PRAGUE, Czech Republic, January 21 (IPS) – Alyn Ware is the World Future Council’s Peace and Disarmament Program Director and Right Living Award Winner in 2009. Many of us around the world breathed a sigh of relief yesterday (January 20) . Nuclear Football ”(the briefcase with nuclear weapons codes and communications links for the President to launch a nuclear attack) was given to President Biden at the inauguration of the new President from Mr. Trump.
This change in administration takes place with the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (January 22) and on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of UN Resolution 1 (1), in which the global goal for the elimination of nuclear weapons was set.
A year ago the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds until midnight, indicating the very high risk to humanity from nuclear weapons and climate change. These recent developments give hope to reduce the risk of nuclear war and to make progress on the path to nuclear disarmament.
With 4,000 operational nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, over 800 of which can be fired on high alert in a matter of minutes after having a somewhat irrational U.S. commander in chief who was authorized to unilaterally fire these weapons was a whim for the past four years nerve-wracking.
Will the new US administration end the danger of nuclear war, take first steps towards disarmament and bring together the nuclear-armed states to negotiate gradual, verified and enforceable nuclear disarmament? We do not know it.
There are some positive signs, however. Joe Biden was Vice President of Barack Obama, who made very ambitious efforts to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world, but only took incremental measures in support of this goal – such as the new START agreement, the Iran Agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), some global measures for nuclear security and the beginning of a process to achieve a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
President Obama was unable to rule in the development and production of nuclear weapons because of a Congress that insisted on increasing the nuclear weapons budget and supporting new nuclear weapon systems. Indeed, the entire caucus of the republic in the Senate refused to ratify the new START treaty with Russia unless the president agreed to modernize nuclear weapons and increase the budget.
In addition, President Obama could not significantly reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US politics. He tried twice in his presidency to adopt a no-use or only-use policy, but was repulsed by the national opposition and NATO allies who insisted on the first-use option to “protect” it from Russia.
President Biden could move forward on both issues. He has a Democratic majority in Congress, the leadership of which has indicated support for the non-first use. And there is growing support in Allied countries for stepping back from the nuclear fringes.
In the declarations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a policy of non-first use has now been supported. The declarations are adopted by consensus by all member parliaments including the European countries, Canada, the USA, Russia and the former Soviet countries.
There is also increasing support from the public and in the US Congress for cutting nuclear weapons budgets in order to focus more on human security issues such as climate protection and the pandemic.
This includes a new defense spending caucus in Congress calling for a 10% cut in military spending to free up resources to fight the pandemic. Cutting a significant portion of the nuclear weapons budget would be the easiest way to get that 10% cut. The SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure) bill, introduced in the US Senate by Senator Markey and in the House of Representatives by Rep Blumenauer, shows how substantial savings in the nuclear weapons budget can be achieved through immediate unilateral cuts. With Democrats now in control of both houses, there is a chance that progress will be made on this.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons offers a renewed global call for non-nuclear states to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.
The US, other nuclear weapon states and the allied states have all declared that they will not join the treaty. A Biden administration is unlikely to change the US position, let alone convince other nuclear-armed states to join the TPNW. And if the nuclear armed and allied countries do not join, they are not bound by it.
However, in a number of civil society statements published in connection with the entry into force of the TPNW (links to these see below), it was highlighted that all countries, including the nuclear armed and allied states, are bound by applicable international law which prohibits the Threat or use of nuclear weapons and requires the elimination of these weapons.
The TPNW was not created in a legal vacuum. The threat or use of nuclear weapons was already prohibited by the International Court of Justice in 1996 as being generally prohibited under international humanitarian law. H. The war laws binding for the nuclear weapon states, confirmed.
The Court also reaffirmed the contractual and international obligation to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons. And the UN Human Rights Committee confirmed, both in 1984 and more recently in 2018, that international human rights law, which is also binding on nuclear-weapon states, has established similar prohibitions and obligations.
Mr Trump did not appear to be respecting the law unless it served his agenda. President Biden, however, is much more up to date and could be driven by these legal developments to act in good faith and with determination to advance the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world through a number of concrete steps.
In addition, states party to the TPNW could have significant effects on nuclear-armed states by prohibiting the transit of nuclear weapons on their territory, at sea and in the airspace. Or they could have an impact on the nuclear arms race by ending public investment in the nuclear weapons industry.
To date, none of the states joining the TPNW have implemented such implementing measures (although some states had adopted such measures before the TPNW). The first meeting of the parties to the TPNW, which will take place next year, offers an opening to encourage the TPNW countries to do so.
Civil society action will be needed to move governments to action. If this becomes a priority, chances are these political openings will allow humanity to finally get rid of nuclear weapons in order to ensure a sustainable future.
Statements from civil society:
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