We are calling on President Obama to speak at the September 26 meeting at the United Nations, the first ever General Assembly high level summit on nuclear disarmament.
Sign the petition to add your voice: http://bit.ly/14v4DAz
–See below for more information on nuclear weapons and the campaign for nuclear abolition–
Who has nuclear weapons?
All five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, and China) as well as Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons. Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, and North Korea has exploded three nuclear devices.
How many nuclear weapons exist in 2013?
United States: 7,700 (2,150 are deployed/ ready to be used and 3,000 are awaiting dismantlement)
Russia: 8,500 (1,800 are deployed and 4,000 are estimated to be awaiting dismantlement)
United Kingdom: 225
North Korea: 6–8
TOTAL: approximately 17,270
How powerful are these weapons compared to the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?
The yield of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were comparable to explosions of about 15 to 20 kilotons of TNT. The yield from today’s thermonuclear weapons varies but they are all much more powerful by comparison. The average U.S. nuclear weapon would explode with a yield of 300 kilotons of TNT.
Why should the world get rid of nuclear weapons?
Simply put, because nuclear weapons make the world less safe. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the threat of use also exists, whether intentional or accidental. Nuclear materials also remain vulnerable to theft or sale for illicit purposes. While states cling to their nuclear arsenals saying they are necessary for their security and the security of their allies, other states will also seek these weapons for their own security. And whether or not you believe deterrence “worked” during the Cold War, it is impossible to believe nuclear weapons could deter non-state actors or terrorists, who by definition have no territory or population to threaten with nuclear retaliation.
What is the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and how does it relate to nuclear abolition?
The Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also referred to as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), codifies a 3-part bargain: nuclear weapon states parties are obligated to negotiate in good faith toward nuclear disarmament; non-nuclear weapon states parties will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons; and all states have the right to use nuclear energy — under international monitoring — for peaceful purposes. Negotiations began in 1968 and the Treaty was opened for signature and entered into force in 1970.
The NPT recognizes five nuclear weapon states, all of which had exploded a nuclear weapon before the Treaty entered into force: U.S., U.K., Russia, France, and China. Only three states have never been a party to the Treaty: India, Pakistan, and Israel. North Korea withdrew from the Treaty in 2003 in advance of exploding its first nuclear device in 2006.
Article VI of the NPT includes the nuclear disarmament obligation for nuclear weapon states parties. Article VI reads:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Are nations working on a treaty to ban or abolish nuclear weapons?
Yes… and no! A Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) was drafted by civil society in 1997 and submitted to the UN later that year by Costa Rica. In 2007 Costa Rica and Malaysia submitted an updated version of the NWC modeled on the conventions concerning landmines and chemical and biological weapons.
A NWC would ban the possession, development, testing, production, stockpiling, transferring, and use of nuclear weapons in addition to providing a mechanism for their permanent elimination.
The UN’s First Committee has passed a resolution in support of a NWC each year since 1996.
Out of 192 nations at the UN, 146 (or approximately 81%) support the immediate commencement of negotiations leading to a NWC, while only 26 nations are opposed and 22 nations are undecided about a NWC.
Despite all this support, no negotiations have started on a NWC at the UN. A new initiative has been taken up by members of civil society and is gaining support from many non-nuclear weapon states: to draft a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Modeled after the successful campaigns to create treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions, a Nuclear Ban Treaty would take a humanitarian approach to the issue, citing the effects the use of nuclear weapons would have on the climate, refugees, environment, and global population in general as a means to bring about a permanent ban on possession and use of nuclear weapons. More can be read about this campaign on the website of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
What work toward nuclear abolition is happening within the UN system?
There is work that is ongoing at the UN in addition to the obligations in the NPT – this work takes the form of what is called a “step-by-step” process toward nuclear disarmament that many non-nuclear weapon states have stated they believe is going nowhere. This process includes work in the UN’s Conference on Disarmament (CD) on negotiating and ratifying treaties that would be steps toward nuclear abolition, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and a Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). For various reasons, including the consensus rule that requires unanimous agreement, the CD has been stalled and unable to accomplish anything since 1996.
The UN also has a Disarmament Commission, which is open to all member states, unlike the CD. The UNDC meets each year in April and reports to the GA, but has failed to adopt recommendations at the end of its three-year cycle for the last decade.
The UN General Assembly’s First Committee meets each year in October on matters of disarmament and international security. The First Committee is where states have been voting on support for a NWC since 1996. In 1946 the very first UN General Assembly resolution was adopted and called for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” Resolutions passed by the GA are not legally binding, but can establish norms (i.e. customs or standards) for the international community.
Two important nuclear disarmament measures came out of the First Committee meetings in 2012: the establishment of an Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament (OEWG) and the setting of September 26, 2013 as the date for a High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament.
The OEWG had its first meeting in May 2013 and will meet again in June and August of the same year. The UNGA resolution calling for the OEWG reads: “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons.“ All five permanent members of the Security Council boycotted the OEWG’s first meeting. The P5 are also all nuclear weapon states: US, UK, Russia, China, and France.
The High Level Meeting will address issues related to nuclear disarmament and is important because the participants will be Heads of State or high level diplomats. This will also be the first high level meeting of the GA on nuclear disarmament. As of July 2013, the U.S. has not stated who will be in attendance this high level meeting.
What is civil society doing to push for nuclear abolition?
There are too many initiatives to list here, which means civil society is busy working on nuclear abolition! Two recent developments should be mentioned:
- One major undertaking was a conference in Oslo organized by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in March 2013 on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. This event preceded an international conference on the same subject hosted by Norway. Once again, the P5 were absent from the governmental meeting. The US, UK, China, France, and Russia released a joint statement saying they would not attend the conference hosted by the government of Norway on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons because it would “divert discussion away from practical steps to create conditions for further nuclear weapons reductions.” The statement went on to say, “The practical, step-by-step approach that we are taking has proven to be the most effective means to increase stability and reduce nuclear dangers.” A follow up conference on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons will be held by civil society in Mexico in February 2014.
- The U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted a resolution in June 2013 calling for “U.S. leadership in global elimination of nuclear weapons and redirection of military spending to domestic needs.”
Is the US taking part in these international efforts?
The U.S. did not take part in the first OEWG session in May and has not stated whether it will take part in the rest of the Group’s meetings. The U.S. did not attend the meeting in Oslo in March on the humanitarian impacts of the use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. will be represented at the High Level Meeting in September, but it is not clear yet who that representative will be. The U.S. participates in the regular workings of the UN disarmament machinery, including the UNDC, CD, and GA First Committee.
What can I do to help push the US to participate productively in the multilateral efforts toward nuclear abolition?
For more information for how to get involved:
Go to http://www.peace-action.org/ or call 301–565-4050
 SIPRI Yearbook 2013. Armaments, Disarmament, and National Security — Summary. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Online at http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2013/files/SIPRIYB13Summary.pdf
 Union of Concerned Scientists. Ask a Scientist, April 2010. Online at http://www.ucsusa.org/publications/ask/2010/nuclear-weapons.html
 Text of the NPT, online at http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/npt/text/npt2.htm