71 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, UN talks may lead to a ban on nuclear weapons
Yesterday, on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and four days before the same anniversary of Nagasaki, the chair of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on nuclear disarmament officially presented his zero draft report. The report will be debated at the upcoming third and final session of the 2016 OEWG, where states will decide on recommendations to take to the UN General Assembly in October.
US atomic bombing of Japanese cities
On 6 August 1945, an estimated 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima after the US nuclear attack on the city. Many thousands more died of horrific injuries caused by radiation poisoning in the days, weeks, months, and decades that followed. Three days later, around 80,000 died when the US dropped a second nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki.
The massive death and destruction caused in August 1945 should have been more than enough reason to immediately ban and eliminate the use, production, stockpiling, and manufacture of nuclear weapons, for all states.
Yet 71 years later, nine countries still possess around 15,800 nuclear weapons. The UK has just committed to renewing its Trident nuclear programme and NATO is increasing the role of nuclear weapons. All nuclear-armed starts are investing billions of dollars in modernising their nuclear arsenals and none are engaged in disarmament negotiations, in violation of their legal commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
WILPF and nuclear weapons
WILPF has been campaigning to rid the world of these weapons of mass destruction since they were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are a partner organisation of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and as part of this coalition, we advocate for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. A legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons could bridge the gap between long held aspirations for nuclear disarmament and the seemingly intractable legal and political landscape that exists today.
The majority of states want a legally-binding instrument
Finally an overwhelming majority of states have shown the courage to call for negotiations on a ban treaty. At the second round of OEWG discussions in May this year, the nuclear-supportive states were the minority of voices in the room. Nuclear-armed states boycotted the process that is widely seen as setting the stage for negotiations on a legally-binding prohibition. Their argument is predicated on an outdated conception that nuclear weapons provide security.
The OEWG will meet for its third and final round of discussions on 16, 17, and 19 August, where states will consider the draft recommendations, presented yesterday, to take to the UN General Assembly First Committee in December. It is clear that the next logical step is negotiations for a nuclear weapons ban treaty to turn the decades-long rhetoric into concrete action for nuclear disarmament.
Yesterday WILPF hosted a webinar: A nuclear weapon free world: 71 years in the making – is there an end in sight? featuring Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will of WILPF, Dr Helen Caldicott, veteran anti nuclear campaigner and WILPF Peace Woman Laureate, and Daniel Högsta, Network Coordinator, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
For more information, follow WILPF’s disarmament programme, Reaching Critical Will’s coverage of the OEWG process and subscribe to the First Committee mailing list to receive updates during the August talks. Listen to this podcast by Tim Wright, Director, ICAN Australia, for an overview of the progress made at the May session of the OEWG.