As medical doctors and scientists, we write concerning the escalating crisis between North Korea and the US (World running out of diplomatic levers, 30 August). The power to kill millions is in the hands of unstable countries and unpredictable people. Tensions between these two nuclear powers clearly illustrate the dangers of nuclear weapons, which make the world less stable.
Evidence is indisputable that any use of such weapons would have a devastating health impact on populations. Robust scientific studies show that even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons would lead to major crop failures around the world. Such a “nuclear famine” scenario would result in mass starvation, potentially affecting as many as 2 billion people.
On 20 September, countries commence signing the comprehensive treaty banning nuclear weapons adopted on 7 July 2017 at the UN. The treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons agreed by 122 nations finally gives these weapons of mass destruction a similar legal status to biological and chemical weapons. The treaty prohibits signatories from: preparation of nuclear weapons, actual use, and assisting other states or non-state groups in such actions. The UK, alongside other nuclear-armed states, boycotted the negotiations, despite government claims to support multilateral disarmament and despite polling indicating that 75% of the UK population supported UK government participation.
It is not too late for the position of the British government to change. Possession of nuclear weapons undermines a potential leadership role for the UK to enhance security and stability in the world. We call upon the British government to immediately begin the process of joining the treaty. As a first step, it could reduce its threatening nuclear posture, specifically by abandoning its “first-use policy” and ending continuous nuclear-armed patrols – both of which increase the risk of nuclear war.
Dr Michael Orgel Medact Scotland
Dr Stuart Parkinson Executive director, Scientists for Global Responsibility
Dr Philip Webber Chair, Scientists for Global Responsibility
Dr Ira Helfand Co-president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and recipient of the 1985 Nobel peace prize
Professor Peter Ware Higgs Nobel laureate physics
Professor David McCoy Director, Medact UK
Professor Alan Robock Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
Professor John CM Gillies
Dr Judith McDonald Medact Scotland
Dr Lesley Morrison Medact Scotland
Professor David Webb
Professor Malcolm Povey University of Leeds
Dr Margaret McCartney GP, Glasgow
Dr Guy Johnson Medact Scotland
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