From Olivia Ramos, WILPF Costa Rica, submitted my Mary Ann Stark.

The recent nuclear tests by North Korea has raised the fears of a nuclear confrontation. How will world leaders respond to this latest threat? Will we see more proliferation as nations feel the need for a nuclear arsenal as a deterrent? Or will they see the way to reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons?

Women for peace San Jose parade. Archive photo.
Women for peace San Jose parade. Archive photo.

Seventy one years have passed since the United States launched the first, and so far, the only nuclear attack leveling the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in minutes. The atomic bombs ended four years of a bloody and cruel war but opened up new horrors. Massive destruction which killed more than 150,000 people in seconds, nuclear contamination, a medical emergency unprecedented, radiation diseases that claimed lives for years after, and severe birth defects. The full effect of those two bombs were not known until years later.

But that did not deter some national leaders from developing more and more powerful nuclear weapons as if in competition for the most deadly stockpiles. Today there are 15,375 nuclear weapons on the earth, divided among the United States, Russia, England, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, plus now, North Korea. Other nations have the “capability” to make their own.

Even with security measures, we all face the threats of nuclear accidents, a wrong judgment, or a terrorist attempt.

At the same time, beginning in the 1960’s there have been campaigns within the United Nations and among civilian groups to end the threat of nuclear war. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty signed in 1963 prohibited nuclear tests in space, on the ground and under water. In 1968 the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty was signed by 190 nations. Although this treaty comes under review in the UN every five years, Article VI of the treaty calling for the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons has never been enforced, and in addition to the original five nuclear nations Israel, India, Pakistan and now North Korea have become nuclear powers.

The movement to eliminate nuclear weapons keeps growing too. In 1969 the first nuclear free zone established by the Treaty of Tlatelolco (Mexico) banned the deployment and use of nuclear weapons throughout the thirty-three countries of Latin America and Caribbean. This came about as a result of the Cuban missile crises of 1962. Today a total of 115 countries are covered by nuclear free zone treaties which include the Treaty of Rarotonga in the South Pacific (1986, 13 countries), The Treaty of Bangkok (1997, ten countries), the Treaty of Mongolia for Central Asia (five countries) and 53 countries in Africa (2009). Treaties also prohibit nuclear weapons in space and in the Antarctic. Professional groups, human rights groups, peace organizations, the International Criminal Court of Justice, the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been active in promoting an end to nuclear war.

Non aligned nations have also been working to have hearings on a prohibition of nuclear weapons, and international humanitarian conferences in Oslo, Cancún and Vienna have brought together national leaders and civilian groups to support a treaty to ban these weapons. This year, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Nigeria, Austria and South Africa have proposed a draft for a treaty to be introduced for discussion in the UN General Assembly in 2017 to begin negotiations for a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Last week Resolution L.41 passed by a 69% majority in the United Nations General Assembly. Negotiations for a treaty proposal will begin in June of 2017. It will certainly face resistance from the nuclear armed states but with so much of the world in favor of ending the nuclear arms race, we can hope.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom is one of hundreds of civilian organizations promoting an end to nuclear arms. Contact us at

The opinion here is expressly that of the author and not necessarily that of and

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