By Delia Chatoor
On July 7 at an international conference, the United Nations (UN) adopted a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Many civil society organisations were involved and lent invaluable technical and legal support thereby ensuring that cogent and pragmatic arguments were presented.
Discussions on the banning of nuclear weapons are not new but began soon after two bombs were detonated over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The awareness of the impact on the environment and humans through the explosions and the tests conducted increased the determination of states and civil society.
At a December 2014 conference, which energised international support for an agreement to ban nuclear weapons, Pope Francis in his message to the delegates stated, “I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity planted deep in the human heart will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”
Research has shown that the humanitarian consequences on the detonation of a nuclear device, whether accidental or intentional, are incalculable and no one state or international organisation possesses the expertise to address them.
The treaty, therefore, provides, inter alia, that “any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience”. Furthermore, any use would be contrary to the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applicable in armed conflict.
A ban, however, will not make them disappear overnight. The treaty, therefore, urges states to recognise that there must be enhanced commitments to reduce nuclear risk and so work towards the reduction of regional and international tensions. This approach is not new but is contained in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT), a treaty to which most states, including some nuclear weapon states, are party.
There are also concerns that certain nuclear weapon states may have committed resources to the renovation and modernisation of their nuclear weapon arsenal. At a time when there are ongoing humanitarian crises, such action is devoid of conscience as these funds could be put to better use.
In his remarks at the 10th conference to facilitate the enforcement of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on September 20, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States emphasised that “nuclear arms offer a false sense of security” and “nuclear weapons cannot create a stable and secure world. Peace and international stability cannot be founded on mutually assured destruction or on the threat of annihilation.”
Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, therefore, have a vested interest in ensuring that the country signs the treaty. This is supported by the fact that the country is a party to the Treaty of Tlatelolco which established Latin America and the Caribbean as the first nuclear weapon free zone.
In his General Debate Statement to the United Nations on September 23, the Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago acknowledged the “destructive force of these weapons of mass destruction to, inter alia, human life, the environment, food security, infrastructure and economic growth”.
The 2017 treaty has, therefore, increased the possibility of a nuclear weapon free world. The challenges of national and international security call for long-term solutions and as Pope Francis observed, there is the imperative for “the [adoption] of forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and security”. It is more than time “for swords to be turned into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4).
On October 6, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), one of the key organisations which championed the cause, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. This shows the increased opposition to such weapons and the real danger that there could be moves by certain states to develop and/or procure them. It is time for humanity to say enough is enough and work together to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Delia Chatoor is a retired foreign service officer.