Comment piece by Mélina Villeneuve originally posted on the deD_UCATION website. This piece was written prior to the ratification of the TPNW.
We love to categorise. We categorise our laundry, we categorise our music, we categorise our politics, we categorise our sexuality – hell we even categorise our living organisms (you’re either made up of animal cells or plant cells, you can’t be both booboo).
It comes as no surprise then that when talking about our countries, we also categorise them (sometimes without even realising it): East vs. West, North vs. South, nuclear-weapon state vs. non-nuclear-weapon state. What makes a state count as a nuclear-weapon state, you ask? Is it possible to go from being a non-nuclear-weapon state to a nuclear-weapon state, you wonder? What do these relationships mean when looking at the “bigger picture”? Fear not, DED is here and we got all the answers – or most of them anyway. Fasten your seatbelts because we are about to embark on one hell of a ride!
As we’ve posted on our Instagram, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (or NPT for short ’cause time = money) is a treaty that bans states who signed it from developing nuclear weapons any further. Essentially, the Treaty says that, 1) the actual use and further development of nuclear weapons would be devastating and irreversible; 2) we need to strengthen relationships between states to facilitate cooperation and unity, and states should be able to share scientific information with one another; and 3) considering what the Charter of the UN says, states that sign this treaty must refrain from the threat or use of force against another state.
The first two articles of the Treaty then divide the states into 2 categories: you guessed it, nuclear-weapon state versus non-nuclear-weapon state. Article 1 focuses on nuclear-weapon states, and Article 2 on the non-nuke states. But what is a nuclear-weapon state? According to Article 9 Section 3 of the NPT: “A nuclear-weapon state is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967.” I know what you’re thinking: “1967 is a bit of a random year for a cut-off”, and you’re absolutely right! Following that logic, the only states who are nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Do those five ring a bell? They should, because they are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, each with their own veto power that can shut down a whole conversation. Let’s unpack this, shall we?
The US first tested their nukes in 1945, Russia in 1949, the UK in 1952, France in 1960, and then China in 1964. What also needs to be kept in mind is that the 1960s was just a bit after the height of the Cold War: between the Bay of Pigs incident in Cuba, to the messy start of the Vietnam War, the 1960s can be categorised as a decade of capitalism vs. communism. Thus when talks began of establishing a international agreement that would halt any other states from further developing their nuclear weapons arsenal, it became evident that this would be necessary since both the US and Russia were supplying intelligence, material, and weapons to states that followed a similar philosophy. The official story says something else, but this is all too coincidental to be a happy accident.
But clearly the NPT doesn’t really mean anything, because states that are classified as non-nuclear-weapon states have been developing their nuclear weapons arsenal, and quickly at that. India, Iraq, North Korea… I mean the list goes on. And while some states have completely gotten rid of their nuclear weapons, like South Africa, the actual nuclear-weapon states are not anywhere near complete disarmament of their nuclear weapons. For instance, the US and Russia together have over 10,000 nukes, and the UK has a nuclear defence programme that, if renewed, would be a ma-ha-ssive £205 billion. It unfortunately seems like we are far from disarmament. Oh yeah, and those are the three who organised this whole Treaty in the first place with Moscow, London and Washington DC being the three places where one could ratify and sign the Treaty. I guess it’s their way, or the highway.
Problem with the Big Five
Why is it always those five, huh? As if getting a permanent seat at the Security Council wasn’t enough, you just had to separate yourselves again from the rest of the world… But for what reason?
Being just five states to have that status gives them a sort of privilege. As a minority holding all the power (both political and nuclear), it’s unlikely that any group of states would go up against them. That majority, who are less powerful, can’t challenge or stand up to them, and thus things remain as they are because “it’s easier that way”. You can imagine the panic when it was revealed Iran had been stockpiling nuclear material to potentially manufacture weapons, or when Trump and Kim Jong-Un had a pathetic standoff. Drafting legislation that stipulates exactly that those five are nuclear-weapon states makes them law-abiding and makes anyone else who wants to do the same look like a degenerate trying to blow up the world. Classic case of “oh I’m not crazy, I’m allowed to do this, but not them, they’re the crazy ones!”
In a post-colonial world, you’d think we’d be done with this whole idea of the few ruling the many. They may no longer have territorial claims to far-away lands anymore, but they can control how much nuclear info and material they share, and specifically who they share it with. As you can imagine, this furthers the idea that the top five control & supply everything in the world. It’s subtle, but the control is there, whether it’s China and their control of fresh water, or even the simple fact that the UK, France, the US and Russia all sell weapons and arms to governments who feature on human rights watch lists, accountability is almost never put in the right places because: 1) they’re countries that are rich as fuck and can afford to carry out these kinds of deals, because 2) they have nuclear weapons so who in their right mind would pick a fight?
Next Up: Ban Treaty
Are we doomed to do the big five’s bidding for the rest of human civilisation? Surely not, no. In fact, legal steps have already been taken to ban nuclear weapons – period. How does this differ from the NPT? In a lot of ways, for starters, but also because this Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) doesn’t classify states into either one group or another. It calls for all states to not further develop or use or even test their nuclear weapons. This would eventually lead to total disarmament (can I get a ‘heeeeeell yeeeaaah’!), and even though some states have yet to sign or ratify it, this is a pretty good show of the current climate in which the majority of people agree that nuclear weapons = bad, bad juju. You can find the list of states who have signed the TPNW riiiiiight here.
States who haven’t signed it yet are basically nuclear weapon states – like, all of the, not just the big five – and their allies. For example, Australia hasn’t signed it because the US is one of their biggest allies and they don’t want to create any problems. Oh, and what about European states? Well the only ones to have signed are Austria, Ireland, the Holy See, and San Marino. Everyone else is just turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to this Treaty and just pretending that it doesn’t exist. But you know where the majority of states who signed it originate from? None other than the African continent, Central and Southern America, and most of Asia (this includes the Middle East and Southern Asia).
Look, I’m no expert ok, but this pattern reminds me of something… Oh yeah, this post-colonial world which is, in fact, still very colonial in its practices! While the vast majority of the world agrees that nuclear weapons are not only destructive but just, unnecessary, those powerful states still hold on to their precious nukes and hide behind the excuse of: “yes but because we have them, we’re actually super safe!” Excuse my French but that’s complete bullshit, and the fact that this rhetoric is repeated over and over gives a false sense of security to people who are afraid for what the future holds… And rightfully so!
Our planet is in climate breakdown, and do you know what’s not helping it? The continuous manufacturing, testing, and development of nuclear weapons. “Yes DED, but not all states use nuclear energy to manufacture weapons… It’s actually clean energy compared to fossil fuels!”
Ooh yes, it is! Until you have to store the radioactive waste somewhere far, far away where no one can have access to it and where it can’t accidentally contaminate tens of thousands. In a society where we are consistently being told to go zero-waste, or zero-carbon, or waste-free, there’s no way storing radioactive material is a solution to a climate crisis.
Nuclear energy, while it’s not inherently bad, has been put to use to murder people, most of which were innocent civilians. To this day, it remains the biggest threat a state could make to another state if tensions rise. We are all aware of the disastrous effects of a nuclear bomb, but if you need a refresher, click right here. Are these consequences and effects really worth states stockpiling these weapons “just in case”? Are these weapons really the only thing safeguarding our safety? You decide.
While we cannot get all states tomorrow to simultaneously disarm (although, that would be pretty sick), we can make moves at a more national level. In the UK, there’s actually something we can do as of right now. The UK’s nuclear defence program, Trident, is up for renewal for the next 30 years in 2024. Literally, there’s a bunch of nuclear submarines off the coast of Scotland (four, to be precise) waiting for the go-ahead to use the damn things. To renew this program, CND estimates it would cost upwards of £205 billion, and that’s just for it to sit idle in the Scottish waters, waiting for a nuclear war that will (please please please oh God please) never happen.
Are you outraged by this? Do you want to see your tax money being spent in a more socially sustainable fashion, and not on nuclear weapons? Sign this petition from CND to make your voice heard and even reach out to your MP to let them know how you really feel! Let’s stop this farce before it goes on any further, and especially before the button gets pushed, whether accidentally or on purpose.
As former President Richard Nixon put it when talking to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger: “The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?… I just want you to think big, Henry, for Chrissakes.”
Yes, Nixon, let’s think big, and maybe thinking big in this case has to do with the FUTURE OF OUR CIVILISATION. I mean for Chrissakes…