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An Exercise in Futility: Fantasizing About Nuclear Disarmament (Part Two)

Click here to read Part One.

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride!” 

If wishful thinking was all that mattered, the poor could have wished away poverty by merely passing a resolution abolishing global poverty! But can such a wish be fulfilled as long as resources continue to remain under the control of the rich? Then how could 122 Non-Nuclear-Weapon-States (NNWS) adopt a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons (which they do not possess) without placing the onus of responsibility on the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to prohibit use or threat of use of nuclear weapons until their elimination? Why do these NNWS delude themselves about nuclear disarmament when they are averse to taking the NWS to task in this regard?

Inherent Contradictions 

While in the preamble there is an attempt at complimenting the NPT, in the operative part there appears to be a realization that the purposes of the NPT is incompatible with those of the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty. This is evident from the fact that the Revised Text was compelled to omit any reference to the NPT in the operative part despite being given undue importance in the Draft Text.

While the NPT seeks to justify the ‘right’ of use of nuclear weapons by the P-5, the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty opposes the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. This is the fundamental difference between the NPT and the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty (although the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty stops short of identifying the forces that threaten the world with nuclear holocaust). The fraudulent character of the NPT, CTBT and NWFZs in their present form has been explained in detail in the critique of the Draft Text (see paras between fn. nos. 13 to 39). The true nature of the NPT may be summarized as follows: (i) By denying unqualified negative security assurance to NNWS, NPT endorses  the ‘right’ of the P-5 (USA, Russia, UK , France & China) to use nuclear weapons against NNWS (however, China has given an unilateral and unqualified undertaking not to use nuclear weapons against NNWS); (ii) NPT permits the P-5 to proliferate vertically and horizontally; (iii) Obligations under the NPT are strict and inflexible for NNWS, while obligations for the P-5 are lax and flexible; and (iv) nuclear threat as well as “conventional” threat has grown at a rapid pace ever since the signing of the NPT 49 years ago. Conversely, despite a large number of nations having signed the NPT: (a) NNWS are under constant threat of a nuclear attack from USA, Russia, UK & France; (b) USA and USSR/Russia have indulged in a mindless nuclear arms race threatening the entire world with an imminent Armageddon; (c) nuclear proliferation has continued with Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons; (d) the issue of general and complete disarmament remains totally sidelined and the quality and quantity of “conventional” armaments has increased manifold; (e)  there was no let up in “conventional” wars leading to massive devastation and loss of life in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Gaza, Sudan, Yemen, etc.; and (f) deadly chemical weapons such as Agent Orange, depleted uranium shells, incendiary (phosphorous) bombs, etc., have been widely used particularly by the U.S. and Israel.

Similarly, it is not at all clear as to what the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) seeks to ban since the CTBT in its present form does not define what constitutes a “nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” for the purpose of specifying in technical terms what is prohibited by the CTBT. In short, the CTBT purports to ban an activity it does not define. Therefore, nobody knows whether the so-called low-yield hydronuclear tests, zero-yield nuclear tests, hydrodynamic experiments, subcritical experiments, etc. – all intended to develop/upgrade nuclear weapons – are banned or not. In other words, the CTBT, in its present form, has not imposed any restrictions on the nuclear weapon development capabilities of the P-5.

Moreover, as of today, NWFZs essentially mean that the NNWS within such zones would provide a one-way guarantee to the NWS that the NNWS would not use nuclear weapons against NWS! However, the NWS (except China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea) have so far refused to give a reciprocal guarantee to the NNWS that the NWS would not target NNWS with nuclear weapons. In other words, the absence of a clear-cut commitment on the part of four of the P-5 (i.e., those other than China) and Israel not to use nuclear weapons against the very signatories of such NWFZ treaties has meant that the member-states of NWFZs are not free from the threat of a nuclear attack by at least four of the P-5 members and Israel, which make the concept of NWFZs absolutely redundant. Also it is interesting to note that, while all nuclear activities of the member-states of the NWFZs are subjected to regular inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – since the member-states of the NWFZs are all signatories to the NPT as well, the task of tracking any military-related nuclear activity of the NWS within such zones, including the existence of Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (C3I) infrastructure for guiding nuclear weapon delivery systems, which in letter and spirit violate various provisions of the NWFZ treaties, apparently does not fall within the purview of the IAEA!

Shortcomings of ‘Prohibition’ Treaty

The main shortcomings of the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty are its inability to address the issue of clear and present danger posed by the presence of nuclear weapons and its failure to propose a series of indispensable steps to stave off the nuclear threat until the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. In this regard, an unqualified negative security assurance by all NWS to all NNWS is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty evades addressing this critical issue. The propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty has not only failed to condemn but also has refrained from proposing ways and means to prevent repetition of the wretched fate that befell Iraq. Iraq (a signatory to the NPT) was subjected to wanton destruction by the U.S. and its allies on the mere suspicion (which later turned out to be false) that it was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons! Therefore, it is not surprising that North Korea, which is facing nuclear threats from the U.S., has refrained from supporting the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty since there is nothing in it that guarantees protection to a state like North Korea against a predatory attack by USA. However, on Oct 27, 2016, when the First Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution L.41 to convene negotiations in 2017 on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”, North Korea was one of the 123 UN member-states, which supported the resolution.

Negative Security Assurance

It is necessary to reiterate the importance of Negative Security Assurance, which is the very first step that would provide the necessary impetus for moving towards the goal of nuclear disarmament. Please see the in-depth critique of the Draft Text (paras between fn. nos. 40 and 44) for a detailed assessment in this regard. Believe it or not: USA’s refusal to give negative security assurance “was based on the reason that such a nonuse assurance could provide an impetus toward total prohibition of nuclear weapons…”! (See fn. no.44, critique of the Draft Text)

North Korea Exits NPT

The repercussions of the lack of unqualified NSA to NNWS came to the forefront on Jan 10, 2003 when North Korea announced its decision to withdraw from the NPT. NPT member-states were quick to condemn the decision. However, little attention was paid to the circumstances that compelled North Korea to take that decision. (Please see paras between fn. nos. 49 and 54 of the critique of the Draft Text for more details in this regard.) It may be noted that six days before North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on Oct 09, 2006, its Foreign Ministry issued a statement, which clarified that: “…DPRK will never use nuclear weapons first…” (See fn.53 of the critique of the Draft Text) Again on May 08, 2016, North Korea has reiterated as follows:

“As a responsible nuclear weapons state, the DPRK will not use a nuclear weapon first unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by hostile aggression forces with nukes, as it had already declared, and it will faithfully fulfill its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation it made to the international community, and strive for the denuclearization of the world.” (See fn. 54 of the critique of the Draft Text)

No First Use Policy

It is the U.S. which forced North Korea to withdraw from the NPT by its refusal to give a categorical undertaking that it would not target NNWS with nuclear weapons. The U.S. can still give an unqualified negative security assurance to NNWS and a No-First-Use pledge to NWS, as a first step to resolve the prevailing crisis. That a No-First-Use pledge is a sound policy has been argued by several U.S. experts in the field. In an article titled “End the First Use Policy for Nuclear Weapons” James E. Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the United States Strategic Command, and Bruce G. Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer (both of whom are currently with Global Zero), have argued that:

“A no-first-use policy would also reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons…. Beyond those benefits, we believe a no-first-use policy could catalyze multilateral negotiations to reduce nuclear arms, discourage nonnuclear states from developing them and reinforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” (See fn. 55 of the critique of the Draft Text)

Hold NWS Accountable

It is high time that NWS gave an unqualified undertaking never to use nuclear weapons against NNWS and never to use nuclear weapons first against other NWS. Without such a categorical undertaking by the NWS, there is absolutely no scope for arresting the nuclear threat and providing the needed impetus for proceeding towards elimination of nuclear weapons now or any time in the future. By refusing to identify the NWS and their supporters as the source of the problem, the proponents of the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty have committed a grave error. Unless concerted attempts are made to win hearts and minds of concerned people in the NWS and their allies and alert them about the impending nuclear threat, there is little scope for pressurizing the leadership of the NWS and their allies and prodding them to come to the negotiating table. Concerned people in the NNWS too have a duty to raise public consciousness about the looming nuclear threat.

The Revised Text of the ‘Prohibition’ Treaty (after being reminded about the omission) does make a reference to the very first Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on Jan 24, 1946 (about constitution of a Commission, entrusted with the task of making proposals including “For the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction”). Other than paying lip service to the said Resolution, the propounded ‘Prohibition’ Treaty makes no attempt to demand “elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons”. While in the Revised Text of the Treaty, the word “elimination” (in the context of nuclear weapons) appears more than 18 times, not once does it acknowledge that nuclear weapons are in the possession of a few nuclear armed nations.

Moreover, a conscious attempt has not been made to highlight the importance of another vital Resolution that the UNGA had unanimously adopted on Dec 20, 1961 through Resolution No. A/16/1722. In fact under the cover of questionable treaties such as NPT, NWFZs, CTBT, etc., there has been a concerted move over last five decades to obfuscate the issue of general and complete disarmament and effectively obliterate from public memory the significance of the McCloy-Zorin Accords or what is also known as the ‘Joint Statement on Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations’. The Joint Statement was signed by John McCloy on behalf of the U.S. and by Valerian Zorin on behalf of the USSR on Sept 20, 1961 and it was subsequently adopted by the UNGA. Please see the in-depth critique of the Draft Text (paras between fn. nos.67 and 78) for further details in this regard. The failure of those purportedly in the forefront of the disarmament and peace movement to recognize the significance of the McCloy-Zorin Accords and highlight its goals is rather perplexing.

Another notable omission from the Revised Text is the absence of any reference to the attempt that India had made to outline a stage-by-stage schedule for global nuclear disarmament through the ‘Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear Weapon Free & Non-Violent World Order’, which Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had submitted on Jun 9, 1988 before the UN General Assembly’s Third Special Session on Disarmament (UNSSOD-III). A genuine Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons not only has to target the NWS but also has to be based on the agreed principles for disarmament negotiations enunciated in the McCloy-Zorin Accords as well as on the stage-by-stage procedures for eliminating nuclear weapons as outlined in Rajiv Gandhi’s “Action Plan”.

Why are the 122 State Parties diffident about compelling the NWS to end the nuclear threat here and now? It is as if they are so scared of the NWS that they are unable to gather their wits to demand that the NWS undertake nuclear risk reduction measures here and now! It is high time that the NNWS and peace movements shed their timidity and embarked on a vociferous campaign to end nuclear bullying by the NWS. Since no NNWS can pose any serious threat to any NWS, first and foremost, the NNWS have to seek an unqualified undertaking from the NWS that they would not use nuclear weapons against NNWS under any circumstances. It is the unwillingness of USA, Russia, UK, France and Israel to give unconditional Negative Security Assurance to NNWS, which is the biggest stumbling block in initiating steps through Nuclear Risk Reduction Measures (NRRMs) and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to proceed towards the goal of nuclear disarmament. (As already mentioned, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea have given unilateral undertakings never to use nuclear weapons against NNWS.) By refraining from taking the NWS to task, the 122 State Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons have done a great disservice to the cause of nuclear disarmament and peace.

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N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).

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