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Is a nuclear-free world possible?

Adeze Ojukwu

The Security Council on Monday, marked the 25th anniversary of Test Ban Treaty, with calls for nuclear weapons-free world.

But is a nuclear-free world possible?

This is the puzzle before global leaders, at this year’s commemoration.

The demand for a nuclear-free world is not as simplistic, as agitators think. The historical and political complexities behind the arm race cannot be dismissed easily.

However the UN officials and some experts believe that this ideal is achievable.

Their views are outlined below.

Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) pointed to its ‘near universal adherence,’ with 185 signatures and 170 ratifications.

He said that the Treaty ‘has created and sustained a norm against nuclear testing so powerful, that less than one dozen tests have been conducted since adoption, and only one country has violated it this millennium.’

Meanwhile, the United Nations(UN)Secretary-General Dr. António Guterres, in a message to mark the International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons(IDTENW), warned that ‘humanity Remains Unacceptably Close to Annihilation.’

Ministers and senior officials from more than 60 countries participated, joining the Secretary-General, and UN General Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid.

Following is Guterres’ message for the occasion, annually observed on 26 September.

‘From the very start, addressing the existential threat of nuclear weapons has been central to the work of the United Nations. In 1946, the very first General Assembly resolution sought “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.’

‘Seventy-six years later, we have yet to achieve that resolution’s goals. As we mark this International Day of the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, we face the highest level of nuclear risk in almost four decades. Nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons are stockpiled around the world. Hundreds are a pushed button away from being launched.’

At the event, Mr. Guterres urged eight key countries which have not yet signed or ratified the Treaty, to do so without delay.

‘Given its necessity and readiness, it is both disappointing and frustrating that the Treaty has not yet entered into force. We all know the reason for this – the eight remaining Annex II States whose ratifications are required for the Treaty’s entry-into-force,’ he said.

‘While the total number has been decreasing for decades, States are qualitatively improving their arsenals and we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race. These weapons are not yesterday’s problem. They remain today’s threat. Despite our progress, humanity remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation,’ he stressed.

‘There are, however, signs of hope. The decision by the Russian Federation and the United States to extend the New START Treaty and engage in dialogue are welcome steps, as was January’s entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.’

‘The responsibility now falls to Member States to build on these developments. The Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons provides a window of opportunity for all countries to take practical steps to prevent the use of, and eliminate, these weapons once and for all.’

Guterres said ‘as a global family, we can no longer allow the cloud of nuclear conflict to shadow our work to spur development, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and end the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to lift this cloud for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace for all people.’

A proven record
Before the adoption of the treaty in 1996, the average explosive yield of nuclear tests each year was equivalent to nearly 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.

‘Nuclear testing not only created geopolitical instability and supported the development of more powerful and deadly nuclear weapons, it also caused untold human suffering and environmental damage. Because of the CTBT, we have left this world far behind,’ Mr. Floyd said.

In addition to its core mission, the Treaty includes a verification regime in the form of a global network, that provides useful data for civil and scientific purposes, including tsunami warning and climate change studies.

Established under the treaty, the International Monitoring System (IMS), provides round-the-clock, real-time monitoring of any explosive nuclear activities on Earth, and is now more than 90percent complete, with over 300 stations certified.

A renewed push
Despite its 185 signatures, the Treaty is yet to enter into force, which would require ratification by eight countries (the US, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea).

For Mr. Floyd, ‘anniversaries are a time for renewal of commitments.’

He cited a ‘real appetite for civil society and youth engagement’ on the issue, and declared that the ultimate objective is clear: the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

‘But we cannot hope to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world without a universally applied, non-discriminatory, and verifiable prohibition on nuclear testing,’ he argued.

A continuous threat
Still to this day, there are still 13,400 nuclear weapons around the globe. Some countries continue to seek nuclear capabilities, and others are working to expand their nuclear arsenals.

Addressing Council Members, the UN Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, pointed to a ‘worrisome trend towards the modernization and expansion of nuclear arsenals.’

‘As the global arms control regime has crumbled, multilateral nuclear disarmament diplomacy has atrophied. As relations continue to decline amongst States that possess nuclear weapons, we cannot take for granted that the norm against nuclear testing will hold,’ she said.

‘Lasting damage’
For Ms. Nakamitsu, nuclear testing ‘has done lasting damage to pristine environments, human health and some of the most vulnerable communities,’ from the deserts of Nevada, to the steppes of Semipalatinsk; from the outback of Australia to the atolls of the South Pacific.

Besides those impacts, she argued that the tests have also ‘enabled the quantitative and qualitative improvements of nuclear weapons, announcing the arrival of new nuclear-armed States and facilitating dangerous growth in the arsenals of their predecessors.’

Overcoming challenges
For the Under-Secretary General, the 25th anniversary of the treaty is a reason to celebrate, but also to rethink what can be done to overcome the challenges that still lie ahead.

She argued that this can be done on several fronts.

First, further empowerment of young people. Second, it has to be understood that the CTBT does not operate in a vacuum, and that it works in tandem with other processes. Third, and finally, the international community must continue to strengthen the CTBTO’s technical capabilities.

Magdalene Wanyaga, a Kenyan member of the CTBTO Youth Group, also participated in the meeting, sharing her views on how civil society and youth can creatively contribute to this mission.

High-level conference
Last week, the high-level Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, included global calls for it to become binding and fulfil its potential to end all nuclear explosions.

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