DISARMAMENT: Nuclear Weapons Free World by 2020?

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UN Secretary-General [centre] at the close of the opening ceremony of the 62nd DPI/NGO Conference in Mexico City, Credit: UNNuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Maria Luisa Vargas
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

MEXICO CITY (IDN) – If Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima, had his way, the special UN Security Council session to be chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama on Sep. 24 would decide to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020 -- a year that would mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the terrible destruction caused by U.S. atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Along with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, Tadatoshi Akiba, president of Mayors for Peace, was among eminent participants in the annual conference for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under the banner 'For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!'

The meeting, attended by some 1,200 NGO and civil society representatives from about 70 countries, was organised by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in co-operation with the DPI/NGO Executive Committee, the Government of Mexico, and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The conference was held outside of UN headquarters in New York for the second time in its 62-year history. Mexico City is the seat of the signing of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which in 1969 established Latin America as the first densely populated region to be a nuclear-weapons-free zone

"The abolition of nuclear weapons is not only the desire of Hibakusha (survivors), but also the majority of peoples and nations on this planet," said the Hiroshima mayor in an impassioned plea, urging NGOs and city mayors from around the world to mobilise public opinion for global nuclear disarmament.

Echoing his support, UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, in a pre-recorded message, said that in August he had met with the victims and families of the 1945 atomic bombing in Nagasaki, Japan. The gruesome reality for them had lost none of its power to inspire grief and terror, as well as shame and righteous anger.

He said it was crucial to set an early date for achieving disarmament and a clear, realistic timetable -- and strongly supported the 2020 deadline. “Eleven years is not too little to demonstrate real commitment and real progress, D’Escoto said, adding that: “We can have realistic, time-bound interim benchmarks, against which the world community must hold all -- not just some -- nuclear powers accountable.”

Noting that global military spending is now well over $1 trillion per year and rising every day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon supported the call for the total eradication of nuclear weapons and exhorted civil society groups in particular to continue to speak out against the scourge.

“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded,” Ban warned in his opening remarks to the conference Sep. 9. He noted that more weapons continue to be produced and are flooding markets around the world. “They are destabilizing societies. They feed the flames of civil wars and terror,” he stated. “Here in Latin America, gun violence is the number one cause of civilian casualties.”

Ban said the presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States had made a good start to create a nuclear-weapons-free world when they recently joined forces to seek to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals and delivery vehicles in accordance with their obligations under Article VI of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Three days ahead of the UN Security Council special session, on Sep. 21, the world would celebrate the International Day of Peace dedicated to the “We Must Disarm” Campaign. And next March, President Obama would convene a meeting in Washington on nuclear security. Against this backdrop, now was the time for all stakeholders to build on that momentum.

'STOP THE BOMB'

“I have come here to give you my full encouragement to continue your work in disarmament. I also want to expand the coalition of support for my five-point plan -- first introduced on October 24, 2008 -- to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons based on key principles,” Ban said.

That plan “to stop the bomb” requires enhancing security and protecting non-nuclear-weapon states from nuclear weapon threats, as well as having non-NPT states freeze their weapon capabilities and make their own disarmament commitments.

The plan also envisages that disarmament is reliably verified, thus supporting Britain’s proposal for recognized nuclear-weapon states to discuss nuclear disarmament and confidence-building measures, including verification. Further, it must be rooted in legal obligations. Universal membership in multilateral treaties is crucial to the plan, as are regional nuclear-weapon-free zones and a new treaty on fissile materials.

Also in September, the United Nations would hold a special meeting to promote the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Ban welcomed President Obama’s support for United States ratification of the CTBT, noting that the treaty only needed a few more ratifications to enter into force.

Ban further called on countries with nuclear weapons to publish more information about their efforts to honour their disarmament commitments, stressing that the precise number of nuclear weapons in existence worldwide was unknown. The UN Secretariat could serve as a repository for such data. He proposed that the Council, through an appropriate mechanism, consider how to increase transparency and openness on nuclear weapons programmes of the recognized nuclear-weapons states.

The UN plan further stipulates that disarmament must also anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons urging progress in eliminating other arsenals of mass destruction and limiting missiles, space weapons and conventional arms.

“There can be no development without peace and no peace without development. Disarmament can provide the means for both,” Ban said.

NO 'PEACE DIVIDEND' YET

The significance of the conference was also underlined by the fact that the end of the cold war had led the world to expect a massive peace dividend. But more than 20,000 nuclear weapons still exist today, and military spending continues to rise, with weapons flooding markets and destabilizing societies, feeding the flames of civil war and terror. That, coupled with ever-growing ballistic missile proliferation and increasing threats from terrorists, has demonstrated that nuclear weapons are existential threats to humankind.

Presently, more than 110 countries are covered by nuclear-weapons-free zones. Recently, the treaty for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in Central Asia entered into force. Political leaders had negotiated a treaty to outlaw all nuclear explosions, but it still has not entered into force, while the obstacles continue to derail tireless negotiations for a global ban on the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear explosives.

The UN Conference on Disarmament -- a multilateral negotiating forum set up in 1979 in Geneva -- broke the gridlock on its programme of work for the first time in 12 years, yet it has failed to advance because of procedural disagreements.

Moreover, many countries have agreed to ban anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions, but some major players have chosen to remain outside of these commitments. An international Programme of Action has been agreed to stem the illicit trade in small arms, yet it, too, faces many challenges in achieving its goals. No multilateral legal norms exist concerning missiles.

Ban hit the nail on the head, when he said: “We the peoples” have the legitimate right to challenge international leaders by asking what they were doing to eliminate nuclear weapons and fund the fight against poverty and climate change -- global goods that every Government and every individual in the world should strive to achieve together in the spirit of renewed multilateralism. No nation could act alone to solve the four “F” crises: food; fuel; flu; and financial.

Mexico's foreign minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano said nuclear weapons were a threat to international peace and security and an intolerable threat to human survival. The end of the cold war had not resulted in the abandonment of nuclear doctrines. On the contrary, more countries had nuclear weapons then ever before. Mexico was a peace-loving nation that believed in international cooperation and considered it inhumane to misuse fundamental resources on weapons instead of human development.

'GLOBAL ZERO'

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, founder of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the Conference’s keynote speaker, also expressed her outrage over the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She said no child anywhere should have to grow up fearing it would happen again. No war planner should be able to sit in remarkable isolation from the desire of most of the planet’s population to eliminate nuclear weapon, holding the world’s collective fate in their hands and holding on to nuclear deterrence doctrines or worse -- such as the Bush Doctrine.

“The time has more than come for us to stop accepting such nuclear absurdity,” Williams said. “It is well beyond time for us to push with single-minded determination for an international convention that completely bans the use production, trade and stockpiling of nuclear weapons for all time.”

She regretted that since the United Nations Charter’s passage in 1945, which under Article 26 called on the Security Council to create an international arms regulation system to guide member states, little had been accomplished.

China, India, Israel, France, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, United States and the United Kingdom still possessed nuclear weapons. And there were growing concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions and Myanmar’s desire to obtain a nuclear arsenal, too.

The world was on the cusp of an historic opportunity to stop nuclear proliferation, Williams said. “Or we can stand by and listen to strong words followed by weak and vague action that by design or ineptitude fritter away this chance and a new nuclear arms race spirals out of control.”

“Global zero” -- a plan launched by some of the world’s former leading military experts in December 2008 to phase out nuclear weapons -- offered hope for the future, as did the vows of the presidents of the United States and Russia to cut the nuclear stockpiles of their respective nations. But much more must be done to bolster that process and ensure it moved forward.

A coherent strategy and plan to lay the groundwork for genuine disarmament was needed, she said dismissing as “nonsense” the claims of nuclear weapon states that it was premature to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention.

'DON'T RELY ONLY ON THE U.S. GOVERNMENT'

Miguel Marin Bosch, a career Mexican diplomat and leading figure in international disarmament negotiations, agreed, adding that NGOs deserved a place at the negotiating table to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a place they were long denied by government officials.

While many people had argued that small and light weapons had killed or maimed more people than weapons of mass destruction, the latter were still the greatest danger facing the world. The second half of the twentieth century was marked by several disarmament agreements, spurred by a military power, notably the United States, which had deemed certain weapons or weapons systems no longer useful and thus had decided to eliminate them unilaterally, while demanding a universal treaty to ensure no other country could have them. One could conclude that nuclear disarmament could only occur with the blessing of the United States military.

But under the current political climate in Washington, D.C., it was difficult to contemplate such a possibility in the future, he said. Former U.S. President George Bush’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review assigned nuclear weapons an important role; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), whose membership was expanding, also shielded itself behind its members’ position to maintain the option to use nuclear weapons. Marin expressed hope that the Nuclear Posture Review of Bush’s successor, Obama, would move in a different direction.

Rather than rely on the U.S. Government to dictate disarmament affairs, the world could in fact take a different tack, he said, suggesting that a world conference be held to draft a treaty, outside the United Nations and the Geneva Conference, to eliminate nuclear arsenals. There were hopeful signs in that regard.

Governments everywhere were also coming to the conclusion that weapons were not the best way to enhance national security, Marin said. Deterrence and mutually assured destruction were outdated concepts in a world more concerned with the threats and challenges of widespread poverty, climate change, a global economic crisis and the new H1N1 virus.

'ZERO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION'

To truly achieve complete global disarmament, the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons must be verifiable, transparent and anchored in international law and the rule of law, Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Vice-President of Programmes of the United States-based EastWest Institute, said.

Speaking during a round-table discussion titled “Zero Nuclear Weapons, Zero Weapons of Mass Destruction: Why, How, When?”, Sidhu said the UN Secretary-General’s five-point plan to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, introduced in October 2008, was an important road map to follow. Stakeholders in disarmament must also decide on what was meant by “zero” nuclear weapons and how to get there.

He stressed, however, that the process would not be easy, given fundamental differences of opinion between the global West or North, represented mainly by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the East or South, comprising Iran, China, India, North Korea and Israel. Without common consensus, little progress would be made.

Reaching zero could be achieved through such instruments as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), he said. That approach was very strongly reflected in international law but very weak in enforcement, while the multilateral approach -- working through the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly -- had played an important role in actually pushing disarmament treaties forward.

For example, the Government of India had initially blocked the CTBT’s adoption, but the treaty had been “resurrected” when the Government of Australia had introduced the matter as a resolution in the Assembly, he said.

The ad hoc non-treaty-based approach -- such as the Six-Party Talks on the nuclear weapons programme of North Korea, the European Union’s efforts to reach out to Iran, the proliferation security issue launched by the United States, and the U.S.-India nuclear deal -- were relatively weak in international law but very strong in terms of international implementation.

Alexander Pikayev, Director of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations, expressed concern over the fate of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) I, which is set to expire in December.

U.S. and Russia had agreed in April to jumpstart talks on reducing warheads, but the looming deadline left them little time to devise the outline of a new nuclear treaty. Although Washington’s Nuclear Posture Review should be completed by December, experience had shown that it was difficult for any U.S. Administration to translate noble declarations into real negotiations on reducing arms expenditures.

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director of the United States-based Western States Legal Fund, recalled that after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons had diminished considerably and the world had expected a peace dividend. However, scientists had lobbied successfully for nuclear weapons development, on the basis of the notion that they made countries and communities more secure.

But that was not true as human security could not be realized through military means or by the threat or actual use of nuclear weapons. That message was particularly important in the United States, where corporate executives, military leaders and the mainstream media shaped public opinion while allowing very little independent thinking.

Reiterating that nuclear weapons really did not make people more secure, Cabasso said that in the United States, for example, unemployment was rising and people lacked the money to send their children to college. Ordinary citizens felt they had more in common with people in Afghanistan than with their own Government -- which had seized upon the end of the cold war to continue its policy of managing the nuclear threat as the cornerstone of national security.

President Obama had made noble statements about the nation’s moral obligation as the last standing super-Power to lead on global disarmament, while speaking at the same time of its need to keep its nuclear weapons in order to manage nuclear deterrence.

The wealthy everywhere were benefiting from nuclear weapons to the detriment of everyone else, when funds and efforts really should be channelled into addressing the global environmental and economic crises, she said, adding that existing nuclear weapons were far more dangerous than those that some nations or groups may seek to acquire.

However, they were no match for the global challenges posed by climate change, worsening poverty and new health concerns such as the H1N1 virus. Non-nuclear-weapon states rightfully expected states parties to the NPT to honour their commitment made 40 years ago to eliminate nuclear weapons.

There was a real opportunity to rally behind the “2020 Vision” proposal to create a nuclear-weapons-free world by 2020, she said, expressing hope that millions of people would petition global leaders during next May’s NPT Review Conference to achieve that goal.

An important side event at the conference was a photo exhibition 'From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace - Nuclear Disarmament organized by the Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist network, whose president Daisaku Ikeda issued a proposal Sept. 8 outlining concrete steps toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. (IDN-InDepthNews/12.09.09)

Copyright © 2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service
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External links:
http://www.peoplesdecade.org
http://www.nuclearabolition.net
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