A world without nukes
At long last, the advocates of nuclear disarmament have a reason to be optimistic about their journey towards achieving the goals of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is not only a great win for nonproliferation activists across the globe but also provides fresh momentum for the efforts towards total nuclear disarmament.
Pessimists generally contend that nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented and there would always be room for cheating due to the absence of an international authority to enforce international laws. Yet, if the global community can garner an urgently-needed political will to achieve universal compliance with non-proliferation norms, the goal of ‘general’ and ‘complete’ nuclear disarmament may not be beyond our reach. Nuclear nonproliferation is an idea whose time has finally come. In July, more than 120 countries were able to approve the historic treaty banning nuclear weapons despite strong opposition on the part of the nuclear-weapon states. Countries all over the world are taking their commitment to the objective of nuclear disarmament seriously. There is unquestionably a growing realisation that nuclear weapons are no longer symbols of military strength due to the rapid decline of interstate conflicts in the post-cold war period. The only thing they do represent is a legitimate threat to human existence on this planet.
Many nations continue to spend billions of dollars on their nuclear forces, which do not address our real security threats. According to a recent estimate by Congressional Budget Office, the US will be spending more than $1.2 trillion over the next three decades to modernise its triad of submarine, land, and bomber-based nuclear forces. Once all countries reach an agreement to disarm themselves of nuclear weapons, these resources can be spent for more useful purposes.
A major challenge faced by the current nuclear non-proliferation regime is that it is neither comprehensive nor universal. The regime does not effectively cover the uncontrolled fissile material which is used for military purposes by countries that possess nuclear weapons. In addition, nuclear weapons material in non-NPT nuclear weapon states – Pakistan, India and Israel – is not safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Any effective NPT must be universal because the likelihood of noncompliant states secretly developing nuclear weapons will continue to push their adversaries toward undermining the regime by withdrawing from it in order to acquire nuclear capability. In order to strengthen the credibility of any future NPT, all countries, including the five NPT member states, should be subjected to the same safeguards so that any feeling of discrimination is removed. Such an agreement must also establish a binding mechanism to immediately take action against any state that violates the treaty without the threat of a veto from the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The current nuclear security framework and the IAEA’s verification capabilities do not cover the materials used for military purposes. The new regime must also fill this gap so that terrorists are denied any small possibility of getting their hands on nuclear materials. A new regime can be built on the foundations of the existing institutions and treaties. The aforementioned criteria can be included in the existing NPT framework in order to benefit from the robust norms against nuclear proliferation.
The IAEA must be given more authority to verify compliance with these criteria in the new nuclear security regime. The new regime must require all countries to provide information about the exact quantities of fissile materials in their possession. Furthermore, all existing initiatives should be strengthened to reduce the possibility of a breach in the security of nuclear materials to a minimum. All states must also take necessary measures to implement the 2004 UNSC resolution passed to prevent unauthorised entities from gaining access to sensitive materials.
Many other international treaties – such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – which are currently awaiting the required consent of member states, must be ratified and implemented in letter and spirit. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is our best hope to make sure that we keep taking concrete steps towards eliminating nuclear weapons.
While talking to this writer in Moscow last month, Dr Lassina Zerbo, the executive secretary of the CTBTO, said that the CTBT will contribute to the confidence-building measures that are necessary to strengthen the existing norms against nuclear weapons and help prepare the ground for the emergence of more anti-nuclear norms. Thanks to the efforts made by the CTBTO, it has become quite impossible for the US and many other nuclear states to resume nuclear testing without stirring strong condemnation from the global community.
Historically speaking, Pakistan has linked its position on the CTBT to India’s position. After the 1998 nuclear tests, Pakistan’s then prime minister Nawaz Sharif stated in his address to the UN General Assembly session that: “Pakistan has consistently supported the conclusion of a CTBT for over 30 years…there is no reason why the two countries cannot adhere to the CTBT. In a nuclearised South Asia, [the] CTBT would have relevance if Pakistan and India are both parties to the treaty”. However, there are reasons to believe that if prospects for the CTBT’s ratification become brighter, Pakistan might change its position in favour of the treaty.
There is a strong imperative to engage with the issue of nuclear proliferation from a humanitarian perspective and produce policy initiatives that can help win the negotiations on the ratification of the CTBT and other multilateral disarmament goals. Let’s make ourselves the last generation that lives under the shadow of nuclear weapons.