The peoples and governments of the world face an urgent challenge relating to weaponry of mass destruction and particularly to nuclear weaponry.

At the crossroads of technology, terrorism, geopolitical ambition, and policies of preemption are new and potent dangers for humanity. Despite ending the nuclear standoff of the Cold War era, nuclear weaponry is again menacing the peoples of the world with catastrophic possibilities.

We recognize the need for any government to pursue its security interests in accordance with international law; and further, we recognize that distinctive threats to these interests now exist as a result of an active international terrorist network having declared war on the United States and its allies. Nonetheless, we reject the assessment of the current US administration that upgrading a reliance on nuclear weapons is in any sense justified as a response. We find it unacceptable to assign any security role to nuclear weapons. More specifically, nuclear weapons are totally irrelevant and ineffective in relation to the struggle against terrorism.

Nuclear weapons, combined with policies that lower barriers to their use, pose unprecedented dangers of massive destruction, recalling to us the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Any major use of such weapons could doom humanity’s future and risk the extinction of most life on the planet.

The international regime preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons has badly eroded in recent years, and is in danger of unraveling altogether. This is due in large part to the refusal of the nuclear weapons states to fulfill their long-standing obligations set forth in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament in good faith. Other states, taking note of this underlying refusal to renounce these weapons over a period of more than five decades, have seen growing benefits for themselves in acquiring nuclear weapons.

Back in 1998, India and Pakistan, responding at least in part to the failure of the declared nuclear weapons states to achieve nuclear disarmament, decided to cross the nuclear weapons threshold. These two countries, both having always remained outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, have a long history of conflict and war with each other. They are a flashpoint for potential nuclear war in South Asia.

Another flashpoint is Israel’s undeclared, yet well-established, nuclear weapons arsenal, which introduces the risk that nuclear weapons will be used in some future crisis in the Middle East. Israel’s nuclear arsenal and the implicit threat of its use has encouraged other Middle Eastern countries to seek or acquire weapons of mass destruction, including the establishment of nuclear weapons programs.

A third flashpoint exists on the Korean Peninsula in Northeast Asia, where North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other agreements restricting its nuclear program. The North Korean government has announced that it will expand its nuclear weapons program unless the US agrees to negotiations to establish a mutual security pact.

US government policies are moving dangerously in the direction of making nuclear weapons an integral component of its normal force structure, and terrorists are becoming increasingly unscrupulous in challenging the established order. Terrorist organizations have been boldly seeking access to weaponry of mass destruction. Beyond this, the recent Iraq War, supposedly undertaken to remove a threat posed by Iraqi possession of these weapons, seems to have sent the ironic message to North Korea and others that the most effective way to deter the United States is by proceeding covertly and with urgency to develop a national arsenal of nuclear weapons.

US official policies to develop smaller and more usable nuclear weapons, to research a nuclear earth-penetrating weapon for use as a “bunker buster,” and to lessen the timeframe for returning to underground nuclear testing, along with the doctrine and practice of preemptive war, have dramatically increased the prospect of future nuclear wars. The nuclear policies and actions of the US government have proved to be clearly provocative to countries that have been named by the US president as members of “the axis of evil” or that have been otherwise designated by the present US administration to constitute potential threats to the United States. Several of these countries now seem strongly inclined to go all out to acquire a deterrent in the face of American intimidation and threats.

There is no circumstance, even retaliation, in which the use of nuclear weapons would be prudent, moral or legal under international law. The only morally, legally and politically acceptable policy with regard to nuclear weapons is to move rapidly to achieve their universal and total elimination, as called for by the world’s leading religious figures, the International Court of Justice in its 1996 opinion, and many other governments and respected representatives of civil society. Achieving such goals would also dramatically reduce the possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist organizations.

Given the existence of treaty regimes that already ban chemical and biological weapons, the outlawing and disarmament of nuclear weapons would complete the commitment of the governments and peoples of the world to the prohibition and elimination of all weaponry of mass destruction. Such a prohibition, and accompanying regimes of verification and enforcement, could lead over time to a greater confidence by world leaders in the rule of law, as well as encourage an increased reliance on non-violent means of resolving conflicts and satisfying grievances.

It is the US insistence on retaining a nuclear weapons option that sets the tone for the world as a whole, reinforcing the unwillingness of other nuclear weapons states to push for nuclear disarmament and inducing threatened or ambitious states to take whatever steps are necessary, even at the risk of confrontation and war with the United States, to develop their own stockpile of nuclear weaponry. In this post-September 11th climate, the United States has suddenly become for other governments a country to be deterred rather than, as in the Cold War, a country practicing deterrence to discourage aggression by others.

For these reasons, we call upon the United States government to:

• Abandon its dangerous and provocative nuclear policies, in particular, researching, developing and making plans to shorten the time needed to resume testing of new and more usable nuclear weapons;

• Take its nuclear arsenal off the high alert status of the Cold War;

• Meet its disarmament obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Treaty’s Review Conferences, including making arms reduction agreements irreversible;

• Renounce first use of or threat to use nuclear weapons under all circumstances;

• Enter into negotiations with North Korea on a mutual security pact; and

• Assert global leadership toward convening at the earliest possible date a Nuclear Disarmament Conference in order to move rapidly toward the creation and bringing into force of a verifiable Nuclear Weapons Convention to eliminate all nuclear weapons and control all nuclear materials capable of being converted to weapons.

We also call on other nuclear weapons states to accept their responsibilities to work toward a world without weapons of mass destruction as a matter of highest priority.

These steps leading to the negotiation and ratification of a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons should then be coordinated with existing arrangements of prohibition associated with biological and chemical weapons to establish an overall regime dedicated to the elimination of all weaponry of mass destruction. It would be beneficial at that stage to also create an international institution with responsibility for safeguarding the world against such diabolical weaponry, including additional concerns associated with frontier technologies, such as space weaponization and surveillance technology, radiological weapons, cyber warfare, advanced robotics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology.

Finally, we recommend that an international commission of experts and moral authority figures be appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations to issue a report on existing and emerging weaponry of mass destruction and to propose international arrangements and policy recommendations that would enhance the prospects for global peace and security in the years ahead and, above all, the avoidance of any use of weapons of mass destruction.

Humanity stands at a critical crossroads, and the future depends upon our actions now.