The global peace and threat to international security is a well-debated theme at the United Nations (UN) since many decades, especially since the inception of nuclear weapons. The global nuclear politics had significantly influenced such debates related to various nuclear treaties and conventions.
In this context, at institutional level, the UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security addresses the challenges to the global peace and offers cooperativearrangements towards many issues including universal nuclear disarmament. The latest 2018 session of UN First Committee on Disarmament and International Security debated the emerging trends of the nuclear non-proliferation regime including the humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapons. Such emerging trend has been attributed to the involvement of many international civil societies for translating this debate into a treaty.
In this context, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons received Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for “ground breaking work” for pushing the debate on humanitarian aspects of nuclear weapon and hence, pitching this theme in a Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as Nuclear Weapons Ban treaty (NBT) was formally opened for signature on 7 July, 2017 at UN General Assembly. So far, there are sixty nine signatories and nineteen state parties to this treaty. This Treaty will be enforced in ninety days, after seeking ratification from the fifty UN member states.
This presents the legal requirement of binding the NBT articles on all UN member states. However, the existing political divergences among UN member states on NBT requires an attention that would eventually help to understand the relevant perspectives and concerns.
For this, the debate on NBT has been mainstreamed into three main groups. One group represents the voice of Non-Nuclear Weapon States (NNWSs) that argue in favor of NBT and align their concerns with the humanitarian fallouts from the use of nuclear weapon technology anywhere in the world. Rest of the two groups within Nuclear Weapon States (NWSs) argue in opposition of NBT.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as Nuclear Weapons Ban treaty (NBT) was formally opened for signature on 7 July, 2017 at UN General Assembly. So far, there are sixty-nine signatories and nineteen state parties to this treaty. This Treaty will be enforced in ninety days, after seeking ratification from the fifty UN member states
NWSs, in general, argue that the nuclear weapons are essential for the states’ survival and it deters its respective opponent from potential nuclear attack or threat in future hence, deterrence is maintained resulting in peace and stability. In addition, the U.S. allied NNWSs who seeks positive security assurances- allow U.S. to deter or attack against nuclear threat on their behalf- also strongly oppose this Treaty.
Considering the reservations on NBT, the inter-linked security challenges of the states and the role of nuclear weapons in retaining deterrence stability is worth to explore. The overview of statements by the NWSs at NBT suggests that the NWSs are not in denial of this debate of humanitarian consequences of use of nuclear weapons, but their national interest for state’s survival comes first to retain deterrence capability against their respective enemy.
Another reservation on the NBT mentions the existing overlap of the treaty with other nuclear non-proliferation treaties including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).In this context, on issue of nuclear disarmament, the P-5 NWSs- U.S., Russia, France, China, UK- are still not able to fulfill their decades old legal obligation of nuclear disarmament under ‘good faith ‘under article VI of NPT.
Then, why would these NWSs pursue another legal obligation towards nuclear disarmament under NBT that lacks any incentives or quid-pro-quo like NPT that retains the P-5 monopoly over NPT. Also, before joining the treaty, the NBT calls for signing of Comprehensive Safeguard Agreements with IAEA and urge NWSs to declare its all nuclear facilities that is an already existing measure in case of NPT-NNWSs.
Whereas,the NPT NWSs will continue to seek the IAEA’s Voluntary Safeguard Agreements and will never compromise on declaring its nuclear weapon facilities that guard against their national security. At CTBT front, the banning of nuclear testing, which is also replicated under NBT, is facing a challenge of its entry into force and requiresforty four member-states including all NWSs to ratify it.
In all this debate, the NBT has lost its focus from addressing the theme of nuclear weapons and its relevance to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Defining the link between nuclear weapons and IHL offers a huge dilemma. Similarly, the NBT would never be able to offer any progress until NWSs would be a part of it.
The informal participation of NWSs on this subject will highlight the pros and cons of the existing issues to the deterrence stability with respective to their concerned region. For instance, the legitimate security concerns of the smaller NWSs against the developed ones definitely widen the threat to their respective state territory.
In such a scenario, the political use of nuclear weapons for deterrence stability against war-fighting becomes an essential notion for the survival of the state as well as attaining the political strength and stability round the globe. Hence, regardless of adopting the endless mechanisms,the nuclear disarmament could only be achieved through universal and non-discriminatory approach towards all States. Without focusing on these, the nuclear disarmament will always remain a challenge at global nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The author is a Visiting Research Fellow at South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI)
Published in Daily Times, February 28th 2019.