Nuclear weapons are the most indiscriminate, inhumane and destructive explosive devices ever created. Yet while the other weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons, have been prohibited and are subject to a time-bound framework for elimination, nuclear weapons have not yet been categorically outlawed.
Today, nine countries possess nuclear weapons: China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, United States, and United Kingdom. While the total number of nuclear weapons has been reduced from 70,000 in 1986 to approximately 15,800 today, their capacity to produce a global catastrophe is still undiminished. Furthermore, all nuclear-armed states have plans or programmes to modernise and extend the lives of their nuclear arsenals into the indefinite future.
In response to this state of affairs, WILPF has joined the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. We believe that the development of an international 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. While participation of all states would be welcomed, such a treaty could be developed even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states and would still have a significant impact in both normative as well as well practical terms.
A BIT ABOUT NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Nuclear weapon explosions have catastrophic humanitarian, environmental, and economic effects. The energy of the explosion produced by the detonation of a nuclear weapon is obtained from certain types of nuclear reactions. The early direct effects include an enormous blast wave, intense heat causing burns and igniting massive fires, initial radiation, induced radioactivity, radioactive fallout and electromagnetic pulse. Due to the unrivalled size of the explosion, the immense damage caused, and the radiation that follows, a nuclear detonation results in an unimaginable number of casualties, has devastating long term effects on people’s health and the environment for decades afterwards, and all on a large geographical scale. Furthermore, any nuclear detonation can be expected to cause profound and largely uncontrollable psychological, social, economic, and political effects, and the risk of nuclear retaliation and escalation on a global level.
On 6 and 9 of August, 1945 the United States dropped two different types of nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are the only two cases in which nuclear weapons have been used in warfare. However, since 1945, nuclear-armed states have carried out more than 2000 nuclear tests in total, including in the South Pacific, United States (Nevada), Kazakhstan, China, Australia, India and Pakistan. The radiation from nuclear testing and explosions has profoundly negative health and environmental effects, ranging from degenerative health conditions like cancer, congenital defects, and infertility, to the long-term contamination of soil and water sources.
In the 1960s, public mobilization against nuclear testing in the atmosphere led to negotiations of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), prohibiting all testing of nuclear weapons, except underground. In 1996, the UN Conference on Disarmament negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions. However, it does not explicitly prohibit subcritical or other forms of laboratory or computer-based nuclear weapons testing. While the CTBT has not yet entered into force, a de facto nuclear testing moratorium is observed by most, but not all, nuclear-armed states. On 6 January 2016, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced that it carried out a hydrogen bomb test, a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and a very dangerous prospect.