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A Tight Grip On Our Nuclear Toys

“Everyone wants to play with the big boys, and the only way to become one of the big boys is to have nuclear toys.”

Attention Planet Earth! Attention Planet Earth! It is time to grow up.

The words are those of Mohamed ElBaradei, then director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, from a 2005 interview, several months before he and the agency were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They remain eerily relevant in 2019, summing up as they do the puerile recklessness that is in the process of regaining its grip on geopolitics. Nuclear weapons treaties are withering on the vine and proliferation threatens a triumphant return.

Hello, omnicide. We may not be as lucky as we were in the Cold War era, when the consequences of nuclear accidents and political brinkmanship were relatively contained and the victims of nuclear development were limited to the people who lived near test areas like the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan or the Nevada Test Site in the western United States. Nuclear stockpiles have shrunk, not grown, and nuclear-armed nations number nine.

This is still insane, of course. That number should – must – find its way to zero, as declared by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was passed by a United Nations vote of 122-1 in 2017 but still awaits actual ratification by 50 countries (32 have ratified it so far). Hope-inspiring as that treaty is, the big boys – who boycotted the U.N. vote two years ago – still control the game, and led by the USA, they are pulling out of the treaties that constrain them.

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