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Op-Ed for ntv by Alex Rosen, IPPNW Germany, January 17th 2021

UN treaty enters into force

As of Friday, nuclear weapons are banned

On January 22, a UN agreement comes into force that bans nuclear weapons under international humanitarian law. Germany should contribute its part to ensure that this type of weapon disappears from arsenals worldwide.

For 75 years, the world has lived in the so-called nuclear age. With the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new global hierarchy was established: States with nuclear weapons became virtually "untouchable". They were given veto power in the United Nations Security Council, and their political, economic and military interests stood suddenly above those of the rest of the world. On a second level came their close allies, who did not have nuclear weapons themselves but were under their "nuclear umbrella" and, as in the case of Germany, harbored nuclear weapons on their territory. The rest of the international community was placed on the level underneath - the non-nuclear-weapon states.

These were the ones who committed themselves under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to develop nuclear weapons. In return, the nuclear-weapon states were to dismantle their arsenals step by step. But this part of the treaty has never been faithfully fulfilled. Instead of being disarmed, nuclear weapons are currently being modernized and expanded. Thus, for more than seven decades, nuclear weapons of mass destruction have cemented a global law of the jungle that has successfully resisted any control or containment.

But for some years now, this old order has been tottering. The vast majority of states are no longer willing to be held hostage by a handful of nuclear weapon states; they will no longer be fobbed off with hollow promises. For a nuclear war would have catastrophic global consequences: climatic changes, droughts, famines, resource conflicts, billions of deaths. Even a regional nuclear war would cause catastrophic humanitarian suffering worldwide. Above all, the countries of the global South would bear the brunt in such a scenario.

More than 130 governments, about two-thirds of the international community, have therefore been calling for years for a ban on all weapons of mass destruction under international humanitarian law and a move away from the risky strategy of mutually assured destruction. The annihilation of the enemy's civilian population with nuclear weapons of mass destruction has never been and can never be compatible with international humanitarian law. In the meantime, this demand has become a treaty under international law, adopted by 122 governments and already ratified by 51 states. Next Friday, on January 22, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will formally enter into force. This means that nuclear weapons, like other weapons of mass destruction before them, will be banned under international law.

Critics complain that the 9 nuclear-weapon states and their 32 allies are boycotting the treaty. Germany is also among those blocking the ban of nuclear weapons. But pressure will increase. The treaty is already having an impact without even a single nuclear-weapon state having joined. Broad international support is creating a new norm in international law. Nuclear weapons will be stigmatized, just as biological or chemical weapons, land mines or cluster bombs were before. As a result, financial institutions, investors and arms companies worldwide are coming under pressure to withdraw from the production and financing of these weapons of mass destruction. Already, globally active banks have adapted their guidelines, explicitly referring to the ban treaty, most recently Deutsche Bank.

Germany must address the arguments of the community of states that see their security and well-being threatened by the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Only "luck and divine intervention" were able to save the world from the use of nuclear weapons, confirm numerous politicians and generals, responsible for these weapons during the Cold War. Even today, the world is only the push of a button away from global nuclear war. If Germany seriously wants to pursue a dialogue for security and cooperation in Europe, it must break away from this doctrine, under which, year after year, German pilots train to drop B61 bombs on Russian territory.

Nuclear sharing must be terminated and nuclear weapons must be withdrawn from Büchel - as demanded by over 90 percent of Germans in representative polls and as agreed on by the German Bundestag in 2010 in a cross-party motion. Germany should abandon its position on the side of the nuclear weapons states and take the side of international law. It should work to ensure that this type of weapon disappears from arsenals worldwide. For the first time in history, the ban treaty provides a concrete and verifiable framework for this.

Nuclear weapons do not create security and peace. They cement the hegemony of a handful of states and expose the world to an unacceptable danger. That is why January 22 is a good day: the day when nuclear weapons will finally be outlawed.


Dr. med. Alex Rosen is head of the pediatric emergency department at Berlin's Charité University Hospital and co-chair of IPPNW Germany