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Disarmament Group Renews Push to Ban Nuclear Weapons

Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and US actor and UN Messenger for Peace Michael Douglas attend a news conference on nuclear disarmament a the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 12, 2016.

New efforts to ban nuclear weapons are under way as governments and activists gather at the United Nations in Geneva to consider proposals for negotiating a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is calling on governments attending the Open-Ended Working Group that deals with nuclear disarmament issues to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons similar to treaties banning the production and use of land mines and cluster munitions.

ICAN's executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said after many years of silence, governments are, once again, willing to recognize the threat nuclear weapons pose to international peace and security and the need to control them.

”We hear a majority of states right now here in the U.N. calling for such negotiations and there is a proposal put forward that the negotiations will start in 2017," she said. "The General Assembly will adopt a resolution in October and start such a process.”

She acknowledges the road ahead will be very difficult. “The nuclear armed states are boycotting these discussions,” she said. “They clearly do not want to prohibit nuclear weapons and are being quite aggressive in their opposition to even discuss the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and what those kinds of discussions would lead to.”

Raising awareness

American movie star Michael Douglas has been actively working to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation since 1998, when he was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace.

He supports the new efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in this “most dangerous time,” citing the escalation of tensions between Russia and the United States, the modernization of nuclear weapons and the threats posed by terrorism.

Douglas told VOA he thinks the world situation is more dangerous than during the Cold War, when governments were more careful about monitoring their nuclear arsenals and controlling their fissile material.

”You are seeing, you could call it recklessness — beginning to slip in now between Russia and the U.S. in situations, close quarter situations,” he said. "And the number of weapons that are on trigger alert is frightening."

”So, the time for somebody who possibly could make a mistake and to correct it is very, very short," he added. "So, it is a very dangerous time.”

Douglas views the U.S. placement of a land-based missile defense system in Romania as unnecessarily provocative and likely to increase tensions with Russia that sees it as a security threat.

That view is shared by the president of Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that provides grants for anti-war projects. Joseph Cirincione told VOA it is not too late for U.S. President Barack Obama to re-evaluate the deployment of missile defenses in eastern Europe.

”It was designed to defend Europe from the threat of an Iranian nuclear missile. The Iran deal now renders that defense unnecessary,” he said. “We have stopped Iran from developing a nuclear warhead for at least 15 to 20 years. It is time to stand down the system.”

Cirincione praised President Obama for having effectively blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb, but criticized him for failing to reduce America’s huge nuclear arsenal and for leaving a trillion dollars' worth of contracts in the pipeline for the development of new nuclear weapons.

Cirincione said the president is leaving a nuclear mess for his successor, but still has time to correct it during his visit to Hiroshima, Japan later this month. He said he hopes that during the visit, Obama will announce new steps that can reduce nuclear dangers before leaving office in January.