Since nuclear weapons testing began on 16 July 1945, nearly 2,000 have taken place. Early on, having nuclear weapons was seen as a measure of scientific sophistication or military might, with little consideration given to the devastating effects of testing on human life, let alone the dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. Hindsight and history have shown us the terrifying and tragic effects of nuclear weapons testing, especially when controlled conditions go awry, and in light of the far more powerful and destructive nuclear weapons that exist today.
The human and environmental tragedies that are the result of nuclear testing are compelling reasons for the need to observe the International Day against Nuclear Tests – a day in which educational events, activities and messages aim to capture the world’s attention and underscore the need for unified efforts to prevent further nuclear weapons testing.
The international instrument to put an end to all forms of nuclear testing is the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), unfortunately, this has yet to enter into force.
On 2 December 2009, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 August the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. The resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991. The Day is meant to galvanize the United Nations, Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, youth networks and the media to inform, educate and advocate the necessity of banning nuclear weapon tests as a valuable step towards achieving a safer world.
2010 marked the inaugural commemoration of the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Each year, since then, the day has been observed by coordinating various activities throughout the world, such as symposia, conferences, exhibits, competitions, publications, lectures in academic institutions, media broadcasts and other initiatives.
Since its establishment, many bilateral and multilateral governmental level developments as well as broad movements in civil society have helped to advance the cause of banning nuclear tests.
Moreover, “convinced that nuclear disarmament and the total elimination of nuclear weapons are the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of nuclear weapons,” the General Assembly designated 26 September as the “International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, which is devoted to furthering the objective of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, through the mobilization of international efforts. First proposed in October 2013, the resolution (A/RES/ 68/32) was a follow-up to the high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament held on 26 September 2013 in the UN General Assembly. The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons was observed for the first time in September 2014. The International Day against Nuclear Tests, together with other events and actions, has fostered a global environment with more optimistic prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons.
As the Secretary-General recognized in his message to the Conference on Disarmament, the security environment is increasingly complex, but the complexity cannot be an excuse for inaction and cynicism. Although challenges remain, especially in terms of the deteriorating international security environment along with increased military spending and a strategic tilt towards nuclear weapons, there have been visible signs of progress on various fronts in 2017. This was most apparent with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, consensus on recommendations to the General Assembly by the Open-ended working group on the SSOD-IV, the positive environment at the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference on NPT, and the adoption by the UN Disarmament Commission of a consensus recommendations document after nearly two decades of inactivity.
It is the hope of the UN that one day all nuclear weapons will be eliminated. Until then, there is a need to observe International Day against Nuclear Tests as we work towards promoting peace and security world-wide. As the High Representative Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu remarked at the Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation on 29 May, 2017, “there is no one path to the elimination of nuclear weapons. We should continue to exert all efforts to bring about other measures to achieve and maintain a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Initiatives such as the International Day against Nuclear Tests are part of the global efforts towards a nuclear-weapon-free world.