By Omer Akif.
5 August 2020
6 August 2020, marks 75 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima-Nagasaki wreaked absolute havoc and devastation on hundreds of thousands of people, horrific remnants of which persist to this day. A more frightening thought is the fact that there are now at least 9 sovereign states possessing nuclear weapons, compared to the only one in 1945. Nuclear stockpiles at the time of Hiroshima-Nagasaki amounted to a grand total of 2. The present-day estimates place this figure in excess of 14,000. Global actors including states, civil-society, humanitarian organizations and activist-groups have long pushed for a complete ban and de-commissioning of existing and future nuclear-weapons. These efforts have brought some returns, in the shape of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and more recently, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, these instruments largely lack authoritative significance and impact due to limited or non-existent participation from nuclear-states and a lack of general cohesion among the international community.
The matter is further complicated by the International Court of Justice’s Nuclear advisory opinion, where the world court stated that it could not ascertain the legality of nuclear weapons. The ICJ did, however, opine that any use of nuclear weapons has to comply with rules and principles of international humanitarian law including the principle of distinction, proportionality and the prohibition of unnecessary suffering. Similarly, in principle, the NPT’s entry into force does oblige states to move towards a world without nuclear weapons. This is coupled with the fact that 122 states have voted in favor of banning nuclear weapons under the Nuclear-ban treaty.
Many states have justified their pursuit of building nuclear weapons under the pretense of nuclear deterrence ensured through mutually assured destruction. Security concerns and national defense are often invoked as primary reasons for thrusting funds from the national wealth into nuclear arsenals. Naturally, there are serious merits to these claims and it would not be wise to disregard them from the outset. The Justifications for pursuing nuclear weapons encompass practical considerations such as legitimate security threats and uncertain politics that may be warranted on veritable grounds. Despite the reasons for their creation, the possession of nuclear weapons is hardly any cause for celebration. A dooms-day device built in the name of protection may be rationalized as a necessity by states but they certainly aren’t tools worth glorifying. There’s nothing noble about building, possessing or God-forbade deploying nuclear weapons. The endless potential for suffering and total destruction caused by nuclear weapons should haunt all Governments and policy makers. Such ruthless means of annihilation should never become symbols of nationalism, no matter what military advantages they may carry. This realization in the national ethos of a country is important so that nuclear weapons do not ever represent the pride of its people, notwithstanding the initial grounds for building them. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, emphasizes that “Weapons with catastrophic humanitarian consequences cannot credibly be viewed as instruments of security.”
It should be evident that growing number of nuclear weapons has cultivated an environment of perpetual fear that continuously threatens the existence of the human race. No country, society, or individual should be subjected to that sort of fear ever.
It is important to note that collective efforts are needed by citizens, civil society members, policy-makers, governments and military officials across the globe to enable an environment that minimizes if not eliminates the risk of future nuclear weapon use. The urgency in this matter, simply cannot be overstated. The indiscriminate and catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons, as documented, also begs the question whether they could ever be employed with the tenets of international humanitarian law. For humanity’s sake, current and future generations included, it would be better if this questions remains an academic concern in textbooks and not a tactical query to be made during an armed conflict. Nuclear non-proliferation and complete disarmament are the only sensible paths ahead, if we want to ensure a future, let alone a good future.
[None of the views and opinions represented in this article are necessarily representative of the official views and opinions of Jus Cogens, or any institutes the author may be affiliated with.]