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UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty turns 50 – not a lot of hope for complete nuclear disarmament

Nuclear-free world unlikely as UN treaty turns 50, DW, 1 July 18  Fifty years after countries signed the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, there are still nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons spread around the world. Experts today believe that complete nuclear disarmament remains unlikely.

If it weren’t the site of a historical anachronism, hardly anyone would take any notice of Büchel, a small town west of Frankfurt, between Koblenz and Trier. Büchel is home to the last remaining atomic bombs in Germany, which have been stored here since the end of the Cold War. The air force base here allegedly houses around 20 B61 bombs, although the exact number is secret. But one thing is certain: each of them is many times more destructive than the bombs that wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The atomic bombs in Büchel belong to the US, but in an emergency they would be flown to a target and dropped by German Tornado fighter-bombers. Pilots from the Tactical Air Force Wing 33 have been regularly practicing with dummy bombs for decades. The squadron is the main employer in the area, but the existence of these nuclear weapons doesn’t show up anywhere on Büchel’s website.

This strategy, in which other NATO states also participate, is called “nuclear sharing.” Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey also have US nuclear weapons on their territory. The concept of nuclear deterrence which underlies this strategy is still in great demand. As recently as 2012, it was confirmed by NATO as a “core element of collective defense.”

Original goal: Nuclear disarmament

The mood was very different 50 years ago. In the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed by the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union on July 1, 1968, the signatory states undertook to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They were also striving for complete nuclear disarmament. Germany joined the treaty in 1975, and it has since been signed by more than 190 states.

For a long time, the treaty was regarded as the cornerstone of global disarmament efforts. Today, it appears to be little more than a toothless tiger. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates there are still nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons worldwide. According to their research, the majority are held by the US (6,800) and Russia (7,000).

According to theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff, a professor at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and long-standing member of the German Ethics Council, the nuclear strategies of both sides are based on maintaining this residual stock, at least at its current level.

“This is ethically unacceptable,” he said. The nuclear powers have “written off” the goal of nuclear disarmament — if not in public, at least behind closed doors.

The clock is ticking…

Tom Sauer, a political scientist and disarmament expert at the University of Antwerp, believes the treaty is “in total crisis.” The last review conference in 2015 broke down, and he fears this will also be the case for the next one in 2020.

He believes that this state of affairs will continue until the signatory countries finally fulfil their obligations, which include a massive reduction of warheads down to zero, he says. “They promised that in 1968, but they’re not doing it.”

But instead of reducing their stockpiles, nuclear weapon states have been modernizing their weapons and incorporating new technology, such as sophisticated guidance systems. Experts say the danger of nuclear war is greater today than it has been for decades.

In January, a panel of scientists, including 17 Nobel Prize winners, set the symbolic Doomsday Clock— which measures how close the planet could be to catastrophe — at 11:58 p.m.. The readjustment put the clock at the closest it’s been to midnight since the height of the Cold War…..

New UN attempt

Has the danger posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons been misjudged, 50 years after the signing of the non-proliferation treaty? Sauer fears this might be the case. He remains concerned that disarmament talks between the US and Russia are currently on hold, and that other countries, in particular Iran and Saudi Arabia, may be striving for nuclear weapons of their own.

Sauer hopes the United Nations will eventually support a complete ban on nuclear weapons, as outlined in a treaty adopted in July 2017 by 122 votes from its 193 member states. Once 50 countries ratify this treaty, it will become legally binding. To date, only 10 countries have done so — none of them major world powers.

If and when that happens, all the signatory countries would then consider nuclear weapons illegal, said Sauer. “The wind is changing, and nuclear powers are on the defensive.”……

….https://www.dw.com/en/nuclear-free-world-unlikely-as-un-treaty-turns-50/a-44471683

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July 2, 2018 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war

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