The author is Secretary General of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and Professor of Physics at the University of Milan, Italy. Pugwash was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. Following are extensive excerpts from a paper Professor Cotta-Ramusino presented to the conference on ‘Perspectives for a world free from nuclear weapons and for integral disarmament’ at Vatican City on 10 November 2017. – The Editor
VATICAN CITY (IDN-INPS) – Nuclear weapons have been used only twice in war, but nevertheless, the build-up of nuclear arsenals has progressed relentlessly up until the 1980s. The number of US nuclear weapons reached a maximum of 32,000 in 1967 while Soviet nuclear weapons reached a maximum of 45,000 in 1986.
While the numbers subsequently decreased, the US and Russia together still possess nearly 14,000 intact nuclear weapons. Taken together with the approximately 1200 nuclear weapons possessed by the other seven nuclear-weapon states (France, China, UK, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea), there are now about 15,000 intact nuclear weapons on the planet.
Some of these weapons are deployed (about 5,000), and others are either stockpiled (about 4,500) or retired (but intact). A massive use of these nuclear weapons would practically destroy the planet. But even a limited, and local, use would create unimaginable destruction, an enormous loss of lives, and ecological disaster.
The questions are: 1) Under what circumstances might these weapons be used? 2) Can other countries start building nuclear weapons, so increasing the dangers of nuclear use?
There are several circumstances where the risk of nuclear use is significant: