No way to nuclear weapons

5 Jan 2013

With great power comes great responsibility. It is an established fact that, on the shoulders of the most powerful, rests the responsibility not just to maintain peace as it stands but push peace further. We as a nation are a member of the elite group of countries that holds the power to push peace but also rage war, to guarantee hope and protection or condemn a country. The power we have now we need to share. We need to reverse this concentration of power whilst also investing in peace for the future. It is time to take the bold step and abolish nuclear weapons.


The United Kingdom is one of over twenty nations that owns or is thought to officially possess, nuclear weapons. Since signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty we have not dropped a single nuclear weapon on another country as part of a war. In 1996 we ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, which has yet to come in to force worldwide and is leaving nations across the world in a delicate but dangerous state of limbo. We must finally use our initiative and our conviction behind our beliefs, not our strength in weapons but our courage in the face of opposition and adversity to accept the positives of abolishing the real weapons of mass destruction. 

We must honour our international obligations. As with decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights and resolutions at the United Nations, our leadership in the world has come from honouring our commitments and pledges. A key part of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty was, in good faith; to conclude negotiations relating to nuclear disarmament. We are not to simply sign on the dotted line but to respect the treaty we are abiding to; we have to become an integral member of the community we helped create. The International Court of Justice reiterated the firm belief in reducing, and eventually eliminating, the number of nuclear weapons in 1996 – stating that “there still exists an obligation to reduce the number of Nuclear Weapons”. By starting negotiations with other countries, or going alone, we would seize a day that has been a long time in the waiting.

Nuclear Weapons fail because of the often quoted Mutually Assured Destruction. They will never be used because of guarantee that retaliation is always likely. Even from nations not possessing equally horrific destructive weapons, the network of alliances and groups, and other harmful, if smaller, weapons provide defence to almost every country on Earth. The firing of a nuclear weapon provides the near certainty of further conflict, and isolation and condemnation of the volatile nation. A lack of nuclear weapons would not take away a nations ability to defend itself. Using more modern, smaller weapons, armed forces can target more precisely what they want to destroy, and still harness a set of deterrents. A change in warfare would be made final by the movement away from the aim of mass destruction of all targets and non-targets to defence, and if necessary, attacks that are pin pointed on aggressive or suspicious activities. 

Sanctions work. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s Ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003 stated that “military action doesn’t work with hard regimes” – continuing – “sanctions have the ability to remain with a nation and bring them to the negotiating table”. Unlike military attacks, sanctions can be moulded – each of them unique, important and beholding gravitas. Each of them with a role and each aimed against bloodshed and towards negotiations. Sanctions are designed to press for better relations, greater freedoms and not a rush towards the nuclear weapon option. Sanctions can come from a multiple of organisations and not solely from those countries with the resources big enough to challenge and possibly attack a country. Sanctions can be staggered, increasing in intensity. Even more importantly: sanctions can end at any point. Unlike the presence of troops and commitments to rebuild damage or offer aid after invasion to avert deadly civil wars, sanctions can be withdrawn and make way for real diplomatic progress. Sanctions have proved successful in modern events. Sanctions against Slobodan Milosevic are said to have brought the Bosnian War to an end quicker whilst the freezing of $25 million in a foreign bank brought North Korea back to negotiations with the UN; and sanctions in Burma are thought to have quickened the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. It is correct to observe that sanctions can still cause pain and hardship. Some believe that sanctions contributed to inflation rising in Zimbabwe to 1.8 million percent and prolonged high unemployment. Nevertheless, by definition the word sanction means to penalize, and it continues to act as the most humane way to bring about change in a single country.

Nuclear weapons reinforce the belief that the power to destroy the world as we know it lies with the minority. This unfair inequality silences millions of people, destroys the notion of a level playing field and embeds the archaic attitude that the Western World and victors of World War Two still have the power to control continents and nations thousands of miles away. Real change can only be achieved if we take the power away from the few for the good of the many. On international stage where opinions and arguments can be voiced, the threat of a misjudgement that is caused by the use of nuclear weapons is withdrawn. Every nation is given a single voice with knowledge that whatever they have to say, however uncomfortable, can be taken seriously.

Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty. These words were echoed at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I think are poignant once again. By abolishing unnecessary and dangerous nuclear weapons, in favour of sanctions and other measures, we can move away from the image of Nuclear families, in Nuclear nations making up a Nuclear world; and instead harmonious families, stable nations and a peaceful world.

By James Wand

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