Leaders of nuclear states unfit to act for peace

A new UN working group on nuclear disarmament has embarked on a series of international meetings taking place through 2016 with a view to harnessing the clear and growing worldwide momentum for a total ban on nuclear weapons.

The group’s work is frustrated by the absence of all the world’s nuclear-armed states from the group, which raises critical questions about their leaders’ willingness — and capacity — to make decisions about our shared future. Experts suggest that the childhood backgrounds of many within this largely male political class leave them incapable of making correct assessments of danger. Those among them who learned to deny feelings of compassion and vulnerability may therefore be psychologically ill-equipped to ensure national and international security.

One scholar of cultural psychology, who wishes to remain unnamed, acknowledged that some of them exhibit “signs of a propensity for an apocalyptic world view”.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an NGO represented on the UN working group, claims there is now, however, “unstoppable momentum” behind a sane and fast-growing “humanitarian-based initiative to outlaw nuclear weapons”.

The correlation between the spread of nuclear weapons and the increased risk of global humanitarian catastrophe is clear, and sobering. Each nuclear warhead — of which there are 15,000 across nine nuclear states, 1,800 of which are aimed at each other by the US and Russia for hair-trigger launch — has the potential to bring catastrophic harm to hundreds of thousands of people and untold damage to wild nature. Their potential impacts are so severe that, according to ICAN, “No adequate humanitarian response is possible.” Not only that, studies (PDF) predict that the firepower of just one UK Trident nuclear submarine could not only devastate more than 40 cities and cause tens of millions of direct casualties, but could also cause a global cooling of a magnitude not seen since the last Ice Age, which would cause huge disruptions to natural ecosystems and global weather patterns globally for 7-10 years, leading to severe food shortages.

The risks, rarely covered by other media, are heightened by a new arms race between Russia, China and the USA and a marked increase in tensions between Russia and NATO. Adding to the threat is the growing vulnerability to cyber-attacks that could trigger nuclear war; developments taking us down a “slippery slope to nuclear use whether by accident or miscalculation” (PDF); and out of date weapons control technology.

Nuclear expert Dr Philip Webber of UK campaign group Scientists for Global Responsibility said, “We are much closer to nuclear annihilation than is widely appreciated… The level of risk is completely unacceptable and completely avoidable.”

Those wishing to support the UN working group on nuclear disarmament can get involved via their UNFOLD ZERO platform. Insights into how the group’s May meetings went are also available. There are also a number of campaigning NGOs working to bring about global nuclear disarmament, including Global Zero and ICAN.

People in the UK can take part in a mass lobby of MPs in London on 13 July ahead of the government’s decision on renewing its nuclear arsenal; the action follows a month of protests across the country through June 2016.

Image credit: ICAN

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