Next week we hope to see the beginning of the end.
We live under the constant threat every moment of every day of nuclear annihilation. The existence of 16,300 nuclear weapons on the planet places our very survival in great peril. Whether by plan or accident a nuclear attack has no meaningful medical or humanitarian response. As chronicled by Eric Schlosser in his book Command and Control, the number of times we have come close to nuclear disaster is mind boggling and it is a matter of sheer luck that we have not experienced a nuclear catastrophe. Luck is not a security policy and ultimately will run out unless we change our thinking and work to abolish nuclear weapons entirely.
The specious argument of nuclear deterrence has been a major driving force of the global nuclear arsenals. Under such outmoded and misguided thinking, if you have one weapon then I must have two and thereafter you must get three, providing the driving force of the arms race. Non-nuclear states are enticed to develop their own weapons just to have a seat at the table. This hardly demonstrates leading by example.
Recent scientific studies have demonstrated the potential deaths of two billion people from a limited regional nuclear exchange using ½ of 1 percent of the global nuclear arsenals. The climatic changes from such an exchange are now predicted to last 20 years, placing millions more at risk. Again, no adequate medical or humanitarian response to such a scenario. As with any other massive threat to public health from Ebola to Polio to AIDS and TB, we must prevent this before it happens.
Non nuclear nations across the globe in concert with civil society are demanding a change and freedom from being held hostage to the nuclear powers. The nuclear powers are obligated under Article VI of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty to work in good faith to abolish nuclear weapons yet all nuclear nations are working to modernize their weapons, including the US with proposals to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. This can hardly be called a good faith effort and has led to the tiny non-nuclear nation of the Marshall Islands, home of 12 years of US nuclear testing, to courageously bring suit against the US and all nuclear states for breach of the NPT treaty.
Next week the Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons will be hosted by the government of Austria and more than 150 nations representing 3/4 of the nations of the world will be in attendance, along with international organizations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, academic experts and representatives of civil society, including Physicians for Social Responsibility, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation among others.
The Vienna meeting follows upon two prior conferences, one in Oslo, Norway, in 2013, attended by 127 nations, and one in Nayarit, Mexico, last February, attended by 146 nations. The United States and UK were conspicuously absent at both conferences. Among all of the nuclear weapons states, only India and Pakistan sent delegations to the Oslo and Nayarit conferences.
In an historic move, the US has announced it will send an official delegation to the Vienna conference and this week following suit the UK has announced that it too will send a delegation. This shift of position led by the United States and UK is to be applauded as the first two members of the P5 nuclear nations to step forward.
When he came to office, President Obama promised that he would seek the security of a world free of nuclear weapons. We can hope that this decision to attend the Vienna conference is just the first step toward further meaningful action in their abolition. It provides an opportunity for the US to lead by example and take the bold steps necessary to eliminate all nuclear weapons once and for all.