Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nuclear Issues: Nobel Laureates Plead for International Law to Abolish Nukes

Nobel Laureates at the Hiroshima Memorial Park | Credit: Taikan Usui

By Ramesh Jaura

Courtesy of IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – The Nobel Peace Laureates' call on China, the United States, Egypt, Iran, Israel and Indonesia to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) without delay could not have emerged from a more appropriate venue and come at a more apt point in time.

The appeal on November 14 was issued by the Nobel Peace Laureates' Summit in historical Hiroshima, which was devastated by the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945.

While urging also India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign and endorse the Treaty, they called for ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia and for follow-on negotiations for deeper cuts in all types of nuclear weapons.

The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed by U.S. President Barrack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Prague in April 2010 has yet to be ratified by the Senate in Washington and the Duma in Moscow. In fact, the Republican electoral victories in November elections are casting a dark shadow over the New START.

CTBT, which is of critical importance to usher in a nuclear-weapon free world, has already been ratified by 153 nations and enjoys almost universal membership of 182 signatory states. All that is required for the Treaty to become international law is that all of the 44 countries whose ratification is pending agree to endorse it.

"Bringing the Treaty into force is the obvious and logical next step to take and with adequate political leadership such a step is virtually around the corner," Ambassador Tibor Tóth of Hungary tells IDN-InDepthNews: Tóth is Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) established in 1997 with headquarters in Vienna, Austria.

However, as Tóth told the Nobel Peace Laureates, the last few steps to bring the CTBT into force require "a massive and coordinated grassroots effort."

Indeed, the role that citizens and civil society worldwide play in ensuring and putting pressure on their governments -- and their parliaments -- to act on commitments made is indispensable to promoting the entry into force of the CTBT.

The International Test Ban Campaign, the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, and Greenpeace action in the Pacific to mention but a few examples, have been all instrumental in achieving the CTBT in the mid-1990s. Also the Tokyo-based Sokka Gakkai Buddhist organization has been playing a significant role in creating awareness of the need to bring about a nuclear-free world.

"Today, we need NGOs and civil society in the remaining holdout states to hold their governments accountable. We need to see much more grassroots movement and action by citizens and civil society to raise awareness and rally support for the Treaty's object and purpose. Active NGO and civil society participation can push their governments to go the final mile in delivering on their commitments," says Tóth.

He urged the Nobel Peace Laureates to help to bring the Treaty into legal effect. "This will be a giant leap on the road to a world without nuclear weapons," he added.

The appeal by Tóth is underlined by the fact that the CTBTO has built a verification system that is "80 percent complete -- a system that has already proven its worth." The CTBTO is building a verification regime to monitor the planet for compliance with the Treaty. When complete, 337 facilities worldwide will monitor underground, the oceans and the atmosphere for any sign of a nuclear explosion.

"Although a deplorable event, when North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006, the CTBT Member States received exact information about the magnitude, location, depth and time of the test only two hours after it occurred. 24 stations detected the test. This was repeated in May 2009 with the difference that as many as 61 stations detected the test that was slightly larger," the CTBTO head said.

In spite of uncertainties about the fate of New START, renewed optimism exists today for nuclear disarmament and the total elimination of nuclear weapons. In May, the 2010 NPT Review Conference overcame the failure of 2005 breathing new life into the multilateral disarmament process. Its nearly 190 Member States reaffirmed the vital importance of the CTBT's entry into force as a core element of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime in its final document.

"By providing a firm legal barrier against nuclear testing, thereby curbing the qualitative improvement and development of new types and new designs of nuclear weapons by possessor states, the Treaty's entry into force would be a milestone in the global endeavour to rid the world of nuclear weapons," Tóth told IDN-InDepthNews.

In addition, he said, the CTBT is a valuable instrument for nuclear non-proliferation in that testing is necessary for establishing technical and scientific confidence in any developing programme on the part of would-be nuclear possessors.

The fact that the most recent NPT Review Conference adopted a final document, which for the first time recognized the CTBT entry into force as a core element of the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime attests to the international community's strong support for the Treaty's entry into force.

"I believe that the CTBT -- more than any other measure at our disposal -- bridges the divide between State Parties as it serves to promote all three pillars of the NPT. It signals commitment to disarmament, strengthens non-proliferation, and facilitates peaceful uses," the CTBTO head said-

The CTBT in force would indeed be a critical confidence and security building measure in regions such as the Middle East and Asia.

The reason: "It is a practical tool where progress can be achieved in a relatively short time since the Treaty already exists and enjoys near-universal support. It has a strong verification regime that has been tried and tested. It is the norm that there is no more nuclear testing and political will by the international community to ban nuclear testing is evident. What we need now is tangible progress in bringing the CTBT into force thereby taking the first, most importance step towards the complete abolition of nuclear weapons."

The Hiroshima Declaration called on nations to start work on a "universal treaty" to abolish nuclear weapons. It praised the atomic bombing survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Hibakusha, who have "dedicated their lives to teaching the rest of the world about the horrors of nuclear war."

“Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented, but they can and must be outlawed, just as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have been declared illegal,” said the Hiroshima Declaration.

“The use of nuclear weapons against any people must be regarded as a crime against humanity and should henceforth be prohibited,” continued the Declaration.