Building a Nuclear Weapon-Free World

On January 22, 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) became international law for the 122 states who signed the agreement in July 2017. Article 1a of TPNW states: “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to… Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Initiated by a cross-regional group comprising Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, the TPNW was approved by the United Nations General Assembly by a vote of 122-1. The treaty required that 50 signatory nations officially ratify it before it could become international law. That happened on October 24, 2020, when Honduras became the fiftieth country to do so. And then 90 days had to pass, which occurred on January 22.

Disregard for World Peace

The nuclear nine – the United States, Russia, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – boycotted the vote. In October 2020, the US government circulated a letter asking those governments who signed the treaty to withdraw from it. The US ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 – Nikki Haley – said that the TPNW threatens the security of USA. She asked those governments who had joined TPNW: “do they really understand the threats that we have?”

The nuclear powers are in violation of the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires them to negotiate to reduce and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons. Instead, the nuclear powers are developing new nuclear weapons. The US is spending $494 billion over the next ten years, and more than $1.7 billion in the next 30 years to “upgrade” its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Powerful corporations will be making billions of dollars from the nuclear programs over the next decade.

The US has withdrawn from one nuclear weapons treaty after another. Whether it is the Iran nuclear deal, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty or the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty – USA has tried its hardest to undermine the idea of a world free from nuclear weapons. The last bilateral nuclear weapons treaty between the US and Russia, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) concerning strategic nuclear forces, expires February 5, 2021.

As a US Senate condition for ratifying New START in 2010, the US administration carelessly initiated a multi-trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program. Russia and China have responded with their own nuclear modernization programs. The new strategic arms are hypersonic – six times faster. Modernization also deploys more tactical nukes in conventional forces with the dangerous military doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate.”

The allies of nuclear-armed nations, including all NATO members, have also opposed TPNW.  These powers lack nuclear weapons but are relieved that their guardians do. The notion of an “umbrella of extended nuclear deterrence”  provides them comfort. For that reason Japan, despite advocating for the non-use and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, has refused to endorse the weapons ban.

Nuclear Annihilation

In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight – the closest it has ever been. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded by Albert Einstein and students from the University of Chicago in 1945, created the “Doomsday Clock” as a symbol to represent how close the world is to a possible apocalypse.

It is set annually by a panel of scientists, including 13 Nobel laureates, based on the threats that the world faced in that year. When it was first created in 1947, the hands of the clock were placed based on the threat posed by nuclear weapons. Over the years, they have included other threats, such as climate change and technologies like artificial intelligence.

As is evident from the Doomsday Clock, human civilization is moving closer toward possible destruction. One of things which can be done to avert such a scenario is for nuclear-armed nations to completely abolish nuclear weapons. The US and Russia have more than 90% of all the 13,410 warheads. Four countries – the US, Russia, the UK and France – have at least 1,800 warheads on high alert, which means that they can be fired at very short notice. A situation like this carries the threat of nuclear annihilation. Major nuclear powers should comply with TPNW to prevent such an occurrence.

Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India. Read other articles by Yanis.