Keep­ing nu­clear weapons is a high-risk gam­ble

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters to the editor -

SIR – On July 7 2017, the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly adopted the text of a legally bind­ing “in­stru­ment” to pro­hibit nu­clear weapons. All nine nu­clear weapon states, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, boy­cotted the treaty ne­go­ti­a­tions, while most of the me­dia ig­nored the mak­ing of this land­mark treaty.

Yet the treaty was passed in the UN, by a vote of 122 to one, and sup­ported by hun­dreds of civic or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the World Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil of Nurses and the World Fed­er­a­tion of Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tions.

In light of these de­vel­op­ments, it is time for a re­newed pub­lic de­bate on Bri­tain’s con­tin­ued pos­ses­sion of nu­clear weapons.

As doc­tors and health pro­fes­sion­als, we high­light the fact that even a re­gional nu­clear war could place up to two bil­lion peo­ple at risk of star­va­tion, while a large-scale war would threaten the very sur­vival of hu­man­ity.

With over 1,000 nu­clear war­heads re­main­ing on high alert across the world, and all nine nu­clear-armed na­tions mod­ernising their ar­se­nals, the doc­trine of nu­clear de­ter­rence rep­re­sents a high-risk gam­ble.

Nu­clear weapons are also an in­creas­ingly in­ef­fec­tive means of pro­tect­ing na­tional se­cu­rity. They do not counter new forms of ag­gres­sion such as cy­ber-war­fare, nor keep us safe from ter­ror­ism. They can­not be used to fight ris­ing sea lev­els, ex­treme weather, ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, bio­di­ver­sity loss, an­timi­cro­bial re­sis­tance or so­cial in­equal­ity.

Al­though mul­ti­lat­eral dis­ar­ma­ment would re­quire a great deal of hard work, skil­ful diplo­macy, lead­er­ship and courage, it can be done. By aban­don­ing an in­creas­ingly re­dun­dant and dan­ger­ous ap­proach to na­tional se­cu­rity, Bri­tain can take a lead in mak­ing the world safer.

Pro­fes­sor David Mc­coy

Medact and Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don Pro­fes­sor Sir An­drew Haines Dr Richard Horton

Dr Fiona Godlee and 11 oth­ers; see tele­

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