By Thalif Deen *
NEW YORK (IDN) – Responding to a question, Albert Einstein, the German-born physicist who won the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics, predicted rather ominously: “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Einstein, who regretted the marginal role he played in the creation of the atomic bomb, was implicit in his warning of a world going back to a pre-historic stone age — in case it is annihilated by nuclear weapons in a third world war.
With the treaty on the prevention of nuclear weapons (TPNW) receiving its 50th ratification on October 24 and scheduled to go into force in 90 days, there is a lingering fear as to the effectiveness of these treaties, particularly when the world’s nine nuclear powers stand defiant or are openly violating these treaties.
The slew of anti-nuclear treaties has, undoubtedly, acted as a deterrent against a nuclear war since the devastation caused by the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people back in 1945.
Paradoxically, there is also an often-quoted near-truism that “nuclear weapons have done more for world peace than any peace treaty”—as most nuclear powers have affirmed “no first use of nuclear weapons”.
Still, it did not prevent the emergence of four new nuclear powers since the 1970s—India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel (which has officially refused to admit its nuclear status)—even as four countries de-nuclearised, including South Africa which disassembled its arsenal while Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine repatriated their weapons to Russia.
And despite these treaties, the world’s major nuclear powers, particularly the US, the UK, China, France and Russia — which are also veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council — have continued to modernise their weapons.
According to the London Economist, the US alone has spent more than $348 billion in a decade-long modernisation programme followed by the UK, France, Russia and China.
“In short, there has been no attempt to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the military and security doctrines of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council despite their commitments under the NPT,” said the Economist back in 2015.
There are also reports that some of the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are harbouring intentions of developing weapons perhaps in a distant future.
So, how far are we from the longstanding struggle for a nuclear-weapons-free world? Is this an achievable goal or a political fantasy?
According to an Associated Press (AP) story on October 22, the Donald Trump administration has sent a letter to governments that have either signed or ratified the treaty, telling them: “Although we recognise your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the TPNW, we believe that you have made a strategic error.”
This has been interpreted as an attempt by the US to exert pressure on signatories to withdraw from some of the anti-nuclear treaties.
Asked whether it was possible for Member States to withdraw their ratifications from the TPNW if they were under pressure to do so from other Member States, Brenden Varma, spokesperson for the President of the UN General Assembly, referred journalists to the Secretariat and its legal affairs officers.
From the President’s side, he said, the TPNW represented a significant step, and in general, he supported the objective of a nuclear weapon-free world.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the total inventory of nuclear weapons worldwide, as of 2019. stood at 13,865, of which 3,750 were deployed with operational forces. And, more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons were owned by Russia and the United States.
SIPRI Director Dan Smith said all nuclear-weapon states are upgrading their arsenals.
“Arms control is in crisis,” he warned. “The strategic arms agreement between Russia and the United States—the last bilateral arms control treaty still standing—must be extended by February next year. It is not surprising that a radical change of direction is gaining this degree of support worldwide,” he added.
Professor M. V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and Director, Liu Institute for Global Issues, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said the quest for a nuclear weapons-free-world has been longstanding, since the beginning of the nuclear age to be precise.
“The goal is definitely difficult to achieve, and we are not close to it, but I don’t think it is a fantasy,” he said.
Other weapons of mass destruction, he pointed out, have been banned and there is no essential reason why nuclear weapons cannot be too, although this would require far-reaching changes in how countries interact with each other.
“The entry into force of the Ban Treaty is definitely a step toward the goal of the abolition of nuclear weapons because it allows non-nuclear countries to increase pressure on the nuclear-weapon states to get rid of their means of mass destruction,” declared Dr Ramana, 2020 Wall Scholar, Peter Wall Institute for the Advanced Studies University of British Columbia. [IDN-InDepthNews – 01 November 2020]
* This analysis is being republished from the Sunday Times of Sri Lanka. The writer, a veteran journalist reporting from the United Nations in New York, is a former Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services; Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information
Photo. The Trinity test of the Manhattan Project was the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, which led J. Robert Oppenheimer to recall verses from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one “… “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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