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Sunday, 25 September 2016

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Towards a nuclear weapons-free world

Just a couple of years ago, during a visit to Japan, I got an opportunity to go to Hiroshima. It was an incredibly moving experience, as I spent a few moments alone contemplating what it might have been like on August 6, 1945 when a nuclear bomb was detonated over the city. To this day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only two cities in the world that experienced nuclear weapons in a war situation. But, that immense destruction did not stop the production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by countries, in later years.

Yet, today, some 16,000 nuclear weapons remain even after substantial reductions, not only in the five known nuclear powers - UK, USA, Russia, China and France, but also in four or five other countries (including several of our neighbours) that have not accepted the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Today's average nuclear weapon, recently described as 'the absolute darkest application of our intelligence' is at least 30 times more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, one just cannot fathom the level of destruction that could be caused. Just a fraction of these weapons can wipe out almost the entire human population and send any survivors back to Stone Age. Some non-NPT countries have acknowledged that they have nuclear weapons, while others have not done so. For example, North Korea will have enough material for about 20 nuclear bombs by the end of this year with enhanced uranium-enrichment facilities and an existing stockpile of plutonium, according to new assessments by weapons experts. It recently conducted a few nuclear tests. Several countries, on the other hand, have pledged not to go ahead with their uranium enrichment programs.

Arsenals

Countries possessing nuclear weapons have well-funded, long-range plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world's population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances (nuclear weapons kept in countries other than the original country). As of last year, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no new nuclear disarmament negotiations are under way. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. The truth is, the existence of nuclear weapons does not make our world any safer. This is despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.

These facts will be highlighted on International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons which falls on September 26 (tomorrow). Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was in fact the subject of the General Assembly's first resolution in 1946. It has been on the General Assembly's agenda along with general and complete disarmament ever since 1959. It has been a prominent theme of review conferences held at the UN since 1975 of States, who are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was identified as a priority goal of the General Assembly's first Special Session on disarmament in 1978, which attached a special priority to nuclear disarmament.

Designation

These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly's designation of September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament. It provides an opportunity to educate the public and their leaders about the real benefits of eliminating nuclear weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them. Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues.

The year 2016 marks the 71st anniversary of the first and the last use of a nuclear weapon in war, though many underground nuclear tests have been conducted since then. The only absolute guarantee that they are never used again is through their total elimination. However, there are no immediate signs of this happening although the international community has proclaimed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. This was on stark display during the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in May this year.

Nevertheless, the UN has again called for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, including through enhancing public awareness and education about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons and the necessity for their total elimination, to mobilize international efforts towards achieving the common goal of a nuclear weapon free world, and furthermore, to convene no later than 2018, a United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament to review the progress made. There is also the danger that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terror groups and rogue states that do not have the command structure or the safeguards employed by Governments - in most nuclear powers, only the Head of State can authorize a nuclear strike and even then, there is a plethora of codes and commands. These reports have gained credibility as some States are attempting to develop nuclear weapons which can be carried in backpacks.

Costs

But, eliminating nuclear weapons is not only achieving peace per se. On an average, a nuclear weapon costs US$ 85 million inclusive of warhead, propulsion method and annual maintenance costs. This does not include storage and transport (ships, aircraft etc) costs. According to one study, over the next 10 years, world governments will spend a staggering US$ 1 trillion on nuclear weapons alone, globally. If even the five declared nuclear powers were to reduce their collective arsenal by just 1,000 warheads, it would save billions of dollars in the long run and free up that money for social development worldwide. There will be enough money left to provide drinking water and food to people who have little access to these resources in the Third World. Besides, it is a myth that only nuclear weapons can bring a war to an end - today's sophisticated conventional weapons are almost as sophisticated. Nuclear weapons are mutually destructive in any case, e.g. if country A attacks country B with a nuclear weapon, country B is likely to launch a nuclear attack on country A. Ultimately, no one can win a nuclear war and only the innocent will suffer, as they did in Japan 71 years ago. The sooner the world realizes this stark reality, the better it is for world peace and harmony.

 

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