Nuclear disarmament is the process of reducing and eradicating nuclear weapons, as well as ensuring that countries without nuclear weapons are not able to develop them. The movement to denuclearize hopes to eliminate the possibility of nuclear war because of its potential for catastrophic consequences, as demonstrated by the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. This movement holds that there is never a legitimate use for nuclear weapons, and peace will only come with complete disarmament.
Origins of the movement
In 1939, Albert Einstein informed President Theodore Roosevelt that the Nazis in Germany were close to building a nuclear weapon. In response, President Roosevelt formed the Advisory Committee on Uranium, which then led to the creation of the Manhattan Project to research nuclear weapon capabilities. The US was the first nation to successfully build and detonate an atomic bomb.
The successful test of the first nuclear bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico prompted the first movement for disarmament. This movement came from the Manhattan Project scientists themselves. Seventy scientists from the programme signed the Szilard Petition, urging the president not to use the bomb on Japan, even in light of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The growing protest groups in Japan unified to form the Japanese Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo) in 1954, which called for the complete and total destruction of all nuclear weapons. This council still exists today and continues to gather signatures and petition the United Nations to adopt a comprehensive nuclear disarmament treaty.
Women in the United States headed the Women Strike for Peace protests in 1961, in which over 50,000 women marched in cities across the nation.
Response to the movement
- In 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force. This agreement allows the five nations with nuclear weapons (US, Russian, UK, France, and China) to maintain the devices, but not to trade them to non-nuclear States.
- Beyond the broadly international treaties, nuclear disarmament also targets specific nations. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and the Strategic and Tactical Arms Reduction Treaty (START) went into effect in 1969 and 1991, respectively.
- The next landmark agreement was the Joint Comprehensive Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Programme, also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. This prevents Iran from using its capabilities to develop nuclear weapons. However, in May 2018, President Trump stated that the U.S. will withdraw from the deal.
The Switzerland-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for successfully petitioning the UN to adopt a multilateral disarmament treaty (the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons).
Countries that have denuclearized
- The Treaty of Tlatelolco became effective in 1968. It prohibited the development, testing, and any other use of nuclear weapons in Latin America.
- The Treaty of Bangkok entered into force in 1997 and prevented the manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons in a variety of nations in Southeast Asia.
- The Treaty of Pelindaba prohibits manufacturing and possession of nuclear arms on the continent of Africa (all but South Sudan signed, entering it into force in 2009).
- The Treaty of Rarotonga (1985) applies to the South Pacific, and the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia denuclearized Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
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