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Reflections on the faltering road to nuclear disarmament: from Hiroshima to the Ukraine war

August 11, 2022

Guest Commentary

by Dr. Ghassan Shahrour

August sixth of 2022, is the seventy-seventh anniversary of the launch of the “Hiroshima” and then “Nagasaki” bombs. Our world is again in difficult circumstances due to the Ukraine war, the catastrophic humanitarian and economic consequences of which are growing day after day. With the intensification of the war and conflict, there is the insinuation and statement of an inappropriate and unacceptable threat of more than one party resorting to nuclear weapons, which constitutes an insult to human dignity and the rules of the international humanitarian law.

This is a new and dangerous setback for the efforts and aspirations of the human community towards a more secure and peaceful future on a clear path leading to a world free of nuclear weapons and all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. These nuclear disarmament efforts witnessed many successes and challenges on the world’s path towards its desired goal. In light of the disasters, it witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world thought that the path to getting rid of nuclear weapons would not be stumbling, arduous, long, and full of challenges.  

Until now, nuclear disarmament has been one of the oldest goals of the United Nations, as it was the first resolution of its General Assembly in 1946, and it has not been absent from its periodic agenda since 1959, as well as in its special session on disarmament in 1978, in which disarmament in the world was a top priority.

The UN General Assembly also decided to adopt September 26 of each year as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, a day in which it highlights the importance of permanently eliminating this weapon, which is made up of about 19,000 nuclear warheads. In fact, the cost of maintenance and modernization of those weapons is more than 120 billion dollars a year, which would otherwise be spent on healthcare, education, work, and combating poverty and hunger in the world.

This year, Hiroshima Day marks the convening of the Tenth Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at UN Headquarters in New York, focusing on nuclear, general and complete disarmament. In fact, the NPT is the only binding commitment to disarmament made by the nuclear-weapon states in a multilateral treaty. Since its enactment or entering into force in 1970, the treaty has become a cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. It’s made up of 191 states, including the five nuclear-weapon states, thus becoming at the forefront of multilateral disarmament agreements in terms of the number of parties in it.

The world failed to hold the conference on “the Middle East free of nuclear weapons” scheduled in 2012 according to the decisions of the 2010 review conference of the NPT. It was decided that all the countries of the region would join the treaty and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.  Failure to achieve this remains a major challenge facing all countries of the world, and perhaps the new assertion of a number of leaders of Arab countries at the “Jeddah” Summit for Security and Development in July 2022, including Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait. Further, Saudi Arabia and Iran hope in their official statements to revive efforts towards a Middle East free of all kinds of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

There is also another major challenge arising from the non-implementation of NPT Article VI, which requires the continuation of negotiations in good faith in order to stop the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament. Until now, after more than fifty years, this article has not been applied by states with nuclear weapons, which is in clear contradiction with the letter and spirit of the treaty and with the aspirations of the peoples of the world. 

As we remember, the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962 was one of the most severe confrontation and challenge, and sure the closest crisis that almost led to a nuclear war. The people of the world do not want such a confrontation to be repeated anywhere in the world. Therefore, the elimination of nuclear weapons remains the first priority of the United Nations with regard to disarmament.

In the face of these tumblings and challenges, efforts must be strengthened to make this goal a reality.

In my reflection, I must also mention that humanity has achieved other successes on this path, such as the comprehensive ban on nuclear tests, and regional treaties on nuclear-weapon-free zones. All of those achievements are steps that bring us closer and closer on our way to the total elimination of these nuclear weapons.

Supporting a world free of nuclear weapons means a true commitment to global peace and human security and health everywhere. Supporting the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons is a human demand that was launched through the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding agreement to comprehensively ban these weapons. The treaty aimed to eliminate these weapons, to work to prohibit their use, manufacture, transfer, trade, or investment in them, to dismantle existing ones, and to place nuclear facilities under international supervision and safeguard on the path to complete nuclear abolition. It entered into force on January 22, 2021, which is considered a victory for humanity for the safety, security and well-being of the human community everywhere. Nonetheless, it faces major challenges in the accession of the rest of the world, especially the nuclear states.

The existence of nuclear weapons itself is an existential threat to our human security and to future generations, and indeed to the survival of all humanity, which never justifies this faltering, stumbling and slowing down in the path of nuclear disarmament. It has been a long time since Hiroshima, where these weapons were irretrievably disposed of, but the only guarantee that they would not be used again is their complete and final removal.

Dr. Shahrour is an ICAN campaigner working in the Middle East.


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