Comment: It’s time for the world to ban the bomb

This week, the United Nations is convening important negotiations on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination.” More than 130 countries are participating in these historic negotiations to ban these weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately, Canada and the United States are refusing to participate.

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About 15,000 nuclear weapons exist worldwide. The U.S. keeps about 1,800 missiles on high-alert status, which means that they can be fired within a few minutes of a presidential authorization. As well, according to the Arms Control Association, the U.S. is planning to modernize its nuclear arsenal at a cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Close to Seattle is the Naval Base Kitsap, with one of the largest concentrations of American nuclear weapons. The U.S. navy has a fleet of Trident ballistic-missile submarines and an underground nuclear-weapons storage complex.

According to the Doomsday Clock set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, we are 21Ú2 minutes to midnight. This is the closest humanity has come to the nightmare of a nuclear catastrophe since the Cold War.

At the UN negotiations this week, concerned countries and civil society organizations such as Physicians for Global Survival are coming together to end the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

We are concerned about the appalling humanitarian consequences of the use of any nuclear weapon.

A recent study done by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has shown that a conflict involving only 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons, less than 0.3 per cent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, would lead to the deaths of nearly two billion people from “nuclear famine” and the destruction of many other life forms in the atmosphere, on the land and in the sea.

As physicians, we know that there is no emergency response to a nuclear-weapon explosion, let alone a nuclear war. The only response is prevention, and that means the total abolition of all nuclear weapons in the world.

A nuclear-ban treaty would not immediately lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons because the countries that possess nuclear weapons are boycotting the talks. However, the treaty would be an important step in de-legitimizing these weapons and in moving toward complete nuclear disarmament.

We are urging the Canadian government to abide by its commitment to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and show leadership for peace and disarmament as it has done in the past.

In 1997, Canada led the world in banning antipersonnel mines through the Ottawa Treaty.

The Trudeau government has claimed that our NATO membership is preventing Canada from participating in the nuclear-ban talks. Yet the Netherlands, a NATO member, will be at the UN table. We need to challenge this continued dangerous reliance on nuclear deterrence. For the health of people and the planet, we must abolish nuclear weapons.

We are holding a Ban the Bomb event on the grounds of the B.C. legislature today from noon to 1 p.m. We will form a big human peace symbol.


Dr. Jonathan Down is a pediatrician and member of Physicians for Global Survival, and Dr. Neil Finnie is a retired family physician.

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