By Alyn Ware
Alyn Ware is Member of the World Future Council and Global Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
PRAGUE (IDN) — The global push for nuclear armed countries to adopt no-first-use policies, and the connections between climate change and the threat from nuclear weapons, have emerged as key issues for the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.
These two issues are featuring in actions and events by civil society commemorating the day on September 26, as well as in preparations by the President of the UN General Assembly Ambassador Abdulla Shahid for the High Level Meeting on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons which he will host on September 28.
The connection is also highlighted by the announcement (September 25) by the Pacific Island nation Vanuatu that they are initiating action in the UN General Assembly to take the issue of climate change to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), an initiative inspired by the historic 1996 ICJ nuclear weapons case.
The principal objective of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, as outlined in UNGA Resolution 68/32 establishing the day, is the “urgent commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament of a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer and use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.”
However, only 4 of the 9 nuclear-armed States (China, India, North Korea and Pakistan) have agreed to join such negotiations, and none of them have agreed to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was adopted in 2017.
As such, a number of civil society actions and events are focusing on promoting measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war such as no-first-use, as well as on advancing incremental nuclear disarmament steps, and building commitment by the nuclear armed states to join multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in the near future in order to achieve the global elimination of nuclear weapons no later than 2045, the 100th anniversary of the United Nations.
Earlier this month, for example, a group of participating organizations of NoFirstUse Global, sent a memo to all UN members, calling on governments to advance no-first-use policies at the 76th UN General Assembly — in particular at the High Level Meeting on September 28 and the UN Disarmament and International Security Committee meeting from October 4 to November 4, 2021.
The memo notes that “The risk of nuclear war by accident, miscalculation or crisis escalation has become as high today as it has ever been – including during the most tense times of the Cold War. This makes nuclear risk reduction a vital issue for governments to address in the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly which opens this week in New York.”
The memo follows on from an Open Letter sent to American President Biden and Russian President Putin just prior to their summit meeting in Geneva on June 16. This letter – whose endorsers included over 1200 political/military and religious leaders, legislators, academics/scientists and other representatives of civil society – called on the two presidents to affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and to implement this understanding by adopting no-first-use policies.
Subsequently, Presidents Biden and Putin announced their commitment to take action on nuclear risk reduction, as highlighted in the joint declaration adopted at their summit meeting. They affirmed that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’ and they initiated an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue. ‘Through this Dialogue, we seek to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.’
A range of nuclear risk reduction measures are promoted in the memo sent to UN members, including de-alerting, increased transparency, improved mil to mil communication (hotlines) and avoidance of provocative military exercises and movements. However, NFU is advanced as being probably the most important:
“If in a confrontation between any two countries, it is known that each country has both a doctrine and a ‘built — in’ posture of No First Use, (or ‘Sole Purpose’) the likelihood of that confrontation escalating to nuclear weapons use will be low to zero,” say the memo authors. “On the contrary, confrontations between countries that do NOT each have NFU postures and policies… carry a substantial risk of uncontrollable escalation to nuclear weapons use.”
No First Use or Sole Purpose policies are important not only to reduce the risk of nuclear war, but also to pave the way for comprehensive nuclear disarmament:
“As long as the role of nuclear weapons includes addressing a range of threats from other WMD, conventional weapons and even cyber-attacks, the nuclear armed states will not agree to nuclear disarmament negotiations. Once nuclear armed state states have restricted the role of nuclear weapons to deterring from other nuclear weapons, then they are able to join such negotiations and support a framework for verified elimination.”
No-first-use is also promoted in Just Say No to Nuclear War, an Open Letter sent by Veterans for Peace to President Biden this weekend in conjunction with the 2021 International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and as input into the Nuclear Posture Review currently being undertaken by the Biden Administration.
“We represent millions of people who want nothing more than to see the United States make a dramatic Pivot to Peace” says the Veterans for Peace letter. “What better place to start than to step back from the brink of nuclear war?”
The U.S. and Russia possess and deploy the lion’s share of nuclear weapons in the world,” says Gerry Condon, Chair of the Veterans for Peace Nuclear Abolition Working Group which drafted the letter. “These two nuclear superpowers can therefore reduce the risk of a nuclear war that could destroy all life on earth. As a U.S. citizen, I particularly call upon my own government to lower global tensions, to implement a No First Use policy, and to help lead a global process to eliminate all nuclear weapons.”
Some people think when we say ‘No First Use,’ that we are okay with second use, but nothing could be farther from the truth,” says Mr Condon. “A No First Use policy would lower tensions and greatly reduce the possibility that a nuclear exchange will ever take place. No First Use would build trust and momentum for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”
The call on nuclear armed states to adopt no-first-use policies is also in Protect People and the Planet, the global Appeal for a nuclear weapon free world, which was launched at the 2020 UN High Level Meeting on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons by the Vanda Proskova and Saber Chowdhury, the two civil society representatives speaking at that event, and which is endorsed by Nicole Ponce and Marie-Claire Graf, the two civil society representatives selected to address the 2021 UN High Level Meeting on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons this coming week.
Ms Ponce and Ms Graf are primarily climate activists. Ms Ponce is a leader of World’s Youth for Climate Justice and Ms Graf is the Global North focal point for YOUNGO – the official children and youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Their selection by UNGA President Abdulla Shahid to be the two civil society speakers for the High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament demonstrates a realization from the UNGA President and the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, that there are connections between the climate crisis and the threats from nuclear weapons.
Both climate change and nuclear weapons threaten life on a planetary scale. Both have transboundary and transgenerational impact. Both require international cooperation to resolve. And new thinking and action led by youth is vital to success in both the climate and nuclear disarmament movements.
In addition, the use of nuclear weapons in armed conflict could cause catastrophic climatic consequences, and climate change is a conflict escalator that increases the risks of a nuclear conflict. And the global nuclear weapons budget – nearly $100 billion per year — is desperately needed to help finance carbon emission reductions and the phase out of fossil fuels.
Indeed the High Level event, at which over 70 Prime Ministers, Presidents, Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers will speak, takes place just 4 days after the island nation of Vanuatu announced that they are launching a process in the UN General Assembly to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legal responsibility to stabilise the climate in order to protect current and future generations.
Vanuatu launched this process in response to the campaign to seek such an ICJ opinion which has been initiated and led by Ms Ponce and her colleagues from Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change and World’s Youth for Climate Justice.
This campaign is inspired by the 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear weapons, in which Vanuatu also played a leading role. In this historic case, the ICJ highlighted the responsibility to protect future generations, affirmed that the destructive impact of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in time or space, declared the threat or use of nuclear weapons to be generally illegal and confirmed an unconditional obligation to achieve the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
If the presentations of the two young climate activists to the UN High Level Meeting on September 28 stimulate further cooperation between the climate and nuclear abolition movements, this could help build political momentum on both issues and break current political impasses to build success on both. Let’s hope so. [IDN-InDepthNews — 27 September 2021]
Photo: ‘Don’t even THINK about starting a nuclear war’ social media action in front of the American embassy in Prague. Credit: Alyn Ware
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