The Time Has Come For
by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
For the first time in the 71 years since nuclear weapons were used to incinerate two cities full of men, women, and children, an imaginative new international movement to abolish nuclear weapons has been launched. The launch date was October 27, 2016. It happened just yesterday afternoon.
On that day a resolution (L.41) was passed in the United Nations First Committee by an overwhelming majority of the member states [123 nations in favour, 38 against, 16 abstentions]. The resolution calls for the beginning of international negotiations next year (2017) to work out the terms of a legally-binding Treaty that would ban all nuclear weapons world-wide, in accordance with Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors of the resolution, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the text. Although the resolution was opposed by almost all of those countries having nuclear arsenals, and most of their allies, the staunch bloc of 38 “no” votes was swept aside by 123 votes in favour of L.41. Sixteen countries abstained from voting, including one member of NATO: the Netherlands. Other NATO members such as Canada voted against the resolution. Nevertheless, the resolution has been adopted by an overwhelming majority, and negotiations for a Treaty to abolish nuclear weapons will soon be underway.
Of course, the nuclear-weapons states hope to boycott these negotiations, and the members of NATO—a military alliance that espouses nuclear weapons as “essential” for its security—will also want to shun the proceedings. But there is a catch. Under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) these states are all legally obligated to undertake negotiations of exactly this nature. They can boycott the negotiations, but in doing so they will be in clear violation of their existing treaty obligations.
The Preamble of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) refers to
“the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war”
The goal of the NPT is the abolition of nuclear weapons:
“the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery pursuant to a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”
The NPT envisages a double strategy for abolishing nuclear weapons. Those states that do not have nuclear weapons promise not to acquire them, and those states that do have nuclear weapons promise to get rid of them. Artlcle 6 states:
“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.”
In a unanimous ruling in 1996 [“Legality Of The Threat Or Use Of Nuclear Weapons,” Advisory Opinion of 8 July 1996], the International Court of Justice declared that “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”. This is an obligation that cannot be shirked within any existing legal framework.
Common sense tells us that the nuclear-armed countries are not going to submit easily to such legalistic considerations, but the upcoming negotiations will put them on the defensive in the court of public opinion. With examples such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in mind, no one should dismiss the power of mobilized public opinion—especially when it is in concert with legal and political pressures, all of them focussed on the same goal: a legally-binding commitment to ban all nuclear weapons from the Earth.
The UN resolution passed yesterday, and the negotiations to begin next year, will not by themselves bring about the elimination of nuclear weapons, but the mobilization of people of good will world-wide may be enough to seal the deal. One thing is for sure. We will never know unless we try.