By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS. 26 September 2023 (IDN) — When the United Nations commemorated the 10th anniversary of International Day for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the President of the General Assembly, Dennis Francis, was dead on target when he warned that the risk of nuclear annihilation “is not a chapter from our past; it is a haunting reality of our present”.
“There is only one path to avoid nuclear Armageddon: the complete and absolute elimination of nuclear weapons,” he told delegates on September 26.
According to the UN, the world has over 12,500 nuclear weapons—and rising.
In an interview with IDN, Joseph Gerson, an American peace activist and president of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, said the establishment of the International Day for the Complete Elimination of Nuclear Weapons reflects humanity’s recognition of the continuing existential threat to human survival and civilization posed by nuclear weapons.
As the Hibakusha, Japanese A- and H-Bomb survivors, teach us from their terrorized and excruciating experiences, “human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist”.
It is also true that given the dictates of nuclear command and control, nuclear weapons and democracy cannot coexist, he said.
“Today, the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and continuing popular demands for nuclear disarmament serve as the most forceful but insufficient counterweight to continuing preparations by all nine nuclear weapons states to wage apocalyptic nuclear war,” said Gerson, a former vice-president of the International Peace Bureau.
In fact, “as we see with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock set at 90 seconds to midnight, the danger of nuclear war is far greater today than in 2013 when the International Day was established”.
“As I write, I have just heard a member of Russia’s national security elite state that this is the most dangerous moment in international relations since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy’s advisors thought the chances of nuclear war were between a third and a half.”
“That we are alive today is a function of luck and inspired diplomacy, the latter of which is dangerously absent today,” he declared.
Addressing delegates on September 26, Secretary-General António Guterres said: This is a matter of urgency. A worrisome new arms race is brewing. The number of nuclear weapons could rise for the first time in decades.
He pointed out that hard-won norms to prevent their use, spread and testing are being undermined. The global disarmament and non-proliferation architecture is eroding. Nuclear arsenals are being modernized to make these weapons faster, more accurate and stealthier. Nuclear sabers are again being rattled.
“This is madness. We must reverse course,” he said.
First — nuclear-weapon States must lead the way. “I call on them to meet their disarmament obligations and commit to never use nuclear weapons under any circumstances”.
Second — “we need to reinforce and re-commit to the nuclear-disarmament-and-non-proliferation regime built over the decades”.
This includes the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
It also includes the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Though not yet in force, the Treaty remains a powerful testament of humanity’s will to lift the shadow of nuclear annihilation from our world once and for all.
“In the name of all victims of nuclear testing, I call on all countries that have not yet ratified the Treaty to do so without delay, and for those States that possess nuclear weapons to ensure a moratorium on all nuclear testing.”
And third — “we must redeploy the timeless tools of dialogue, diplomacy and negotiation to ease tensions and end the nuclear threat. This dialogue must extend to all categories of nuclear weapons, and it must address the increasing interplay between strategic and conventional weapons and the nexus between nuclear weapons and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence”.
Humans must always be in control of and responsible for any decision to use nuclear weapons, Guterres declared.
Elaborating further, Gerson told IDN following a tradition practised by almost every U.S. president, Russian President Putin and his most senior advisors have threatened the first use of nuclear weapons, this time especially if Moscow’s control of Crimea is threatened.
Amidst the Ukraine War and growing tensions between the West and Russia, in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons are being deployed to NATO allies while Russia is in the process of deploying nuclear weapons to Belarus.
In East Asia, the U.S. is again deploying nuclear armed ships to South Korean waters and ports, and tensions over Taiwan were a primary factor in the Biden Administration’s refusal to adopt either a sole use or no first use nuclear doctrine in its National Security Strategy.
He said planning for use of tactical nuclear weapons in a war for Taiwan is now common in policy circles in Washington, D.C. And the absence of strategic stability and arms control diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and China greatly increase the dangers that an accident, incident, or miscalculation could trigger disastrous escalation to nuclear war.
“All of the nuclear powers are either expanding or “modernizing” their nuclear arsenals. Iran and Japan are near nuclear powers, and South Korea and Saudia Arabia face both domestic and international pressures to equalize what they perceive to be unjust imbalances of nuclear terror,” he noted.
Sculpture depicting St. George slaying the dragon. The dragon is created from fragments of Soviet SS-20 and United States Pershing nuclear missiles. UN Photo | Milton Grant
“The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons provides us with an opportunity to raise the alarm, to emphasize the centrality of Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which calls for good faith negotiations for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”
“And most importantly, the Day encourages us to increase our commitments, organizing. and advocacy for the nuclear weapons-free world that we and future generations deserve,” Gerson declared.
Meanwhile, UNFOLD ZERO*, a coalition of anti-nuclear activists, issued a Global Appeal to end the nuclear threat, abolish nuclear weapons and shift the weapons budgets and investments to support public health, COVID-19 recovery, the climate and sustainable development.
“The nuclear weapons possessed by nine countries threaten us all. Any use of these weapons by accident, miscalculation or malicious intent, would have catastrophic human, economic and environmental consequences.”
The use of just a small fraction of the 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world’s stockpiles could end civilization as we know it. In addition, the $100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons is sorely needed for environmental, economic and human needs, including addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the climate and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We, the undersigned, call on our cities, parliaments and governments to:
1. Affirm that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and therefore the nuclear armed States should stand down their nuclear forces and affirm policies never to initiate a nuclear war (no-first-use policies).
2. Commit to the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2045, the 100th anniversary of the United Nations.
3. Cut nuclear weapons budgets (if they are a nuclear-weapon State), end investments in the nuclear weapons industry (all governments) and redirect these investments and budgets to support the United Nations, COVID-19 management and recovery, drastic reductions in carbon emissions to protect the climate, and financing the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”.
*UNFOLD ZERO is a project of PragueVision, PNND, Basel Peace Office, Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign, Aotearoa Lawyers for Peace, World Future Council, World Federalist Movement and Global Security Institute. [IDN-InDepthNews]
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 26 September 2023.
Image source: UNFOLD ZERO
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.