Seventy-five years after Hiroshima, total nuclear disarmament must still be pursued

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Last month marked the seventy-fifth year after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, we call for a European leap forward in creating conditions to achieve security in the twenty-first century, write eight EU lawmakers.

The signatories are eight cross-party Members of the European Parliament.*

Nuclear warheads are increasingly more likely to be detonated. Yet we are not ready for nuclear detonations and we never will be. In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, we turned to our caregivers.

Let us remember that in 1945, no medical personnel could be found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as victims sought help in the chaos and agony of shattered cities. The reality of the consequences of a nuclear exchange today can only overwhelm us more, as the devastating capacity of these weapons has vastly increased.

A nuclear explosion of military origin, whether intentional or accidental, would have catastrophic consequences for populations and would cause extreme environmental damage. As documented, a regional nuclear exchange could disrupt the climate to the point of wiping out agricultural production and starving hundreds of millions of people.

We are aware of these risks and consequences, and we share the remark of the Austrian, Belgium, French, Italian, Swedish, Spanish National Red Cross directors: “too often, the international community has been unable to prevent foreseeable crises. We still have a chance to prevent a global nuclear catastrophe”.

France remains the last state in the European Union to detain its own nuclear arsenal. Its president, Emmanuel Macron, suggested in February 2020 expanding the concept of France’s vital interests – those whose endangerment would in the French state’s eyes justify nuclear devastation – on a European scale.

To better protect European citizens, or to ensure the permanence of the French arsenal?

We ask this question, as for 65% of Europeans under 30, the possession of nuclear weapons by their country or their allies does not make them feel safe.

The escalation of tensions in world politics should not set us, Europeans, further on the path of the new arms race – rather, it should push us to seek lasting disarmament and arms control agreements.

Building Europe and its defence does not require nuclear “power”.

“Weapons of mass destruction, which break with the notion of humanity and put our survival in jeopardy, cannot be used to legitimately defend Europeans”.

We must remember that the International Court of Justice explicitly stated that  “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law“.

Also, the 192 member states of the Non-proliferation treaty (including the 27 EU members) reaffirmed at the 2010 NPT Review Conference “the need for all states at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law”.

The nuclear threat with which we live is not a foregone conclusion. It is a political choice assumed by States possessing these weapons, and to which some States of the European Union acquiesce by welcoming arsenals, such as Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Nationally, acceptance of this participation in nuclear deterrence in public opinion is often weak but the democratic debate is often confiscated.

We cannot pass on to the next generations the burden of ensuring their security with the ever more risky bet that is nuclear deterrence. The development of hypersonic missiles puts us at further risk of inadvertent nuclear detonations.

Rather than engaging in an arms race, we must ensure that these weapons are the object of an international arms control agreement.

Achieving through mutual and verifiable commitments the reduction and elimination of the nuclear threat is what has been proposed since 2017 by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Adopted by a large majority of States at the United Nations, it will enter into force (with a minimum of 50 ratifications) at the end of this year. In Europe, Austria, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malta, San Marino and the Vatican are signatories to this treaty.

In the rest of the world, former nuclear states (South Africa, Kazakhstan) and states with a long tradition of disarmament leadership at the UN (Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica), support this treaty, which falls within the framework of other multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her State of the Union address that “we must also propel ourselves forwards to the world of tomorrow”.

We agree. That’s why in the European Union, a true debate is direly needed on the viability of pursuing nuclear deterrence rather than disarmament.

Another path is possible for Europe, whereby it can play the role of a progressive and stabilising power, a promoter of peace and multilateralism, and a defender of human rights and the environment.

Let us not forget the words of Robert Schuman: “World peace cannot be safeguarded without making creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it”.

Three-quarters of a century after the unspeakable, we, Europeans, can work to ensure that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki massacres never happen again, by placing disarmament, arms control and the total elimination of nuclear weapons back in the centre of the room.

As this 26 September is the last International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons before the explicit prohibition of nuclear weapons by treaty law, let us seek a role for our Union to truly progress towards their elimination.

*Signatories include Brando Benifei (S&D), Martin Buschmann (Non-attached), Demirel Özlem (GUE), Lukas Mandl (EPP), Michèle Rivasi (Greens/EFA), Karen Melchior (Renew), Mounir Satouri (Greens), Thomas Waitz (Greens)

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