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Now, in the times of the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty, nuclear deterrence continues, but becomes increasingly discredited

Nuclear deterrence is an idea that became a potentially lethal ideology, one that remains influential despite having been increasingly discredited…………….

Spectres Of Nuclear ‘MAD’ness: Between Deterrence And Survival – Eurasia Review August 8, 2021K.M. Seethi With the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in place, is there an optimistic scenario of a nuclear-weapon free world? This might certainly be a difficult but persistently challenging question the world has been grappling with ever since the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by atomic bombs, way back in 1945. 

Spectres of nuclear holocaust have been haunting political communities across the world even after the end of Cold War. While the world’s most powerful nuclear-weapon states (NWS) have been locked in a military logjam—often characterised as ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD)—a few states in Asia (including threshold states like Iran) still get absorbed in the logic of ‘limited nuclear deterrence.’………………

Nukes Accumulation 

Paradoxical it may seem, the Asian continent has again become a hotbed of global nuclear threats with several nuclear-weapon states now spanning fault lines running through East Asia, in the Korean Peninsula, China’s eastern and southern coastline and across the Himalayas in South Asia and West Asia–and all of them presently recalibrating their nuclear profiles. And the share of Asia in the ‘horizontal proliferation’ is quite significant. As per the data brought out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the NWS—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Kore—together have in their arsenal an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2021. While Russia (6255) and the U.S. (5550) possess more than 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, China has 350 weapons in its inventory, followed by France (290), UK (225), Pakistan (165), India (156), Israel (90), and North.

Nuclear Ban Regime 

The efforts seeking a legally mandatory instrument to ban nuclear weapons have long been underway. However, they have found a new relevance in the past decade with the increasing awareness about the humanitarian and environmental costs of use of nuclear arms. ……………… culminated in the passing of a resolution (71/258) by the UN General Assembly in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination. And the Conference was held from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July in New York which led to the TPNW.  (Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons)

The Treaty envisages a broad set of regulations for prohibition on partaking in any nuclear weapon programmes and activities. These regulatory clauses stipulate that the signatories shall “not develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.” It also forbids “the deployment of nuclear weapons on national territory and the provision of assistance to any State in the conduct of prohibited activities.” The Treaty also makes it mandatory for the signatories “to provide adequate assistance to individuals affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, as well as to take necessary and appropriate measure of environmental remediation in areas under its jurisdiction or control contaminated as a result of activities related to the testing or use of nuclear weapons.” 

TPNW was adopted (by a vote of 122 States in favour, with one vote against and one abstention) at the United Nations on 7 July 2017, and opened for signature by the Secretary-General on 20 September 2017. Following the deposit with the Secretary-General of the 50th instrument of ratification or accession of the Treaty on 24 October 2020, it entered into force on 22 January 2021 in accordance with its Article 15 (1). 

‘Consensus’ For Opposition! 

TPNW, which currently has 86 signatory states, has been totally ignored by the NWS and NATO member states. ‘Consensus’ among the NWS in regard to their opposition to the Treaty could also be a grim reminder. For example, in a joint statement made at the First Committee of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in October 2018, Russia, China, UK, U.S. and France had informed that they would not sign the TPNW. The statement says: “We will not support, sign or ratify this Treaty. The TPNW will not be binding on our countries, and we do not accept any claim that it contributes to the development of customary international law; nor does it set any new standards or norms. We call on all countries that are considering supporting the TPNW to reflect seriously on its implications for international peace and security.”  ………………………..  

Between Deterrence and Survival 

In his The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (1989), Lawrence Freedman says, “The Emperor Deterrence may have no clothes, but he is still Emperor.” David Barash adds: “Despite his nakedness, this emperor continues to strut about, receiving deference he doesn’t deserve, while endangering the entire world. Nuclear deterrence is an idea that became a potentially lethal ideology, one that remains influential despite having been increasingly discredited…………….

Way back in 1955, the well-known Russell-Einstein Manifesto had warned of the perils of nuclear weapons. This declaration put across what Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein called “the stark and dreadful and inescapable” problem of the nuclear age: “Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?” Given the continuing proliferation tempo, both vertically and horizontally, peace loving people across the world can never abandon the dream of achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. The risk of catastrophic misuse of nuclear weapons, deliberately or―more likely―by accident or miscalculation, is as grave and immediate as it has ever been. And the existential threat nuclear weapons pose to life on this planet is as significant as those of climate change and global pandemic, and in many ways more immediate.   

*The author is Director, Inter University Centre for Social Science Research and Extension (IUCSSRE), Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala who also served as Dean and Professor of International Relations, MGU.  He can be contacted at

August 9, 2021 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, politics international, weapons and war

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