13 May 2015, Vol. 13, No. 9
Editorial: The global injustice of nuclear weapons
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
The new draft released from Subsidiary Body 1 on Tuesday morning significantly weakened an already minimalist text. This, together with the ongoing debate over the Review Conference’s outcome on nuclear disarmament, further accentuates the global injustice at the heart of nuclear weapon possession and deployment.
The new draft eliminates the demand, made by at least 159 NPT states parties to this Review Conference, that “it is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons never be used again under any circumstances.” It instead focuses on the nearly seventy-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons, as if the status quo is acceptable and “that we should contemplate a world with nuclear weapons indefinitely,” as the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) warned.
The new draft also weakens the calls on Russia and the US for further reductions. It weakens the language against modernisation and addressing the risks of nuclear weapons. While the call on states to abandon first use policies in security doctrines has rightly been removed, the text now only calls on concerned states to “continue to review” their nuclear weapon policies and doctrines rather than change them.
On the humanitarian consequences, the new text suggests that some states might have just been previously ignorant about the consequences, rather than new evidence becoming available. The new draft also cynically removes the reference to the importance of recognising the voices of survivors of nuclear weapons and recalling the 70th anniversary of their use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In some paragraphs the new text attempts to reframe effective measures in the context of building blocks, suggesting that business as usual could somehow fulfill the overwhelming demand by the majority of states for new concrete efforts to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. The text also continues to suggest that unilateral actions constitute effective measures envisioned by article VI, which is not the case. As the NAC argued on Monday, multilateral negotiations are necessary to fulfil article VI.
Overall the new draft continues to frame the legal framework for a nuclear weapon free world as a longer-term goal and does not contain any serious or concrete commitments to move towards this framework.
Yet the nuclear-armed states say even this is too strong. They have pushed back against references to a legal framework and have objected to the inclusion of benchmarks and timelines for nuclear disarmament. They have demanded that their “security interests” be put in “balance” with humanitarian concerns about the devastating effects of nuclear weapons use. They do not want to make any new commitments, or, as the last few decades have shown, implement their existing ones.
While demanding flexibility to reach consensus, the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies are articulating positions at odds with actually achieving nuclear disarmament. They are in fact revealing their true positions, which support the maintenance, modernisation, and continued deployment and threat of use of massive nuclear violence.
Only a handful of mostly wealthy countries possess and control a monopoly on nuclear weapons, the maintenance and modernisation of which benefits elites in those countries. The governments of these countries have chosen to risk the annihilation of entire cities, populations, or even our planet. And it is these governments which participate most actively in meetings about nuclear weapons, including this NPT Review Conference.
A new paper published today by the civil society group Article 36 reveals the significance of low-income country underrepresentation in nuclear disarmament forums. These countries could be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation on economics, the environment, and development objectives, even though a high proportion are part of nuclear weapon free zones. Yet they are less likely to send representatives to multilateral meetings on nuclear disarmament and generally make fewer statements on average than high-income countries—a high proportion of which are part of a nuclear alliance.
Nuclear weapons represent a grave global injustice. This injustice is on full display at the NPT. The NPT nuclear-armed and nuclear-dependent states, representing the vast majority of the world’s wealth, will only accept an outcome document that reinforces their continued possession and deployment of weapons of terror that they wield over the rest of the planet. They say that their weapons do not pose a risk to world security but rather that they prevent nuclear weapon use. But as the Non-Aligned Movement has been saying for decades, as the three conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons have found, and as the joint humanitarian statements in the NPT and General Assembly have asserted, the only way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them. This is the position of the majority. This is the position of justice. And it is the only position that responsible actors can take “in the interests of the survival of humanity”.