Making peace with the N-word
Guterres stated that geopolitical tensions are at levels not witnessed since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
NEW DELHI: Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, recently warned that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.” He made these remarks as world leaders met at the UN in New York for the 10th review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which came into force in 1970. Guterres stated that geopolitical tensions are at levels not witnessed since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He also pointed out that humanity is in danger of forgetting the lessons forged in the terrifying fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the backdrop of the anniversaries of the US dropping atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities, it is worth examining the state of nuclear disarmament globally. The NPT is an international agreement aimed at stunting the growth of nuclear weapons and promoting cooperation among nations for peaceful use of nuclear energy. The five top nuclear powers, which include the US, the UK, France, Russia and China are signatories to this pact that 191 nations have agreed upon. But nuclear-armed nations like India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel have not signed on this treaty.
Nuclear disarmament is a pressing concern considering China’s rapid amassing of nuclear arsenal as well as the uptake in nuclear weapons technology by Iran and North Korea. The Russian invasion of Ukraine coupled with the escalating tensions between major world powers are being seen as catalysts for undoing decades of work to prevent a catastrophic nuclear war. The last review of the NPT had ended in a stalemate as nations failed to arrive at a consensus on setting up a Weapons of Mass Destruction-free zone in the Middle East as well as introducing practical measures towards nuclear disarmament.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates there are 12,705 nuclear warheads globally and 90% of the arsenal belongs to the US and Russia. While Russian President Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov had remarked that Russia might be prompted to use a nuclear weapon only under the condition of a threat to its existence, the message was clear. The Russian strongman might not be beyond deploying a reduced cache of tactical nukes, if victory in the Ukrainian conquest seems out of reach.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was the only bilateral treaty to which both US and Russia were signatories. It is now stuck in limbo, thanks to fissures in their relationship. The Iran nuclear deal has also emerged as a pain point, especially for Europe. It was former US President Trump who unilaterally withdrew America from the pact and re-enforced sanctions on Tehran, which haven’t been reversed by President Biden. So, Tehran enriched its weapons grade uranium stockpile, above the pact’s restrictions.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un also stated that Pyongyang was ready to mobilise its nuclear deterrent against any act of US aggression. Pakistan also happens to be a nuclear-armed nation. Faced with an economic crisis, it is now awaiting a rollout of a $1.7 bn tranche in bailout funds from the IMF. The last thing we need is a nuclear-powered nation that has gone bankrupt.
The UN is optimistic about advancing its Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was brought into force in 2021. It is the first legally binding global agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons with the end goal being total elimination of such an arsenal. Ironically, the treaty has 86 signatory states, but not one of them is a nuclear-armed nation. The failure of nuclear-armed states to live up to their disarmament responsibilities harkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 black comedy Dr Strangelove, where a character says, “War is too important to be left to the politicians.”