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Nuclear Weapons Are Unacceptable In The Hands Of Any Nation

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NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR
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North Korea's recent nuclear-weapons test constitutes provocative, destabilizing activity for the region and the globe and demands strong condemnation from the international community. Every effort must be made to keep North Korea's nuclear ambitions in check -- not only to produce a workable nuclear warhead but, just as critically, to develop delivery systems that could reach perceived adversaries, including the United States and other Western countries.

Certainly North Korea's irresponsible actions create legitimate international security concerns. But too often outside policymakers and observers seem to overlook the simple fact that the current standoff is in part a result of an unsustainable nuclear-weapons regime that perpetuates a double standard between states that have nuclear weapons and those that do not.

A blatant disregard for a decades-old commitment to disarm under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) creates strong proliferation pressures that can only be counteracted by the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. What is needed is a global legal ban on the possession, deployment, and use of these instruments of mass destruction. No exceptions, no exemptions.

The DPRK's recklessness does not obscure the fact that the fundamental rationale for its nuclear weapons program is essentially the one used by other nuclear-armed states and by NATO, itself a nuclear alliance: a stubborn belief in nuclear deterrence to protect vital national security interests.

Nuclear weapons continue to be framed as the supreme security guarantee for the majority of the world's population -- either through direct possession or by virtue of collective security arrangements. The governments of India and China -- states that together have more than 2.5 billion citizens--retain nuclear arsenals and thus the distinct possibility of engaging in nuclear warfare.

While North Korea's test is unequivocally unacceptable, the moral high ground of some of the countries now chastising North Korea is undermined by the fact that they have long engaged in the same activity they now condemn. This was North Korea's fourth nuclear weapons test. Had the test been conducted by the United States -- one of the few countries in the world not to have ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- it would have been its 1,055th.

While even one nuclear weapon remains, there is a real possibility of nuclear catastrophe -- by accident, miscalculation, or design.

The North Korean nuclear test must be understood in the broader context of the failure of the NPT to deliver on the promise of complete nuclear disarmament. Seven decades after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 45 years after the entry into force of the NPT, and more than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, nearly 16,000 nuclear weapons threaten the very survival of humanity and Earth.

The renewed attention in recent years on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has served as both catalyst and rallying point for a growing number of states and international civil society organizations. An increasingly loud denunciation of the intransigence of states with nuclear weapons can be heard around the globe. Calls to immediately begin a serious process to unequivocally prohibit and verifiably eliminate nuclear weapons are more persistent.

Yet the imperative for nuclear abolition is built not only on humanitarian grounds. The difficulties in achieving a world without nuclear weapons are symptoms of a broader multilateral system riddled with double standards. The global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime constitutes a case study in inequitable, discriminatory global governance.

The NPT was designed to prevent non-nuclear-weapon states from acquiring nuclear weapons and to compel nuclear-weapon states to eliminate them. Those that hold nuclear weapons have resisted, avoided, or ignored not only their treaty obligations, but the groundswell of support for nuclear abolition from all corners of the planet. Instead, states with nuclear weapons are spending billions of dollars to modernize their weapons.

While even one nuclear weapon remains, there is a real possibility of nuclear catastrophe -- by accident, miscalculation, or design.

As important and necessary as it is to tackle the North Korean nuclear threat, proliferation concerns will never be fully allayed as long as nuclear weapons exist. Further, there is now a clear and widespread recognition that the discriminatory nature of the global nuclear disarmament regime -- whereby nonproliferation is an obligation and disarmament a mere aspiration -- is decidedly not conducive to nuclear abolition.

Some states consider the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons by certain nations or groups intolerable, but seem content to accept the nuclear-weapons programs of military or economic allies, even outside the NPT framework. The United States and Canada, like some other states, not only turn a blind eye to the rogue Israeli nuclear weapons program, but engage in nuclear cooperation agreements with India, contravening a longstanding agreement that nuclear cooperation should be reserved for NPT states parties.

The endgame for nuclear abolition is remarkably straightforward: there must be a universal, non-discriminatory process, with provisions for the irreversible elimination of existing nuclear arsenals and a timeline for verified implementation. But setting lofty goals has never been the problem. Nuclear abolition has been an international objective for decades, supported in theory even by states with nuclear weapons. Implementation has proved difficult.

Opportunities to engage on this issue exist. An open-ended working group (OEWG) established by the UN General Assembly will meet for 15 days in 2016, with a mandate to develop "legal measures, legal provisions and norms" to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. The OEWG offers a key forum at which nuclear-weapon states can show the international community that their talk of a world free of nuclear weapons is more than empty rhetoric.

North Korea's reckless actions have important implications for international peace and security and merit universal condemnation. But the most urgent concern about nuclear weapons is broader than this particular test. The root of nuclear insecurity is in the continued possession of nuclear arsenals by a few states and the continued resistance of those states to disarm.

There are no right hands for wrong weapons.

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