Nuclear disarmament a distant goal

By S Faizi
Published: Saturday 30 September 2006

Nuclear disarmament a distant goal

-- Last month, the world remembered the victims of us savagery in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (atomic bombs were thrown on the two cities in August 1945), yet there was the disturbing absence of the call for global denuclearisation from the international players or from the un. The overwhelming majority of nations that helped formulate the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (npt) in 1968 wanted to achieve total elimination of nuclear weapons as well as non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy. The desire for nuclear disarmament under strict international control was explicitly stated in the preamble of npt, and its operational Article vi obliges each contracting party to pursue negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

The obvious injustice contained in npt -- that countries which had developed nuclear weapons before 1967 alone could have such weapons -- was tolerated by the non-weapon parties on the condition that nuclear disarmament would be actively pursued. Remember, this is a treaty that does not even assure the non-weapon countries that the nuclear parties would not use this weapon of mass destruction against them. This is the only multilateral treaty developed in the post-colonial period that replicated the anti-democratic veto power of the same five countries in the un Security Council, in the decision-making of the Conference of Parties discussing any amendments to npt's text. The only incentive for the developing world in ratifying this grossly discriminatory treaty was the possibility of removing the nuclear threat. But the global community's goal of denuclearisation has been rendered ineffective by the same country that has used nuclear bombs and yet seeks to prescribe punishment for countries that it decides are attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

The second half of the 1990s witnessed some diplomatic initiatives to set the course to implement Article vi. In a landmark verdict in 1996, the International Court of Justice (icj) said the threat of use or use of nuclear weapons was illegal and called upon the parties to npt to fulfil their obligation to undertake negotiations for nuclear disarmament. India's mission to the un, led by M H Ansari, played a key role in getting the General Assembly pass the resolution requesting icj for its opinion on the issue.

Following the icj verdict, the General Assembly passed a strongly worded resolution calling for developing a Nuclear Weapons Convention to eliminate these weapons of mass destruction through negotiations. This resolution, passed after lengthy discussion, was opposed only by the us, its equally militarist partner Israel, and Russia. Regretting the lack of progress in implementing this resolution, the General Assembly passed a follow-up resolution in 1999, again by an overwhelming majority, which called upon nations to commence negotiations on the convention in 2000. This resolution had reaffirmed the central role of the Conference on Disarmament, and not the International Atomic Energy Agency, in pursuing nuclear disarmament.

This momentum, however, was lost in subsequent years, with the us fortifying its imperial might. India's own abandonment of its legacy as a long time campaigner of global denuclearisation is symptomatic of the metamorphosis of the country's ruling elite into faithful devotees of the American juggernaut. Global denuclearisation was not raised even as a tactical negotiation point in the bilateral nuclear agreement that officially turned India into another client state of the us.

The us agenda of selective implementation of npt goes against the spirit of even this skewed treaty, and has turned the world into a dangerous place. A country that has clandestinely helped the racist South Africa and Israel to acquire nuclear weapons, and is stockpiling enough weapons to destroy the world a dozen times is lecturing down to countries in the developing world on the virtues of abandoning their real or imaginary nuclear programmes. Forcing South Africa to eliminate its nuclear weapons when the country became free and democratic had vividly bared the deeply racist nuclear doctrine of the us and its western allies.

The world, however, cannot wait for too long to eliminate these horrendous weapons of mass destruction. A people's movement cutting across national boundaries and the North-South divide alone can force the recalcitrant nations to begin negotiations on nuclear disarmament. As the essential first step of the process, the nuclear-weapon parties should, as demanded by the Non-Aligned Movement, provide unconditional and legally binding assurance to the non-weapon parties that these weapons would not be used against them.

S Faizi is an ecologist specialising in international environmental policy. He is based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

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