Why it’s Realistic to Ban Nuclear Weapons and Why U.S. Should Lead

Talks are underway this week at the United Nations in New York on a possible global treaty to officially ban all nuclear weapons. More than 120 nations are participating, but not surprisingly the nuclear nations (those that own nuclear weapons), including the United States, and various allies of them are not eager to outlaw what they have spent much time and treasure on obtaining. Once you join an exclusive, powerful club, or have friends in the club, you don’t usually want to abolish it. But there are really good reasons to break this club up.

By U.S. Navy Public Affairs Resources Website [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has created a handy guide listing to whom and why the U.N. nuclear ban makes sense. Or not. Some surprises: Japan, the only nation ever to have experienced a nuclear bomb attack in which upwards of 100,000 people were killed quickly or slowly, does not back the U.N. treaty talks because of its good relationship at present with the nation that dropped those atomic bombs. Iran, a nation that some claim is trying to build a nuclear weapon, supports the nuclear ban. Tiny Monaco, however, is no fan of the nuclear ban; ICAN does not list a reason for Monaco’s disapproval, so you are free to speculate. Perhaps the threat of nuclear disaster is good for gambling.

The United States also wants no part of the United Nations nuclear ban. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters outside the General Assembly today that she would dearly love a world without nuclear weapons but . . .

“But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

If there is one thing that is going to blow the world up, it is military appeals to realism. “Mutually assured destruction” (MAD) is the surest way to destroy all or most of civilization as we know it. Is there anyone who thinks we can stop nuclear arms proliferation by threatening other nations with nuclear annihilation and by not honoring the Non-Proliferation Treaty to its fullest extent? 

Which is more realistic in terms of reducing the threat of nuclear war or accident: Joining the global call to ban nuclear weapons and acting upon it to lead the world to disarm, or maintaining/adding to our stockpile of nuclear bombs and missiles just in case we have to blow a good portion of the earth up in the name of mutual annihilation? If we cling to our nuclear weapons, nations we have deemed to be unstable and irrational (while we have just elected the Mr. Trump) will cling to the idea of obtaining the power and prestige such weapons seem to provide.

It’s a risky world we live in, but the realistically lesser risk is to act on moral principle, lead by example and disarm. This will require that we in the United States place our trust not in military power or strength but in diplomacy and reason, maybe even God. Armed to the nuclear teeth, it is egregious hypocrisy for us to demand that other nations disarm or not acquire nuclear weapons. Nor will it work. To help end the arms race, we, the nation that first developed a nuclear weapon, have to be the first among the Nuclear Club to lay down our nuclear arms, not an easy thing for a newly Trump-inspired macho America to do. But there really is no other realistic alternative.

To survive and prosper, humankind must begin to move away from armed conflict, and the first step is to ban nuclear weapons. Why shouldn’t the world’s most powerful democracy, “home of the free and the brave,” make the first brave move?


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