Why the UNSC Joint Statement on Nuclear Weapons Matters
The nuclear-wary peoples of the Earth did not rise in unison to hail the declaration made on January 3 by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5). Yet the assurance of “avoiding an arms race and not targeting the 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 “profound consequences”. The statement further reaffirms that nuclear threats must be addressed and emphasizes the importance of “preserving and respecting our bilateral and multilateral agreements and commitments on non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control”. The statement also expresses a commitment to uphold the group’s obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and to “prevent the unauthorized or unintended use of nuclear weapons.”
Stating that an arms race would benefit no one and endanger all, the P5 pledged 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 to seek bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, enhance stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and trust”; and (3) pursue “constructive dialogue with mutual respect and recognition of each other’s interests and security 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 until August due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But none of these factors diminish the urgency and political significance of the declaration, especially given the unimaginable danger posed by the 13,000 nuclear weapons currently held by a handful of countries, and the growing specter of bulk nuclear bombs. , which could be deployed by armed terrorist groups for nefarious purposes.
The P5 statement was followed by a warning from UN Secretary General António Guterres that nuclear annihilation is “just a misunderstanding or miscalculation”.
Bold action on six fronts was needed, he said. First, that Member States chart the way forward in nuclear disarmament; second, they should agree on new “transparency and dialogue” measures; third, they should address the “latent” nuclear crises in the Middle East and Asia; fourth, they should strengthen 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 peoples of the world – and especially young people – that the elimination of nuclear weapons is the only way to guarantee that they will not be never used”.
Gandhi taught us that the right to peace is an essential framework for all human rights and that making peace is everyone’s job, regardless of vocation, profession or discipline. Peace is necessary for rights, freedom, equality and justice and for this reason we need what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. has called “education in evidence” – namely, peace education. This is needed at many levels, ranging from planetary, global, supranational, regional, national and local levels of social cognition and action. These spheres are intensely connected, critical and transformative. As Betty Reardon writes: “…the overall goal of peace education…is to promote the development of an authentic planetary consciousness that will enable us to function as citizens of the world and to transform the current human condition by changing the social structures and thought patterns that created it. If this “transformation imperative” is placed at the center of peace education, there will be a “profound global cultural shift” that will influence ways of thinking, worldviews, values, behaviors, relationships and structures of public order — “a change in human consciousness and in human society of a dimension far greater than any another that has happened since the emergence of the nation-state”.
Critical education for peace must fulfill a number of tasks. These include: Bearing witness to negativity (meaning telling the truth about the realities and inequalities of this society); illuminate possible spaces for action that can challenge these realities; and act (in the words of the introduction to Rita Verma’s 2017 book Critical Peace Education and Global Citizenship) as a “critical secretary to the people, programs, and practices that actually disrupt dominant relationships and build viable alternatives in educational institutions, communities and other sites.” Instead of creating cadres of techno-public intellectuals, education for peace requires the creation of a mass of “critical secretaries” of popular movements.
Gandhi would certainly have welcomed the slim 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 every State”. The subsequent UN resolution 53/243 B declaring an agenda for a culture of peace (1999) also owes much to Gandhi’s legacy and mission. That the managers of our educational system no longer favor ignorance and the promotion of social indifference, which is still resilient today.
(The author is Professor of Law at the University of Warwick and former Vice-Chancellor of the Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi)