Ramsey Clark: ​An Imperative for Humankind

More than seventy years after the United States used the first nuclear weapon against the people of Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapons remain the most violent threat to humankind.
In 1996 the International Court of Justice responded to a request for an Advisory Opinion by indicating that while it could not say nuclear weapons were generally prohibited by international law, the fifteen judges could not think of an instance when their use would be consistent with international law. Moreover, the Court interpreted article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to require the good faith negotiation of disarming nuclear weapons. Despite this authoritative interpretation of a treaty that is legally binding on 190 countries, the United Nations Conference on Disarmament has failed to make any meaningful progress. For years, the Conference, which is the main negotiating forum for nuclear disarmament, has been unable to adopt an agenda. Thus, nuclear disarmament negotiations have not even started. This is not fair to humankind. Unless our diplomatic representatives can find the courage and common-sense to rid the world of nuclear weapons the threat of their use will plague humanity as the deadliest immediate threat to world peace. We need to urgently move forward with the negotiation of nuclear disarmament.

Some progress has been made on banning landmines by the adoption of the Ottawa Treaty in 1997 and its subsequent ratification by almost 170 States. But this progress is limited by the fact that this treaty deals only with anti-personnel mines and not anti-tank of other more powerful types of mines. Similarly, the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms has focused on the illegal trade in small arms, but not the legal sale of small arms nor their proliferation in many societies. Since 2013 about 80 Member States of the United Nations have become party to the Small Arms Trade Treaty, but some important countries, such as the United States have not joined the treaty. These treaties should be strengthened and their membership enlarged to include all countries. It is shameful to argue that human being have a right to carry weapons that can be used to massively slaughter other human beings. We must end this foolish interpretation of our right to bear arms and replace it with our commitment to the human right of all people to live in peace.

It is imperative that all States recommit to disarmament, which is stated in the Charter of the United Nations as one of the purposes of the United Nations in article 1, paragraph 1, which states that “The Purposes of the United Nations are …. [t]o maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace…”. 

The negotiations going on at United Nations Headquarters in New York until July 2017 are a timely opportunity for our political leaders to send a message of their commitment to peace. Adopting an agreement to ban nuclear weapons, even if nuclear weapon possessing States won’t join it right now, is the right thing to do.

It is our obligation and responsibility to ensure that we do everything in our power to ensure that those currently inhabiting the planet as well as future generations will be able to live in a world where they are not threatened by weapons, especially nuclear weapons. It is my hope that we will act without delay. The accomplishment of peace is the greatest gift that we can leave to future generations.

January 2017

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