Editor’s note: Ira Helfand is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a past president of the organization’s U.S. affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is the author of the report “Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?” The views expressed in this article are solely his own.
(CNN) — The world is focused on forging a durable agreement to prevent Iran from developing a single nuclear weapon. While critically important, these efforts ignore a far greater danger: the thousands of weapons that already exist.
There are today more than 17,000 nuclear warheads, an ongoing existential threat to human survival that has largely been ignored since the Cold War ended two decades ago. And, unlike Iran, there are no comparable negotiations under way to deal with these far more dangerous arsenals.
In fact, the humanitarian consequences of even a limited nuclear war, such as a conflict in South Asia between India and Pakistan, involving just 100 Hiroshima-size bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — would put 2 billion people’s lives and well-being at risk.
The United States has 14 of these submarines, plus land-based missiles and a fleet of strategic bombers. The Russian arsenal has the same incredible overkill capacity. Two decades after the Cold War, nuclear weapons are ill-suited to meet modern threats and cost hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain.
There is a growing global movement to prevent such a catastrophe. In 2011, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement called for its national societies to educate the public about these humanitarian consequences and called for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Seventeen nations issued a joint statement in May 2012 on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that called for their total elimination. By this fall the number rose to 125 nations.
The international community should continue to take practical steps to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. But this effort to prevent proliferation must be matched by real progress to eliminate the far greater danger posed by the vast arsenals that already exist.
Simply put, the only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war or risk of an accidental launch or mishap is to eliminate nuclear weapons.
Read more at A nuclear threat far greater than Iran