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It's time to ban nuclear weapons

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26 September 2014 marks the first ever UN International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. To ensure that this day of commemoration is an indicator of states’ real intention to take action, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is calling on governments to start negotiating a treaty to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons.

A growing number of governments and international organizations have been compelled by the undeniable evidence of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and concerned about the limited progress of nuclear disarmament. They have recognized the imperative to address the global humanitarian threat of nuclear weapons, with bold and urgent actions toward prohibition.

Yet only days before the UN day, the New York Times published an expose detailing the US government’s plans to ramp up a major renewal in its nuclear weapons complex. Expected to cost up to one trillion dollars, the plans for modernization of US nuclear weapons, and the bombs, missiles, and submarines that carry them and the factories that make them, will extend US possession of its arsenal well into the future. And the US is not the only nuclear-armed state to be throwing money away on nuclear weapons—all possessor countries have programmes or plans to invest billions in their weapons of mass destruction over the next decade, in contradiction to their legal obligation to disarm.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to deal with nuclear weapons have been deadlocked for many years. There is a steadfast divide between those proposing multilateral negotiations on comprehensive nuclear disarmament and those seeking a so-called step-by-step approach to deal with certain aspects first. The nuclear-armed states have exercised an effective veto over any diplomatic efforts that they do not support.

It’s time for real change. The renewed focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has opened space to consider how to overcome the diplomatic deadlock and nuclear-armed state reticence. A treaty banning nuclear weapons, which would provide a framework for their prohibition and elimination, is the most effective measure in the current context. It should be negotiated now, even if the nuclear-armed states choose not to participate.

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons will take courage. It will take leadership by states free of nuclear weapons. But as this paper has demonstrated, it is feasible and achievable. And it is necessary. At a time when the nuclear-armed states continue to demonstrate their lack of commitment to pursuing tangible, good faith nuclear disarmament, as international tensions rise and nuclear weapons lurk in the background behind the use of military force, and as the potential for accidents persists, banning nuclear weapons is an urgent necessity.

For more materials on Nuclear Abolition Day, please see:

ICAN press release >>

ICAN statement to the UN event for the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons >>

Nuclear Abolition Day tumblr >>

Register for the ICAN Civil Society Forum >>

NAD 2014