Image credit: Pixabay - Photo: 2020

Global Civil Society Demands Bolder Action from NPT States Parties

By Jamshed Baruah

GENEVA (IDN) – A diverse network of national and international peace and nuclear disarmament non-governmental organisations has in a joint statement urged government leaders, particularly from the nuclear-armed states and their allies, to act with greater urgency and cooperation to meet unfulfilled promises to reduce nuclear risks and advance progress on disarmament, and to realise their commitment to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons”. The statement coincides with the 25th anniversary on May 11 of the indefinite extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The anniversary has been postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 84 organisations that have endorsed the statement, the postponement of the 2020 NPT Review Conference offers “an unprecedented opportunity to change the current course, move beyond bitter politicisation, and focus efforts to bring about the end of nuclear weapons”.

They call on NPT states parties and the international community to utilise this additional time wisely. “The current situation requires new and bolder leadership from responsible states to work together to build majority support for a plan of action to advance NPT Article VI goals and create much needed momentum for further progress on disarmament, and to save humanity from the scourge of nuclear war.”

The joint statement comes at an historic point in time: The year 2020 marks 75 years since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By the end of 1945, more than 210,000 people—mainly civilians—were dead. But the surviving atomic bomb victims (Hibakusha), their children, and grandchildren continue to suffer from physical and psychological effects of the bombings, as do people from the Korean peninsula who were among the victims of the atomic bombings.

From their development, through testing and use, nuclear weapons create victims at all stages. Indigenous peoples have been especially impacted by nuclear testing and uranium mining, and radiation has disproportionate gendered impacts. The damage caused by nuclear weapons has no national borders.

The civil society organisations emphasise that the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 were tiny and crude by today’s standards. Current capabilities are far more deadly. Moreover, reductions of nuclear weapons have tapered off in the last several years, replaced by a lavishly funded new race to develop novel and diversified capabilities to unleash nuclear devastation..

In 2010, NPT states parties agreed by consensus to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security strategies. Ten years later the opposite is true: that role has been expanded—and not only by nuclear-armed states but also by their complicit allies—the “nuclear umbrella” states.

The joint statement warns that the race to develop weapons more suitable for warfighting, including so-called low-yield systems, increasingly threatens the nearly 75-year-old taboo against nuclear use. And, a reference to any warheads as “low-yield” is a misnomer. Available plans indicate these weapons would have roughly one-third the yield of the Hiroshima bomb. In some nuclear-armed states the resurgence of formerly retired types of weapons appears to be a result of corporate pressure rather than of strategic interest, the civil society organisations add.

They point out that new risks heighten the urgency to eliminate nuclear weapons. Emerging technologies including offensive cyber capabilities and artificial intelligence combined with nuclear modernisation plans also increase risk. The scale and tempo of war games by nuclear-armed states and their allies, including nuclear drills, is increasing. Ongoing missile tests, and frequent close encounters between military forces of nuclear- armed states exacerbate nuclear dangers.

According to 2017 Nobel Peace laureate ICAN, 13,865 warheads are threatening the planet: of these, five – Russia (6,500), the United States (6,185), France (300), China (290) and Britain (200) own the largest numbers – and four Pakistan (150-160), India (130-140), Israel (80-90) and North Korea (20-30) the smaller numbers. In addition, five countries are hosting U.S. nuclear weapons: Italy (80), Turkey (50), Belgium (20), Germany (20) and the Netherlands (20).

Twenty-six other countries also “endorse” the possession and use of nuclear weapons by allowing the potential use of nuclear weapons on their behalf as part of defence alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

A new investigation discloses that the nine nuclear-armed states spent $72.9 billion on their 13,000+ nuclear weapons in 2019, implying $138,699 every minute of 2019 on nuclear weapons. This was an aggregate increase of $7.1 billion from 2018.

The joint statement, therefore, calls on the nuclear-armed states to halt programmes designed to build new nuclear weapons, new delivery systems, or their key components. Coupled with policy decisions eradicating launch-on-warning plans, ending modernisation programmes could start reducing risks, as would eliminating the role of nuclear weapons from national and regional security strategies and doctrines.

The civil society organisations maintain that completely eliminating the risk of nuclear weapons is only possible when the weapons themselves are eliminated. They ask all NPT states parties to commit to halting the development of new nuclear weapon capabilities and help stop the nuclear arms race, including by ceasing the provision of any form of assistance or encouragement to develop new capabilities.

The statement was drafted by Ray Acheson (WILPF); John Burroughs (Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy); Jacqueline Cabasso (Western States Legal Foundation); Akira Kawasaki (Peace Boat); Daryl Kimball (Arms Control Association); Allison Pytlak (WILPF); Alicia Sanders-Zakre (ICAN); Susi Snyder (PAX); and Carlos Umana (IPPNW).

The groups endorsing the statement underline that one of the many lessons to be learned from the pandemic is that “science must not be ignored under the guise of ‘national security’ policies that put profit before people and privilege the most powerful”.

The statement adds: “We’re not only at a pivotal point in the struggle against the fast-moving coronavirus; we are also at a tipping point in the long-running effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war and eliminate nuclear weapons. Tensions between the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.”

“This environment,” the joint statement says, “demands bolder action from all states to reduce nuclear risks by eliminating nuclear weapons; action that is rooted in ‘deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons’.”

The civil society organisations have put forward the following three key messages to NPT states parties:

1. Global support for the NPT is strong, but its long-term viability cannot be taken for granted.

It is encouraging to see that all countries have expressed support for the NPT, including in recent UN Security Council meetings. However, the Treaty is only as strong as its implementation. The longer that consensus-based NPT Review Conference decisions remain unimplemented, the less weight the Treaty and its obligations will have.

For the long-term viability of the NPT, all countries must fully implement their obligations. The body of previous NPT Review Conference commitments and action steps still apply. This includes the benchmarks agreed to at the historic 1995 Review and Extension Conference and further commitments made at the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences. These remain largely unfulfilled, and some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

2. The grave state of global affairs and the rising risk of nuclear conflict and arms racing requires new and bolder leadership from responsible states.

Implementing past action plans must be the floor and not the ceiling for taking forward the NPT’s provisions. The risk of nuclear weapon use is all too high and is growing, particularly as offensive cyber operations and artificial intelligence introduce unprecedented uncertainty into the global security environment.

It is this environment that demands bolder action from all states to reduce nuclear risks by eliminating nuclear weapons; action that is rooted in “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”.

Many countries have demonstrated their commitment to nuclear disarmament by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The TPNW is a major contribution to the common goal of eliminating the threat of nuclear war and eliminating nuclear weapons.

3. Those that resist change also say the “environment” is not right for further progress, but responsible actors everywhere are rising to the challenge.

The world cannot wait until the environment is “right” for disarmament. It is true that success in conflict prevention and resolution, control of non-nuclear military capabilities, protection of human rights, climate and environmental protection, and other important endeavours would help to facilitate nuclear disarmament.

But taking action for disarmament by negotiating agreements or through unilateral steps helps create an environment for achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons while building a climate of mutual trust that will positively contribute to solving the world’s other pressing problems, says the statement.

“To achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons and a global society that is more fair, peaceful and ecologically sustainable, we will need to move from the irrational fear-based ideology of deterrence to the rational fear of an eventual nuclear weapon use, whether by accident, miscalculation, or design,” accentuates the joint statement.

It adds: “We will also need to stimulate a rational hope that security can be redefined in humanitarian and ecologically sustainable terms that will lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons and dramatic demilitarisation, freeing up tremendous resources desperately needed to address universal human needs and protect the environment.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 May 2020]

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Image credit: Pixabay

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