For a nuclear weapons-free planet
Nuclear weapons are the most devastating, inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. On Jan. 22, 2021, the people of the world comprising the states of 122 countries took a major step toward their elimination with the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), now “in force” as a treaty of the United Nations. This treaty has declared nuclear weapons as illegal under international law. Initially approved by the UN General Assembly in July 2017, with 122 countries voting for it, it received its required ratification on Oct. 24, 2020, triggering a 90-day period before its “entry into force” on Jan. 22, 2021.
While nine nuclear weapons states still hold the world captive to the threat of nuclear war, they have lost moral ground to most of the world—the 122 countries which have committed themselves to outlawing the production, transport, and use of nuclear weapons. Here in Southeast Asia, all the 10 members of the Asean signed the Southeast Asia-Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty (SEA-NWFZT) on Dec. 15, 1995, in Bangkok. That agreement, also called the Bangkok treaty, entered into force on March 28, 1997.
The NWFZT is considered a model for regional denuclearization. The treaty covers not just state territory, but also exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and continental shelves. It prohibits the dumping or discharge of radioactive material or nuclear waste. In many ways, the SEA-NWFZT was inspired by the Philippines’ prohibition of nuclear weapons under the 1987 Constitution, drafted and ratified after the 1986 People Power Revolution. At that time, the only other country with a nuclear weapons-free provision in its national constitution was Palau, in the South Pacific.
It was not a coincidence that the Asean declaration to establish the Southeast Asia-
Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (SEA-NWFZ) was first made during an Asean meeting in Manila, on Dec. 12, 1987. The first SEA-NWFZ Treaty Review Conference also took place in Manila in June 2007.
The TPNW is compatible with the Philippines’ commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We must push for the ratification by the Philippine Senate of the TPNW, a constitutional process that will seal our international commitment. We must work for the universal and complete support for the TPNW. We must work to bring the nine nuclear weapons states to the realization that these weapons threaten our very existence as a planet. The nine nuclear weapons states are: Russia (7,000 nuclear weapons), the United States (6,800), France (300), China (270), United Kingdom (215), Pakistan (140), India (130), Israel (80), and North Korea (20).
Some have raised concerns that ratifying the TPNW would interfere with our country’s relations with nuclear weapons states. Not true. At any rate, wouldn’t the world be a better place if it were safe from a radioactive apocalypse caused either by human miscalculation, terrorism, or by computer errors, and where nations waged peace instead of war? When other UN treaties such as on landmines (1997), chemical weapons (1993), biological weapons (1972), and on banning nuclear weapons in outer space first came up, our country was one of those that supported these important treaties.
Today more than ever, all nations have a responsibility to pursue nuclear disarmament. The 122 non-nuclear states have initiated a historic action aimed at declaring nuclear weapons illegal under international law, even if those nine states possessing such weapons refuse to join. While the TPNW would not necessarily achieve the abandonment of all weapons held by nuclear weapons states, it would clearly uphold the right of non-nuclear weapons states to protect their own populations and the safety and survival of Mother Earth. We have on our side the overwhelming support of the citizens of the planet.
People who change the world are those who have a vision. This isn’t easy or simple. But it is just. The TPNW is consistent with our country’s nuclear weapons-free Constitution, with the Southeast Asia-Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Treaty, with our membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the role that our country has played for world peace since the United Nations was organized. If we can finally abolish nuclear weapons, the world would certainly be a better place.
Roland G. Simbulan is vice chair of the Center for Peoples Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) and a long-time nuclear disarmament advocate.
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