Nuke Arms: Mortal Challenge To Mankind
Hira Bahadur Thapa
As disarmament talks register stalemate with no such negotiations in sight for some recent years, experts and analysts on the subject have started to debate whether a Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons is practically possible against the present background of major nuclear powers’ emphasis on modernisation of their nuclear arsenals. World’s two dominant nuclear powers like the US and Russia count very much in terms of the number of strategic nuclear forces and accompanying delivery missiles and including advanced anti-missile system, the latest version of which is what America has been installing in South Korea.
Because about 93 per cent of today’s nuclear weapons are possessed by the US and Russia, their role becomes predominant in curtailing the number of such weapons. Since 1970s bilateral negotiations between them have been organised with the purpose of reducing the number of strategic nuclear arms. At times they have achieved success in lowering the number of nuclear weapons. Among the important arms reduction treaties, are Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (I & II). Indeed, former US president Obama earned even Nobel Peace Prize during the first year of his presidency for his well-articulated vision of a world with no nuclear weapons. His emphasis had been on a plan to gradually reduce the strategic arms stored in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals through bilateral negotiations on the subject. In his first few years as a president, he devoted much attention to producing a workable arms reduction framework. Accordingly, he succeeded in convincing Russians to agree on a landmark strategic arms reduction treaty in 2010 known as START.
With this treaty, the major nuclear powers of the world have accomplished a significant reduction in their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons, which are the most destructive ones. Under the provisions of START, both the US and Russia have been required to limit the size of their strategic nuclear weapons to 1,500 each.
Nuclear weapons in the opinion of former US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, would be the most terrible weapon ever known in human history. Zia Mian (Co-Director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Widrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University) quoted him in his Project-Syndicate piece “The Coming Ban on Nuclear Weapons”. Then in April 1945 when the US was the lone possessor of nuclear weapons, Stimson explained to his president Harry Truman that with use of such weapons civilization might be completely destroyed.
Unfortunately, nuclear weapons powers grew in number over the years as then Soviet Union followed America’s foot step although it presented a widely-publicised nuclear disarmament plan named after its foreign minister in June 1946.
Actually, the international community had realised that nuclear weapons could pose an existential threat to humankind by the time the UN was established when in the Preamble of the organisation’s Charter, the founding fathers were rightly mentioning that the aim of setting up the world body was to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The world organisation was founded in June 1945 after two atomic bombs were successfully tested by Harry Truman administration over the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ostensibly to coerce Tokyo to surrender in the II World War.
Since 1945 August no nuclear weapons have ever been used albeit the threat emerging from the accidental or intentional use of such deadly weapons has never disappeared. Today’s world feels more threatened not only that many more countries possess them but also because the nukes remain as geostrategic status symbols in the opinion of Ana Palacio, who is Spain’s former foreign minister.
Looking back at the history of UN’s efforts to promote nuclear disarmament, one finds that through its first resolution adopted by the General Assembly as early as in January 1945 it called for a plan demanding the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.
But limited success has been gained by the UN in the field of banning the nuclear weapons which was seen in the conclusion of years of multilateral negotiations in finalising the text of an agreement known as Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968. Despite being the only global legal foundation for curbing the proliferation of the nuclear weapons with the highest number of UN members becoming parties to it, the treaty suffers from major loopholes taking advantage of which a few state parties have acquired atomic weapons under the guise of nations’ inalienable rights to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Iran and North Korea present the glaring examples of this. In case of Iran, the international community, however, succeeded in convincing the country to agree to at least restrain its path to the acquisition of nuclear weapons on an interim basis, which is the 2015 agreement between Iran and five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Acclaiming this achievement, Ana Palacio has commented the agreement as Iran’s first compromise on its nuclear program in her piece “The Uses of Nuclear Ambitions” (Project-Syndicate).
Regretfully, the history of North Korea’s illegitimate endeavors to produce atomic weapons along with deliverable long-range missiles (some of which with capabilities to strike US mainland) has been a source of provocative threats. Judged from the most recent exchange of words by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with US’s president following two successful tests of Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) within a month of July last, the world was alarmingly close to the beginning of second Korean War that could ominously see the use of nuclear weapons. The level of tensions between these two countries has subsided to an extent though one could not be fully assured that the threat has disappeared completely.
The loophole existing in the NPT as pointed out by former Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans in his Project-Syndicate commentary, is that the treaty failed to check uranium enrichment and plutonium processing. Enriched uranium and processed plutonium are the ingredients for making atomic bombs. Because of this, members of the NPT could maneuver to manufacture nuclear weapons utilising their technical expertise as they are legally permitted to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium claiming that they need fuel for nuclear energy and research reactors.
The current scenario on nuclear front is disappointing in the sense that the world’s leading nuclear powers are busy modernising their nuclear arsenals rather than engaging purposefully in reducing the number of their nuclear arms. Gradual approach to further bringing down the size of nuclear weapons to be led by major powers would be an appropriate step to promote nuclear disarmament. Unless we realise that nuclear weapons are a mortal challenge to humankind, more countries may be tempted to possess such weapons making a mockery of the vision of a world where no nukes are available.