Today, September 26, is the International Day for the Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. This day, first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, draws attention to the international commitment to global nuclear disarmament by the majority of the world’s nations as expressed in Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also highlights the lack of progress by the nine nuclear nations who hold the rest of the world hostage with their nuclear arsenals.
Albert Einstein said in 1946, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our mode of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." This drift has perhaps never been more perilous than at the present time. With careless rhetoric of threatened use of nuclear weapons, fire and fury, and total destruction of other nations, the world has recognized that there are no right hands to be on the nuclear button. Total abolition of nuclear weapons is the only response.
Global nuclear disarmament has been a goal of the United Nations since its inception in 1945. With the passage of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, the world’s nuclear nations committed to work in "good faith" eliminate all nuclear weapons. The NPT treaty which is been a cornerstone of nuclear disarmament lacked the legal framework to achieve this goal. This reality in a world with 15,000 nuclear weapons coupled with the recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences if nuclear weapons are ever used again has coalesced a worldwide movement of civil society, indigenous peoples, victims of atomic attacks and testing, in a global campaign focused on the unacceptability of the existence and use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
This multi-year process has resulted in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was adopted at the United Nations on July 7, 2017 and provides the legal framework necessary to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons. At the opening day of the UN General Assembly last week on September 20, the Treaty was opened for signature. There have now been 53 nations who have signed the Treaty, and three who have ratified the Treaty. When 50 nations have finally ratified or formally adopted the Treaty it will go into force 90 days thereafter thus making nuclear weapons illegal to possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use, test, develop or transfer, just as all other weapons of mass destruction have been.
The world has spoken and the momentum toward complete nuclear abolition has shifted. The process is unstoppable. Each of us and our nation has a role to play in bringing forth this reality. Each of us must ask what is our role in this effort.
Robert Dodge is a family physician practicing full-time in Ventura, California. He serves on the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles serving as a Peace and Security Ambassador and at the national level where he sits on the security committee. He also serves on the board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. He writes for PeaceVoice.