Any Possibility: ​​​​​​​Making the Middle East a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone

Talyn Rahman-Figueroa, CEO of Grassroot Diplomat, summarises her meeting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Counter Proliferation department on nuclear weapons in the Middle East. 

Ever since President Obama’s Prague speech nearly two and a half years ago, it seems that the momentum on the talks of nuclear non-proliferation has dropped and is yet to gain full political approval. Negotiations on the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is essential to ensure that all signatories of the NPT keep to their promise and devise a feedback system to hold nations accountable if they were to break their treaty obligation. 

Certainly, the economic crisis and many natural disasters have caused disruptions in essential political input since the US-Russia agreement back in 2010 and this is cause for great concern.  We have seen increasing assets of nuclear capability in China, India, Pakistan and Israel, and there is no telling what Iran and North Korea’s plans are after breaking out of their treaty obligation. With the ever looming climate change crisis, the world has seen an increase in nuclear programme capabilities for the purpose of civil nuclear power. It is disconcerting that an increase in nuclear civil power overlooks long-term problems of nuclear waste control and human health mutilation due to the rise in nuclear radiation omitting into the atmosphere. 

The NPT is the cornerstone in keeping the world free and reducing nuclear weapons. Political decision-makers need to work together - not for national interest but the interest of its people. In order to make progress, there must be a willingness to link other international issues with the topic of non-proliferation and this includes keeping negotiations open to Israel and reluctant Arab states that are not NPT signatories. Iran is depicted as a destabilising nation in the region due to their lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as Iran’s lack of security on civil nuclear assurances. Nonetheless, it is no good to isolate one nation on its nuclear efforts without collaborative effort with its neighbours and allies. Negotiations must be kept open between all neighbours that may be affected by the decision of one rogue state. 

Along with Iran, it is vital that the United Nations find a way around Pakistan’s roadblock on the nuclear fissile material cut-off treaty for the good of mankind. The image of nuclear weapons as a power status needs to change as a means to avoid another Japanese tragedy and political decision-makers must look towards more sustainable solutions to combat climate change without falling to the mercy of corporate lobbyists.

Setsuko Thurlow

Setsuko Thurlow

On October 26 2011, Ms Setsuko Thurlow – a survivor from the Hiroshima A-bomb tragedy – delivered a powerful speech to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly as a reminder of how important it is to create a nuclear-free world. Here is an excerpt of her speech:

“On August 6, 1945, as a 13 year-old grade 8 student in the Student Mobilisation Program I was with about 30 other girls working at the Army headquarters as a decoding assistant. The building was 1.8 km from the hypo-centre. At 8:15 a.m., the moment I saw a brilliant bluish-white flash outside the window, I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. As I regained consciousness in the silence and the darkness, I found myself pinned by the ruins of the collapsed building. I could not move, and I knew I was faced with death. I began to hear my classmates’ faint cries, “Mother, help me”, “God, help me”… Most of my classmates who were with me in the same room were burned alive. 

… I looked around. Although it was morning, it was dark as twilight, with dust and smoke rising in the air. I saw streams of ghostly figures, slowly shuffling from the centre of the city towards the nearby hills. They were naked and tattered, bleeding, burned, blackened and swollen. Parts of their bodies were missing, flesh and skin hanging from their bones, some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands, and some with their stomachs burst open, with intestines hanging out.

…We did not see any doctors or nurses. When darkness fell, we sat on the hillside and all night watched the entire city burn, numbed by the massive and grotesque scale of death and suffering we had witnessed.
Thus, my beloved city of Hiroshima suddenly became desolation, with heaps of ash and rubble, skeletons and blackened corpses. Its population of 360,000, most of whom were non-combatant women, children, and elderly, became victims of the indiscriminate massacre of the atomic bombing. By the end of 1945 approximately 140,000 had perished. As of the present day, at least 260,000 have perished because of the effects of the blast, heat, and radiation. My own age group of over 8,000 grade 7 and 8 students from all the high schools in the city were engaged in clearing fire lanes in the centre of the city. Many of them were killed instantly by the heat of 4,000 degrees Celsius. Radiation, the unique characteristic of the atomic bombing, affected people in mysterious and random ways, with some dying immediately, and others weeks, months, or years later by the delayed effects, and radiation is still killing survivors today, 66 years later. 
…We became convinced that no human being should ever have to repeat our experience of inhumanity, illegality, immorality and cruelty of an atomic bombing, and that our mission was to warn the world about the threat of this ultimate evil. We believe that humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist, and for the past several decades we have been speaking out around the world for the total abolition of nuclear weapons, as the only path to security and the preservation of the human community and civilization for future generations.”

Ms Thurlow is right. No human should ever repeat this cruel and illegal war but powerful leaders are yet to listen and accept the cries of billions pleading for peace and life. As a group of young people invited to discuss this important matter at the Foreign Office, we came to the conclusion that peace is a prerequisite to any negotiation and all nations in the Middle East should be grouped like the African Union and engage in quarterly negotiation rounds to smooth over regional disputes that have been ongoing for decades. 
After exploring ideas on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, the FCO’s Counter Proliferation team will be feeding contributions made by young people from the round-table into government policy discussion.