Of all the weapons of mass destruction created throughout human history, nuclear weapons are the most destructive and indiscriminate. They can cause enormous devastation involving ‘uniquely persistent, spreading, genetically damaging ’ Whereas a single nuclear bomb detonated over a large city could kill millions of people, the deployment of tens or hundreds of nuclear bombs could disrupt the global climate creating insufferable conditions for both humans and other species.
, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, was adopted in 1970 with the objectives of achieving both nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. The NPT recognizes five states as (NWS). In order of acquisition, they are: the , (successor to the Soviet Union), the , , and . Ironically, these states are also the five of the .
The NPT has had limited success in curtailing nuclear weapons proliferation and the motivation of states to acquire them. The five recognized NWS have shown a reluctance to disarm. Since the adoption of the NPT, three more states, , , and have conducted overt . North Korea, which had been a party to the NPT, withdrew in 2003 while , which is known to have nuclear weapons, does not acknowledge it. Together, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), these nine countries possess , enough to destroy the planet many times over. Five more states; Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, also host U.S. nuclear weapons. Twenty-six other countries “endorse” the possession and use of nuclear weapons on their behalf in accordance with defense alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Despite the NPT’s calls for “a diminishing role” for nuclear weapons in security policies, the five declared NWS have maintained their huge stockpiles leading critics to question the legitimacy and enforcement capacity of the NPT. plans to develop new weapons, including ‘anti-ballistic missiles, earth-penetrating “bunker buster” and new “small” bombs,’ have been of particular concern. Strongly anti-nuclear countries like New Zealand also see the NPT’s inability to subject Israel, India and Pakistan to the Treaty’s restrictions as a major problem.
As geopolitical conflicts intensify, nuclear weapon states continue to modernize and rearm their arsenals, while still other states, such as, Iran, are believed to be developing nuclear weapons. The danger of a limited nuclear war, if not a full-scale nuclear war in the near future, is real and apocalyptic.
Among those leading the movement to ban nuclear weapons are the few remaining , the victims of the U.S. nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, who was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima is today a leader at . On October 6, 2017, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” The landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted at the United Nations on July 7, 2017 with the support of 122 nations.
The TPNW (also known as the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty) is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons and to seek their total elimination. of the Treaty on ‘Prohibitions’ states:
“Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: (a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; (b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly; (c) Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly; (d) Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; (e) Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty; (f) Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty; (g) Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.”
For the TPNW to come into effect, 50 countries must sign and ratify the treaty. As of 23 October 2020, 84 states have signed and 49 have or acceded to it. Only one more state is needed to complete ratification. A mere 90 days after the 50th nation state ratification, the TPNW will enter into force as international law, binding on countries that have ratified it.
Stating that it won’t sign the TPNW, the Trump administration continues to move away from international agreements to curtail nuclear weapons. On August 2, 2019 the Trump administration officially withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between the United States and Russia. As critics have pointed out, by withdrawing from the INF Treaty, the Trump administration eliminated consequences for Moscow’s alleged The U.S. and Russia are currently negotiating , the only remaining nuclear treaty placing limits and monitoring transparency on the growth of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. New START is set to expire on February 5, 2021. Whether the Trump administration will complete the extension before the November 3, 2020 U.S. election remains uncertain.
Meanwhile, the United States is urging countries that have ratified the TPNW to withdraw their support as the pact nears the 50 ratifications. The TPNW’s supporters believe that the 50th ratification needed to bring it into effect could happen anytime soon.
However, a sent by the Trump administration to signatories and obtained by the Associated Press states that the five original nuclear powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – and America’s NATO allies “stand unified in our opposition to the potential repercussions” of the Treaty. The letter also states that the TPNW is detrimental to the objectives of the NPT, claimed to be the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts. The letter further says to the countries that have ratified TPNW:
“Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession.”
Beatrice Fihn, , the sponsor of the TPNW, responded saying “That the Trump administration is pressuring countries to withdraw from a United Nations-backed disarmament treaty is an unprecedented action in international relations,…”[It] shows how fearful they are of the treaty’s impact and growing support.”
There is no fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican parties on U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarism. U.S. Presidential candidate, has affirmed support for continuation of US military and imperial agendas. However, it remains to be seen if a potential Biden administration would take a more favorable stance towards the TPNW which is endorsed by the majority of countries in the world.
Collective Power for Peace
Small and medium-sized countries have joined the TPNW to avoid possible nuclear build-ups and conflagrations on their soil. Indeed, the vast majority of countries that have ratified the TPNW thus far are struggling to maintain their neutrality and independence from powerful nuclear-armed states. Take a country such as Sri Lanka, faced with simultaneous interventions by three nuclear armed powers: China, the United States and India. The TPNW provides such beleaguered countries a means to assert their sovereignty vis-à-vis external powers who support neither the abolition of nuclear weapons nor the demilitarization of the world.
Nuclear weapons represent the myopic geopolitics of domination, subordination and annihilation. Wisdom, compassion and are needed instead. Perhaps, with these values, Sri Lanka will take the honor of being the 50th state to ratify TPNW and bring this historic treaty into effect.
By Prof.Asoka Bandarage