- As parties to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) begin their second preparatory conference in Geneva on Monday, representatives of civil society and several countries have decided to bring the festering nuclear issue and its potential humanitarian consequences to the centre stage.
“The NPT has its own process and business as usual,” said Rebecca Johnson, co-chair for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a Geneva-based global coalition of pressure groups working on disarmament and a ban on nuclear weapons.
Progress on nuclear disarmament is almost limited or negligible over the last 45 years...
The Geneva preparatory committee meeting will focus on a range of issues for the next two weeks to prepare the agenda for the 2015 Review Conference which will take place in Geneva.
More importantly, it is taking place against the backdrop of rising nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula and Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme. Also, several countries held an international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear weapons in Oslo last month.
“My hope is that a large number of countries talk (at the Geneva meeting) about the importance of bringing the nuclear issue back to human level and understanding the humanitarian consequences because of nuclear weapons,” Johnson told IPS.
She expects that a large number of parties to the NPT will sign up to the South African statement on the human dimension of nuclear weapons which will be delivered at the meeting.
“We want a sustained dialogue on the humanitarian impact so that it changes the balance of power in the NPT,” Johnson argued.
The NPT came into force in 1970 with the avowed goal of stopping countries from building a nuclear bomb. So far, 189 countries have ratified the treaty while India, Israel, and Pakistan refused to become parties to it. All three countries possess a nuclear arsenal, with total estimates varying from 50 to 200 nuclear weapons.
The official nuclear weapon states – the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China who are known as P5 – are required to implement measures under the treaty to “cessation” of the nuclear arms race, and complete nuclear “disarmament”.
The five nuclear weapon states held a meeting last week during which they discussed promoting dialogue and mutual confidence on nuclear issues. The P5 members exchanged views on various issues concerning “non-proliferation”, “the peaceful uses of nuclear energy”, and “disarmament” – known as the three pillars of the NPT. The five nations, who are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, reaffirmed their commitment to the goal of nuclear disarmament.
However, progress on nuclear disarmament is almost limited or negligible over the last 45 years. “There is not much progress on nuclear disarmament and we need a new dynamic to break the paralysis, otherwise there will be new cold war,” said Martin Hinrichs, an ICAN activist. Representatives of ICAN from some 16 countries held a brainstorming session on how to go about their advocacy campaign during the NPT meeting this week.
“They (the P5) have got a vested interest and they constructed their industry, defence industries, and military to deploy, to possess, and to modernise nuclear weapons,” said Johnson.
The P5 members, says Johnson, “have a vested interest in keeping the status quo and stopping new countries entering the nuclear club.” Besides, they enjoy numerous privileges because of their status and it would be a mistake to think that they would implement substantive measures towards complete nuclear disarmament, she said.
So, the “game” for the elimination of nuclear weapons will not start from the P5 side who wield powerful nuclear weapons, Johnson said.
“What has to change is that the non-nuclear states have to start things to bring about nuclear disarmament,” the ICAN co-chair argued. “They (the non-nuclear weapon states) have the power and tools to change by becoming aware that nuclear weapons are a humanitarian problem even if they are set in the international legal and political rules.”
Therefore, it is important not to give exalted status to the nuclear arms states every time on the hope that they would carry out disarmament. “The non-nuclear weapon states are not supplicants, and they have to engage in politics and change international relations by joining forces with civil society,” Johnson asserted.
The international ban movement intends to delegitimise nuclear weapons for everybody so that countries are dissuaded from spending billions of dollars on nuclear weapons.