By Jamshed Baruah | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
BERLIN (IDN) – 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and promises to be a crucial year for moving toward a world without nuclear weapons. While indications are that the global movement for banning the bomb is gaining strength, attempts to open a new chapter in nuclear arms race should not be underestimated, a close look at developments in 2014 shows.
A sign of growing awareness of the need to abolish atomic weapons is that 155 governments – more than 80 percent of the members of the United Nations – supported the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons tabled at the General Assembly in October 2014.
The view powerfully expressed in the Joint Statement, that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” expresses the deepening consensus of humankind, noted Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), an indefatigable champion of a world without nuclear weapons.
Government representatives of 44 out of 158 states, which participated in the December 8-9 Vienna International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, said that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error remains real.
States that expressed support for a ban treaty at the Vienna Conference include: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Echoing worldwide sentiments, Pope Francis called in a message to the conference for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all”. In the message, delivered by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Pope Francis told nearly 1,000 participants representing 158 states and over 200 civil society organizations that:
“A world without nuclear weapons’ is a goal shared by all nations and echoed by world leaders, as well as the aspiration of millions of men and women. The future and the survival of the human family hinges on moving beyond this ideal and ensuring that it becomes a reality.”
The Vienna conference was the third after the Oslo (Norway) gathering in 2013 and Nayarit (Mexico) early 2014. Unlike the previous conferences, the United States and Britain – two of the five members of the nuclear club, along with France, Russia and China – participated. In addition, an unofficial representative from China attended the meeting. Two other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, who took part in the previous two meetings, were also present in Vienna.
Responding to the call of 44 states for banning the bomb, Austria delivered the “Austrian pledge” in which it committed to work to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and pledged, “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal”.
Kudos for Austria
As a gesture of praise for the Austrian pledge, the Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA) designated Austria’s Director for Arms Control, Non-proliferation, and Disarmament Ambassador Alexander Kmentt as the 2014 “Arms Control Person of the Year”. The ACA announced on January 8 that Kmentt had received the highest number of votes in an online poll.
“Ambassador Kmentt deserves enormous credit for making the third conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons the most inclusive and extensive yet,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The Vienna conference has changed the international conversation about nuclear weapons and provided renewed urgency to the effort to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said.
“The majority of states parties to the NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) will expect the upcoming Review Conference in May to take into account the findings and conclusions of the Vienna conference and prompt the world’s nuclear weapon states to make faster progress on their NPT Article VI commitments,” added Kimball.
NPT, which entered into force in March 1970, seeks to inhibit the spread of nuclear weapons. Its 190 states-parties are classified in two categories: nuclear-weapon states (NWS) – consisting of the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom – and non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS). Under the treaty, the five NWS commit to pursue general and complete disarmament, while the NNWS agree to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons.
Article VI commits the NWS to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
PNND Council member EU foreign minister
Another important development that boosted the movement for a nuclear weapon free world was the nomination of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, replacing Catherine Ashton.
Mogherini has played an active role in PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament). endorsing a number of PNND member-led initiatives including the Parliamentarians Declaration Supporting a Nuclear Weapons Convention and the Joint Parliamentary Statement for a Middle East Free from Nuclear Weapons and all other Weapons of Mass Destruction.
She has spoken at several PNND events and led initiatives in the Italian parliament including a resolution adopted unanimously in June 2009 supporting the UN Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament. (Read: Italian Parliament adopts disarmament resolution).
Mogherini has been a member of PNND since she first became a member of the Italian parliament in 2008, and has served on the PNND Council since 2010. She has also become a member of the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, and of the CTBT Group of Eminent Persons.
PNND has also worked with her husband Matteo Rebesani in his role as one of the organisers of the Nobel Peace Summits – in particular to build an active nuclear disarmament program for the Summits and for cooperation between Nobel Peace laureates on nuclear disarmament (Read: Parliamentarians and Nobel Laureates advance nuclear abolition).
While these and similar development give cause for sanguine optimism that 2015 might turn out to be a milestone on the road to a nuke-free world, tensions in relations between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine have triggered discussions about the continued relevance of ‘nuclear deterrence’. Supporters of this theory hold that nuclear weapons are intended to deter other states from attacking with their nuclear weapons, through the promise of retaliation and possibly mutually assured destruction (MAD).
‘Sputnik’ reported on December 17 that the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, still considers nuclear arsenals as a crucial factor of international security. Such destructive weapons must be prevented from falling into the hands of extremists at all costs, he said in an interview with RT TV channel.
“I do not agree with those who claim that nuclear threat is not a deterrent anymore. We are now far more aware of what nuclear weapons and nuclear power are [capable of],” Gorbachev reportedly said.
Gorbachev cited Russia’s R-36M (SS-18 Satan) intercontinental ballistic missile, which he said has an explosive force “of a hundred Chernobyls,” as an example of why nuclear weapons are still a crucial factor of international security. He stressed this kind of destructive weapons must be prevented from falling into the hands of extremists at all costs.
Earlier in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of maintaining the country’s nuclear deterrence capability due to the growing number of security challenges.
As one of his final acts of 2014, on December 26, President Putin signed Russia’s new military doctrine. In principle, the doctrine, an official statement on national defence, is regularly updated and made public. Its previous iteration had been in place since February 2010.
Writing in the National Interest on December 31, Dmitri Trenin said: “In the run-up to the publication of the text, there were gloomy predictions. One suggested that the United States and its NATO allies would be formally designated Russia’s likely adversaries. Another one, based on the remarks of a senior serving general, expected Russia to adopt the notion of preventive nuclear strike. Neither of these provisions found its way into the published document. The doctrine does, however, faithfully reflect the sea change that occurred in Russia’s foreign policy and security and defense postures in 2014.”
Trenin argues that essentially, for Russian Commander-in-Chief Putin and for his generals, admirals and security officials, war in 2014 ceased to be a risk and turned into grim reality. Russia has had to use its military forces in Ukraine, arguably the most important neighbor it has in Europe. The conflict over Ukraine, in Moscow’s view, reflects the fundamental reality of an “intensification of global competition” and the “rivalry of value orientations and models of development.”
“There was a time when nuclear weapons were seen as the best way to prevent world war. Not anymore,” says an observer of the Vienna conference.” “Supporters of disarmament – including the Red Cross, Pope Francis, and, believe it or not, Henry Kissinger – say that’s wrong” and that deterrence does not work in a multipolar world. Instead, the presence of nuclear weapons just creates an incentive for more proliferation, as small countries try to one-up their regional adversaries.
Addressing experts in Geneva on December 17, Robert Wood, the U.S. Special Representative to the Conference on Disarmament said: “Looking ahead, it remains the policy of the United States to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. And we are facing new challenges as we consider how to responsibly eliminate the last 15% of those weapons. As we move to smaller and smaller numbers, leading to zero globally, we must in turn become rigorously more and more confident and trusting that all are fulfilling their commitments.”
He added: “In considering future reductions, the United States believes that the focus must be on responsible measures that can be trusted and verified. We will learn from our past experience and continue to move ahead with each step building on the last. While there is no pre-determined sequence of steps, and indeed we should pursue progress on multiple paths, there is no way to skip to the end and forgo the hard work of preparing for the technical and political disarmament challenges that lie ahead. Patience and persistence are needed from all NPT parties both among and beyond the P5 (USA, Russia, France, UK and China).” [IDN-InDepthNews – January 9, 2015]
Photo: EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini | Credit: PNND