By Delia Chatoor
On December 5, 2013, the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution which, inter alia, declared September 26 as ‘the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons’, and urged States to begin negotiations for “the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention to prohibit nuclear weapons”.
Since 2014, on September 26, the UN has convened a high-level meeting at which governments and civil society express their views for nuclear disarmament.
In 2017, the international community went one step further with the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and as October 2019, 33 States have become party to the treaty with another 79 being signatories.
On September 26, 2019, Trinidad and Tobago was one of the countries depositing its Instrument of Ratification and at the high-level meeting on that day, there were renewed calls for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and for the resources spent on their modernisation to be diverted to the most serious international development priorities.
The call for the prohibition of nuclear weapons is not new but emerged shortly after the founding of the UN in 1945 and the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 by nuclear bombs. While the resilience of the people enabled the rebuilding of the two cities, the scars are still evident as can be seen in the museums and peace gardens on the sites.
Emerging from years of discussion in political, health and disarmament fora and an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1996, a greater awareness and appreciation of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that could result from a limited use of nuclear weapons developed.
Furthermore, calls for general disarmament did not lead to any reduction by certain States in their modernisation, research and testing of systems and with nine States possessing approximately 14,000 nuclear weapons and hundreds being on high alert, the world was not deemed to be a safe place.
Certain non-nuclear weapon states have now, however, expressed the desire to acquire such weapons and this is contrary to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
During the negotiations of the TPNW, therefore, delegates focused on the “human-centred” consequences of the use and continued possession of nuclear weapons by a few States.
Additionally, research over the years and as recent as October 2019 a report has shown that “there is no such thing as a contained nuclear conflict”. There would be instant deaths, post-detonation fatalities and causalities, and the reduction in surface sunlight, leading to a global impact on agriculture with resulting famine. No one country or any international/regional organisation has the expertise, personnel or medical facilities to assist as seen after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In November 2017, Pope Francis wrote that “nuclear weapons create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basics for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”
August 6 and 9, 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and on November 24, 2019, the Holy Father will visit the two cities during which he will not only pay tribute to the Christian martyrs at Nagasaki but also those killed in that city and as well as at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima.
On entering the Memorials, there is an ambience of peace and beauty in the well-laid out gardens and museums. Lectures are regularly delivered by the Hibakushas, survivors of the impact of the bombs.
The prohibition and total elimination of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons must be of concern to all. From the experiences of the bombing of the two Japanese cities and the lingering after effects, we are reminded that no one can be declared the victor. No weapon which would lead to untold catastrophic consequences on Planet Earth should be seen as an instrument of peace. Retention of just one opens mankind to risks and threats which are unnecessary.
Delia Chatoor is a retired foreign service officer, Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Red Cross Society, and a Lay Minister of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help, San Fernando Parish.