READINESS OF NUCLEAR WEAPON SYSTEMS
FIRST COMMITTEE DELEGATES REGARDING THE UNGA RESOLUTION ON
Dear Delegate to First Committee,
This letter is written to you for consideration of your vote on the UNGA
resolution on Operational Readiness of Nuclear Weapon Systems in
The authors of this letter are from the NGOs whose efforts resulted in
the adoption of that resolution from 2007 onwards, thanks to the
energetic sponsorship of Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, and
Switzerland (the ‘De-alerting Group’).
As you will know, this resolution with some minor changes, is to be
submitted to First Committee once more this year.
We encourage you to attend the side-panels that the De-Alerting group is
organising on this subject.
The possibility of unauthorized, unintended or miscalculated use of
nuclear weapons, resulting in an accidental, inadvertent, and
catastrophic nuclear conflict, is what this resolution deals with.
Such an event may be considered by some to be a remote chance – but
the stakes of such a mis-step are so high that inaction is not an
option. There remains a global threat that, at least potentially,
affects everybody no matter what their location and no matter what
their security arrangements. Just as with Climate Change there is
literally no place on earth that can escape the
catastrophic, long-term environmental effects of a war
fought with nuclear weapons.
Even the use of a small fraction of global nuclear arsenals will have
catastrophic humanitarian consequences of global extent, to which no
government can be indifferent.
The 2006-2007 research by Toon, Robock and others shows that the effects
of the injection of large quantities of soot into the stratosphere
would be global in its impact, whether that came from a US-Russia
nuclear exchange or an Indo-Pak one. A study to be presented at this
year’s First Committee makes clear that the use of even a small
fraction of global nuclear arsenals will create catastrophic global
humanitarian consequences, with up to a billion deaths from famine in
addition to around 150 million immediate casualties.
The International Commission on Nonproliferation and Nuclear Disarmament
(ICNND), in its 2010 report, stated that the possibility of nuclear
war by accident was not a fantasy, but 'a frightening possibility'.
Launch-ready weapons create the possibility of unauthorized use
(rogue commanders, terrorists who take physical possession of the
weapons, etc), unintended use (i.e., an accidental nuclear war based
upon a false warning of attack) and miscalculated use in a conflict
situation where launch-on-warning leaves no time for adequate
decision-making before actual use. The latter, should it involve the
US and Russia, would likely trigger the launch of a large fraction of
the more than 1700 strategic nuclear warheads now on high alert. This
is actually MORE likely than the launch of just one or two 'rogue'
Lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapons systems, as the
Operational Readiness resolution calls for (and also a number of
other resolutions, notably Reducing Nuclear Dangers and the Non
Aligned Movement and United Action resolutions), would be the first
vital step to remove the apocalypse from the global agenda.
And, as the ICNND notes, that 'apocalypse' is no fantasy but an all too
real possibility that affects potentially the whole world.
Its importance simply trumps all other more short-range considerations,
tied as it is to human survival.
We realize that for many governments the possibility of accidental
nuclear war may seem far-fetched or remote from your everyday
priorities. We understand that many governments have pressing
immediate problems, ranging from radical challenges to governance to
We submit that, notwithstanding all this, nuclear weapons Operational
Readiness demands your priority and attention as an issue that
potentially threatens the welfare and even the life of all humans.
Operational Readiness was adopted in 2010 by 157 votes to 3, with 22 abstentions
and 18 absences.
A substantially improved vote this time round would significantly
improve the prospects for everyone on earth.
We once more urge you and your governments to give Operational Readiness
(and other resolutions on the same topic) your strong support.
People for Nuclear Disarmament,
Human Survival Project,
Starr, Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility,
Columbia, Missouri, USA
Consultant, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Human Survival Project,
University of Sydney Australia