A Statement from Scientists on the Use and Threats of Use of Nuclear Weapons
This statement was signed by myself and over 1,000 other scientists and delivered to key governments and decision makers.
I am a signatory to this statement, coordinated by the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction and released on January 17, 2023. Read the press release here. The Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which Einstein chaired in 1946, referred to in the text, evolved into the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which I was honored to chair for over a decade.
“From the beginning of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly issued threats to use nuclear weapons. As the war has continued, the risk of nuclear war has grown. Nuclear war would affect all people and this risk demands a global response.
We state unequivocally that any threat to use nuclear weapons, at any time and under any circumstances, is extremely dangerous and totally unacceptable. We call on all people and governments everywhere to clearly condemn all nuclear threats, explicit or implicit, and any use of such weapons.
In February, President Putin threatened that interference in the situation in Ukraine would be met with immediate “consequences that you have never faced in your history”. In September, he suggested he might order the use of nuclear weapons “if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened,” including the territory in Ukraine that Russia has illegally seized.
The use of a nuclear weapon for the first time in more than 77 years would risk global catastrophe. If Russia were to use any nuclear weapons in its war on Ukraine, the risk of nuclear escalation would be extremely serious. Once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict, particularly between nuclear-armed adversaries, there is a risk that it could lead to an all-out nuclear conflagration. If the United States or NATO were to launch a nuclear retaliatory strike against Russia in response to a Russian nuclear attack in Ukraine it would create significant risk of an escalatory cycle of nuclear destruction. As U.S. President Joseph Biden said in early October, “I don’t think there’s any such thing as an ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.”
Today, it is widely understood that there can be no adequate humanitarian response following the use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons kill and injure people immediately and indiscriminately, destroy cities, and contaminate the soil, water, and atmosphere with radioactivity. The smoke from burning cities in a nuclear war could darken and cool Earth’s surface for years, devastating global food production and ecosystems and causing worldwide starvation. For these reasons, 145 nations at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference on August 22, 2022, endorsed the demand that “nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”
Despite this, all nine nuclear-armed states are investing in sustaining and modernizing their nuclear arsenals and have plans to use them to wage nuclear war if they choose. So long as countries possess these weapons of mass destruction, there is a risk they will be used. Threats to use nuclear weapons, especially in a time of war, make their use more likely.
With this statement, we add our voices to those already speaking out about the immense danger posed by nuclear weapons and call for immediate and concrete actions towards their elimination.
Scientists were the first to warn governments and publics what these terrible weapons can do. In 1946, the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, chaired by Albert Einstein, warned the world about nuclear weapons, calling for their elimination and declaring that otherwise, “If war breaks out, atomic bombs will be used, and they will surely destroy our civilization.” “