There's Only One Way to Keep Nuclear Weapons Safe From the Next Trump: Eliminate Them | Opinion

As the very foundations of American democracy trembled under Nancy Pelosi, with even her own personal safety at risk, what did the Speaker of the House turn her mind to? The President's nuclear launch authority.

Speaker Pelosi, in calling the nation's highest military officers, was given assurances about safeguards, but those of us working on nuclear disarmament have warned for decades: there are no limits on a president's total authority to launch a nuclear attack.

A rogue president's Twitter account can be taken away, but not the nuclear launch codes.

The nuclear arms regime thrives in obscurity and it's tempting to again let the existence of these catastrophic weapons recede in our minds, just as the infamous Trump presidency fades into history. Sure, we have seen how easily an "unhinged"egomaniac can gain control of the most destructive arsenal the world has even known, but he is—begrudgingly—out the door.

However, the lesson from the Trump years should not be that nuclear weapons need to be merely kept out of irresponsible hands. That has been the underpinning of a foolish strategy for over five decades.

As the world's eyes were focused on the presidential transition this week, today marks a dramatic new chapter in world events: as of today, nuclear weapons are banned under international law.

Today the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons enters into force, filling a gaping hole in international law by creating a global prohibition against developing, stockpiling, using, or even encouraging any of these activities.

In short, nuclear weapons are now illegal.

This is in line with the wishes of the vast majority of nations, and the vast majority of the public. New polling shows that voters across Europe are eager for their countries to join the treaty.

For too long, a small group of states decided who should be trusted with nuclear weapons — of course, the states who decided are also the ones possessing already those very weapons. Defenders of the status quo claim that this strategy has been successful. There has not been a nuclear attack or a 'hot' world war since 1945, they point out.

What this thinking ignores is that the end of the Cold War has seen the proliferation of nuclear weapons to India, Pakistan and North Korea. Far from preventing war, the threat of nuclear weapons was the casus belli for war in Iraq and threats of war with North Korea and Iran; India and Pakistan have also teetered on the brink. We only need to look to the tragic toll of war in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, DRC, Vietnam and the Korean Peninsula—to name a few—to put the fallacy of "nuclear weapons as peacemakers" to bed.

NATO continues to speak from both sides of its mouth within this nuclear tinderbox. The alliance members proclaim their commitment to a nuclear free world, while simultaneously holding on to the world's most destructive arsenal, and even building new weapons. NATO's justification is "as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance." This is like saying, "As long as this fire exists we must keep pouring petrol on it."

Article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty, to which all NATO members are party, requires nuclear-armed states to take concrete steps towards complete nuclear disarmament. That treaty is more than 50 years old.

Recent surveys in Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands show that most people in those countries are unaware of what the government is doing in their name. 56 percent of respondents in Italy did not know that warheads are on their soil and Italian armed forces members would assist the U.S. in a nuclear attack. But once they were made aware of that reality, an incredible 74 percent want the U.S. warheads out.

The polls explain why political and military leaders prefer the public stay in the dark about their nuclear plans. In all countries polled, only a maximum of 11 percent (in Belgium) support their governments stance on nuclear weapons. Citizens want their leaders not just to reject the status quo, but take steps to comply with and join the nuclear ban treaty. 89 percent of Spanish, 87 percent of Italians, 86 percent of Icelanders, 78 percent of Dutch and Danish and 77 percent of Belgians support their country joining the treaty.

The nuclear weapons regime is unpopular and unsustainable. People want these weapons eliminated so that an accident or the next Trump does not have the option of turning Europe into a nuclear wasteland. They want nuclear disarmament and they want it now, before the next unhinged man gets his finger on the button.

From today, they have international law on their side.

Beatrice Fihn is Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.