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Nuclear Disarmament Is Humanity's Common Cause

By Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan

Note: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan is Chairman of Blue Banner NGO and former Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the United Nations in New York and Vienna. This article comes in run-up to the UN General Assembly's two sessions – scheduled for March 27-31 and June 15-July 7 – to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (IDN-INPS) - Some believe that those that do not possess nuclear weapons have no basis to demand that those that do possess alter their nuclear policies. However, as the three recent international conferences on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons vividly demonstrated yet again, the detonation of a nuclear weapon, intentionally or otherwise, will have catastrophic consequences with far-reaching climatic, genetic and other devastating effects. [P40]

This, of course, will surely trigger a chain reaction of its own as well. Therefore global nuclear disarmament cannot be the exclusive domain of nuclear weapon states and their allies. Moreover, Article VI of the NPT commits all of its states parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”. The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones is one of the concrete regional measures of promoting nuclear non-proliferation and contributing to greater confidence.

Though in the post-cold war period nuclear weapons have been reduced to around 15.000 worldwide, the number of nuclear weapons possessors has increased. The race to modernize such weapons, to “perfect” the means of their delivery and to regulate their destructive capacity is making them more “useable,” thus making deterrence doctrines even more dangerous.

That is why in response to a lack of tangible progress in nuclear disarmament, the non-nuclear-weapon states and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have launched a campaign aimed at starting without delay international negotiations to prohibit and abolish such weapons. This has found reflection in the recently adopted resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”.

Mongolia’s case

As in other cases, Mongolia’s policies are connected with its geographical location and is a microcosm of the major events of a particular time period. In many cases, its policies are reflections of or reactions to the events happening in its immediate neighborhood, i.e. in Russia and China, in their mutual relations as well as with other major powers.

From the point of view of nuclear risks, Mongolia’s geographical and geopolitical location is unenviable. However that does not mean that it has to be a prisoner of geography and doomed to geographical determinism. On the contrary, its location demands that it be more creative so as not to be harmed or used to harm others.

Hence Mongolia tries, to the extent possible, to influence events in order to reduce possible unforeseen risks for itself. It could choose either to be passively affected by the perils of the nuclear age or try to play a somewhat active role by promoting its national interests and, mindful of the past history, by contributing to shaping its own future. Mongolia chose the latter.

Reminder of the recent risky past

During the cold war Mongolia was a Soviet satellite and closely followed pro-soviet policies. Thus, though Mongolia was against nuclear weapon tests in general, it condemned all such tests except for those of the Soviets, which had been conducted not far from the Mongolian territory. At that time it was considered politically incorrect to condemn Soviet tests since, Mongolia believed, Soviet nuclear weapons balanced the US, NATO and Chinese forces, and served as a “guarantee of world peace and stability”.

In the 1960s, during the Sino-Soviet dispute, Mongolia found itself involuntarily involved in it and, by implication, in their military standoff. When China developed nuclear weapons and the Sino-Soviet dispute turned into border clashes in 1969, the Soviets briefly entertained the idea or, at least made believe, of contemplating a preemptive strike against China’s fledgling nuclear weapons facilities and communicated their thoughts to its Warsaw Pact allies. The Soviets also approached the US for its possible reaction.

A preemptive strike would surely have had a devastating effect on international relations, especially on Mongolia since the Chinese side was well aware of the Soviet bases in Mongolia and the dual use weapons placed therein, and surely had plans to take counter measures. Mongolia’s role was that of a pawn that was to support the Soviet forces and their military activities. The US arsenal was also targeted at the Soviet bases in Mongolia.

The US response to the Soviets was that it would not idly sit by was perhaps decisive in avoiding a possible catastrophe. Had the conflict occurred, it would have made the 1962 Caribbean missile crisis a mere footnote in the annals of XX century history. This was an important lesson for Mongolia not to blindly side with one of the belligerent nuclear powers.

New security environment

The end of the cold war in early 1990s, normalization of Sino-Russian relations and withdrawal of Russian military bases and troops from Mongolia have radically changed the country’s external security environment. Mongolia was no longer a junior partner of a nuclear weapon state.

Moreover, its two neighbors have committed not to use territories or airspace of their neighboring third states against each other. Mongolia, in its turn, declared that henceforth it would pursue balanced relations with its neighbors and maintain neutrality in possible bilateral disputes between Russia and China that did not directly affect Mongolia’s vital interests.

Mongolia takes a stand

Mindful of the lessons of the cold war period, in September 1992 Mongolia declared itself a single-State nuclear-weapon-free zone (SS-NWFZ) and pledged to work to have that status internationally guaranteed. The gist was to underline that it did not have nuclear weapons on its territory and that no country near or far would be allowed to place such weapons on its territory. In practice this meant that no nuclear weapon threat would emanate from the Mongolian territory, which in size is as large as the territories of UK, France, Germany and Italy taken together. Thus Mongolia intended to serve as a positive contributor to the common cause of promoting greater confidence, predictability and stability.

Selection of path to achieve the goal

Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the most pressing international issues and can only be achieved by joint efforts and with the participation of the nuclear weapon states. In Mongolia’s case it was the first time that due to its geopolitical location a country decided to establish a SS-NWFZ despite the somewhat reluctance of the P5 to accept the novelty of this status in international relations. They saw it as precedent-setting for other small or island states to follow suit and declare their territories SS-NWFZs and expect security assurances from the P5 (five permanent members of the Security Council: USA, Russia, China, Britain and France).

To achieve its aim and contribute to the common efforts, Mongolia chose to follow the path of engagement, dialogue, ‘strategic patience’ and search for compromise. Working in that spirit with the P5 and other members of the United Nations, it was able to have the UNGA adopt in 1998 a resolution entitled “Mongolia’s international security and nuclear-weapon-free status” that welcomed its policy as contributing to stability and predictability in the region and even inscribed the issue on its agenda.

On its part, in February 2000 the State Great Hural (parliament) adopted a law that criminalized acts that would violate the nuclear-weapon-free status. It also formally outlawed the stationing and transit through its territory of nuclear weapons by any means. Mindful of the importance of the issue for the society as a whole, the law empowered NGOs and even individual persons, within the mandate provided by the legislation, to exercise public oversight of the implementation of the law and submit suggestions or proposals thereon to relevant state authorities.

Blue Banner NGO, established in 2005 for the purpose of promoting the country’s nuclear-weapon-free status, has three times initiated consideration by the Mongolian authorities on the implementation of the legislation and has submitted recommendations to the Government regarding the needed follow-up measures.

Numerous bilateral, trilateral and P5+Mongolia meetings were held to find a common ground and agreement on the issue. As a result of these meetings, Mongolia agreed to not insist on a legally-binding treaty that would define its unique status provided that the P5 would pledge to respect Mongolia’s status and refrain from any act that would contribute to its violation. In September 2012 the P5 and Mongolia signed parallel declarations on the understandings reached, underlining the utility of pursuing interests of all involved through dialogue, by political and diplomatic means.

In practical terms the P5 joint declaration meant that Mongolia would be an area of stability and predictability since none of the P5 would involve the country in their future nuclear rivalries, including in possible regional defense system(s), or counter defense system(s). In that sense the joint P5 declaration did not only serve the national interests of Mongolia, but also, in an age when time and space have become important strategic military assets, served the interests of regional stability and predictability; through the joint declaration the P5 and Mongolia also reassured each other that Mongolia and its vast territory would not be used against one other.

At present Mongolia is working to make the SS-NWFZ status an organic part of the East Asian security arrangement. As a Mongolian proverb says, a duck is calm when the lake is calm. This provides the country with the opportunity to spend less on its defenses (less than 1 percent of the state’s budget) and more on addressing the country’s developmental challenges, promoting human development and furthering human security for every member of the society, as prescribed in the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the regional level, Mongolian NGO Blue Banner is working with the like-minded NGOs and think tanks of Northeast Asia to promote the idea and elaborate the basic elements of a possible regional NWFZ, mindful, of course, of the region’s specific needs and challenges. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 March 2017]

Photo: Dr. J. Enkhsaikhan.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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