Viewpoint by Dr Joseph Gerson* 17 May 2019
NEW YORK (IDN) – Expectations for the outcome of this year’s NPT Preparatory Committee were low at best. Not surprisingly, given the nuclear powers’ reliance on their genocidal and omnicidal arsenals and pressures building for nuclear weapons proliferation, these expectations were not exceeded. As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has warned, humanity is now as close to nuclear apocalypse as it was at the height of the Cold War.
With the U.S. and Russian withdrawals from the INF Treaty, the future of the New START Treaty in doubt, and each of the nuclear weapons states committed to spending massive fortunes to upgrade their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems, humanity is on the verge of an extremely dangerous unrestrained nuclear arms race.
Understanding the geopolitical context is essential to understanding the urgency of the moment. Like the period leading up to World War I, this is an era of rising and declining powers (the Thucydides trap), of complex and uncertain alliance structures, intense nationalism, territorial disputes, arms races with new technologies, economic integration & competition, and authoritarian wild card actors.
In an environment of increasing U.S./NATO vs. Russia and U.S. vs. China tensions and provocative military “exercises”, accidents and miscalculations are increasingly likely. Just as bullets in Sarajevo in 1914 sparked a devastating World War, an unanticipated incident in the Baltic, Black or South China Seas could easily escalate into a great power, potentially nuclear, confrontation and war.
The NPT was among the most important treaties of the 20th century. On one side, the era’s non-nuclear weapons states foreswore ever becoming nuclear weapons states. On the other, they won the right to generate nuclear power for peaceful purposes (a flaw in the Treaty,) and the Article VI commitment by the P-5 nuclear powers to engage in the “good faith” negotiations for the complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
More than a half century later, the nuclear powers’ doublespeak – reaffirming their commitment to the Treaty while spending untold fortunes to reinforce their 21st century omnicidal arsenals – is wearing then.
This is compounded by the nuclear weapons states’ failure to implement agreements made during past NPT Review Conferences (especially U.S. resistance to the convening of a conference for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone) the future of the NPT following the 2020 Review Conference is in doubt.
This year’s PrepCom confirmed that the trains diplomatic restraint and nuclear powers’ reliance on nuclear terrorism are running in opposite directions, one bound toward a nuclear weapons-free world and the other for nuclear winter.
At the conclusion of the PrepCom, consensus could not be reached when the western nuclear powers rejected draft statement language on the need to fully implement to NPT, to recognize the need for “a legally-binding norm to prohibit nuclear weapons in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons,” or to acknowledge “the support of many states for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and its complementarity with the NPT.”
The charade of NPT diplomacy is growing old. This, in turn, undermines the Treaty’s legitimacy and the Treaty itself. The march to nuclear catastrophe is thus reinforced.
Thus, at a time when neither U.S. nor Russian diplomats are willing to reiterate the Reagan-Gorbachev truism that “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, the failure of the PrepCom should come as no surprise.
In these circumstances several priorities should be self-evident:
- Winning the ratification of the TPNW by 50 nations so that it can go into force. The Ban Treaty is a thin reed to lean on for human survival. But, if nuclear umbrella states – NATO nations, Japan or Australia – sign and ratify the Treaty, the diplomatic foundations that reinforce the nuclear powers would be seriously shaken.
- European nations must refuse the deployment of new nuclear weapons and intermediate range missiles to their nations. Such deployments would create a nuclear crisis at least as dangerous as that of the early 1980s.
- The world’s nuclear disarmament forces must recognize the urgency of the moment and unite in building the people’s power need to overcome that of the nuclear powers. We’ve done it before, and if we are serious, we can do it again.
- It is past time to recognize that the existential threats of nuclear weapons, climate change, economic and social injustice have common causes, that require collaboration across our movements if we are to prevail.
*Dr. Joseph Gerson is President of the Campaign for Peace Disarmament and Common Security, Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Peace & Economic Security Program, and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 May 2019]
Graphic credit: Coalition for Peace Action