BEIRUT: Advocates for nuclear disarmament are pushing Lebanon to sign and ratify a U.N. treaty that would call for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, taking a much stronger stance than previous international agreements have.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated last year during a conference of United Nations member states that included Lebanon. The agreement would call not only for countries that do not currently have nuclear arsenals to halt the development of nuclear weapons, but also for countries that do have nuclear arms to “immediately remove them from operational status, and destroy them as soon as possible.”
The accord goes further than the existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. That document, which took effect in 1970, forbids the development of new nuclear weapons and calls for the eventual disarmament of nuclear states – but without specifying a time frame.
Nuclear-weapon states – and the NPT itself – have come under criticism for failing to make significant progress on disarmament.
For the new treaty to become effective, 50 countries must ratify it.
So far, 60 countries have signed the treaty, but only 14 have ratified it.
Lebanon was one of the 122 countries – all of them nonnuclear-weapon states – that voted to adopt the new treaty in July 2017 at the U.N.’s New York headquarters, but the country has not yet formally signed or ratified the document.
A spokeswoman for caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil told The Daily Star that ministry officials are still studying the issue and have not yet decided whether to sign on.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of non-governmental organizations pushing for the treaty’s adoption and implementation, has been lobbying Lebanon to join. The group was the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its role in bringing about the treaty.
Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s executive director, said the organization is hoping President Michel Aoun will take part in a signing ceremony for the treaty in New York on Sept. 26.
Aoun, along with many heads of state, is set to be in New York at that time to participate in the U.N. General Assembly. “We would love to see Lebanon as one of these 50 historic countries that bring the treaty into force,” Finh told The Daily Star.
She said ICAN representatives have been in regular contact with Lebanon’s ambassadors to the U.N. “They have said they are considering it – it’s just not been a top priority.”
Fihn said the treaty’s aim is to eliminate the double standard that allows some states to retain their nuclear weapons while prohibiting others from having them.
The nuclear-armed states “consider their weapons to be acceptable,” she said. “They can have them, but others can’t.”
“What’s really important is that the rest of the world stops legitimizing that and stops thinking they can rely on those weapons,” she said.
“This treaty contributes to put pressure on those [nuclear-armed] countries,” Fihn added.
Nine states are known to have nuclear weapons. The largest stockpiles by far belong to Russia and the U.S.; the other nuclear-armed countries are the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and – perhaps most significant for Lebanon – Israel.
Ali Ahmad, director of the Energy Policy and Security in the Middle East program at the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute, said that while the nuclear-armed countries are unlikely to sign on to the treaty, it can nevertheless add to the pressure put on them, particularly at a time when Russia and the U.S. are in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenals.
“The symbolic value emerges from creating an international norm that nuclear weapons are not OK – not only using them ... but also having them and storing them and maintaining them,” Ahmad said.
The question of nuclear weapons has specific significance in Lebanon and the Middle East, he added.
“You live in a region that has a history of nuclear proliferation – Libya, Iraq and Syria have all tried to start nuclear weapons programs,” he said. “For Lebanon, our neighbor has approximately 80 to 100 nuclear weapons – Israel – and also you live in a region where Iran is suspected or accused of developing a nuclear weapons program, and you live in a region where Saudi Arabia’s insecurity might drive it to go for a nuke program.” In light of that, he said, “for Lebanon or any country in the Middle East to actually commit to the treaty is very positive.”
So far, of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, only Palestine has signed and ratified the agreement. Algeria and Libya have signed but not yet ratified it.