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UN Nuclear Ban Treaty and the Vital Role of Nuclear Have-Nots

By Dr. Jargalsaikhan Enkhsaikan

Dr .Jargalsaikhan Enkhsaikhan is Chairman of Blue Banner – a Mongolian NGO devoted to promoting nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament – and a former Permanent Representative of his country to the United Nations. Blue Banner is organizing an 'International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament Issues: Global and Regional Aspects,' on August 31- September 1 2017 in Ulaanbaatar to encourage effective strategies to move jointly towards the common goal of achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world.

ULAANBAATAR (IDN) - An event of truly historic importance has taken place at the United Nations Headquarters: On July 7 the text of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was approved at the final session of the General Assembly mandated conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination. It is the first legally binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated since the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago. [P 14]

It was adopted by 122-1-1 votes thus marking a major milestone in multilateral efforts to abolish nuclear weapons since the first resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1946 asking for proposals for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.”

Though the two nuclear-weapon states – USA and Russia – with nearly 95% of the atomic arsenal have reduced their stocks of such weapons of mass destruction, the issue of outlawing nuclear weapons has not been on the nuclear agenda. On the contrary, the number of nuclear weapon states has increased to nine, while nuclear modernization is underway and new nuclear arms race is increasing.

Statements by some leaders of nuclear-weapon states confirm that they may not necessarily be pursing a “rational or sane” path and that nuclear weapons don't belong in anyone's hands. The most reliable way to protect from the horrors of such weapons is to eliminate them.

Therefore there is a growing concern about the increasing risks of nuclear weapons with the surge of threatening rhetoric. The three international conferences held in recent years in Norway, Mexico and Austria have also reminded of the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons detonation, whether deliberate, by accident or due to negligence.

On the other hand, there is a growing frustration with the nuclear-weapon states for not fulfilling their commitments undertaken by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as well as by the understandings reached in the 2000 NPT Review Conference regarding the 13 practical steps or in the 2010 NPT Review Conference on the 64-point Action Plan. All these have led the vast majority of the international community to start negotiations on the prohibition of nuclear weapons with the final goal of their elimination.

An important role in calling for such negotiations was played by non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWSs) of Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. However support of other NNWS was decisive for the General Assembly to mandate the international negotiations and adopt the text of the treaty.

Civil society organizations – national and international, especially the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) – played a vital role in raising awareness of the necessity of taking concrete measures to start the negotiations as well as disseminating information regarding the issues involved.

Also the Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, President of the conference, as well as the entire leadership of the conference should be highly commended for their persistence and the needed flexibility to agree on the content of the treaty.

The treaty is a product of compromise. As such it cannot fully satisfy interests of any one or group of states that participated in the negotiations. Though it will not bring about nuclear disarmament in the immediate future, the treaty’s adoption marks a concrete collective action in launching that process.

It marks a beginning of a new stage that creates a space for NNWSs to be more involved in the process that directly affects their vital interests. This would strengthen international norms of nuclear disarmament, reinforce public standing on the issue affecting the interests of all states and not only of the nuclear-weapon states, and delegitimize such weapons, as was the case of other weapons of mass destruction and some conventional weapons.

Looking at the issue from a legal point of view, the treaty is in accordance with the principles and objectives of the United Nations as reflected in its Charter. It is also in accordance with Article VI of the NPT, whereby more than 190 states have committed 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 … under strict and effective international control”. In that sense implementation of the treaty would strengthen the NPT.

Implementation of the treaty, when it enters into force, would be a challenging task since nuclear-weapon states and their allies are not on board. However, its entry into force would create a new situation and environment that would stigmatize the hold-out states to eventually recognize the emerging political and legal environment.

In that sense it is commendable that the treaty leaves the door open for later accession. It will take time, patience and enormous efforts of NNWSs to expand the treaty’s membership. Even the NPT did not enjoy wide support when it was opened for signature, ratification or accession. However, today 191 states are parties to it.

As a compromise, the treaty is not a consensus document; some would have preferred it to have stronger provisions on specific issues while others would have wanted to have some ambiguous provisions with the hope to make it acceptable for the hold-out states.

From Mongolia’s perspective, Article 1 (g) and the reference to the “threat” of use of nuclear weapons are seen as important provisions, with the latter directly challenging the concept of “nuclear deterrence” and ”extended deterrence”. The lack of definition of a nuclear weapon or a timeframe for removal of nuclear weapons from the territories of states that are not nuclear-weapon states make the treaty somewhat weak.

As mentioned above, the role of NNWSs in initiating the negotiations, and actually drafting the treaty was enormous. However, their role will be even more important in signing the treaty and ratifying it in the near future so as to maintain this positive momentum and bring the treaty into force. That would not be easy due to the position of the nuclear-weapon states and their allies, possible attempts to influence policies of NNWSs and discourage any step to bringing the treaty into force. Hence mutual support and cooperation of NNWSs would be vital.

Likewise, the role of civil society both at the national and international level would be highly useful. Implementation of Article 4 (4) would narrow the geographical spread of nuclear weapons, while meeting of states parties would reinforce its application and implementation. The role of NNWSs in ensuring verification of implementation of the treaty, interpretation of its provisions or settlement of possible disputes would be important.

Any positive action needs to start with national policies. In this regard national implementation of the treaty, as per Article 5, would reinforce its provisions reflecting the specifics of that particular state-party. Hence adoption of national legislation would be useful. This is the area where exchange of information and experience would be useful for the treaty’s effectiveness.

Another group of NNWSs – those that are under nuclear umbrella or are hosting nuclear weapons – can play a unique role. As allies of nuclear-weapon states, they have a direct access to them and, instead of supporting their policies or participating in nuclear-war planning, they could work to reassess the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines in today’s closely interdependent world. This could be their contribution to implementing Article VI of NPT and promoting the goals of a world without nuclear weapons until their own accession to the treaty. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 July 2017]

Note: Read IDN-INPS Specials on the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty on https://www.idn-indepthnews.net/index.php/armaments/nuclear-weapons and on http://www.nuclearabolition.info/

Photo: Dr. Jargalsaikhan Enkhsaikhan, Chairman of 'Blue Banner'.

IDN is the flagship of International Press Syndicate.

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