Charlie Flanagan: It is vital we prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons

Minister addresses nuclear weapons conference at the UN

Ireland welcomes the progress made towards resolving the long-running issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. We urge all parties concerned to support the outline agreement and bring it to a successful conclusion.

This would represent a significant achievement and a major step forward towards the peaceful resolution of a long-running dispute which has had the potential to destabilise further an already volatile region.

The risks and geopolitical tensions present in the world today make it very clear just how essential it is that we achieve progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, now rather than later.

Some 17,000 nuclear weapons still exist in the world today. Independent evidence presented at recent international conferences, based only on declassified information which has been publicly released, has shown that the risks of a nuclear weapon detonation are much greater than we realised, and that the world’s capacity to respond to such a catastrophe is hopelessly inadequate.

Even a limited nuclear exchange would kill tens of thousands of civilians, the majority of them women and children; cause catastrophic damage to the environment; jeopardise global food production and could lead to famine in many regions of the world.

On Monday I will speak on behalf of Ireland at the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the UN in New York, which will consider the issues of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

At this crucial conference, Ireland will continue to strive for concrete progress on nuclear disarmament.

Stopping power

The NPT treaty has been effective in stopping countries that don’t have nuclear arms from developing them. However, it has not achieved its other major goal, which is the achievement of a world without nuclear weapons.

The NPT treaty was born out of concern about the human cost of a nuclear weapons explosion. This original rationale must remain central to our present deliberations. In a message to the most recent Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said that “the more we understand about the humanitarian impacts, the more it becomes clear that we must pursue disarmament as an urgent imperative”.

This year is a particularly important milestone: it marks 70 years since the end of the second World War and the terrible scenes of devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unfortunately, the risk of a nuclear detonation remains very real today.

Spending billions on modernising weapons systems which, under the NPT, should already have been decommissioned, runs contrary to the wishes expressed by the vast majority of countries – 155 of which have declared to the United Nations General Assembly that nuclear weapons should never be used again under any circumstances.

Independent research has also found that nuclear detonations have a disproportionate effect on women and a worse effect still on female children. For this reason, Ireland, together with other concerned States, will organise an event at this year’s NPT Review Conference, which will study gender and nuclear weapons, from the dual viewpoint of the disproportionate effect of nuclear weapons on women and the need for women’s voices to be heard and given equal weight in the nuclear weapons debate.

Ireland and the UN

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the UN. Ireland initiated the resolutions at the United Nations which led to the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and we have an abiding interest in ensuring that the provisions of the treaty are fully honoured and implemented. We have worked with like-minded countries to present proposals to the review conference on effective measures to achieve nuclear disarmament.

It is vital that we prevent the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, as in Iran. It is equally important that the existing weapons are never deployed again under any circumstances, and that a process is started now that will put them beyond use forever.

And if they are not to be used, why retain them at huge cost and at a risk that is greater than we realised?

Charlie Flanagan is Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade