Over the last weekend of September, in between a cross-country race for my high schooler, a soccer game for my 6th grader, and saying good bye to my daughter as she headed to Europe to study medicine, I was working on a statement to deliver during the United Nations General Assembly on September 26. My statement would take place at a commemorative meeting for the International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and I only had three minutes to deliver it. Three minutes is not a lot of time; about three hundred words to be exact. And I had so much to say.

I wanted to tell the delegates about my amazing kids and husband and dog and why I feel that the biggest gift I can leave to my children would be a world free of nuclear weapons. I wanted to tell the delegates that my main motivation in pursuing the hard work of nuclear disarmament is love. Love for my family, for our beautiful planet, for all life on Earth, and for humanity itself. I wanted to tell them that nuclear weapons, in the words of David Krieger, threaten everything we love and everything we’ve ever known. They threaten humanity itself.

We live in a challenging time. I wanted to tell the delegates about tears in my eyes while in the Times Square subway station just days earlier. I was on my way to the General Assembly while passing through the station. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll know that it’s not exactly the kind of location that is inspiring. But thinking about the weight of the world and seeing people singing, holding hands, rushing to wherever they were going, or selling fruit cups, brought tears to my eyes. If a nuclear weapon were to be used in New York City, that subway station would surely be vaporized. And so much more.

Last year, an international treaty that bans nuclear weapons – the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) – entered into force. A response of nuclear weapon states to this treaty has been to point out that they would love to get rid of nuclear weapons if it weren’t for the “bad” countries that possess them or aspire to possess them. But there is no such thing as bad or good nuclear weapons. They are all bad. A single nuclear weapon used today would be much more powerful than the bombs the United States used in attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More likely, multiple weapons would be delivered simultaneously on an intercontinental ballistic missile. And unlike in 1945, there would most certainly be a response consisting of more nuclear strikes.

But I didn’t get to say all this. Instead, I focused on the lessons from the past, the current terrifying arsenals and modernization plans, and the future on a planet that currently supports a human civilization, however imperfect it may be, and that may not be able to do so in the future. Some necessary context: the use of nuclear weapons in attacks on Japan was not the only time that humanity suffered due to nuclear weapons. The suffering includes a long legacy of nuclear weapons testing on the atolls and islands of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, French Polynesia, and Alaska, to the deserts of the American Southwest, Australia, Kazakhstan, and China, and in other locations around the world. This legacy consists of decades of physical health effects, such as increased rates of cancer and negative maternal health impacts, as well as mental and cultural demise.

Some more context: today, nine countries possess around 13,000 weapons, about 1800 of which are on what is called a hair-trigger alert. This means that many hundreds of weapons can be launched within minutes in crisis situations. This also means that accidental use or use due to misunderstanding or miscalculation is much more likely. Finally, the use of even small fractions of the current arsenals would result in millions of direct deaths and even billions due to starvation within the first two years, depending on the exact circumstances of the weapons used and their total number. The latter is a consequence of something scientists called nuclear winter more than four decades ago. The results of a recent study of nuclear winter are simply terrifying.

At the UN, I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to. But I had love in my heart and a clear message. Everything we know about nuclear weapons from thinking about the past, the present, and the future says that the only road ahead is that toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

You can watch my statement HERE.

– Ivana