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Nuclear Power Dynamics Of The World And The Urgent Need For Nuclear Disarmament

On August 6,1945, the world awoke to a catastrophe when nuclear energy which was developed in 1839 for the well-being of mankind ended up being used for its destruction.[i] The precious lives of around two lakh individuals did not deter the world from developing and embarking on this infinite race of developing nuclear warheads because of their greed for power and fear of being overthrown.

Soon, after the second world war, the world transcended into a period of cold war which was marked by tensions between the United States of America and the Soviet Union that led to the emergence of two power blocs, that is, the western and the eastern bloc. The Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949 thus marking the beginning of a nuclear arms race, with United States testing another new and more powerful weapon, that is, the hydrogen bomb in 1952.[ii]

What is the Current Scenario?
Currently, the United States of America, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, France, China, India and Pakistan officially possess nuclear arsenals. Although, Israel maintains ambiguity on its possession of nuclear weapons and the nuclear weapon stockpile with North Korea remains unknown, they, along with the aforementioned countries collectively possess around 13,000 nuclear weapons.

This is a clear decline from the 70,000 which were available with the countries during the cold war era, yet the nuclear arsenal available with the countries is expected to grow by a significant degree in the coming decade, keeping in mind that today's forces and technological conditions are far more suitable for the purpose of their development. There are thirty-two other states that also form a part of the problem. Five states, that is- Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey host U.S. nuclear weapons.

Twenty-nine other states endorse these weapons as part of the defence alliances, namely, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).[iii]

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was a significant step towards a nuclear weapon free world. Within the treaty, those member states who had tested a nuclear weapon prior to 1st January, 1967, that is- the United Kingdom, France, the United States of America, China and the Russian Federation were given the right to retain their nuclear arsenal. The rest of the member states were barred from proliferating nuclear weapons with regular inspections to ensure the same, being conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [iv]

North Korea had signed the NPT in 1985 but withdrew from the treaty in 2003 under Article10.1, which still remains an issue and allows countries to back out from the treaty when the circumstances are such that it threatens the national sovereignty of the member state, thus making the article ambiguous.[v] These terms can be interpreted by the member states on their own subjective accord to suit their destructive and circumstantial interests which might be detrimental to the national sovereignty of another nation or dangerous for the world as a whole. India, Israel and Pakistan had never signed the NPT in the first place.

How fatal are the consequences of a potential nuclear war?

A nuclear war does not only mean widespread death and destruction but it will have disastrous environmental consequences. A nuclear war might lead to a potential worldwide famine that can be conceived as a trickle down of widespread civilian casualties and socio-economic crisis that will ensue in lieu of the environmental consequences.

The harmful radiations from a nuclear arsenal can prove to have catastrophic consequences for several future generations as observed in the case of Japan. In addition to that, the development of a nuclear weapon is essentially a misplacement of public funds.

Funds that should essentially be utilised for the benefit of the public when utilised for the development of a nuclear weapon that can potentially bring about their ruin provides for a paradox in today's world. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN),

'The blast kills people close to ground zero, and causes lung injuries, ear damage and internal bleeding further away. People sustain injuries from collapsing buildings and flying objects. Thermal radiation is so intense that almost everything close to ground zero is vaporized.'

Physicians have projected that almost 2.4 million can potentially die because of cancer caused as a result of the nuclear tests conducted in the atmosphere from 1940 to 1980. A single nuclear bomb or the detonation and use of less than one percent nuclear weapons in the world can result in the death of millions of people and become responsible for the rampant disruption in the global climate.[vi]

Why do nuclear weapons still exist on the face of the earth, despite their catastrophic consequences?

The nuclear arms race that had started as a result of the cold war, has not stopped ever since although it has decreased its pace, it is still estimated to increase in the upcoming decade. Neorealism is a theory that in an anarchic world, individual states operate identically.

According to the realists, in a world where the states are unsure of each other's intentions, they tend to gather other surrounding states in order to balance the power against the more powerful state. It is therefore argued that when a state develops nuclear weapons(owing to their destructive nature and the threat they pose), other states tend to associate themselves and form alliances with other nuclear weapon states or acquire the nuclear weapons themselves.[vii]

As North Korea's relations with its nuclear allies (Russia and China) deteriorated in the face of a clear opposition from the United States of America and South Korea, it was prompted to withdraw from the NPT and develop its own nuclear arsenals in 2003 to tackle the future possibilities of a nuclear attack on its territory.

India opposed the NPT on account of the non-equity in terms of concentration of nuclear only in the hands of the P5 countries. It prompted for a complete ban of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 followed by Pakistan who conducted it in 1998.[viii] Although, India maintains a no-first use policy, a nuclear conflict would undoubtedly ensue in case any country choses to launch a nuclear attack on the other.

In the face of explicit threats of a nuclear attack by the P5 countries, like the Russian invasion of Ukraine wherein Russia warned of a nuclear attack, smaller non-nuclear weapon states tend to associate themselves with a nuclear power to protect their own sovereignty, thus contributing to the never-ending cycle. Sweden and Finland handed over their application letters to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) on 18 May,2022 in the face of the Russian-Ukraine War.[ix]

Tensions in the Indo-Pacific and constant threats by China to the countries in the region increases the pressure and instils the fear of a nuclear war amongst the smaller non-nuclear weapon states, which if it were to happen might essentially remove them from the face of the earth.

The Iran-Nuclear Deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was signed between the United Kingdom, France, China, the United States of America, Russian Federation, Germany, European Union and Iran in 2015 essentially aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear programme in return for sanctions' relief. USA's unilateral with-drawl from the agreement in 2018 resulted in Iran ignoring the limitations on its nuclear programme a year later.[x]

Although, the Biden administration is looking forward to renew the Iran Nuclear Deal, the deal has its loopholes including an expiration date following which Iran would be free to go back to its pre-agreement phase. Israel also maintains ambiguity on its stockpile of nuclear weapons amidst tensions in the middle east and its strained relations with Iran which has started to enrich its uranium far above the permissible limits post USA's with-drawl from JCPOA.

The urgent need for nuclear disarmament
Amidst, the growing tensions in the world, the nuclear powers ought to understand the gravity of the situation. Asking the nuclear powers who are not signatories to the NPT to give up their nuclear would not result in fruitful results when the P5 still possess nuclear weapons. Instead, it would lead to even higher concentration of nuclear power and would prove to be hypocritical on the part of P5.

All the nuclear powers should reach a consensus and advocate for a completely nuclear weapon free world, wherein each nuclear power can give up a definite percentage of their stockpile over time, thus leading to the gradual decrease in the number of nuclear weapons.

All the countries should sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which prevents the countries from further conducting nuclear tests. With this commitment, for a nuclear free world, the non-signatories of the NPT should also agree to abiding by and signing it, keeping in mind the importance of Inter-national peace and security.

There is no Inter-national law at the moment which explicitly prohibits the proportionate use of nuclear weapons for self-defence. According to the International Court of Justice,

'[t]here is � no comprehensive and universal prohibition of the threat or use of nuclear weapons as such'

Instead of using uranium to develop nuclear arsenal, a country can use Uranium to produce nuclear energy that will ultimately lead to the enrichment of their economy, thus leading to a proper utilisation of public funds. In 2021, Kazakhstan produced the largest share of uranium from mines (45% of world supply), followed by Namibia (12%) and Canada (10%). [xi] The Nuclear-Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) is basically a regional approach to contribute to the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Currently there exist five treaties- Treaty of Tlatelolco, Treaty of Rarotonga, Treaty of Bangkok, Treaty of Pelindaba and the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia which assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in the member states' respective territories.[xii] South Pacific has been successful in becoming a nuclear weapon free zone as a result of its regional treaty, that is, the Treaty of Rarotonga. More regional treaties can be concluded so as to prevent future proliferation.

Hence, the need for nuclear disarmament in lieu of the disastrous future consequences should be reflected in the foreign policies of the states, so as to ensure a reduction in the collective stock of nuclear weapons in the world, if the concept of complete nuclear disarmament seems to be impractical and too utopian under the present circumstances.

  1. World Nuclear Association, Outline History of Nuclear Energy
  2. American Museum of Natural History, Einstein and the Nuclear Arms Race | AMNH
  3. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Countries with nuclear weapons  ICAN
  4. the United Nations, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)  UNODA
  5. E-International Relations, North Korea's Withdrawal from the NPT: Neorealism and Selectorate Theory
  6. International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, What happens if nuclear weapons are used?
  7. E-International Relations, North Korea's Withdrawal from the NPT: Neorealism and Selectorate Theory
  8. Atomic Archive, The Peaceful Explosion
  9. NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Finland & Sweden Accession | NATO PA
  10. Council on Foreign Relations, What Is the Iran Nuclear Deal?
  11. World Nuclear Association, World Uranium Mining Production
  12. the United Nations, Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones  UNODA

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