Some five decades ago, world leaders came together on an urgent mission to avert “the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind” in the event of a nuclear war. The five then-existing nuclear weapon states – the United States, Soviet Union (now Russia), United Kingdom, France and China – signed the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They agreed to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race at an early date and to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.
Five decades later, the nuclear threat has only increased. Four more states – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – now have nuclear weapons. The world is more dangerous because the signatories of the NPT have failed to keep their promises and have undermined the rule of law.
Until now, no one has held them accountable. Last month, the Republic of the Marshall Islands courageously took the nine nuclear weapons-wielding Goliaths to the International Court of Justice to enforce compliance with the NPT and customary international law.
This tiny Pacific nation’s firsthand experience with nuclear devastation compelled it to take a stand. The United States exploded 67 nuclear weapons there between 1946 and 1958, including a bomb 1,000 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. Marshall Islanders still suffer high cancer rates and environmental poisoning as a result. They are not seeking compensation; in fact, their bold stance could potentially jeopardize the essential funding and protection the US provides them. Yet their desire to protect their fellow humans from the pain and devastation wrought by nuclear weapons outweighs fear of retribution.
Nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral because they have only one purpose: to indiscriminately destroy human life at the push of a button, without regard for whether they kill innocents or combatants, children or adults. In 1996, the International Court of Justice warned, “The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”
No government, army, organization or individual should have the ability to impose nuclear devastation on other humans. This truth is enshrined in Article VI of the NPT: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
The five original nuclear weapon states signed onto this statement, but have failed to honor their commitments. The four more recent nuclear weapon states – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – have followed their lead in defying international legal obligations.
Instead of working to end the insanity of the nuclear age once and for all, these nine countries waste trillions of dollars on their nuclear arsenals, in violation of both the treaty and customary international law. We can no longer afford this perilous game of nuclear roulette. Every day that world leaders delay action on disarmament, they impose the unacceptable menace of nuclear devastation upon every human on the planet.
Addiction to nuclear weapons costs us all in other ways as well. The price of these weapons keeps rising. The nuclear nations spend a combined $100 billion on them every year. Imagine how far this amount could take us in providing access to education, health care, food and clean water for the people of the world.
The people of the Marshall Islands are standing up to say that it’s time to end the era of nuclear madness. They are joined by Nobel Peace Laureates, and leaders and experts from every field who support this historic legal action.
We call on President Obama and the leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to fulfill their legal obligation to negotiate in good faith to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. It is not unrealistic to ask that the world’s most powerful governments start obeying the law and keeping their promises.
Nothing good has ever come of nuclear weapons. Nothing good ever will. For the sake of all humanity, current and future, it’s time to respect the law and keep the promise.