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Monday, June 27, 2022

Why UNSC joint statement on nuclear weapons is important

Upendra Baxi writes: It reaffirms that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought and recommits to the principles of non-proliferation

Written by Upendra Baxi |
Updated: February 1, 2022 9:21:01 am
A meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. (AP Photo: Richard Drew/File)

The nuke-wary people of Earth have not risen in unison to welcome the statement made on January 3 by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5). Yet, the assurance about “avoiding an arms race and not targeting each other or any other state”, and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, is important.

The P5 statement reaffirms that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” because of its “far-reaching consequences”. The statement further reaffirms that nuclear threats must be addressed and emphasises the importance of “preserving and complying with our bilateral and multilateral non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and commitments”. The statement also expresses a commitment to the group’s Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) obligations and “to prevent the unauthorised or unintended use of nuclear weapons”.

Declaring that an arms race would benefit none and endanger all, the P5 have undertaken to: (1) “work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all”; (2) “continue seeking bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and confidence”; and (3) pursue “constructive dialogue with mutual respect and acknowledgement of each other’s security interests and concerns”.

This is a major statement. It is not a binding resolution and reiterates some of the core obligations of the NPT, while a review of the NPT remains postponed till August due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But none of these factors diminish the urgency and the political significance of the statement, especially given the unimaginable danger posed by the 13,000 nuclear weapons currently believed to be held by a handful of countries, and the growing spectre of loose nukes, which may be deployed by armed terrorist groups for nefarious purposes.

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The P5 statement was followed by a warning from UN Secretary-General António Guterres that nuclear annihilation is “just one misunderstanding or miscalculation away”.

Bold action on six fronts was necessary, he said. First, that member states should chart a path forward on nuclear disarmament; second, they should agree to new measures of “transparency and dialogue”; third, they should address the “simmering” nuclear crises in the Middle East and Asia; fourth, they should strengthen the existing global bodies that support non-proliferation, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); fifth, they should promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology, and finally, they should remind “the world’s people – and especially its young people – that eliminating nuclear weapons is the only way to guarantee that they will never be used”.

Gandhi taught us that the right to peace is an essential framework for all human rights and that waging peace is everyone’s work, regardless of vocation, profession, or discipline. Peace is necessary for rights, freedom, equality, and justice and for that reason, we need what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called “education in the obvious” — namely, peace education. This is required at multiple levels, ranging across the planetary, global, supranational, regional, national, and local levels of social cognition and action. These spheres are intensely related, critical and transformative. As Betty Reardon writes: “… the general purpose of peace education… is to promote the development of an authentic planetary consciousness that will enable us to function as global citizens and to transform the present human condition by changing the social structures and the patterns of thought that have created it.” If this “transformational imperative” is placed at the centre of peace education, there will be a “profound global cultural change” that will influence ways of thinking, world views, values, behaviours, relationships, and the structures of public order — “a change in the human consciousness and in human society of a dimension far greater than any other that has taken place since the emergence of the nation-state”.

Critical peace education should perform a number of tasks. Among these are: Bearing witness to negativity (that is, telling the truth about the realities and inequalities of this society); throwing light on spaces for possible actions that can challenge these realities; and acting ( to borrow the words of the introduction to Rita Verma’s 2017 book Critical Peace Education and Global Citizenship) as the “critical secretary of the people, programmes and practices that are actually interrupting the dominant relations and building workable alternatives to them in educational institutions, communities and other sites”. Instead of creating cadres of techno-public intellectuals, peace education requires the creation of a mass of “critical secretaries” to people’s movements.

Gandhi would have certainly welcomed the slender but significant UN Resolution 39/11 (November 12, 1984), which “solemnly proclaims that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace” and equally solemnly declares that the “preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each State”. The subsequent UN Resolution 53/243 B, declaring a programme of action for a culture of peace (1999) also owes a great deal to Gandhi’s legacy and mission. May the managers of our education system no longer privilege ignorance and the promotion of social indifference, resilient even now.

This column first appeared in the print edition on February 1, 2022 under the title ‘The right to peace’. The writer is professor of law, University of Warwick, and former vice chancellor of Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi

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