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The time until midnight must now be perilously closer than the “two and a half minutes” declared by the Doomsday Clock at the start of 2017. Deteriorating dialogue and growing aggression between nuclear armed nations have alarmingly raised the possibility of nuclear conflict to its highest level in years, if not decades. Yet, while time appears at its most pressing, great strides have been made by the majority of world member states, in collaboration with civil society, to collectively denounce nuclear weapons as being incompatible with humanity.
A line in the sand was drawn on July 7 when the United Nations (UN) Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was ratified by nearly two thirds of UN member states. The treaty, based on international humanitarian laws to protect and limit the impacts of conflict on civilians, reaffirmed that the “use of nuclear weapons would..be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience”; as well as against international conventions on the “rules of proportionality” and indiscriminate suffering.
Earlier this month the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the prominent non-government organisation International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for their sustained effort to provide a platform for innovative solution-seeking discussions to protect the world’s human and animal populations against “the intolerable effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals”. ICAN’s advocacy and coordination of the Humanitarian Pledge, which was formally endorsed by 127 nations, were acknowledged as pivotal for securing the UN treaty. Beyond these substantial efforts, many more activists remain determined in their petition against nuclear weapons through campaigns of awareness and education.
Yet although most of the UN’s member states have declared a clear desire, alongside civil society, for nuclear weapons to be dismantled and made illegitimate, while at the same time create space for alternate international relations, based on diplomatic discussion, a small group of states remain defiant in their refusal to acknowledge or ratify the treaty.
While outnumbered, this small collective of states, bound by a shared posturing and commitment to old politics of nuclear deterrence, are the most powerful of states in the world. It is these states alone who could engineer a, or multiple nuclear catastrophes through miscalculation, accident or deliberate intent. Their justification however for maintaining and investing in nuclear weaponry remains that these weapons are ultimate instruments of deterrence, and by extension are effective for securing a highly unstable form of security, based on the notion of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, or MAD as it came to be known during Cold War era. The irony is deep.
Although many of these states, and some of their leaders, seemingly yearn to contain the world in stifled fear of nuclear deterrence, the world has moved beyond this. Civil society has matured and decidedly expressed, through the majority of its representative member states, and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, that nuclear weapons pose threats of “unacceptable suffering and harm” to people, animals and the environment. Peace and freedom from the threat of these weapons has been identified as a “global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security initiatives”.
Through the lived experiences of hibakusha, the world is cognisant to the impact of nuclear weapons. This should be reason enough to dismantle all nuclear weapons, and yet it is not. MAD would likely no longer apply given the present capabilities and power of modern nuclear weapons; rather destruction and suffering would more than likely be collective, indiscriminate and potentially absolute.
Although we are nearing midnight, there still remains time, in which active and meaningful discussions and resolutions can be achieved. Member states who have not ratified the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons must be engaged in positive dialogue to encourage them to join the majority, and create new forms of security arrangements that respect the common humanity of the world and its desire to live peacefully without nuclear weapons; for there is no second planet, this is all we have.