The United Nations open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament held its second session this month in Geneva, following its first gathering in February. What emerged from the latest meeting is a schism between countries seeking to create a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and those nations opposed to the idea, including nuclear weapons powers and those states relying on the protection of a nuclear umbrella.

While the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes five countries — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — as nuclear weapons states, it requires all parties to the treaty to pursue negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. Given the potential dangers posed by the accidental use of nuclear arms and nuclear terrorism, all states should support the effort to ban nuclear weapons.

The undercurrent of discussions in the working group's meetings is the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The consequences of a nuclear explosion would spread beyond national borders and have regional and global effects. It would indiscriminately kill or injure numerous civilians. Radioactive contamination would devastate the environment for generations, causing cancer and other deadly diseases. No nations would have the capability to adequately respond to the human suffering caused by nuclear weapons.