"There are many paths to a nuclear-weapons-free world. I appeal to all states to intensify their efforts to contribute to the shared vision in their own ways."
Secretary-General António Guterres
Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. After general and complete disarmament first came onto the General Assembly’s agenda in 1959, nuclear disarmament has remained the most important and urgent objective of the United Nations in this field. Since 1975, it has been a prominent theme of the review conferences of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 1978, the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament reaffirmed that effective measures for nuclear disarmament have the highest priority. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.
Yet today, some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2017, while there have been major reductions in deployed nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear warhead has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. The prevailing security challenges cannot be an excuse for continued reliance on nuclear weapons and for abrogating our shared responsibility to seek a more peaceful international society.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them. Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted on 7 July 2017, marks an important step and contribution towards this common goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The Treaty reflects growing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons as well as awareness of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result if nuclear weapons were ever used again. It is the result of a global campaign focused on the unacceptability of the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances and the hope that the Treaty’s adoption will give renewed momentum to nuclear disarmament.
Sculpture depicting St. George slaying the dragon. The dragon is created from fragments of Soviet SS-20 and United States Pershing nuclear missiles. UN Photo/Milton Grant