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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

The ambition for a nuclear-free Earth must not blind us to reality

The quest for a nuclear weapons-free world must begin by ensuring the worst regimes never gain possession of them

An atomic test blast was conducted by the US in the Marhsall Islands in 1946. The area remains contaminated by radioactive material to this day. AP
An atomic test blast was conducted by the US in the Marhsall Islands in 1946. The area remains contaminated by radioactive material to this day. AP

More than seven decades have elapsed since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in Japan. There is an unspoken belief that the gruesomeness of that event, which decimated 126,000 people and continued to cast a disfiguring shadow on generations to come, will prevent its recurrence. Yet this faith in human rationality neglects the fact that the event was in fact repeated: Nagasaki was bombed just days after Hiroshima. It stands to reason that such weapons should cease to exist before they render humanity extinct. Yet in the years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated, nuclear-weapon possessing powers have multiplied. Today, nine countries have nuclear arsenals. Collectively, they have the capacity to annihilate the planet.

Annual spending on the upkeep of nuclear weapons exceeds $105 billion a year. The irony is too tragic to miss: money that could be diverted to save lives by building hospitals is used to service weapons that can make life extinct. But there is a more pressing question: should any nation, or a group of nations, have the power to end all of humanity? The answer of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, is a resounding “no”. Since its foundation in 2007 in Geneva, ICAN has been campaigning for the wholesale abolition of nuclear weapons. Its success has been astonishing. In July, it managed to bring 122 countries to adopt a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The signatories to the treaty constitute an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations.

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The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to ICAN is not only a recognition of its endeavours, but it will also boost its mission by elevating its status on the international stage. No one can deny that ICAN is performing a vital and noble service. Yet the loftiness of its ambition must not distract from the nasty reality of the world. While we strive to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world, we must not give in to temptations of false equivalence. A nuclear Iran presents an infinitely greater threat to global stability and peace than, say, a nuclear India does, while a nuclear North Korea cannot be taught the virtues of peace through unilateral disarmament. There is grave danger in leaving these rogue nations to act with impunity.

Our priority must be ensure that the worst regimes currently in possession of nuclear weapons are made to relinquish them, while doing everything to make sure that Iran, with its apocalyptic pronouncements and murderous history, never comes into ownership of the most destructive weapons on Earth. The nuclear deal with Iran, as this newspaper has repeatedly pointed out, has made it easier, not harder, for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. And yet astonishingly there were voices in the international community that wanted the Nobel Peace Prize to be conferred on that deal. ICAN’s Nobel has made nuclear weapons the centre of our attention. Iran’s nuclear programme would be a good place to focus it.

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