The pathway to a world without nuclear weapons

November 13, 2017

In a special Op-Ed, the foreign ministers of Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa outline their vision for the pathway to a world without nuclear weapons based on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Their six governments, respectively, were the leaders in the development, promotion and successful negotiation of the first international legal ban of nuclear weapons, which was recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee as a potential watershed moment for nuclear disarmament. 

Last July, the international community reached a historic agreement to ban nuclear weapons. Our six countries are proud to have joined this effort from the very beginning.

On 6 October 2017, our endeavors were recognized by the most prestigious of institutions, the Nobel Peace Prize, conferred upon the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. We fully concur that ICAN has played a central role in highlighting the incompatibility of nuclear weapons with International Humanitarian Law, and we are extremely encouraged by this award, bestowed upon one of our closest partners in mobilizing for the new treaty. The award is not only a well-deserved tribute to ICAN’s relentless support for nuclear weapon prohibition, but, most importantly, will be in and of itself a major contributor to the cause of a world free of nuclear weapons, to which all nations should be bound.

Weapons of mass destruction are cruel and indiscriminate. They wreak havoc and cause massive, unacceptable loss of life. More than seventy years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki the United Nations has decided to adopt a legally-binding instrument that, once and for all, outlaws these weapons. In the wake of decades of virtual paralysis on multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations the new treaty, which opened for signature on 20 September, represents a major paradigm shift on how the international community deals with a truly existential threat against life on the planet.

By banning the only category of weapons of mass destruction yet to be subjected to a global prohibition, the agreement seeks to stigmatize the possession of nuclear weapons. The existence of approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads with more than 2,500 megatons of destructive energy – enough to destroy the planet several times over – is a stark reminder of our collective vulnerability and of the urgent need to prohibit and eliminate these atrocious weapons as the only possible way to ensure that they will never be used again.

The treaty reflects the growing consensus among the international community that weapons of mass destruction cannot enhance national or international security and have no place in military doctrines for the 21st century.

The new treaty is based on the firm conviction that any use of nuclear weapons would be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience. It was the logical result of the discussions on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons held under the aegis of the Humanitarian Initiative. The main conclusion was that atomic warfare and international humanitarian law are mutually exclusive. In a nutshell, the devastating consequences of any single nuclear detonation – let alone of nuclear war – would entail severe implications for the global environment, economy, socioeconomic development, food security, and health,- threatening the survival of humanity itself.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is consistent with and complementary to the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which obliges all States Parties to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

In establishing a universal prohibition of core activities related to nuclear weapons, the new instrument contributes thus to the implementation of the NPT and strengthens the existing international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime. It opens a pathway for States possessing or hosting nuclear weapons to join in when they are ready through a time-bound, verifiable and irreversible process of nuclear disarmament. In order to take into account the positions of those countries, the treaty does not spell out the details of this process, but envisages additional arrangements to be agreed upon in the context of future accession of States possessing nuclear weapons.

With the adoption of the text this July, the United Nations sent a powerful message that States need to reconsider the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and to work towards the goal of a more secure and safer world for all nations. The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used under any circumstances is through their total elimination and the legally-binding assurance that they will never be produced again.

Driven by a strong sense of responsibility and urgency, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, México, Nigeria and South Africa, as part of a group of more than a hundred-and-twenty states, are convinced that the current security environment allows no room for procrastination. Humanity cannot afford to wait for the “right time” to come to do away with nuclear weapons. We would also like to acknowledge here the crucial contribution that has been made by civil society to the process”.

We remain committed to doing our utmost to achieve the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. Our six countries call upon the entirety of the international community to join us in this effort which is crucial for the survival of mankind.

The Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, Mr Sebastian Kurz
The Minister of External Relations of Brazil, Mr Aloysio Nunes Ferreira
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland, Mr Simon Coveney TD
The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Mr Luis Videgaray Caso
The Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama
The Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate