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Sri Lanka Committed to Non-Proliferation and Disarmament


By Jaya Ramachandran

GENEVA | COLOMBO (IDN) – In an exceptional move, Germany has granted funds to Sri Lanka’s Forum on Disarmament and Development (FDD) for the translation of the texts of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT) to the island state’s official languages Sinhala and Tamil. NPT and CTBT texts were until now available only in official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. [2020-01-31-27] GERMAN | HINDI JAPANESE

The NPT and CTBT texts are included in two publications. The third publication relates to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and FDD Patron, has provided the foreword to the three publications.

The publications on the CTBT and NBT highlight the importance of Sri Lanka’s ratification and accession to the CTBT and TPNW without delay, in order to underline the country’s support and commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

In the past, Sri Lanka has taken a position of leadership in the nuclear disarmament sector; particularly in 1995, when Ambassador Dhanapala chaired the historic NPT Review and Extension Conference.

Sri Lanka signed the NPT on July 1, 1968 and ratified it on March 5, 1979. The country signed the CTBT on October 24, 1996, however, is yet to ratify it. Further, Sri Lanka is also yet to accede to the TPNW which opened for signature on September 20, 2017.

The NPT which entered into force in 1970 is a landmark international treaty aiming to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

The CTBT adopted by UN General Assembly in 1996 bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. With 184 states joining, it is almost universal. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the Treaty can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

The TPNW includes a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities. These include undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. The Treaty also prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and the provision of assistance to any State in the conduct of prohibited activities. States parties will be obliged to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited under the TPNW undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control.

Launching the translated texts middle of January, Ambassador Jörn Rohde of Germany spoke of his personal reflections during his posting in Japan on visiting Hiroshima. Together with Nagasaki, Hiroshima suffered in 1945 the first ever and so far the only atomic bombings in history. Germany, he said, is committed to disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

However, experts point out that Germany is among the powers which possess the ability to create nuclear weapons, though since World War II it has generally refrained from producing those weapons also because of the NPT. But Germany participates in the NATO nuclear weapons sharing arrangements and trains for delivering United States nuclear weapons.

Besides, along with most other industrial nations, Germany produces components that can be used for creating deadly agents, chemical weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Alongside other companies from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, India, the United States, Belgium, Spain, and Brazil, German companies provided Iraq with precursors of chemical agents used by Iraq to engage in chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War.

Ambassador Rohde expressed the hope that the NPT and CTBT texts now made available in the vernacular languages will help raise awareness amongst the academia, the media, civil society and the general public for a wider discussion and understanding of the implications of a nuclearized world, the need for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and also the need for a ban on nuclear testing.

FDD is purported “to encourage and assist Sri Lanka in becoming a leader in humanitarian disarmament in Asia and to make visible the link [between] disarmament and development”.

Security of vital significance

Though Sri Lanka is seldom on the radar in multiple deliberations on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, security is of vital significance for the island state separated by the Palk Strait from India. Both nations occupy a strategic position in South Asia and have sought to build a common security umbrella in the Indian Ocean.

The nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan – which has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the northeast – is of vital importance to Sri Lanka, which does not possess nuclear weapons. Of enormous significance is also the interest of the U.S. and other NATO states and of China and Russia in the Indian Ocean.

Against this backdrop, the NPT which will be reviewed after five years at the United Nations headquarters in New York from April 27-May 22 is of particular interest to Sri Lanka. The previous Review Conference in 2015 ended without the adoption of a consensus and therefore a substantive outcome.

As Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador A.L.A. Azeez points out, the NPT is “the global regime for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament which ensures a balanced and non-discriminatory approach to building international peace and security, while safeguarding the economic development prospects for all, through equal access to technology advancing peaceful uses”.

Therefore, Sri Lanka supports “all efforts towards achieving the universalization of the NPT as the legal regime that enjoys the participation of the largest number of Member States of the United Nations including the P5 (USA, Russia, China, Britain and France)”.

Ambassador Azeez added: “We also support the call for application of the full scope of the IAEA safeguards to ensure meaningful implementation of the provisions in the Treaty. Lack of progress in the effective implementation of Article VI is a worrying trend. Moving away from this realistic path to disarmament may lend itself, in the medium to long term, to a possible re-emergence of an arms race, with far reaching consequences for humanity if it happened.”

Article VI states: Each party “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.

It is widely agreed that this objective has yet to be achieved. On the other hand, as a political observer said, the incipient nuclear arms race is threatening international peace and security in the face of pressing need for financing sustainable development.

In early 2019, there were an estimated 13,890 nuclear weapons.

Back in 1996, commenting on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Judge Christopher Weeramantry of Sri Lanka emphasized in a widely appreciated dissenting Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the World Court – that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever as it is a violation of international humanitarian law”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 31 January 2020]

Collage courtesy of Sri Lanka’s Daily FT.

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