November 27, 2023
Delivered by Ivana Nikolić Hughes and Anastasia Shakhidzanova
Honorable President and Secretary General, Distinguished Delegates, and colleagues and friends from civil society and beyond,
We are gathered today in what is surely a bright light amidst the darkness of death and devastation that has become the hallmark of our world today. When peace is elusive in multiple locations around the globe, and we watch the suffering of civilians on our screens in real time, it is easy to feel helpless and to lose hope that a fair and just world is possible. And yet, the Second Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons exemplifies precisely that – cooperation of nations from all around the planet, standing together for a better future, one that is free of nuclear weapons.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has shared such a vision for 41 years this month and applauds this body for forging the path ahead. The Foundation never lost sight of the fact that nuclear weapons abolition is an existential imperative for humanity. Today, the nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons could not only kill millions, but also have the potential to end human civilization as we know it and extinguish life on our beautiful planet. To have a treaty that can lead to the elimination of these weapons is a dream come true for us and for peoples of the world.
We commend you on your vision and fortitude in the face of naysayers and detractors. And we commend your attention not only to those who could suffer due to nuclear weapons in the future, but those that have suffered from nuclear weapons use, testing, and related activities in the past and who continue to suffer today. Nothing we do will erase the terrible realities that victims have faced due to these terrible weapons. But it is possible to assist them in meaningful ways, including by conducting full and comprehensive assessment and remediation of contaminated environments. The TPNW can accomplish this critical task.
As a mother and a scientist, I am keenly focused on leaving a world free of nuclear weapons to my children and the generations of scientists that will come after me. I am also a teacher and a mentor to young people at Columbia University and at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and our youth initiative Reverse the Trend. What I know and witness every day is that young people of the world have talents, dreams, and hopes. One of them – Anastasia Shakhidzhanova is here with me today and will take a moment to tell you about her own experience learning about nuclear weapons and what their elimination means to her.
Let us not forestall the chance of today’s children and future generations to live out their full lives by continuing to play nuclear roulette. Let us eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us. Thank you for blazing the trail.
Good afternoon honorable President and Secretary General, distinguished delegates, and members of civil society. It is a great privilege to speak before you today.
Last spring, I traveled with other young people from around the world to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as part of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and its youth initiative Reverse the Trend. We attended the ICAN Youth Forum and met with survivors of both the atomic bombings and the over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted globally. The trip was deeply meaningful and educational. I am still shocked at how little the general public, and especially my own generation, knows about these nuclear legacies, including acute and long-term illnesses, family separations, forced relocations, poisonings of soil, air, and water, and more.
For decades, mothers around the world, including in Algeria, Kiribati, and Kazakhstan, my family’s home, have been contending with horrific birth defects, widespread infertility, and developmental problems in their children. Many who are dealing with these issues today were not even alive when nuclear weapons were exploded in their homelands. These mothers and other victims require help from the international community. They require justice.
I am a fourth-year student studying political science and sustainable development at Columbia University. Despite being at Columbia and Science Po in France for over three years, my extensive university coursework never included this history, nor did it discuss the present role of nuclear weapons in geopolitics. How is it possible that something that has been devastating to so many is barely mentioned? How is it possible that something that has the potential to end humanity is swept under the rug so effectively?
Today, we have nearly 13,000 weapons, among which are bombs that are hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Using just one third of the arsenals of Russia and US alone could cause the most devastating climate change the world has ever seen – nuclear winter. Given these realities, it is morally, intellectually, and politically inexcusable to consign the constantly present risk of nuclear weapons use, whether intentional or accidental, and nuclear war to a subtle hum in the background of our minds.
Nuclear weapons, their proliferation, and their constant technological advancement is not an inescapable reality humanity must silently contend with. While the challenges of nuclear disarmament are high, just like for any other geopolitical challenge, what’s needed is clear: more diplomacy, more negotiations, more human to human conversation. I am grateful that you are doing just that, right here, right now.
The looming threat of complete human and ecosystem obliteration is not a possibility the world has always lived with, and we cannot passively accept it as an inevitable reality any longer. Thank you on behalf of my generation for working towards a day when these barbaric weapons of mass death will be eliminated from our beautiful planet.