Welcome to the Youth Fusion podcast series on nuclear weapons in international law. This podcast was established to help anyone interested in finding out more about nuclear weapons issues and how they are regulated in international law by providing an overview of the status of international law connected to nuclear weapons. This episode explores questions surrounding the possession of nuclear weapons and the disarmament obligation.

Gabriela Maier Tolic, a program assistant at Youth Fusion, sits down with Dr. John Burroughs, who is a senior analyst for the New York City-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP). From February 1999 to September 2020 he was the Executive Director. Dr. Burroughs has represented LCNP in Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meetings and negotiations on the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons and was a member of the Marshall Islands’ legal team in its nuclear disarmament cases in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Beyond this, he taught international law as an adjunct professor at Rutgers Law School. He has a J.D. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.A. from Harvard University.

This episode starts with a glance at the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Dr. Burroughs gives answers to questions as to whether obligations contained in the treaty have any effect on nuclear weapons states, of whom none have joined the treaty. Looking at the issue of nuclear weapons possession more broadly, threatening nuclear weapons use in the form of deterrence is discussed next, in particular whether the possession of nuclear weapons constitutes an illegal threat of their use. Dr. Burroughs also explains the difference of possessing nuclear weapons and stationing them from a legal perspective and if stationing US nuclear weapons in NATO countries is a breach of Articles 1 and 2 of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT).

The second part of the episode covers questions surrounding the obligation for nuclear weapons disarmament in good faith based on Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In this context, Dr. Burroughs also shares some of his practical insights of being part of the Marshall Islands legal team, when the Marshall Islands took the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan in front of the ICJ with the aim to force these countries to dismantle their nuclear arsenals based on the disarmament obligation. Lastly, the issue of the modernization of nuclear weapon arsenals and its contradiction to the disarmament obligation is being discussed, addressing the question if these nuclear weapon modernizations breach international law, and if so, whether there are ways in which the law can be enforced.In the concluding remarks of the podcast, Dr. Burroughs shares that he believes a world free of nuclear weapons is much better that the world we live in now, even though it would still be a world of conflict and tension. He states that achieving such a world has to be and would need to be done carefully.

He addresses and disagrees with the idea of some who believe the opposite, namely, that the existence of nuclear weapons has prevented a war between the major world powers since the second world war, those who argue that nuclear weapons are beneficial and that we should keep them as a deterrent. He argues how such a belief morally compromises the world, because in a way it relies on torture as a means of security which is not acceptable. Lastly, he encourages young activists who want to work towards a world free of nuclear weapons to become involved where they are. He says it is best to start working locally and nationally. For example, by checking if your city a nuclear free city or if it has joined Majors for Peace and starting there. Beyond this, it is of value to become informed about the positions of one’s country in the UN, the TPNW or the NPT.

To help working towards such goals, it is necessary to work with other people in one’s country or locality and to become informed about one’s country’s positions. Beyond this it is also possible to become active in international networks, in particular international youth disarmament networks.

Article by: Gabriela Maier Tolic

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