Nuclear Weapons “Hanging by the slenderest of threads”

"Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.” - US President John F. Kennedy, Address Before the General Assembly of the United Nations, New York, September 25, 1961.

The United States Army conducted the first detonation of a nuclear device on July 16 1945 in the Jornada del Muerto desert in the state of New Mexico. Less than a month later, on August 6, an atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, and a further nuclear bomb was dropped over Nagasaki on August 9. These two bombs combined killed around 120,000 instantly, while many more died of the long-term effects of radiation.

Although arsenals have been reduced after the end of the Cold War, more than 17,000 nuclear weapons still remain across the globe with an average explosive yield 20-30 times higher than that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Roughly 10% of these warheads are maintained on hair-trigger alert, keeping humankind on the constant brink of nuclear war. The prolongation of this situation increases the probability of these weapons being used by accident, design or miscalculation.

There rests a legal obligation on nuclear-armed States to eliminate their arsenals, as derived from the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and customary international law. In its 1996 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice unanimously proclaimed that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leadings to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” However, the nuclear-armed States have failed to implement their nuclear disarmament obligations and remain in violation of international law. Despite reductions to the overall number of nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, all of the world’s nuclear-armed states are modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm importance of such weapons in their defence and security policies.

Meanwhile, more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted worldwide by countries possessing nuclear weapons (United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, North Korea) since 1945. Many areas that served as test sites continue to suffer from the horrific health and environmental effects of nuclear explosions. Nuclear weapons explosions cause radioactive fall-out, exposure to which can cause genetic damage spanning generations, as illustrated by some of the offspring of victims of nuclear testing and the hibakusha (surviving victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). As the Mayor of Hiroshima has said: “The atom bomb stamped its indelible mark on the lives of these utterly innocent unborn babies."13  The lasting effects of nuclear weapons become starker when one considers that the half-life of plutonium 239, a radionuclide released when a plutonium weapon is exploded, is over 24,000 years. Judge Weeramantry, the former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, has thus noted  “The effects upon the eco-system extend, for practical purposes, beyond the limits of all foreseeable historical time. (…) At any level of discourse, it would be safe to pronounce that no one generation is entitled, for whatever purpose, to inflict such damage on succeeding generations.”14

Nuclear weapons are a crime against future generations because they have the power to obliterate life on earth as we know it and cause unimaginable damage spanning many generations to come. Nuclear weapons must be abandoned in order to neutralize the existential threat they pose, so that future generations can enjoy their right to life, liberty and security.

In our view, when individuals act despite knowing the that their actions could gravely or irreparably imperil the health, means of survival or safety of a given human population, - this should constitute a crime against future generations.

Read other examples of crimes against future generations: Arctic Drilling, Bottom Trawling, Cultural Heritage Destruction, Denying Girls an Education, Casino Finance, Razing the Rainforest

News Update:

Marshall Islands v. Nuclear-armed States at the ICJ

"Yes moko, just like the sea which has to move its tides
so we can collect Kaimoana at certain times.
Rules give harmony to our lives
so we live with
minimum conflicts.
Working in harmony with others, ae moko, it’s nature’s
act of saying,
Let us make music all together
if not in reality — then make it your dream."

WFC Councillor Pauline Tangiora

Future Justice… about thinking and acting differently, based on respect, dignity and mutual trust

…considers not just what is happening now, but the effects of our actions in the years, decades and centuries to come

… is a means of creating new rules for how we live and work, pass laws and run countries

…is the giving of rights to the poorest, the weakest, the ignored, to the planet and to the other living creatures we share it with

…is a protection for all the people yet to be born,  whose lives we are blighting before they have even started

…is about what we do now.  Our actions today will determine the conditions of life for centuries to come