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2013 No. 4

Editorial: Overcoming obfuscation
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF


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When 125 statescollectively raise their voices to say that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again,” and that the only way to guarantee this “is through their total elimination,” it is time for serious action.

The condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria has demonstrated universal abhorrence of weapons of mass destruction. Why then are nuclear weapons not on “equal footing” with other WMD, which are already subject to global prohibitions due to their devestating impact, as noted by Ambassador Laggner of Switzerland? Could it be because most of the states that possess nuclear weapons are militarily (and in some cases, economically) stronger than those who would dare to demand disarmament?

“The willingness of the world as a whole to move forward in a constructive manner to eliminate nuclear weapons has never been more evident,” said Archbishop Chullikatt of the Holy See. “Yet a very small number of States stand in the way, trying to block progress and to find a comprehensive solution to the problem that goes on year after year in paralysis and obfuscation.”

This handful of states—principally the nuclear-armed states and those propping up the continued possession nuclear weapons through military alliances—continue to say that a “step-by-step process” is the only way forward. This effectively prevents any tangible progress from being made.

Yet some governments that possess nuclear weapons seem to think it ridiculous that the rest of the world expects them to comply with their obligations. These governments accuse those urging new approaches of seeking a comprehensive solution. Yet it is they who seem to want to solve all of the world’s problems at once.

The common refrain from the handful of states blocking progress is that they cannot, as the Russian delegate said, “naively commit to nuclear disarmament” without the right conditions. Anyone who demands disarmament, he suggested, is a “radical dreamer” who has “shot off to some other planet or outer space.” But on what planet will the conditions be “ripe” for these governments that are holding the rest of the world hostage with their capacity to destroy us all thousands of times over?

This threat of destruction “must guide our deliberations and motivate our efforts to outlaw and eliminate these weapons,” argued the Philippines delegation. This is one of the reasons why the vast majority of countries have highlighted and welcomed the growing discourse on the humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons. This debate might not be new, but as Ambassador Mamabolo of South Africa noted, it has not been at the core of our deliberations for many years.

The Russian delegation believes that since “children in school already understand” how horrific nuclear weapons are, we should “not waste time on such useless topics.” But to say that the impact of nuclear weapons does not need to be considered by all of us is to suggest, as Ambassador Higgie of New Zealand pointed out, that we should simply rely on the nuclear-armed states to consider and understand, on our behalf. This “would run counter to our undertakings in the NPT and our collective responsibility to work to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

Perhaps children in school should guide our policies on security and disarmament. If the dangers are so simple to understand, then so are the solutions. It is not just, responsible, safe, or acceptable for some governments to wield monstrous weapons and pretend that anyone or anything other than their own policies is preventing them from changing this situation. “If somebody wants a sheep, that is a proof that one exists,” said the Little Prince, the title character of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. If we all aspire to a world free of nuclear weapons, as Mr. O’Reilly of Ireland suggested, then that is proof that we can build it.

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