The world must work together to ameliorate the rising danger of nuclear war, experts from 46 countries declared in an open letter released ahead of Monday's kick-off of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.
"We believe the risks posed by nuclear weapons and the international dynamics that could lead to nuclear weapons being used are under-estimated or insufficiently understood by world leaders," reads the statement, which commends the government of Austria for convening the conference.
Organized by the European Leadership Network—and signed by former diplomats, lawmakers, and others—the letter argues, "Tensions between nuclear-armed states and alliances in the Euro-Atlantic area and in both South and East Asia remain ripe with the potential for military miscalculation and escalations. In a vestige of the Cold War, too many nuclear weapons in the world remain ready to launch on a short notice, greatly increasing the chances of an accident."
The letter calls for international leaders to "use the Vienna Conference to launch a global discussion that would more accurately assess steps to reduce or eliminate the risk of intentional or unintentional use of nuclear weapons."
However, civil society organizations from around the world, who gathered before the Vienna conference at a summit organized by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, are taking it a step further and calling for a complete ban on nuclear arms. A global prohibition is "a humanitarian imperative that cannot be delayed," reads a statement from organizers released ahead of their forum.
Numerous countries have refused to attend the Vienna meeting of approximately 150 countries, which is the third of its kind. Israel, which is the only Middle East country in possession of nuclear weapons, is shunning the gathering. Russia, France and China—all of whom possess nuclear weapons—are also refusing to attend.
After staying away from previous meetings, Britain and the United States are both attending this conference. However, the state department announced last month that the U.S. will not engage in any "disarmament negotiations or pre-negotiation discussions."
Dr. Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Programme at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), recently shared his predictions for the conference with Inter Press Service.