Nuclear Arms Hindering Sustainable Development

By Kelly Litt, Dominican Volunteer

The 65th Annual UN Department of Public Information (DPI)/NGO Conference took place last month at the UN Headquarters in New York. At this conference, civil society gathered to help shape and influence the new vision for sustainable development in the post-2015 development agenda. This conference hosted by the UN Department of Public Information and the Executive Committee of NGOs presented panel discussions, roundtable talks, and workshop sessions that focused on some of the biggest issues of the times such as poverty eradication, sustainable development, human rights, and climate change.

One notable workshop session was sponsored by the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic and the Congregation of Notre Dame for UN Relationships, which aimed to discuss how nuclear weapons are severely hindering sustainability and development. The session, titled “Sustainability and Nuclear Weapons?” addressed the impact of nuclear weapons on achieving a sustainable world.

This workshop explained that the two largest threats to a sustainable world are climate change and nuclear arms. The survival of the earth and survival of humans is one in the same, yet one of the most unconsidered horrors of the nuclear age may be the destruction that it causes to nature. The mining of materials for constructing nuclear arms leaves toxic, radioactive, and contaminated waste behind. This waste is often in the lands of the world’s indigenous peoples and the world’s poorest peoples.

According to Greenpeace International the production of nuclear weapons pollutes vast amounts of soil and water all over the world. Many of the substances released into the water and soil, including plutonium, uranium, mercury, and cyanide, “are carcinogenic and mutagenic and remain hazardous for thousands, some for hundreds of thousands, of years.” This is detrimental to the vision of a sustainable earth.

Increasing amounts of nuclear weapons also takes away from the intellectual skills necessary to combat climate change and other global issues. As Dr. I.I. Russin of Moscow State University said, “The quest of solutions to ecological problems is impossible without the curbing of the arms race, for the arms race absorbs tremendous intellectual and material resources of mankind.” The nuclear arms race is preventing time, energy, and resources from being used for positive changes in the world.

Yet pursuing sustainable development without addressing war and nuclear arms will be unsuccessful. The more nuclear arsenals are modernized, the less security there will be. The United States alone has spent billions of dollars to modernize their nuclear arsenal. These nuclear arsenals are unstable and dangerous, and it is, in fact, immature to continue to threaten the annihilation of humankind as a viable option for security.

Every U.S. president since Eisenhower and every Secretary-General of the United Nations has warned against the destruction and danger that can result from nuclear arms. Article 26 of the Charter of the United Nations likewise explains that in order to establish and maintain international peace and security, armaments should be closely regulated.

Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals currently sets out to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.” Rather than expanding and modernizing arsenals and nuclear weapons, military expenditures should be reduced to pave way for human development. The world must work together for the abolition of nuclear weapons in order to achieve sustainable development and security.

At the conclusion of the DPI/NGO Conference, an outcome document declaration was presented and adopted by participants. This declaration will be shared with UN Members States, the global civil society, and other stakeholders with both recommendations and demands for the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

As brothers and sisters across the world, we might wonder how have we come to this? The entire survival of the whole ecosystem and humankind is threatened while the fear of mutual destruction looms overhead. Sept. 26 marks the first International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons established by the United Nations General Assembly which will encourage world leaders to negotiate for a nuclear weapons free world and disarmament.

As Dominicans, we follow in the footsteps of Saint Dominic and align ourselves with the four pillars of Dominican spirituality: study, prayer, community, and ministry. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to incorporate those aspects into our lives. Perhaps ignorance is the most damaging; if we do not know, we do not have to do anything about it. We cannot turn a blind eye on nuclear arms. Our environment and world is counting on our awareness and our action.