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Jakarta Post

A nuclear weapons-free world for future generations

  • Alexandre Faite

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Jakarta   /   Thu, January 28, 2021   /   01:55 am
A nuclear weapons-free world for future generations Estimated global nuclear warhead inventories. (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute/US Department of State)

In July 2017, 122 states agreed to endorse a new international agreement that would ban nuclear weapons from existence in the world. Realizing the massive humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was heralded as the first step to safeguarding humanity’s future by eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.

Not only prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons, the TPNW also prohibits the threat to use, development, production, testing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. The TPNW not only bans nuclear weapons from being used or developed, the treaty also focuses on victim assistance and environmental remediation from the effects of nuclear weapons use and testing.  

The treaty will also integrate with the existing international system gradually built by other treaties related to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In fact, the TPNW will complement the present mechanism—with the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone being part of it.

Given the comprehensive prohibition against and regulation of nuclear weapons under this treaty, many dubbed the TPNW’s adoption as the triumph of humanity.

There was, however, uncertainty whether the treaty would be effective and whether it would be ratified by a sufficient number of states to take legal effect. This doubt can now be replaced with a more optimistic note. At the time that this article is being written, 51 states have ratified the treaty, surpassing the threshold of 50 ratification instruments for it to come into force.

On Jan. 22, the TPNW officially entered into force and became part of the international law framework that is dedicated to the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

It was indeed a long and, at times, difficult road for the international community to reach this milestone.

In 2017, only three countries ratified the treaty. In 2018, 16 countries followed suit. In 2019, 15 more countries ratified the treaty. The following year, the number of ratifications finally reached 51 when 17 countries ratified the instrument even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does this progress tell us? This commitment quite categorically illustrates that humanity does and must prevail.

Countries, along with international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations, as well as civil society groups, have a common understanding that a nuclear weapons-free world is the future that our next generations deserve.

As a long-awaited tool to prevent any future use of nuclear weapons that humankind could never effectively respond to, the TPNW is even more welcomed. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our challenged public healthcare systems and their incapacity to deal with a large-scale public health emergency of catastrophic proportions, such as what the use of nuclear weapons would create, just as the international community would also be unable to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to deal with the magnitude of the devastation and suffering caused.

This realization is likely what drove more countries to ratify the TPNW in 2020 when a global pandemic of unprecedented nature was severely affecting almost every aspect of our lives and continues to do so in 2021.

Younger generations, who will steer and inherit this planet, have spoken out against nuclear weapons. A 2019 global survey commissioned by the ICRC that polled more than 16,000 millennials (aged 20-35) from 16 countries, including from Indonesia, found major support for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The survey also showed that this young generation agrees that it is never acceptable to use nuclear weapons.

In terms of joining a treaty that completely prohibits nuclear weapons, 54 percent of the respondents from Indonesia said that they would want to see their country join such a treaty. Similar views were shared by millennials from the 15 other countries surveyed (Afghanistan, Ukraine, Colombia, Switzerland, Nigeria, Israel, Malaysia, France, Syria, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa and Mexico). Only 13 percent of Indonesian respondents opposed Indonesia’s participation in said treaty.

The more significant outcome from the above survey is that more than 80 percent of the respondents considered the mere existence of nuclear arsenals a threat to humanity. The views of these millennials are in fact compatible with what many states wanted to achieve through the TPNW, namely a world free of nuclear weapons for humanity’s future generations.

To achieve this overall objective, the TPNW also seeks universal adherence from all countries by requiring state parties to push for ratification by those that are not yet to it. The goals of the TPNW are, after all, best actualized when promoted and respected together. Sharing this confidence, the ICRC would thus welcome more ratifications of the treaty by states to further guarantee the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and ensure that humanity prevails.

In addition, the ICRC welcomes the reaffirmation of the goal of preserving Southeast Asia as a nuclear weapons-free zone, which was made during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on Jan. 21. It also welcomes the statement stressing the importance of the full and effective implementation of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty), which is a regional treaty on a nuclear weapons-free zone.

This regional treaty is now complemented by another international agreement that can strengthen the overall objective of having a nuclear weapons-free world.

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The author is the head of the ICRC’s regional delegation to Indonesia and Timor-Leste. The views expressed are personal.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.