and Promote Nuclear Disarmament
Of all the challenges our species currently faces, the threat of nuclear war is the only one currently with the potential to wipe out human civilization. This could happen in a matter of a few hours. Although the number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined by about 75% since its peak during the Cold War, there are still about 15,000 warheads in the arsenals of the United States, Russia, and several other countries. These weapons could be used as a result of deliberate war, an international misunderstanding, malfunctioning technology, or cyber-attacks by hackers. Or they could be stolen by terrorists and used against a major city somewhere in the world.
Danielle makes it one of her highest priorities to achieve nuclear disarmament—a world where all nations peacefully give up their nuclear weapons. Even though Danielle is not fully successful in the novel, she does make progress in this endeavor. Like Danielle, you probably won’t be able to eliminate nuclear weapons on your own, but there are some things you can realistically do to bring a nuclear-free world closer to reality.
To learn more about nuclear weapons and why they are such a danger, you can check out these resources:
- Interesting list1 of 50 facts about nuclear weapons, compiled by the well-respected Brookings Institute.
- United Nations list of resources2 for students to learn more about nuclear disarmament and the risks of nuclear war.
- Illustrated explainer video3 by AsapSCIENCE about the effects of nuclear weapons, a background for students and curious young people.
- Short animated video4 by former US Secretary of Defense William J. Perry about the consequences of a nuclear attack by terrorists, and an interview5 with Perry explaining his views.
- Informative and intentionally humorous video6 by John Oliver explaining the danger from America continuing to have a stockpile of thousands of nuclear weapons that are hard to keep safe.
Even as a young person, you can take several concrete actions to promote nuclear disarmament:
- Advocate to friends. At present, a majority of citizens in America and the UK still support their countries keeping stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Achieving disarmament will require changing a lot of people’s minds. By talking to your friends, classmates, teammates, and neighbors about this issue, you can gradually shift public opinion toward supporting disarmament. Take the time to become familiar with the key arguments 7 for disarmament, and think of ways to answer potential objections.
- Start a club. Groups of people working together for the same goal are usually more effective than activists working all alone. Find a group of young people in your community who share the goal of global nuclear disarmament, and start a club to unite your efforts and share suggestions. In planning your group’s projects, read this useful guide8 by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on activities students can do to promote nuclear disarmament. The guide includes important facts, information resources, and creative ideas for activism by young people. Because changing many people’s minds requires lots of hard work, you should also take a look at ICAN’s suggestions9 on how to build collaboration between a wide range of groups in support of nuclear disarmament.
- Organize an event. Holding an event at your school or in your neighborhood is a great way to introduce your fellow students to the issues around nuclear disarmament. You could organize discussions, bring guest speakers who work for anti-nuclear organizations, or show videos like those mentioned above. One unusual activity that can be the focus of a school event is a group effort to fold 1,000 paper cranes. In Japanese culture, this represents peace and nuclear disarmament. Once you’ve folded the cranes, send them to a politician who you want to send a powerful and symbolic message to about the passion and commitment of the disarmament movement. Here’s an example10 of how such projects can have great impact in the media, raising vital awareness about the urgent need to reduce nuclear stockpiles.
- Write publicly. Whenever you see newspapers or online publications publish articles in favor of nuclear weapons, that’s a great opportunity to write a letter to the editor11 arguing for disarmament. This will expose large numbers of readers to arguments against nuclear weapons that they may never have heard or considered before. You can also use your social media accounts or blog as a platform for sharing your views about nuclear disarmament with a wider audience.
- Support pro-disarmament policies. Most politicians in nuclear-armed countries continue to oppose disarmament. One major reason for this is that nuclear weapons bring jobs and economic benefits to the places where they are based. A second reason is that politicians wrongly believe that their national pride and prestige depend on having huge stockpiles of nuclear warheads. To change their minds, ordinary people like you need to contact them regularly and encourage them to work in favor of nuclear disarmament. Specifically, call on them to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons,12 a landmark treaty first signed in 2017, which is essentially a total ban on all nuclear weapons. More than 135 nations are already participating, and when 50 of them have formally approved the treaty, it will be legally enforceable. A working treaty would make it more likely that nuclear-armed countries like the US and Russia would eventually sign and consider giving up their stockpiles or at least significantly reducing them. Make sure to tell your elected officials that if they won’t work toward disarmament, you’ll give your support to another candidate who will.
You can also directly support organizations that have done good work campaigning for nuclear disarmament over many years. You could hold fundraisers for them through a school club, or volunteer for them if you’re old enough. These organizations include:
- ICAN:13 The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons focuses on educating people about the practical risks and dangers of nuclear weapons.
- Greenpeace14: A large non-governmental organization dedicated to a wide range of environmental and anti-war causes, which prominently includes nuclear disarmament.
- Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:15 A UK-based advocacy group that opposes all weapons of mass destruction, but with a focus on nuclear weapons. It provides helpful educational materials16 for students and teachers.
In the longer term, nuclear disarmament might become politically possible because of some new technology that makes warheads or missiles obsolete. You might be the person to invent it! For more information on how to put yourself in the best position to achieve new breakthrough technologies, see “How You Can Be a Danielle and Encourage Women in the Workplace and Girls to Pursue STEM Careers”; “How You Can Be a Danielle and Learn to Program Computers at a Young Age”; and “How You Can Be a Danielle and Become a Physicist.”
Securing the world against the threat of nuclear weapons depends on several technological advances:
- Detection: Creating new methods of scanning that can more effectively detect radioactivity from nuclear weapons. This is necessary to prevent terrorists from smuggling a nuclear bomb into the country, and to prevent theft of radioactive material from the many sites it’s stored at all over the globe.
- Missile Defense: If it becomes possible to reliably shoot down any nuclear weapons that are fired, an international body like the United Nations could use this technology to make nuclear weapons obsolete. The more complex aspect of this would be to shoot down cruise missiles which fly close to the ground.
- Cybersecurity: There are currently far too many vulnerabilities in America’s nuclear weapons program. If hackers broke into the system, they could potentially trigger a nuclear war. As long as some nuclear weapons remain on alert, there will be a need for better cybersecurity techniques to prevent this from happening.
You could be the one to figure out the solution to these problems.
For more information, please see the following entries in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): Atomic Bombs Exploded in Japan, Thermonuclear Weapons, Hair Trigger, Mutually Assured Destruction.