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Need to Invigorate the Nuclear Disarmament Process


By Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan

The writer is Chairman of Blue Banner NGO and Former Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the United Nations.

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (IDN) — Despite or perhaps because of the increase in geopolitical tensions, conflicts and the rise in the risks of nuclear weapons use, it is high time to look at the state of nuclear disarmament and consider what needs to be done to practically promote it. (P31) INDONESIAN  | JAPANESETURKISH

US-Russian talks on reduction of nuclear weapons are at a standstill. Some of the earlier agreements on reducing nuclear armaments have been abrogated or withdrawn by one side or the other. The New START treaty that calls for halving the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers has been “suspended” and would expire in less than two years unless extended or replaced by a new treaty.

Due to the war in Ukraine US-Russian relations, that possess about 90 percent of nuclear weapons, have become openly antagonistic and there is little hope that their bilateral nuclear weapons reduction talks would resume in the near future. There is no prospect of multilateral talks of the five nuclear-weapon states (the P5) to reduce their nuclear weapons, to start soon.

On a broader scale, no agreements have been reached to implement the provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The review conferences of 2015 and 2022 have ended without agreeing on final documents, while the substantive agreements reached at previous conferences have not been fully implemented.

In the increasingly inter-connected and globalized world, non-proliferation is not anymore, the concern of the P5 only but of the entire world. All states are, in fact, becoming joint custodians of the peaceful and stable world. Therefore, it is time that all states, beneficiaries of peace and stability, should also become contributors to it based on their comparative advantages.

A doctrinal change is needed

The world is rapidly changing. However, the P5, mindful of their narrow interests, are reluctant to react to these changes and make the needed adjustments to their nuclear doctrines and policies. As former US Secretary of Defence William Perry had admitted in his 2020 book “The Button”, the US nuclear weapon policy had become obsolete and dangerous. Like horses with blinkers, the P5 do not see or want to see and react to the tremendous changes underway in technological developments that require appropriate adjustments to their security doctrines and policies. Instead of limiting the role of nuclear weapons in their policies, the P5 are even lowering the threshold of the uses of such weapons by increasing the list of their possible uses including in the cases conventional conflicts or even against non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWSs).

All these provokes nuclear arms race. With the introduction of the latest technologies the arms race might soon reach the outer space in violation of the 1967 treaty, the cyber or digital realms with the unpredictable for all devastating consequences. Therefore, what is needed now is a doctrinal change in nuclear deterrence policy that logically leads to horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferations undermining thus the basis of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament when the issue of global survival is basically at stake.

Deterrence policy of strengthening own security at the expense of its proponent’s provokes naturally the latter to take counter steps. In this nuclear deterrence is no exception. This security dilemma leads to the vicious circle that has brought the world to the verge of nuclear catastrophe. Therefore, the nuclear deterrence doctrine needs to be replaced by a non-provocative doctrine, i.e. by a common security doctrine that prohibits the threat or use of nuclear weapons. It promotes over-all security by taking into account the security needs of all nations and places emphasis on conflict resolution, negotiations and strengthening of international law.

In short it promotes non-nuclear security which in content coincides with the 2023 Bali Declaration of G20 leaders that includes leaders of the P5, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was inadmissible.

Encouraging development

Against the somewhat pessimistic background, a positive and inspiring development was a call by like-minded NNWSs to legally ban nuclear weapons and start a process of stigmatizing, delegitimizing and eliminating such weapons. Thus, based on the outcomes of three international conferences on catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons in 2013-2014, 125 states with the support and cooperation of ICAN and other international NGOs have called for banning nuclear weapons as a step to its final elimination.

Despite the reluctance and boycott of nuclear weapon states and their allies, the General Assembly of the United Nations for the first time has mandated and hosted a United Nations conference on prohibiting nuclear weapons that in 2017 has adopted the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons (TPNW). The treaty that had elaborated a comprehensive set of prohibitions on nuclear weapon activities had entered into force in 2021. It complements the NPT by not only prohibiting proliferation of such weapons but also contributing to the goals of nuclear disarmament. As of this writing 70 states have ratified it and 93 states have signed it. This positive measure in nuclear disarmament needs to be further supported and strengthened by NNWSs by making it near universal and contributing to nuclear disarmament.

Besides the TPNW “phenomenon” there are also other multilateral measures, though difficult and complex as they may be, that can and need to be undertaken. Thus, for example, the fourth special session of UNGA devoted to disarmament (SSOD-IV) needs to be convened in which not only the P5 and their allies but also the four other nuclear weapon states would participate as members of the United Nations.

The special session would need to seriously discuss the reasons for ineffectiveness of the international disarmament machinery, starting with the CD or bringing CTBT into force, recognize and support the role of international CSOs and their coalitions, role of like-minded states and civil society partnerships that had already lead to adoption of international norms banning land mines, cluster munitions and now nuclear weapons.

Since nuclear weapons are connected with global survival, perhaps interests of NNWSs and consultation with them should become a must at multilateral negotiation fora connected with nuclear weapons, like the international talks on trade and development issues expect to reflect the interests of developing states, including least developed, land-locked and island developing states. The issues of non-first use and sole purpose use need to be addressed without further delay.

Other needed measure

The current difficulties in US-Russian disarmament talks should not impede or derail regional measures. Thus, for example, the establishment of regional NWFZs needs to be made inclusive. Otherwise, individual states that due to their geographical location or for valid legal or political reasons cannot be part of the regime since the current definition of NWFZs recognizes only those that are established “on the basis of the arrangements agreed upon by the states of the region concerned”.

However, there are nearly two dozen states, including small island or neutral states that due to the current definition of NWFZs cannot form part of such zones creating blind spots and grey areas and thus forming the Achilles heel of the nuclear-weapon-free world. As is well known a system is as strong as its weakest link(s). Recognition of the right of individual states would not only define and strengthen their status but also turn their territories into important building blocks of the NWFW.

Therefore, the General Assembly needs to undertake the second comprehensive study on NWFZs in all its aspects that would contribute to establishing new NWFZs and making the P5 security assurances ironclad and not as the Budapest memorandum that utterly failed Ukraine.

In short, there are many ways to invigorate the stalled nuclear disarmament process. [INPS Japan/ IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: Sculpture at UN Headquarters in New York depicts St. George slaying a dragon created from fragments of nuclear missiles. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías

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