August 17, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.
A clock that stopped at 11:02, the exact time the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki, is display in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, on Aug. 8, in Nagasaki, Japan.
As the world commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the catastrophic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki two weeks ago, we continue to face the ongoing threat of atomic weapons to human civilization. In January, the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” was moved closer to midnight — from two minutes to 100 seconds — warning of the existential danger of nuclear war. The clock first appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue in 1947 of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which was founded by a group of scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project.
Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said at the January announcement, “As long as nuclear weapons remain in existence, it is inevitable they will one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design.”
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, survivors, known in Japan as “Hibakusha,” gather each year and urge a nuclear weapons ban. This year, on August 9, at Nagasaki Peace Park, the event was scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Tomihisa Taue called upon world leaders to do more for a nuclear weapons ban. Accompanied by aging bomb survivors, he read a peace declaration in which he raised concern that nuclear states have been retreating from nuclear disarmament efforts.
When my wife, Katharine, and I went to Hiroshima in October 2016, I had personally sensed a growing urgency among the survivors to tell their stories so that younger generations continue efforts to rid the world of the menace of nuclear weapons. I received the Hiroshima Peace Prize that fall and it gave us the opportunity to see a bustling and prosperous city of 1.1 million, rebuilt after destruction by the nuclear blast, in which 140,000 people died and 70% of the buildings were demolished.
We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where we laid a wreath on the memorial structure.
We were overwhelmed by the sights in the Peace Museum, which is filled with unspeakable images of the carnage of the bomb alongside objects and artifacts donated by survivors and families of those who perished, abandoned in a split second of awesome power. Several people we met spoke of President Barack Obama, who as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, paid tribute to the people of Japan and embraced a 70-year old survivor. They were impressed with his great sensitivity as he spoke of “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
Among our hosts, I especially recall meeting Yasuyoshi Komizo, a retired Japanese ambassador who chaired the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and was the secretary-general of Mayors for Peace, an international organization of almost 8,000 cities from over 160 countries and regions around the world. He spoke about creating greater awareness of the urgent imperative to abolish nuclear weapons and to urge nuclear powers to start negotiations towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.
At a reception with the Hibakusha group, one survivor, speaking through her daughter-translator, lamented that, no matter how many times they repeated their stories, even in serious meetings with dignitaries, their voices were never really heard. But the message was clear: “Eliminate nuclear weapons – no more Hiroshimas or Nagasakis.”
In fact, efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons began soon after the United Nations was created. The very first resolution unanimously adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in January 1946 established a commission charged with making specific proposals for the elimination of atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The General Assembly has reaffirmed the goal of nuclear disarmament in numerous subsequent resolutions.
The landmark 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), with near-universal membership, classified the U.N. member states in two categories — nuclear-weapon states, comprising the U.S., Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom; and non-nuclear-weapon states. The latter group agreed to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons, while the five nuclear-weapon states committed to pursuing general and complete disarmament: “Each of the parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Under its terms, the NPT is to be reviewed every five years. The tenth such review was to take place on May 11 this year, as it was the 25th anniversary of the indefinite extension of the Treaty. It is now postponed and is tentatively scheduled for January 2021. Several civil society organizations emphasized that, while “the world mobilizes in response to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to lose sight of the other global challenges that threaten all of us,” including the ongoing threat of catastrophic nuclear war.
The five nuclear-weapon states have never negotiated in good faith, despite their commitment under the NPT to do so.
In 1996, the International Court of Justice (the World Court) unanimously decided in its advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons that the use of nuclear weapons violates international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It reiterated the legal obligation states had undertaken in the NPT.
The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion” anywhere in the world. Although it has been ratified by 168 nations, ratification by the United States, China, Pakistan, India, North Korea, Israel, Iran, and Egypt is required to bring it into force.
Civil society organizations around the world have been actively promoting nuclear disarmament. Including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Mayors for Peace, Soka Gakkai International, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Arms Control Association, and many religious and humanitarian organizations.
In July 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted, the first international treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons comprehensively, banning the development, acquisition, test, use, threat of use and possession of nuclear weapons.
The international arms control architecture is unraveling while there are currently 14,000 nuclear warheads with a combined destructive capacity of 100,000 Hiroshima bombs, over 90% in the hands of the U.S. and Russia.
To illustrate the retreat by the nuclear powers from disarmament efforts, the United States has withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and it is terminating the five-year extension of the treaty “New Start,” which limits U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear forces. It has also signaled that it might resume nuclear explosive testing. It also gave notice on May 21 of withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, to be effective in six months. This treaty permits flights over national territory to collect information about military deployments. North Korea continues to conduct nuclear and missile tests. China, India, and Pakistan are increasing their arsenals, and the U.S. and Russia are upgrading theirs.
Despite powerful arguments focusing on the risks of nuclear annihilation, many states consider nuclear weapons as sources of deterrence and stability, so what can and should be done to eliminate nuclear weapons?
Numerous think-tanks and states have offered practical proposals to make progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons. It is imperative that all states become parties to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Last September, Gro Harlem Brundtland, three-term prime minister of Norway and former director-general of the World Health Organization, offered this step-by-step disarmament process:
· Unequivocal “no first use declaration” by nuclear states
· All warheads taken off high-alert status
· Substantially reduce the one-quarter of all nuclear warheads currently deployed
· Dramatically cut the number of nuclear weapons from 14,000 to around 2,000
One day the dreams of the Hibakusha must become a reality.
Ved Nanda is a distinguished university professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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