It was jaw-dropping to read this morning, Bret Stephen’s op-ed after an evening where many thousands of people across the globe celebrated a big win for nuclear disarmament — not least, those of us among the 468 non governmental organizations in over 100 countries and territories that are part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Does such reach constitute the “little known” quip in regard to this year’s Nobel Peace Laureates?
What is truly and tragically “little known” are facts about the current threat and realities of nuclear weapons and nuclear war an equation that ICAN and its partner organizations on every continent have worked tirelessly to subvert.
Without a doubt, the most dangerous weapons in the world are nuclear. They are a threat to all life on earth. Unlike conventional bombs, they are unique in the far-reaching, long-lasting, wasteland producing destruction these instruments of omnicide provide. Their tremendous power comes through a process called nuclear fission, the splitting of the atom — the strongest binding power in the universe ripped apart by the minds of men, and weaponized.
The primary effects of a nuclear explosion are the incredible blast, heat, fire, and radiation that produce destruction on an unimaginable scale. Immense light and thermal heat (comparable to the interior of the sun) cause a phenomenon called a firestorm. Firestorms deplete oxygen from the environment and create hurricane-like winds, which suck in debris to further feed the storm, causing super-infernos. Nothing can survive a firestorm. And all nature in its wake, the environment that supports life on earth, is laid waste.
The most insidious effect of nuclear weaponry is radiation. Once released, radioactive elements hang around for millennia upon millennia. They horribly impact the lives of any who survive in the present and put future generations at risk for cancer and genetic mutations. Due to long-lived radioactive poisoning, nuclear weapons have the ability to wage war on the future itself by altering the gene pool and threatening the continuation of life.
Still today, there are 15,000 nuclear weapons — each that are orders of magnitude more powerful than those that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki — thousands of which remain on hair trigger alert ready to launch in minutes. New research demonstrates the vulnerability of nuclear weapons command and control systems, cyber technology and aging infrastructure — such vulnerability that may well see the catastrophic use of nuclear weapons by accident. Current geopolitical saber rattling has the world on edge, including a recent threat made by the US to utterly destroy North Korea.
ICAN is far from “another tediously bleating “No Nukes” outfit” but a game changer in disarmament writ large.
For decades of borrowed time, the narrative of nuclear possessor nations has had to do with the military doctrine of deterrence and arms control. Human suffering and environmental consequences were never a specific concern. With the introduction of the Prohibition Treaty on Nuclear Weapons this past July, the humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons have become the driving discourse on nuclear disarmament. This is no small achievement. Thanks to ICAN and the non nuclear weapons states who support the treaty, the dawn of nuclear weapons abolition has finally arrived.
Dr. Kathleen Sullivan