Op-Ed: Nuclear disarmament – why the world should follow Africa’s lead

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    In July, 122 States voted for the Treaty on
    the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at a conference in New York
    mandated by the United Nations General Assembly. It provides a
    solid foundation for resisting the proliferation of nuclear
    weapons and forges a path towards their eventual
    elimination.

    The era-defining day – 20 September – when
    heads of states and government can append their signature to
    this treaty fast approaches. Yet some continue to doubt if it
    is possible to banish nuclear weapons into
    history.

    Many nuclear weapon-possessing states have
    pointed out that the treaty faced initial resistance and was
    forced to be adopted by vote, given that it was unable to
    achieve consensus, the typical way in which such agreements are
    reached. Despite this, more than two-thirds of the states
    present at the negotiations voted for the treaty, enabling the
    ban to be adopted.

    The leaders of the world’s nations must now
    sign it, and adoption of the ban must spread even further. But
    how do we get there? The good news is that recent history shows
    us that treaties dealing with similarly inhumane weapons may at
    first be controversial before garnering more widespread
    support. Initial resistance does not limit a treaty’s value nor
    does it lessen the stigma attached to a state not signing on to
    it.

    The Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the
    production, use and stockpiling of land mines due to their
    indiscriminate impact, was adopted by only 89 states in 1997.
    Today, 162 States are formally committed to ensuring a world
    free of land mines by 2025.

    That same increase in support can happen with
    the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty; the world only needs to
    replicate what has already taken place in
    Africa.

    South Africa set the pace for a nuclear-free
    continent by voluntarily disbanding its nuclear weapons in the
    late 1980s. In 1996 the continent adopted the African
    Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty, which prohibits African
    countries from manufacturing, acquiring, stockpiling, testing
    or possessing nuclear weapons.

    Continental powerhouses Nigeria and South
    Africa led Africa’s push for this year’s Treaty on the
    Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons negotiations, and the continent
    voted in sufficient numbers (42 of Africa’s 54 countries voted
    for the treaty) to ensure it passed. It is now time for the
    rest of the world to catch up.

    The July vote proved that nuclear disarmament
    is what the majority of the world’s nations seek. On 20
    September, when the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear
    Weapons opens for signature, states will have a chance to
    solidify their support. For those nuclear-armed states that did
    not take part in the negotiations, the opportunity remains to
    reduce the unacceptable catastrophic risk that nuclear weapons
    create by signing on to the treaty and eventually destroying
    their nuclear stockpiles.

    As International Committee of the Red Cross
    President Peter Maurer has said, nuclear weapons “cause
    unspeakable human suffering and irreversible environmental
    harm”. The survival of the human race is at stake, and Africa’s
    anti-nuclear leadership provides the world with a path to
    follow. DM

    Sarah Swart, Regional Legal Adviser,
    International Committee of the Red
    Cross

    Photo: An undated handout file photograph
    made available on 04 March 2016 by the North Korean news agency
    KCNA shows the test-firing of new-type large-caliber multiple
    launch rocket system by the North Korean military. Tensions
    between North Korea and the west have intensified due to the
    west’s implimentation of economic sanctions in response to
    North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and test firing of
    delivery systems. Photo: EPA/KCNA

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