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Nuclear powers say nuclear arms are strategic weapons. But what is strategic in committing suicide

Jan 20, 2011, 12:54 PM | Article By: Abdoulie Sey, University of The Gambia

I do not think that there is any need for us to belabor on the dangers of nuclear weapons. Already there is more than enough literature on that aspect. Anyone, who knows about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents, can extrapolate the huge destruction that can stem from a nuclear explosion triggered either by accident or by human madness. Our focus should instead be on how to get rid of these weapons of self destruction. These weapons are a threat to life on earth and the environment. Volumes of pages have been written by scientists on the dangers of pollution from our cars and factories to the environment but I believe the atomic bomb is more of a threat than any agent of pollution.

Before I present my disarmament plan, I would like to quote President Kennedy, ‘Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.’

I agree entirely with what he said about the need to abolish nuclear arms before the arms abolish us. President Kennedy was a great leader and what he said even if judged as mere rhetoric, still has an underlining truth. If we fail to abolish our nuclear weapons, the weapons will not fail to abolish us. After all, our purpose of building them is to use them to abolish ourselves. What a folly for the human race. If we do not act now, time will prove him right. Though President Kennedy himself failed to disarm the USA and he nearly used nuclear weapons in the confrontation with the then Soviet Union over the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, I believe we can succeed where he failed. Times have changed.

 It is not wholly true that the world has not done much to curb the spread of nuclear arms and nuclear disarmament in general but it is true that the steps taken are not enough. The major nuclear powers notably the USA and the former Soviet Union whose nuclear arsenal is now in the hands of Russia, had many a time discussed and signed nuclear reduction treaties.  We have heard about the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). The famous Non-Proliferation Treaty which calls on non-nuclear powers to agree not to seek to acquire the weapons is another effort to keep the world safe from nuclear arms.

However, none of the above has succeeded in either preventing the spread of nuclear weapons or total disarmament. As I write this article, seven countries, the USA, Britain, France, China, Russia, India, and Pakistan are declared nuclear powers whilst another two Israel and North Korea are highly suspected of possessing nuclear arms or capable of doing so, if they choose to, in few years. In fact, in May 2009, North Korea announced that it had successfully carried out an underground nuclear test. Earlier in 2006, it had made a similar claim.  The list is not yet exhausted as Iran is being accused of trying to build nuclear weapons and there could be other countries working on the atomic bomb or maybe they already have them without the world knowing.

Well this is the plan I think can free the world of nuclear arms. It is a three point agenda consisting of, disarmament within a timeframe, a new mandate for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and a no attempt policy.

Disarmament within a time frame is meant for the countries possessing nuclear weapons. Though the UN has taken an active interest in freeing the world of this threat, most past and current attempts at nuclear arms reduction are done outside the UN with the nuclear powers directly negotiating their own way out. Now, we have to change this approach. The non-nuclear powers of the UN have to set the agenda for total disarmament not reduction. They have to call on the nuclear powers to disarm totally within five years or else they face sanctions ranging from a total trade embargo to the cutting off of all diplomatic ties with them. Did I hear you say what an unrealistic idea? No, it is not unrealistic. The nuclear arms madness needs equally mad bold action for redress. The non-nuclear powers must not leave the fate of this beautiful planet into the hands of a few lukewarm negotiators claiming to be committed to disarmament when in fact all they do is just recycle their rhetoric and take no concrete action towards disarmament. What we have seen for the past half a century should convince us that the nuclear powers do not mean what they say and they do not say what they mean. They are not willing to part with their weapons of suicide.  It is only the Republic of South Africa which had nuclear weapons before, that has shown enough courage to voluntarily dismantle her weapons of mass destruction, in the 1990s. If the nuclear powers have the genuine resolve to disarm, they would have done so a long time ago as South Africa has done. Unfortunately we have to force them to copy the South African example.

The world is not satisfied with reduction as even a single bomb is a lethal threat to human survival. Nuclear weapons should not concern only Russia and America; they should and must concern all. Unless the nuclear powers disarm totally, they cannot convince other countries to shy away from aspiring to go nuclear.

North Korea and Iran are not listening to UN resolutions condemning their nuclear projects (Iran is suspected, no solid evidence yet) because they feel that the declared nuclear powers are not serious with disarmament.

In addition to the above, the IAEA must be given a new robust mandate by the UN in order for it to be more instrumental in the quest for a nuclear arms free world. Besides its current mandate of inspecting nuclear sites, the UN should give the IAEA the mandate to run all civil nuclear plants in the world. They should build and maintain these plants. Or still why not the IAEA have a universal uranium enrichment plant where countries wishing to make use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes can get their ingredients from. No other institution or body must be allowed to enrich uranium. If we still think that the IAEA should stop at inspection, we have to make this inspection policy more stringent. It makes little sense for states to reserve the right to expel IAEA inspectors any time they wish. Is it not ridiculous that North Korea can invite the IAEA in the morning just to send them packing in the evening? How can the IAEA be effective under such circumstances? We need a stronger IAEA.

The IAEA can still be mandated to supervise all uranium mining on earth and the mining of any other minerals vital to nuclear energy generation. I do not know what you think of the nuclear threat but I am of the conviction that unprecedented drastic action is needed to deliver the world from this self imposed danger.

The No Attempt Policy is similar to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, unlike the later which is optional, the No Attempt Policy would be compulsory and binding on all non-nuclear states. They have to agree not to attempt to build nuclear arms. Should any state refuse such a commitment, she should be treated as a nuclear power and face sanctions accordingly.

Some may think that sanctions would not work as they have done little to dampen either North Korea or Iran. The truth is those sanctions are not based on a universal agreed principle followed by all countries. When the UN starts sanctions with the nuclear powers, no country would have reason to accuse the world of double standards. At the moment there is a great feeling worldwide that when it comes to nuclear weapons, countries which are friendly to the West are considered less dangerous and therefore can possess them without sparking off a quarrel with the world. This double standard has to stop if sanctions would ever mean anything.

In conclusion I believe that the struggle for a nuclear free world is not the responsibility of only the UN, the USA or Russia, it is the responsibility of all of us. Tomorrow if you find yourself in the decision making circle of your nation, do not hesitate to vote no to nuclear weapons. If you are far removed from the corridors of power at the moment, petition your government to act now. It does not count whether you live in a nuclear state or not. What counts is that you are a citizen of this beautiful planet. Give the empire builders no chance to wreck themselves and our beautiful world.