Taking Action to Ban Nuclear Weapons

With decades of research behind us, we now know that there are long-term environmental, developmental and health consequences to nuclear weapons as well.
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When one thinks of a sunny Mexican resort, the devastation of nuclear weapons is not usually what comes to mind. Yet this week in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, that is exactly what Mexico's Minister of Foreign Affairs will be asking experts from international organizations, government and research institutes to do: focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

Or, more to the point, to focus on the very real horror that was unleashed on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945: communities literally blown apart, hundreds of thousands of people dead in their tracks or dying slow and painful deaths. But of course it doesn't stop with death and destruction. With decades of research behind us, we now know that there are long-term environmental, developmental and health consequences to nuclear weapons as well.

Sadly, though, in a world that has for many years now focused on "state security" and fighting "terrorism" it hasn't been easy to get governments to make the high humanitarian cost of nuclear weapons the starting point for action to ban and eliminate them.

But that is changing.

Last March, the Norwegian government hosted a meeting in Oslo of 132 governments, UN agencies, international organizations, and civil society. By the end of that meeting, the group had concluded that no international response plan could ever adequately deal with a nuclear detonation. As a logical extension of that conclusion, many states then expressed their recognition of a shared responsibility to act to prevent any accidental or intentional use of these weapons of mass suffering.

And they agreed to come together again, this time in Mexico.

This is a historic first: 146 countries determined to consider the many far-ranging impacts of the world's most destructive weapon and take some concrete action and bring about a long overdue international ban. While not exactly capturing the headlines, this second conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons may have a profound impact on our collective future.

What we are seeing is a shift away from the thinking that nuclear weapons should be glorified as the guarantors of national security, or symbols of international power and prestige. They are now starting to be recognized by our governments to be what they are: instruments of irreversible human and environmental destruction.

The people of Japan and all the victims of nuclear testing already know all of this -- generations after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they are still living with the consequences of the nuclear bombs.

The governments, international organizations and research institutes gathered this week in Mexico have a huge task ahead of them -- to lay the groundwork for a new treaty to outlaw and finally eliminate these new weapons. They will need our help. There is much work to be done to convince the many governments that are not yet on-board.

It can be done, but will take the continued drive and commitment of civil society across the world pushing governments to do the right thing. It will also take the voice of millions of individual citizens expressing their strong opposition to nuclear weapons at every opportunity possible to their own governments. The actions of ordinary people do make a difference, and will help build the political momentum in favor of a new global treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

Some -- many, in truth -- will claim that a ban on nuclear weapons will never happen. That it is not possible. I was told the same while the leading the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. In 1997, we proved them wrong and the Mine Ban Treaty was born. The Mine Ban Treaty is the product of what happens when non-governmental organizations, international organizations, UN agencies and governments all unite for one purpose: to create a more peaceful world.

This week in Mexico, there is an opportunity to take the discussions about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and make them the basis for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

Let's not squander this moment. It's time to relegate nuclear weapons to the dustbin of history.

Jody Williams is the Chair of the Nobel Women's Initiative, an organization created by six women Nobel peace laureates, and is a supporter of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) . She won the Nobel peace prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines.

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