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Possibility of Global Nuclear Disarmament?

by Bobby Ramakant, Sandeep Pandey, 16 June

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(Written on the occasion of India Pakistan Friendship and Peace March, 19 to 30 June, 2018, Ahmedabad to Nada Bet)

After a hiatus in the movement for global nuclear disarmament it is heartening to note that there are some positive developments over the last couple of years. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution for ‘taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’ on 23 December, 2016 which culminated in the adoption of ‘Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’ on 7 July, 2017, with 122 countries voting in its favour, only one voting against it and 70 not participating.

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize ‘for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic human consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.’ And more recently, on 12 June, 2018, United States and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have agreed for denuclearization of Korean Peninsula in peace talks held at Singapore.

It is noteworthy that the very first resolution of General Assembly of UN adopted on 24 January, 1946 called for elimination of nuclear weapons. Since then a number of resolutions have been passed. However, there has hardly been any movement in that direction. Number of nuclear weapons and number of countries possessing them have gone up. The dishonesty of the big five – all members of Security Council, US, United Kingdom, Russia, France and China, officially described as the Nuclear Weapon States – in continuing to hold on to the weapons while trying to ensure that no other nation produces these weapons through imposition of Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has made a mockery of the exercise of global nuclear disarmament. 191 States have joined NPT, the largest number to have done so in any arms limitation or disarmament agreement, which includes the five nuclear weapon States. India, Pakistan and Israel have kept out of these treaties with all three having ‘illegally’ acquired the nuclear weapons. India did not go along with CTBT as it thought that the treat failed to include a commitment by nuclear weapon States to eliminate their nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework. US and China have not even ratified CTBT. North Korea had acceded to NPT in 1985 but came out of it in 2003 following testing of its nuclear weapons.

In 1988 the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi put forward a comprehensive proposal for global nuclear disarmament which till date remains the only such initiative by a head of any government at the UN. He described these weapons as immoral and abhorrent as they don’t distinguish between combatant and non-combatant, criticized them for making international politics undemocratic and thought that these inexcusably expensive weapons divert planet’s precious resources away from most pressing needs of human beings. He castigated the much touted principle of nuclear deterrence as the ‘ultimate expression of the philosophy of terrorism, holding humanity hostage to the presumed security needs of a few.’ However, when Rajiv Gandhi saw that the nuclear weapon States were not serious about the goal of global nuclear disarmament he gave up what was the last serious effort by India to pursue the objective of nuclear weapons free world. Ten years after this famous speech at UN, India tested its weapon at Pokaran. Quite predictably India has not voted for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Two Strategic Arms Limitation Talks took place between US and Soviet Union in 1969 and 1979, which led to another two Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties in 1991 and 1993, proposing limits on number of nuclear weapons which each side could possess. In spite of all these well intentioned efforts the world today has a combined stockpile of over twenty thousand nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out all human population from the face of earth. Ironically, these weapons exist for human security.

The Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons believes that the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances is to completely eliminate them. It raises concerns about disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on health of women and girls due to ionizing radiation. It considers suffering and harm caused to victims, such as Hibakusha, the Japanese survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki tragedies, as unacceptable. Significantly, it also raises concerns about impact of nuclear weapons activities on indigenous population. Most Uranium, the raw material found in nature for making nuclear weapons, mining sites are located in habitats of tribals or aborigines. The Treaty considers production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons as waste of economic and human resources. It says nuclear weapons pose risk to all humanity because of possibility of detonation by accident, miscalculation or design. The Treaty highlights the need for a legally binding prohibition of nuclear weapons which includes irreversible, verifiable and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons. It believes nuclear weapons to be abhorrent to principles of humanity and dictates of public conscience.

Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons prevents its party States to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also precludes the possibility of stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons in any party State’s territory.

Article 6 of the Treaty holds States responsible for providing medical care, rehabilitation, psychological support, social and economic inclusion for any victims of use or testing of nuclear weapons. This shows that the Treaty is comprehensive and sensitive to all aspects of nuclear weapons programme.

So far 59 States have signed this Treaty and 10 have ratified it. In order to come into effect ratification by at least 50 countries is required. One hopes that countries which have not signed or ratified it will come forward sooner than later to see it through and take it to its logical conclusion, making this world free of nuclear weapons.