By NIDHA KHAN
The new U.S. administration’s stance on nuclear weapons has been a source of anxiety for many. A few months ago, tensions were particularly high as Donald Trump’s heated tweets on the subject of North Korea brought the world closer to nuclear war.
Nuclear weapons have the capability to indiscriminately kill millions of men, women, and children, destroy whole cities, and have devastating long-term effects on human health and the environment. We only need to turn to the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the only cities to have been attacked with nuclear weapons) as examples. The effects are still felt to this day: people directly exposed to the radiation 66 years ago and children exposed to radiation while in the womb have an increased risk of developing cancer.
Needless to say, the threat of nuclear war is chilling.
“It shows that no state is safe with nuclear weapons. I think that an argument that has been maintained for a long time is that it’s not okay for countries like North Korea to have nuclear weapons, but hey, it’s okay for the United States to have nuclear weapons because they are ‘responsible and worthy actors.’ But then you have someone like President Trump in power who is creating these provocative statements on Twitter, it shows that no one is safe with nuclear weapons.” – Lucy Stewart, NZ Peace Foundation
Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction which international laws do not comprehensively prohibit. And with the risk of nuclear detonation now being higher than any single time period since the end of the Cold War, negotiations on an international treaty to ban nuclear weapons have already begun. The negotiations (held in New York from 27th-31st March and 15th June-7th July) are the first multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament at the UN in more than 20 years and are co-sponsored by Aotearoa.
It is hoped that that on completion, the Nuclear-Weapon-Ban Treaty will be a legally binding international instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.
The purpose of the treaty is to create such an intense moral stigma around nuclear weapons, similar to cluster bombs and landmines, that it leads to their eventual elimination.
“No self-respecting country, president, or prime minister would ever proudly say that we’ve got a stockpile of chemical weapons and landmines to use. They are such awful weapons in the public’s eye because they are banned. The only actors that use these kinds of weapons are basically terrorists or rogue states.
That’s what we need to get to with nuclear weapons, to attach such a stigma to them that no modern democracy would ever dream of having them, no banks would want to finance them, no scientist would want to work on modernising, researching, or working in that industry.” – Lucy Stewart, NZ Peace Foundation
The Nuclear-Weapon-Ban Treaty is building on an already existing treaty, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
The NPT is an international agreement which states that “countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear technology.” However, that hasn’t happened. In the NPT, there is no deadline for Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to work towards in terms of nuclear disarmament and because of this, there has been no real progress.
Hence, the new upcoming treaty has been propelled by non-nuclear armed states’ frustrations that nuclear weapons states aren’t fulfilling their obligations. There are hopes that a very strong treaty that bans all aspects of nuclear weapons including researching, developing, financing, testing, stockpiling, and transportation of nuclear weapons will be created.
The ban will come into action once 40 countries adopt, sign, and ratify the treaty.
In our case, it’s easy – NZ has nuclear free policy dating back 30 years. For other nations, they may need to bring the treaty back to the nation and change national laws before being able to sign and ratify the treaty.
However, there are a vocal minority who oppose the treaty, in particular the five permanent and veto-wielding members of the Security Council – France, U.S., U.K., Russia, and China.
The council members claim that given the current situation with ‘bad actors’ like North Korea, ‘good actors’ such as the U.S. cannot be pressured to eliminate their nuclear weapon stockpiles. Instead, they propose that global nuclear disarmament is best achieved via “gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated using a step-by-step approach within existing international frameworks.” But many argue that harbouring nuclear weapons for nuclear security and deterrence is fundamentally flawed as actors continue to hold on to their stockpiles in fear that the other will strike. Even if the time came for a nation to strike, it would be unjustifiable to use nuclear weapons given their devastating impact on human health and the environment.
The intense opposition from the five permanent members of the Security Council makes this Nuclear-Weapon-Ban treaty historic.
“It’s showing a new order in a way – we are ready for a different type of global governance. If these really powerful countries won’t engage in the conversation, then we’ll do it ourselves. And it’s the majority, if there’s 130 countries taking part [out of the 193 member states] then it’s not some radical minorities. It’s what most of the citizens of the world want, which is really powerful.
Young people across the globe are rising up to speak out about the importance of nuclear disarmament and supporting the ban treaty. It really is one of the most important issues for our generation. Climate change, inequality, sustainable development; these issues are all interlinked with nuclear weapons. The US alone spends over $60 billion USD on nuclear weapons every year. This money spent elsewhere would mean basic education, healthcare, food and clean water for everyone on earth. I think that really resonates with our generation, we want a world free of nuclear weapons!” – Lucy Stewart, NZ Peace Foundation
If you’d like to be involved in the Nuclear-Weapons-Ban Treaty:
Lucy will be blogging about the process here.
Sign the Hibakusha Appeal, a petition launched by a group of atomic bombing survivors, for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Follow Nidha on Instagram: @nidha01
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