Why acrimony still impedes nuclear disarmament

On 27th March United Nations Kicked off five-day conference to negotiate on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

Almost 120 states gathered at UN to draft a treaty banning nuclear weapon. Some more than 2,000 scientists also signed an open letter of endorsement to UN talks on nuke-ban. In sharp contrast to the official rhetoric, proponents of nuclear disarmament: the United Kingdom; France; Israel; Russia and the United States voted no. China, India and Pakistan abstained from voting.

How ironic, the P-5 states are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which sees complete disarmament as its end goal. The deep divisions between nuclear haves and have-nots reflect misplaced priorities yet, also put global nuclear disarmament efforts in dim lights. 

In an unusual move, Japan, the only country that witnessed devastation of nuclear weapons shocked much of the world by announcing abstention from the meeting. 


The decision triggered criticism and anger from Survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Toshiki Fujimori, assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, an organization for atomic bomb victims who backed the landmark treaty expressed anxiety and disappointment with Tokyo for not endorsing the move. It indicates major policy shift in Japan’s nuclear outlook.


Earlier in 2016, Japan signed a controversial nuclear pact with India, its first pact with non-NPT signatory. Before softening its stance ahead of lucrative deal, Tokyo had declined any kind of civil-nuclear agreement with New Delhi on NPT issue. The hawkish nuclear-armed North Korean nuclear being in the neighborhood might also be an impetus behind Japan’s policy reversal. 

The P-5 states’ lack of interest to participate in nuke banning dialogue indicates that nuclear disarmament will remain a pipe dream. Lack of consensus over nuclear issues would only lead to a potential global nuclear arms race.

The United States needs to take some bold initiatives. Former U.S. president Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states Ford taps Obama, Clinton alum to navigate Senate hearing MORE took bold step toward a world without nuclear weapons and made disarmament a major U.S. defense policy. However, in clear contradiction to earlier commitments, U.S. plans to send some $ 1 trillion on nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years.

It’s a baffled disappointment for the supporters of arms control. 

Ironically, the West has been at the forefront of nuclear disarmament initiatives but its reluctance towards nuclear ban conference is disappointing. There are more than 15,000 nuclear warheads and 90 percent of the global nuclear weapons stocks belong to Russia and the U.S.

According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), U.S.’ 6,800 warheads is second to Russia’s 7,000. 

President Donald Trump’s tweet about his desire to "greatly strengthen and expand" the "nuclear capability" of the United States remained “hottest buzzwords” in global strategic circles. Some experts called it “unnecessary chest thumping.”

In a hostile global scenario, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE’s nuclear policy will be instrumental in shaping global nuclear order. Earlier, U.S. administrations have set wrong precedent by signing civilian nuclear cooperation deal with India which is yet to sign NPT. Such deals, backed by political and economic expediencies, have added to fragility of South Asian environment.

Global nuclear order has further deteriorated due to the lack of effectiveness of international cartels such as NPT and West is directly responsible for ineffectiveness of such regimes. 

Hence, there seems no immediate signs of “good faith negotiations towards complete disarmament” as NPT articulates. 

It is extremely crucial to address concerns of non-nuclear weapon states who are consistently raising serious concerns on deadly consequences of nuclear weapon use. The contemporary global environment is not conducive due to the number of conflicts emerging from Syria to Afghanistan and Iraq. Maintenance of world peace has become herculean task in the wake of unprecedented emergence of non-state actors.

In such circumstances, major powers’ lack of participation in high-level negotiations aimed at banning nuclear weapons is disappointing. Consequently, a scenario of massive trust deficit between nuclear haves and have-nots is increasing. For instance, from 1946 to 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests in Marshall Islands, a tiny Pacific Ocean situated between Hawaii and Guam, made entire island contaminated.

In April 2014 Marshal Island filed a lawsuit in International court of justice (ICJ) against nuclear states under ICJ jurisdiction. Marshall Islands failed as ICJ has no mandate to give any ruling on disarmament. 

It clearly shows that non-nuclear weapons states have serious reservations over the global nuclear mechanism. 

Irony lies in the fact that these states are unable to bring policy changes because 5 permanent members of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are not in homogenous bloc.  Hence, P-5 states need to revisit their approaches on critical issues that needs greater participation and unanimity.

Yasir Hussain is a an expert in Middle Eastern politics and international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. His work has appeared in South Asia Journal and The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.