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2018 UN talks on disarmament: What to expect from Indonesia?

London | Tue, December 19, 2017 | 02:42 pm
2018 UN talks on disarmament: What to expect from Indonesia? Say No to Nuclear:Members attend the signing ceremony for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons September 20, 2017 at the United Nations in New York. (AFP/Don Emert)

We still vividly remember the horror of August 1945, when the United States dropped the world's first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Decades later, multilateral efforts have attempted to contain the spread of nuclear weapons to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world.

One of these efforts is the Treaty of Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that entered into force in 1970. To date, a total of 190 states including five countries that possess nuclear weapons are state parties of NPT, making the treaty the largest in membership of any arms-control agreement.

NPT incorporates three pillars; 1) preventing the spread of nuclear weapons/non-proliferation, 2) total abolishment of nuclear arsenals/disarmament, and 3) peaceful civilian uses of nuclear energy. While non-proliferation has dominated the NPT agenda, recently marked by the success of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran Deal, countries including Indonesia have continuously voiced concerns over the very slow pace of nuclear disarmament and hence question the commitments of nuclear weapons states.

Russia and the US are believed to have the largest arsenals, accounting for 90 percent of around 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world. Worse, other countries such as Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea that also possess nuclear weapons remain outside the treaty.

To challenge NPT's status quo approach, in 2013 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a pioneering resolution submitted by the Non-Aligned Movement of which Indonesia is a member.

This resolution decided to boost disarmament by holding the first-ever UN high-level conference on disarmament next year and established Sept. 26   as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The UN talks would be the first of its kind to push for a new treaty that categorically prohibits nuclear weapons.

Indonesia should actively contribute to make the UN talks effective Indonesia is not only one of the strongest opponents of nuclear weapons, it has also actively encouraged all nations to counter modernization of nuclear warheads.  Jakarta's contributions are visible through its participation in international organizations and commitment to multilateral agreements concerning nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

Earlier this year in March and June 15 to July 7, Indonesia served as one of the vice presidents on the Negotiations Conference of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. On July 7 the UN introduced the first global treaty that bans all nuclear-weapon-related activities. In September Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi signed the agreement in New York. 

So far, a total of 122 states have signed the treaty while three have ratified. The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty will enter into force 90 days after 50 states have ratified.

Although an overwhelming number of countries view this treaty as UN's accomplishment towards elimination of nuclear weapons, nuclear-armed states and their allies skipped the July meeting and are less likely to sign the treaty anytime soon.

This treaty will not bear fruit overnight. However, it could affect nuclear disarmament and the current non-proliferation regime. That is why it is of vital importance that Indonesia and like-minded countries make the best of the 2018 conference and together come up with a concrete diplomatic solution to pressure nuclear-armed nations and their allies to sign and ratify the treaty.

The UN talks on disarmament should showcase Jakarta's determination to eliminate the double standards in enforcing non-proliferation efforts – by questioning the future of Israel's opaque nuclear posture and raising the agenda of a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone.

At the regional level, Indonesia should be able to persuade Singapore, who chose to abstain from voting in July, to support the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty by affirming the shared value and principles of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.

Under its “free and active” foreign policy doctrine, Indonesian should feel free to consistently criticize and pressure nuclear-armed states without being restrained by any special relationships with these countries. Moreover, Indonesia should take a proactive approach in providing a range of measures that can be taken by nuclear-armed states to support this treaty eventually.

Finally, as the coordinator of the Non-Aligned Movement’s working group on disarmament, it is Indonesia's responsibility to call for universal adherence to the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty. To this end, Indonesian delegates should provide concrete action plans for nuclear-armed states and influence them to contribute to a world without nuclear weapons.

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The writer earned her master’s degree from King’s College London’s War Studies Department. She recently presented her paper on an Indonesian perspective on proliferation at the 2017 International Student/Young Pugwash Conference in Astana, Kazakhstan. Her research interests include Indonesian leadership in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as well as Hezbollah’s military strategy and tactics in the 1985-2000 wars against Israel.

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