The plan to abolish nuclear weapons

Image: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist has reset the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to midnight “largely but not exclusively due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

This year’s Clock announcement must not be followed by the usual hand wringing, resignation and excuses, but with urgent action to avoid nuclear war.

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has a roadmap for ridding the world of nuclear weapons in four steps: prohibition, stigmatisation, negotiation and elimination.

The setting of the Clock to 90 seconds to midnight reflects the consensus that the Ukraine invasion has brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any time since the 1980s.

The Doomsday clock has warned the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making since 1947, and it had most recently moved from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight in 2020.

In light of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine under cover of threats to use nuclear weapons against anyone trying to intervene in 2022, this new time shows just how grave the danger we are facing is.

But the Doomsday Clock should be more than just a measure of risk: it is a call to action.

ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn has highlighted the upcoming G7 meeting in Hiroshima as the first available opportunity to discuss how such negotiations could take place, and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as a framework within which they could occur.

“We have had enough of the Doomsday Clock warnings being followed by inaction. The leaders of the nuclear-armed states must urgently negotiate nuclear disarmament, and the G7 meeting in Hiroshima in May 2023 is the perfect place to outline such plan.

“The leaders of the G7 countries must now step up and seize the moment of their meeting in the first city to have been devastated by an atomic bomb at huge human cost to tell us how they will work with Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states to end this grave threat to humanity.”

History demonstrates that reductions and elimination of different types of weapons has followed negotiations.

In 2021, nuclear weapons became comprehensively illegal under international law through the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty provides a verifiable pathway for nuclear-armed states to eliminate their arsenals. The framework is there. What is needed now is action. 

What needs to happen now to eliminate nuclear weapons

ICAN has a plan for ridding the world of nuclear weapons in four steps, which our 650 partner organizations, governments, cities, parliamentarians, trade unions, faith-based communities, scientists and others work towards every day. 

  1. Prohibition

Nuclear weapons became comprehensively illegal under international law through the entry into force of the UN TPNW in 2021. Only two years later, 92 countries have signed the treaty and 68 have ratified it and we are working to persuade the rest of the world to join them.

  1. Stigmatisation

Following the prohibition, we are developing a strong norm against nuclear weapons to make them as unacceptable as other banned weapons like land mines and cluster bombs. ICAN’s work to delegitimise these weapons has enabled and encouraged recent high-level statements condemning all nuclear threats from TPNW states parties, the G20, China’s President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. What’s needed now is for the condemnation of threats to be followed by concrete steps to eliminate nuclear weapons.

  1. Negotiation

Nuclear-armed states and their allies need to get around the table to discuss how they will disarm, now. It has been done before. After the Cuban missile crisis and the close calls in the early 1980s, we saw an international treaty to stop proliferation and action to reduce nuclear arsenals through agreements such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties and unilateral disarmament measures by the US and Russia. Now we need to finish the job. The TPNW provides a framework for new negotiations and the 2023 G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima provides the opportunity to kick-start that process.

  1. Elimination

The final step is the elimination of nuclear arsenals. History demonstrates that reductions and elimination of different types of weapons has followed negotiations. The TPNW provides a verifiable pathway for nuclear-armed states to eliminate their arsenals.

[Reprinted from International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.]