The world urgently needs a system of international laws for protecting whistleblowers. There are many reasons for this, but among the most urgent is the need for saving civilization and the biosphere from the threat of a catastrophic nuclear war.

It is generally recognized that a war fought with nuclear weapons would be a humanitarian and environmental disaster, affecting neutral nations throughout the world, as well as combatants. For example, on 4-5 March 2013 the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Espen Barth Eide hosted an international Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The Conference provided an arena for a fact-based discussion of the humanitarian and developmental consequences of a nuclear weapons detonation. Delegates from 127 countries as well as several UN organisations, the International Red Cross movement, representatives of civil society and other relevant stakeholders participated.

The Austrian representatives to the Oslo Conference commented that “Austria is convinced that it is necessary and overdue to put the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons at the center of our debate, including in the NPT. Nuclear weapons are not just a security policy issue for a few states but an issue of serious concern for the entire international community. The humanitarian, environmental, health, economic and developmental consequences of any nuclear weapons explosion would be devastating and global and any notion of adequate preparedness or response is an illusion.”

China stated that “China has always stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, and [has] actively promoted the establishment of a world free of nuclear weapons. The complete prohibition and total elimination of nuclear weapons, getting rid of the danger of nuclear war and the attainment of a nuclear-weapon-free world, serve the common interests and benefits of humankind.”

Japan’s comment included the words: “As the only country to have suffered atomic bombings during wartime, Japan actively contributed to the Oslo Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in March. With strengthened resolve to seek a nuclear-weapons-free world, we continue to advance disarmament and non-proliferation education to inform the world and the next generation of the dreadful realities of nuclear devastation.” Many other nations represented at the Oslo Conference made similarly strong statements advocating the complete abolition of nuclear weapons.

Recently UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has introduced a 5-point Program for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In this program he mentioned the possibility of a Nuclear Weapons Convention, and urged the Security Council to convene a summit devoted to the nuclear abolition. He also urged all countries to ratify the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty.

Three-quarters of all nations support UN Secretary-General Ban’s proposal for a treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons. The 146 nations that have declared their willingness to negotiate a new global disarmament pact include four nuclear weapon states: China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Nuclear disarmament has been one of the core aspirations of the international community since the first use of nuclear weapons in 1945. A nuclear war, even a limited one, would have global humanitarian and environmental consequences, and thus it is a responsibility of all governments,including those of non-nuclear countries, to protect their citizens and engage in processes leading to a world without nuclear weapons.

Now a new process has been established by the United Nations General Assembly, an Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) to Take Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations. The OEWG convened at the UN offices in Geneva on May 14, 2013. Among the topics discussed was a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention.

The Model Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibits development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. States possessing nuclear weapons will be required to destroy their arsenals according to a series of phases.

The Convention also prohibits the production of weapons usable fissile material and requires delivery vehicles to be destroyed or converted to make them non-nuclear capable.

Verification will include declarations and reports from States, routine inspections, challenge inspections, on-site sensors, satellite photography, radionuclide sampling and other remote sensors, information sharing with other organizations, and citizen reporting. Persons reporting suspected violations of the convention will be provided protection through the Convention including the right of asylum.

Thus we can see that the protection of whistleblowers is an integral feature of the Model Nuclear Weapons Convention now being discussed. As Sir Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005, Nobel Laureate 1995) frequently emphasized in his speeches, societal verification must be an integral part of the process of “going to zero” ( i.e, the total elimination of nuclear weapons). This is because nuclear weapons are small enough to be easily hidden. How will we know whether a nation has destroyed all of its nuclear arsenal? We have to depend on information from insiders, whose loyalty to the whole of humanity promts them to become whistleblowers. And for this to be possible, they need to be protected.

In general, if the world is ever to be free from the threat of complete destruction by modern weapons, we will need a new global ethic, an ethic as advanced as our technology. Of course we can continue to be loyal to our families, our localities and our countries. But this must be suplemented by a higher loyalty: a loyalty to humanity as a whole.

John Avery is a leader in the Pugwash movement in Denmark.