Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

The International  Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020

Kevin P Clements

Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago





As Albert Einstein said  “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when political leaders are once again contemplating whether nuclear weapons have any tactical military utility .  Most nuclear experts agree, that we will never be totally  safe from nuclear weapons  until are all totally abolished . This is because   their presence anywhere is destabilising , deterrence theory  has been exposed  as a cpnstant danger since there is some probability that they will beused either accidentally or intentionally and the theory collapses . But more  importantly  it is now widely agreed by nuclear scientists that  any exchange of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world  would  be directly and  indirectly devastating, through the nuclear winter that would  follow.


This is why the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW was adopted two years ago. There is  no  nuclear safety without nuclear abolition. New Zealand played a critical role on the negotiation of this Treaty and  has both signed and ratified its provisions.


This Treaty  will only have an impact , however, if all nuclear powers sign it and  renounce their  arsenals. In addition  would be proliferators like Iran and Saudi Arabia  need to  be persuaded never to develop them. One small step in this direction would be for all states to  agree not to develop and certainly not to test nuclear weapons.


Since nuclear weapons testing began on 16 July 1945, 2,065 nuclear tests  have taken place. In the early days of nuclear testing little consideration was given to its devastating effects on human life and e dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. We now know  the tragic consequences of  such testing especially when atmospheric conditions went wrong .  The  radiation effects  of all atmospheric tests  generated  higher incidences of cancer and genetic mutations in all places that hosted them..  New Zealanders remember well the impact of all the French, American and British Testing in the Pacific. We were able to observe the glow from larger hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific from New Zealand and   levels of caesium and   strontium 90 rose all over the country.  Our servicemen  and women who observed the British tests  have suffered the harmful consequences ever since.

On 2 December 2009, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 August to be the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. This resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorating the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

Its particularly vital that we focus some attention on this day  in 2019  as the President of the United States  is asking  whether “small tactical   nuclear weapons might be used in warfare” . In  the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review he  set aside funding for the modernisation and miniaturisation of nuclear arsenals which would require both laboratory and field testing of  such weapons.

As  we observe  this day against nuclear tests. It is important to remind ourselves that there  already exists  an international instrument to put an end to all forms of nuclear testing. It  is the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). New Zealand and many other countries spent a lot of time negotiating this treaty and put  in place rigorous verification measures to ensure that it was complied with. Unfortunately, despite NZ ( and like minded country) efforts   to get this treaty signed and ratified by the nuclear powers, this has not happened and  it  has yet to enter into force.

As the Secretary-General  of the UN recognized in his disarmament agenda “Securing our Common Future” in  24 May 2018, the norm against testing is   a measure that serves both disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. By constraining the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, the CTBT puts a brake on the arms race. It also serves as a powerful normative barrier against potential States that might seek to develop, manufacture and subsequently acquire nuclear weapons in violation of their non-proliferation commitments. Because of this it is critical to continue pushing   all  remaining States whose ratifications are required for the CTBT   to sign the Treaty at an early date   and to accelerate the completion of their ratification processes.

We are living in dangerous times. The international arms control and disarmament agenda is unravelling. The United States  has just pulled out of the INF Treaty and has tested a new Cruise Missile. The ABM Treaty has ended and if the United States does not agree  to an extension of the New Start Treaty there will be no bilateral or multilateral  constraints on the development or deployment  of nuclear weapons. The forthcoming NPT Review Conference looks as though it might end in failure  and if the norm against proliferation weakens,  all sorts of countries might try and develop such weapons to improve their bargaining power  in the international community.

All of this means that at  minimum we need to bring the CTBT into force and at maximum  we need to shame the nuclear powers into signing on to the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons. The weapons  generate fear and have no military or political utility . We will only be truly safe when all 17,000 such weapons have been abolished and when all countries renounce their current arsenals and commit to not testing new weapons  in modernisation programmes.

About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
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