, well after the end of the Cold War.

Furthermore, studies have shown that we don’t need to have a full-scale nuclear war to destroy human civilization. Even a very limited nuclear war, confined to one corner of the globe, would have disastrous consequences across the planet. The use of just 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — against targets in urban areas could loft enough soot into the upper atmosphere to disrupt climate worldwide, cutting food production and putting 2 billion people at risk of starvation.

For the nuclear weapon states, these are most inconvenient truths. They view their nuclear arsenals as tools to project national power that they do not want to give up. All nine are currently spending enormous sums on upgrading their arsenals, and they have shown a fierce opposition to the efforts of non-nuclear weapon states that wish to legally prohibit the possession of these weapons.

Commenting on the Cuban missile crisis, the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said, “It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” Nuclear weapons do not possess some magic power that keeps them from being used. We have survived the nuclear era so far because of an incredible string of luck, and we cannot expect that luck to last forever. Sooner or later, if we do not get rid of these weapons, they will be used and they will destroy us.

The right question for us to ask is: “Should anyone be able to press the nuclear button?” And the right answer is a resounding “No.”

Ira Helfand is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Robert Dodge is president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles.

We Need to Ban Nuclear Weapons (In Spite of Canada)

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 7:09 am

By Cesar Jaramillo. Huffington Post, Sept. 22, 2016
Make no mistake: neither North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test nor the recent high-stakes stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program are the root of nuclear insecurity. They are but symptoms of a nuclear disarmament regime in a severe state of disrepair.

While every other category of weapons of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, nuclear weapons — by far the most destructive of them all — remarkably still have not. What is needed is a global legal ban on nuclear weapons, with specific provisions for the elimination of existing arsenals and a timeline for verified implementation.

A rare opportunity for progress on this front has opened up. A UN-established Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) met in Geneva three times this year with a mandate to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The final OEWG report included a recommendation, supported by a majority of participating states, to convene a conference in 2017 “to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” The expectation is that there will be a resolution to operationalize this proposal at the UN General Assembly First Committee (on disarmament and international security) when it meets in October.

Notably, Canada voted against the OEWG recommendation — along with most other members of NATO, itself a nuclear weapons alliance.

Despite being a non-nuclear weapons state, Canada stands not with the growing number of nations, organizations, and individuals that believe that a legal prohibition on nuclear weapons is long overdue. Instead, Ottawa’s position is aligned with that of the few who question the merits of a nuclear weapons ban.

Canada’s current stance — and that of most nuclear weapons states — is that conditions are not ideal for a ban on nuclear weapons. But the reality is that they never may be. Nuclear disarmament negotiations must therefore be started, realized and concluded under geopolitical conditions that are predictably less than perfect.

An increasingly loud denunciation of the intransigence of states with nuclear weapons, however, has done little to persuade them to change course. Nuclear-weapons states still purport to be at the same time arbiters and direct beneficiaries of global norms on the acceptability of nuclear weapons possession.

Consider the lopsided logic by which the very states that have developed, stockpiled, tested, and used nuclear weapons deem themselves fit to chastise others on the risks of proliferation. The moral high ground they claim is built upon an extremely weak and inherently unjust foundation.

They demand immediate, consistent compliance with non-proliferation obligations, but disregard their own responsibility to disarm. They extol the value of nuclear weapons in safeguarding their national security, but expect no one else to embrace the same rationale.

Some countries deem the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons by certain states unacceptable, but seem content to accept the nuclear-weapons programs of military or economic allies, even outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) framework.

The United States and Canada, for instance, not only turn a blind eye to the notoriously opaque Israeli nuclear weapons program, but engage in nuclear cooperation agreements with India, contravening the longstanding principle that such cooperation should be reserved for NPT states parties.

The pervasive notion that the primary problem of nuclear weapons is the risk of their proliferation, and not their very existence, cannot be further perpetuated.

So let us be clear: the main problem with the existence of nuclear weapons is the existence of nuclear weapons. Proliferation concerns are no doubt important, but they will not be fully allayed unless and until the responsibility to disarm is taken seriously by states with nuclear weapons.

Especially problematic is the determination of several nuclear-weapons states to retain a nuclear arsenal as long as such weapons exist. This strategic, political, and logical straitjacket all but ensures that a world without nuclear weapons will never be achieved.

Today, more than 15,000 nuclear warheads continue to threaten civilization. Even a limited nuclear exchange would bring about incalculable loss of human life and catastrophic effects for the environment. So the objective cannot be nuclear weapons management or containment. Nor are sporadic reductions and reconfigurations of nuclear systems sufficient. Only complete and irreversible disarmament will do.

Tired arguments over the purported value of nuclear weapons possession have been replaced by a renewed emphasis on the humanitarian imperative for nuclear disarmament. The catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use outweighs any and all alleged benefits.

Further, billions of dollars (some estimates put the price tag at more than $1-trillion) are slated to be spent modernizing arsenals and related infrastructure while the most basic needs of a significant segment of the world’s population are still unmet. From this perspective, the time certainly seems ripe for turning nuclear swords into ploughshares, so to speak.

The UN First Committee resolution on a legal instrument to ban nuclear weapons will afford Canada a unique opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the security of a world free of these instruments of mass destruction. Come October we will know whether it was seized. Or squandered.

Cesar Jaramillo is the Executive Director of
Project Ploughshares, Waterloo, Ontario.