Scaling the Nuclear Abolition Mountain: Is the United Nations up to the Task?

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  • November 2011

    Strong motivation is the most important factor in getting you to the top.

    Edmund Hillary (on scaling Mt Everest)

    Some have compared the goal of a nuclear weapons free world to scaling an incredibly high mountain—and the mountain is covered in cloud making the peak invisible. Thus, they argue, all we can do is take small steps up the lower slope—hoping for better conditions in the future that might make it possible to climb higher.

    Such an approach was rejected by mountaineering pioneers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who scaled the world's highest peak Mt Everest in 1953, despite difficult conditions and a number of failed previous attempts. Their success was achieved by teamwork involving: preparatory work building base camps; advance planning on the route to be taken and by combining a range of physical, technical and psychological elements necessary for success. On completing the climb, Hillary observed that two key factors for success were: to aim for the top and to persevere.

    Achieving a nuclear weapons free world is probably a tougher challenge than climbing Mt Everest in 1953, but like that historic climb, it is not insurmountable. Key questions are: whether this is the time to prepare for an assault on the peak; whether the United Nations is up to the task; and whether there is a leadership role for India.