Arms control milestones offer hope and despair as we approach 75th A-Bomb anniversary

IMPORTANT ARMS CONTROL MILESTONES ABOUND

In the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, it is timely to consider recent arms control developments, positive and negative and where we go from here.

Ceremony marks 3rd anniversary of adoption of nuclear ban treaty

Starting out on a positive note, 7 July was the third anniversary of the adoption of the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). For our commentaries on the adoption of the Treaty and the disgraceful NATO response, see New UN treaty outlaws nuclear weapons (ceasefire.ca, 7 July 2017) and NATO statement decrying nuclear ban treaty full of errors (ceasefire.ca, 24 November 2017).

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work in helping achieve the ban treaty. Speaking at the ceremony, Japanese-Canadian atomic bomb survivor 85-year-old Setsuko Thurlow stated:

I speak as a member of the family of hibakusha – those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For more than seven decades, we have worked for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

The 3rd anniversary of the treaty’s adoption was commemorated in a virtual ceremony, in which the UN, diplomats, NGOs and others participated from around the world. Co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Fiji to the UN and ICAN, featured speakers included:

  • H.E. Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture of Costa Rica, who served as president of the conference that negotiated the TPNW in 2017
  • E. Dr. Satyendra Prasad, the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations
  • Vanessa Griffen, a Fijian academic and ICAN campaigner
  • René Holbach of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, speaking on behalf of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu.

Ambassador Prasad announced the completion of the formal ratification process by Fiji that day, bringing the total number of TPNW states parties to 39 — just 11 short of the 50 required to bring the nuclear prohibition treaty into force.

For Fiji, a small island nation in the South Pacific, this treaty has special significance. Ambassador Prasad recalled that more than 300 nuclear tests were conducted in the Pacific region between 1946 and 1996:

in the air, underground, below the sea — across the vast blue Pacific.

Radioactive waste from the tests is still stored in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and elsewhere in the Pacific, and infrastructure from the test programmes is in a precarious state. Pacific islanders were deliberately exposed to the nuclear fallout from the tests, most have been denied compensation, and “far too many have died”.

Noting that nuclear explosions do not respect national borders, nor does nuclear waste respect time, as it stays around for generations, he stated:

Human suffering across the Pacific from decades of exposure to nuclear weapons testing remains a sore point of our colonial past….with Pacific islanders still suffering from ill health, the contamination of ecosystems, and dislocation from their ancestral lands.

The Ambassador also recalled that 2020 marks 34 years since the entry into force of the Treaty of Rarotonga, which established the South Pacific as a nuclear-free zone.

Touching on a theme that we have been exploring in our blogs for some time, Ambassador Whyte Gómez said the TPNW had laid the foundation for a future where security is “comprehensive and universal” — a security paradigm encompassing not just the security of the state but the security and well-being of populations and international society, based on “necessary and balanced investments of scarce resources.”

But, in the present, she cautioned, many actors “are moving in the opposite direction” with nuclear weapons modernization and the “deconstruction of nuclear regimes and norms”. So all countries committed to building the new security paradigm must work to:

  • Secure enough ratifications to bring the treaty into force and then to
  • Engage with non-parties in an effort to encourage them to join the treaty, and to
  • Prepare for the first meeting of States Parties, once the treaty is in force, on how to move forward with its implementation.

In closing, the Costa Rican diplomat stressed that, as the world confronts the “pervasive impacts” of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries must invest their scarce resources in “the well-being of humanity”.

For a summary of the event, prepared by ICAN treaty coordinator Tim Wright, click here.

5th anniversary of Iran nuclear deal almost upon us

Another important upcoming event is the 5th anniversary of the beleaguered Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA). 15 July is the anniversary of the agreement’s signature by China, France, Germany, European Union, Iran, Russia, United Kingdom and United States while, on 20 July 2015, the agreement was enshrined in UN Security Council resolution 2231:

On 20 July 2015, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2231 (2015)  endorsing the JCPOA. The Security Council affirmed that conclusion of the JCPOA marked a fundamental shift in its consideration of the Iranian nuclear issue, expressed its desire to build a new relationship with Iran strengthened by the implementation of the JCPOA and to bring to a satisfactory conclusion its consideration of this matter.

For our blog on the significance of the deal when it was achieved, see RI President on historic Iran nuclear deal (ceasefire.ca, 14 July 2015). For our commentary on the unilateral abrogation of the deal by the Trump administration, see: President Trump violates Iran nuclear deal (ceasefire.ca, 9 May 2018).

Nuclear deal on life support as Iran triggers dispute resolution mechanism

This extraordinarily important nuclear disarmament agreement is now on life support with Iran triggering its dispute resolution mechanism (paragraph 36) in a last-ditch effort to get the Europeans to do more to ameliorate the terrible toll that so-called unilateral American sanctions (actually illegal economic countermeasures) are wreaking on the Iranian economy and the lives of ordinary Iranians in the time of COVID.

In the lead-up to this action, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted:

E3 [Britain, France and Germany] must stop public face-saving & muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even own JCPOA duties due to total impotence in resisting US bullying. Behind facade, E3 are accessories to Trump & Netanyahu—& in no position to counsel Iran

Note that the Iranian action to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism was taken a day after a mysterious fire broke out at the Natanz facility where Iran enriches uranium. The Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Iran’s main uranium enrichment site, which is mostly underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

On 2 July, an article by Iran’s state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.

In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz.

Upcoming webinar on 15 July on future of Iran nuclear deal

On 15 July from 10 to 11 am EST, the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy (IPD), will host a webinar to mark the 5th anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal and to discuss its future with experts from China, Europe, Iran and the USA. In the view of IPD Advisory Board member and RI President Peggy Mason:

The question on every panelist’s mind, whether they articulate it or not, will surely be whether the JCPOA can be kept on life support until the hoped-for election of Democrat Joe Biden as the next U.S. President.

To register for the event click: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/1815943241909/WN_f9Ro2AAZQqyqY4QfNiiPdA

Russian Foreign Minister paints grim picture of nuclear confrontation with USA

According to the Russian state-controlled internet-based news channel RT, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to a high-profile forum, gave a grim assessment of the state of nuclear competition between his country and the USA, stating that nuclear risks have “increased substantially in the recent past”, and the USA is trading “strategic rivalry for strategic stability”. He went on:

We are particularly worried about the US’ biennial refusal to reaffirm a fundamental principle: the premise that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, and therefore, it should never be unleashed.

In Lavrov’s view, Washington wants to dismantle the entire arms control architecture (an oft-repeated goal of John Bolton during his tenure as Trump’s National Security Advisor), pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, and allowing the time to run out for the renewal of the New START treaty, signed with Russia in 2010.

That milestone agreement saw the US and Russia reduce their warheads to 1,550 each and their launchers to 800. It is set to expire next year, but according to RT, Lavrov was not optimistic that it would be extended.

Washington insists that the renewal of talks be made trilateral, with China joining in on the discussions. Beijing has said it would “be happy” to take part in the negotiations — but only if the US was willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level, which is about 20 times smaller.

On 8 July CBC online news carried an Associated Press story quoting Chinese official Fu Cong, the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, along lines similar to the RT story:

I can assure you that if the U.S. says that they are ready to come down to the Chinese level, China will be happy to participate the next day…. But actually, we know that that’s not going to happen.

Unexpected pause in tensions on the Korean Peninsula

On 24 June, Pyongyang abruptly stopped threats it had been making at Seoul for weeks, although the underpinnings of inter-Korean friction remain. Peninsular tensions could stay on simmer or escalate depending on how the parties manage an uncertain time before the U.S. election. – Duyeon Kim

For a superb analysis of the complex reasons behind the most welcome relative calm on the Korean peninsula, see: An Unexpected Pause in an Uncertain Time (Duyeon Kim, crisisgroup.org, 7 July 2020).

ANOTHER GRIM ANNIVERSARY OF NOTE

Have the lessons of Lac-Mégantic been learned?

July 6, 2020 is the seventh anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, which killed 47 people and orphaned 26 children, spilled an unprecedented six million litres of explosive Bakken shale oil, and incinerated the centre of this Québec town.

So begins a National Observer article by RI Board member Bruce Campbell, author of the book examining this man-made tragedy The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied. Campbell is also adviser to the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, which is currently conducting an audit of rail safety.

The article poses the following questions:

Seven years after this tragedy what has been learned? Is the transportation of oil by rail safer? Are the tracks sound and well-maintained? Are the tank cars sufficiently crash resistant? Has the government’s safety oversight system improved?  Have the railways become more attentive to safety especially when it conflicts with costs?

Shockingly, in Campbell’s view, the answer to all these questions is a resounding no.

He concludes the article with:

The window is still open for history to repeat itself. We should not have to wait for another disaster to rediscover that the lessons of Lac-Mégantic have not been learned.

For those without a subscription to the National Observer, the full article is available here with the kind permission of the author.

Photo credit: wikimedia images (A-bomb testing)

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