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Home Articles Features Letter from Human Survival Project/PND to alll NPT Revcon Delegates

Letter from Human Survival Project/PND to alll NPT Revcon Delegates

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Dear Delegate,

We are writing you this letter because the 2015 NPT Review Conference is of particular importance.

It comes against a background in which, on the one hand, (a) almost unprecedented hope has been invested in the dialogue on 'Catastrophic Humanitarian Consequences' since Oslo March 2013 to Vienna Dec 2014, and (b) on the other, the danger of actual nuclear weapons use is as great as it ever was at any stage of the Cold War – or maybe even greater.

(a) The imperative to eliminate nuclear weapons, and thus to eliminate the possibility of their use, has been highlighted by presentations made by Professors Robock, Mills, by Ira Helfand, and by Seth Baum and Eric Schlosser, at the Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna conferences. Robock, Mills and Helfand have made it clear that the global climatic consequences of large-scale nuclear weapons use would mean the death by starvation of most, if not all, humans in the aftermath of a large nuclear conflict. Schlosser and Baum make it clear that large-scale use of nuclear weapons by accident, malfunction or miscalculation is very much possible, and indeed that humans and civilization are lucky to have made it thus far since 1945.

(b) At the same time, the actual likelihood of nuclear conflict and of the large-scale use of nuclear weapons, either in an India-Pakistan conflict involving 100-200 Hiroshima-size warheads, or in a US/NATO-Russia conflict involving several thousands of tactical and strategic warheads, has clearly risen in the last 12 months.

There have been an increasing number of warnings issued by respected scientific and scholarly bodies.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved the hands of its iconic 'Doomsday Clock' from a nominal 5 minutes to midnight (already too close for comfort) to 3 minutes to midnight. The closest the 'Doomsday Clock' has been to midnight is 2 minutes to midnight in 1954. The Bulletin's decision to move is taken by an advisory board containing a dozen Nobel Prize winners, and, in the worlds of its former executive editor Kennette Benedict, 'is not done lightly'.

The conservative mainstream German magazine Der Spiegel also recently published an article in which it argued that the risk of nuclear war was actually greater now than during the Cold War. More recently, The Economist has published a similar, lengthy, feature article.

When these articles were published some weeks ago they were similar to a dozen other articles in mainstream media expressing alarm over the possibility of a nuclear conflagration. There are now well over 1000 such articles revealed by a Google search.

It is thus clear that nuclear weapons pose an immediate, clear and present danger to civilization and – as reiterated in the final statement from the Vienna conference as well as in many national statements – possibly to human survival itself.

The urgency of action to eliminate nuclear weapons and to decrease nuclear risk has never been clearer. Of course, in the absence of actual nuclear weapons, nuclear risk disappears completely—or rather enters a new zone of radically reduced probability.

It is essential that the NPT community finds ways to “zero” at the upcoming NPT Review Conference.

There are a number of obvious things that can be done or supported that will improve the situation:

    The Austrian Government pledge, issued at the Vienna Conference and already signed on to by about 50 governments, needs to receive as wide support as possible. It would be especially desirable if some of that support could come from NATO countries and US allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. The Austrian Pledge is especially noteworthy in that it promises to fill the 'legal gap' that exists between the actual requirements of humanitarian law, which implicitly make nuclear weapons illegal, and the lack of an explicit legal prohibition on nuclear weapons such as that which exists for chemical weapons, biological weapons and land-mines. The Austrian pledge also refers to the other two measures that should be supported, namely:

    Measures to decrease nuclear risk. This largely means lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems so as to increase decision-making time. Any measure is to be supported that changes decision-making time from the current minutes and seconds in which to take utterly apocalyptic decisions to hours and days. However, lowering nuclear risks is also achievable in part by proposals already made and decisions already nominally taken and four or five times reaffirmed, by the US and Russian Governments -- to institute a Data Exchange Center in which US and Russian officers could monitor the status of each others missile forces. The continued non-implementation of decisions many times reaffirmed by both sides is scandalous and now perilous.

    Steps leading as a matter of urgency to 'nuclear zero'.

The discussion of 'steps' to nuclear zero is often side-tracked by endless discussion over whether there should be a 'step-by-step' approach, a 'building blocks' approach, or a 'comprehensive' approach. There has also been difference of opinion between advocates of a nuclear weapons convention and a nuclear weapons ban.

It is the strong opinion of this letter that these differences can and must themselves be 'gone around' as the distraction they are. If the 'step by step' approach is nominally 'taken' and in fact what happens is that not one step is actually taken (the current situation), this is futile. Similarly if a 'building blocks' approach is taken and not one block is actually put on top of another, this is similarly futile. The same applies to the 'comprehensive' approach whether via a Nuclear Weapons Convention or via a Ban Treaty. It is arguable that a Ban Treaty would be harder to hold hostage by one or two recalcitrant governments. It is important that a process is chosen that does NOT allow itself to be stymied in this way.

What does matter supremely, is that real progress is made within some framework or combination of frameworks, or no framework at all, that takes us as quickly as possible to zero nuclear weapons.

The Vienna Conference, the movement of the Doomsday Clock, and the current global political situation make it clear that nuclear weapons are an immediate threat to civilization and potentially to human survival.

The need to address this has hardly been more urgent. Going to zero isn't a 'sometime' thing to be achieved 'some century' but a matter of extreme urgency.

The 2015 NPT review Conference is the place to address this existentially- pressing issue.

You, as a delegate, have that awesome responsibility.

(An event on Catastrophic Risks and Human Survival will be held on 6 May 1.15-2.45pm in Conference Room C with the author of this letter and Seth Baum of the Catastrophic Global Risk Institute).

John Hallam,

People for Nuclear Disarmament/Human Survival Project

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Prof. Peter King,

Human Survival Project/CPACS

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Last Updated on Monday, 23 March 2015 21:10