Nuclear weapons do not make Americans safer. Rather, they threaten us all with their uncontrollable and unforgiving power. They are weapons of mass annihilation, indiscriminate in nature, threatening combatants and civilians alike. They kill and maim. They cause unnecessary suffering. They are immoral and their use would violate the humanitarian laws of warfare. No country should be allowed to possess weaponry that is capable of destroying civilization and ending most life on the planet, including the human species.
Nuclear weapons and human fallibility are a most dangerous mix. As long as nuclear weapons exist in the world, civilization and the human species are threatened. Nuclear deterrence is not foolproof, and time is not our friend. We must approach this task with the urgency it demands. We must confront nuclear weapons and those countries that possess and rely upon them with what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now.”
There are still more than 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, most in the arsenals of the United States and Russia. However, seven other countries also possess these annihilators. These countries are: the UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Even one of these weapons can destroy a city, a few can destroy a country, and an exchange of 100 of them between India and Pakistan on the other side’s cities could trigger a nuclear famine resulting in the deaths of some two billion people globally. A larger nuclear exchange between the US and Russia could return the planet to an ice age, resulting in nearly universal death.
What is needed today is for the countries of the world to engage in negotiations in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and to achieve total nuclear disarmament. That is what is required of us and the other countries of the world under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law. Unfortunately, rather than negotiating in good faith for these ends, the nuclear-armed countries are engaged in expensive programs to modernize their nuclear arsenals.
The goal of negotiations should be a universal agreement for all the nuclear-armed countries to give up their nuclear arsenals in a phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent manner. It will require the participation of all countries, but some country will need to lead in convening these negotiations. That country should be the United States of America, given its background in developing, using and testing nuclear weapons. But, if history is a guide, that won’t happen until the people of the United States demand it of their government.
The country that has stepped up to take a leadership role in calling on the nuclear-armed nations to fulfill their obligations for nuclear disarmament is a small, courageous Pacific Island state, the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It is suing the nine nuclear-armed nations to require them to do what they are obligated to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law; that is, to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament.
The Nuclear Zero initiative of the Marshall Islands falls in this 70th anniversary year of the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States. Enough people have already suffered from nuclear weapons – those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those in the Marshall Islands, the Nevada Test Site, Semipalatinsk, Lop Nor and other nuclear weapon test sites around the world. It is time for humanity to take charge of its own destiny. In the Nuclear Age, ridding the world of nuclear weapons is an imperative. Our common future depends upon our shared success.
Of course, the perspective expressed above is my own. It is tragic, though, that such a perspective did not make it into the President’s 2015 State of the Union Message to the Congress and People of the United States. It was an opportunity to teach and lead that was missed by the President. Why, we might ask, is he engaged in modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, a trillion dollar project, instead of negotiating for the elimination of nuclear weapons? After all, in Prague in 2009, the president expressed boldly, “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” What has happened to that commitment?
Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is the author of ZERO: The Case for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.
This article was originally published by The Hill.