September 22, 2017
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Arguments for Nuclear Abolition

The humanitarian case

The abolition of nuclear weapons is an urgent humanitarian necessity. Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic consequences. No effective humanitarian response would be possible, and the effects of radiation on human beings would cause suffering and death many years after the initial explosion. Prohibiting and completely eliminating nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against their use.

Even if a nuclear weapon were never again exploded over a city, there are intolerable effects from the production, testing and deployment of nuclear arsenals that are experienced as an ongoing personal and community catastrophe by many people around the globe. This humanitarian harm, too, must inform and motivate efforts to outlaw and eradicate nuclear weapons.

Catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons →

“Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause, in the impossibility of controlling their effects in space and time, and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations, and indeed to the survival of humanity.” – International Committee of the Red Cross, 2010

The security case

Nuclear weapons pose a direct and constant threat to people everywhere. Far from keeping the peace, they breed fear and mistrust among nations. These ultimate instruments of terror and mass destruction have no legitimate military or strategic utility, and are useless in addressing any of today’s real security threats, such as terrorism, climate change, extreme poverty, overpopulation and disease.

While many thousands of nuclear weapons have been dismantled since the end of the cold war, the justifications for maintaining them remain largely unchanged. Nations still cling to the misguided idea of “nuclear deterrence”, when it is clear that nuclear weapons only cause national and global insecurity. There have been many documented instances of the near-use of nuclear weapons as a result of miscalculation or accidents.

MYTH REALITY
It’s OK for some countries to possess nuclear weapons. When it comes to nuclear weapons, there are no safe hands. So long as any country has these weapons, others will want them, and the world will be in a precarious state.
It’s unlikely that nuclear weapons will ever be used again. Unless we eliminate nuclear weapons, they will almost certainly be used again, either intentionally or by accident, and the consequences will be catastrophic.
Nuclear weapons can be used legitimately in war. Any use of weapons would violate international humanitarian law because they would indiscriminately kill civilians and cause long-term environmental harm.

The environmental case

Nuclear weapons are the only devices ever created that have the capacity to destroy all complex life forms on Earth. It would take less than 0.1% of the explosive yield of the current global nuclear arsenal to bring about devastating agricultural collapse and widespread famine. The smoke and dust from fewer than 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear explosions would cause an abrupt drop in global temperatures and rainfall.

Climate disruption and nuclear famine →

“Climate change may be the global policy issue that has captured most attention in the last decade, but the problem of nuclear weapons is at least its equal in terms of gravity – and much more immediate in its potential impact.” – International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, 2009

The economic case

Nuclear weapons programmes divert public funds from health care, education, disaster relief and other vital services. The nine nuclear-armed nations spend many tens of billions of dollars each year maintaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals. Funding allocated to disarmament efforts is minuscule by comparison. It is time to redirect money towards meeting human needs.

Spending on nuclear weapons

As hundreds of millions of people across the globe go hungry, the nuclear-armed nations spend close to US$300 million a day on their nuclear forces.

The production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces diverts vast public resources away from health care, education, climate change mitigation, disaster relief, development assistance and other vital services. Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$105 billion – or $12 million an hour. The World Bank forecast in 2002 that an annual investment of just US$40–60 billion, or roughly half the amount currently spent on nuclear weapons, would be enough to meet the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation by the target date of 2015.

Nuclear weapons spending in 2010 was more than twice the official development assistance provided to Africa and equal to the gross domestic product of Bangladesh, a nation of some 160 million people. The Office for Disarmament Affairs – the principal UN body responsible for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world – has an annual budget of $10 million, which is less than the amount spent on nuclear weapons every hour.

Country 2010 spending 2011 spending
United States $55.6bn $61.3bn
Russia $9.7bn $14.8bn
China $6.8bn $7.6bn
France $5.9bn $6.0bn
United Kingdom $4.5bn $5.5bn
India $4.1bn $4.9bn
Israel $1.9bn $1.9bn
Pakistan $1.8bn $2.2bn
North Korea $0.7bn $0.7bn
Total $91.0bn $104.9bn
Source: Global Zero. Figures in US dollars.

“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded …. The end of the cold war has led the world to expect a massive peace dividend. Yet, there are over 20,000 nuclear weapons around the world. Many of them are still on hair-trigger alert, threatening our own survival.” – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon