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ICAN Expects Nuclear Ban Treaty to Enter into Force in 2019

By Neena Bhandari

Photo: Tim Wright addressing the UN conference to ban nuclear weapons on behalf of ICAN on the second last day of negotiations on 6 July 2017. Credit: ICAN | Vimeo

SYDNEY (IDN) – As the world witnesses an increase in nuclear sabre-rattling in 2018, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is supporting global public movement to put pressure on governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. ICAN’s Treaty Coordinator Tim Wright (TW) spoke to IDN's Neena Bhandari (NB) about disarmament, raising awareness about the risk and consequences of nuclear weapons, and why the world needs a nuclear ban treaty more than ever before. [P 06JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF

Wright expects the Treaty to enter into force in 2019. He commends South Korea's "great leadership" role by initiating the inter-Korean dialogue. "But true peace must be based on the total rejection of nuclear weapons by all nations, not just North Korea." The rejection by President Donald Trump of the Iran nuclear deal, he says, "undermines the non-proliferation efforts."

Following is complete text of the interview:

NB: As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Coordinator for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, what in your opinion has changed in the global disarmament scenario since ICAN was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize?

TW: Being the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has helped ICAN shine the light on the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It has contributed to the momentum in gaining signatures and ratifications. It has shown that an alternative pathway is possible and that we don’t need to live forever in a world on the brink of nuclear war.

We said in our Nobel lecture that we have a choice between the end of us and the end of nuclear weapons. I think that simple message has resonated with the global public. People everywhere are deeply concerned about the threat that these horrific weapons pose to humanity and they want to see governments take urgent steps to eliminate this threat. The public is desperate for change. We have people across the world, who are working to get their governments to sign up to this Treaty.

NB: Since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature on September 20, 2017, 58 countries have signed and 10 have ratified it. Fifty countries must ratify the Treaty for it to enter into force. The UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament scheduled for May 14-16, 2018 has been postponed indefinitely. When do you expect the Treaty to come into force?

TW: We are hopeful that the Treaty will enter into force in 2019. We are working towards that target. For the Treaty to come into force we need 40 more ratifications. We know of many countries that are well advanced in their ratification processes. Some countries should be ready to deposit their ratification instruments in the next few months.

We expect New Zealand and Ireland to ratify the Treaty by the middle of this year. Many of the Latin American countries have submitted the Treaty to their congresses and they are expected to ratify it this year. So, the Treaty should be well on the way to entering into force by the end of this year.

There was a general feeling that given all the activity on nuclear disarmament in New York in 2017, the 2018 UN High Level Conference was in a way less crucial than it had previously been considered. There were various factors that led to the indefinite postponement, particularly a lack of organisation on the part of the originators of the resolution that set up the conference.

ICAN was not involved in the preparation of the conference. We want to focus on increasing the number of signatures and ratifications of the Treaty. We are concentrating our efforts towards the first meeting of the parties to the Treaty, which will happen within one year of the Treaty entering into force.

Advancing North Korea's denuclearisation and promoting nuclear disarmament

NB: It seems the United States-North Korea summit scheduled for June 12 is now going ahead. What outcome do you expect from the summit for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to come into force? What are your thoughts on South Korea's active role in bringing about peace on the Korean Peninsula?

TW: It remains unclear whether the summit will take place. We have heard comments from both Mr Kim [North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un] and Mr Trump [U.S. President Donald Trump] that it might be cancelled or the date might change. Both are very unpredictable leaders. Anything could happen, but we do remain cautiously optimistic that something positive will come out of this process.

South Korea has shown great leadership by initiating this dialogue. Mr Moon [South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in] is the sensible adult in the equation. But true peace must be based on the total rejection of nuclear weapons by all nations, not just North Korea. It’s crucial that South Korea rejects the idea of protection from the so-called nuclear umbrella of the United States. This dangerous military construct reinforces the fallacious belief that nuclear weapons enhance security.

We want to show that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is highly relevant to advancing the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and promoting nuclear disarmament more widely. We are calling on all the countries involved in these talks to sign and ratify the Treaty and use it as a tool for realising nuclear disarmament.

NB: What does the United States withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal mean for the world? Will Iran begin enriching uranium at industrial level? Will this augur a nuclear arms race in the Middle East?

TW: This is a very concerning development. Every indication was that Iran was in full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The International Atomic Energy Agency had verified on a number of occasions that Iran was doing what it had undertaken to do as part of the Agreement. This move by the U.S. is completely unjustified and it undermines the non-proliferation efforts. I think it sends a dangerous message to radicals in Iran, who might be eager to see an Iranian nuclear weapons programme. I don’t believe that the current Iranian government is intent on developing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. withdrawal from the deal also has broader ramifications. For example, it will make it more difficult for the U.S. to be taken seriously in any negotiating process with North Korea. Why would North Korea expect the U.S. to honour its word when it hasn’t done so with respect to Iran. The European countries, which are parties to the Agreement [UK, Russia, France and Germany], have responded to the U.S. withdrawal with strong criticism, but we need to move beyond simply focusing on non-proliferation.

We must all do away with the weapons that already exist and every country that is part of this Agreement possesses nuclear weapons other than Iran. We would like to see the European countries join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and actually eliminate their nuclear weapons. Germany doesn’t possess its own nuclear weapons, but it hosts the U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory.

NB: A recent paper in New England Journal of Medicine says, Disarmament has stalled with a nuclear strike “only a computer malfunction, other human or technical error, or military escalation away”? What steps must urgently be taken to reduce this likelihood?

TW: I think all nuclear arms states can take steps to reduce the risk of inadvertent use of their nuclear weapons. This would involve removing the weapons from hair-trigger alert and then from active deployment. I think the only absolute way to guarantee that the weapons will never be used again is to dismantle them irreversibly. So long as these weapons exist in the world, there will be a grave risk that they will one day be used again with catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences.

In addition to urging countries to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, ICAN will be continuing to raise public awareness of the risk and consequences of nuclear weapons. Many people remain unaware of the actual danger that we face.

The U.S. and Russia possess between them more than 90 percent of world’s nuclear weapons. We need to see leadership from both these countries towards disarmament. I think that leadership will only come with domestic public pressure and pressure from the rest of the international community and that is why it is so important that we have a vast majority of states joining this new Treaty quickly and showing that they urgently want disarmament.

NB: What has been the response to the new Treaty from countries, such as India, Pakistan and Israel, who possess nuclear weapons, but are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

TW: India and Pakistan have long criticised the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on the basis that it establishes a discriminatory regime by treating differently those countries that possessed nuclear weapons before the Treaty’s negotiations and those that developed them subsequently.

However, the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons treats all states equally and so there is no longer an excuse for India and Pakistan not to support disarmament steps. We haven’t heard any clear justifications from those states as to why they are refusing to sign and ratify the Treaty. I hope there will be greater pressure on the Indian and Pakistani governments from the people of those countries and ICAN will be working to build the public movement in those countries.

As for Israel, we have a campaign presence there. The Israeli Disarmament Movement is a partner organisation of ICAN and they have worked to generate public debate about nuclear weapons. They have had discussions within the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) about disarmament and they have achieved small gains. But there is a lot of work still to be done and the new treaty offers a way for all states to contribute to disarmament on an equal basis. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 May 2018]

Photo: Tim Wright addressing the UN conference to ban nuclear weapons on behalf of ICAN on the second last day of negotiations on 6 July 2017. Credit: ICAN | Vimeo

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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