The Daily Telegraph

Keeping nuclear weapons is a high-risk gamble


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

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