Nuclear Weapons, Human Security, and International Law

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The end of the Cold War did not remove the threat nuclear weapons pose to human civilization. The danger of mistaken or inadvertent nuclear launching cannot be discounted, nor is there a fail-safe device to ensure that terrorists will not get ahold of nuclear weapons or will not use them if acquired. Numerous experts point to a causal relationship between nuclear weapons and international and national insecurity. A broadened concept of national security includes human security and nuclear weapons are unquestionably a main source of the people's insecurity. The role of international law is to provide a framework for nuclear disarmament, a prerequisite for human security.

President Barack Obama called the future of nuclear weapons in the Twenty-first Century an issue that is "fundamental to the security of our nations and to the peace of the world," in his remarks at Prague, Czech Republic, on April 5, 2009. (2) Calling nuclear weapons the "most dangerous legacy" of the Cold War, he emphasized the infinite consequences of a nuclear weapons explosion in any major city "for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival," stating "clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." (3) In his words, "as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act." (4)

A U.S. president's commitment that America "will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons ... [,] will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same[, and] will begin the work of reducing our arsenal" (5) is indeed a promising development. Just a few days before this, on April 1, President Dmitriy Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Obama discussed nuclear arms control and reduction issues and issued the following joint statement:

   As leaders of the two largest nuclear weapons states, we agreed to
   work together to fulfill our obligations under Article VI of the
   Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and
   demonstrate leadership in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in
   the world. We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear
   free world, while recognizing that this long-term goal will require
   a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures,
   and their full implementation by all concerned nations. We agreed
   to pursue new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive
   arsenals in a step-by-step process, beginning by replacing the
   Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, equally-binding treaty.
   We are instructing our negotiators to start talks immediately on
   this new treaty and to report on results achieved in working out
   the new agreement by July. (6)

These developments place the issue in the forefront of the international attention.

Thus, I consider it timely to discuss this topic with the next section briefly reviewing the destructive force of nuclear weapons and their utility as instruments of war. This will be followed by a quick look at the new concept of human security. Next, I study the illustrative action the world community--international organizations, especially the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and individuals--has thus far undertaken to eliminate nuclear weapons. The next section, which precedes the conclusion, discusses the role of international law in the elimination of nuclear weapons.


A. The Destructive Power of Nuclear Weapons.

Obviously there is no lack of awareness about the death and destruction nuclear weapons cause. The human misery associated with the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 is vividly captured in the accounts of horrific, ghastly scenes witnessed by medical and rescue workers. …