Do you know that the United States is one of 189 sovereign nations joined in a multilateral treaty committing all signatories to nuclear disarmament?

In force since 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty includes a binding commitment by the nuclear-armed nations to pursue nuclear disarmament (Article VI) and by non-nuclear nations to not develop or acquire nuclear weapons (Article II). Iran ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 and joined the United States in that binding commitment.

Unfortunately, efforts by the nuclear-armed nations to reduce their nuclear arsenals are now completely stalled.

In fact, the U.S. is leading in exactly the wrong direction with current plans to build new nuclear bombers, subs and missiles. Meanwhile, the states of Israel, India and Pakistan never agreed to the treaty and have now developed nuclear weapons, and in 2003 North Korea withdrew from the treaty.

In stark contrast to the behavior of the nine countries that now cling to their nuclear weapons, there is a renewed commitment throughout the rest of the world to achieve nuclear disarmament.

In the last two years there have been three international conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. The last, in December, was hosted by Austria, with 158 countries participating.

Pope Francis sent a statement to that conference saying the nations of the world must not merely have a goal of “a world without nuclear weapons” but also must make it a reality.

He said: “Individually and collectively, we are responsible for the present and future well-being of our brothers and sisters. It is my great hope that this responsibility will inform our efforts in favor of nuclear disarmament, for a world without nuclear weapons is truly possible.”

Representatives of those 189 nations that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are meeting at the United Nations from April 27 to May 22 to review the treaty. Will the representatives act with a belief that “a world without nuclear weapons is truly possible,” or will there be the business-as-usual acceptance of nuclear-armed states continuing to threaten others with “mutually assured destruction”?

The Austrian government has recognized that the risk of nuclear weapons use, with its unacceptable consequences, can be avoided only when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated.

In their pledge concluding the recent Vienna conference, Austrian officials noted the following realities:

“The unacceptable harm that victims of nuclear weapons explosions and nuclear testing have experienced.”

“The immediate, mid- and long-term consequences of a nuclear weapon explosion are significantly graver than understood in the past and will not be constrained by national borders but have regional or even global effects, potentially threatening the survival of humanity.”

 “The risk of a nuclear weapon explosion is significantly greater than previously assumed and is indeed increasing with increased proliferation, the lowering of the technical threshold for nuclear weapon capability and the ongoing modernization of nuclear weapon arsenals in nuclear weapon-possessing states.”

“The scope of consequences of a nuclear weapon explosion and risks associated raise profound moral and ethical questions that go beyond debates about the legality of nuclear weapons.”

 “No national or international response capacity exists that would adequately respond to the human suffering that would result from a nuclear weapon explosion in a populated area.”

“It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”

The Austrian government has now pledged “to follow the imperative of human security for all and to promote the protection of civilians against risks stemming from nuclear weapons, and calls on all states parties to the NPT to renew their commitment to the urgent and full implementation of existing obligations under Article VI, and to this end, to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

We urge President Obama to sign this pledge. And we urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to pull back on plans to waste hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years on new programs to rebuild and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons.