The United Nations’ International Day against Nuclear Tests observed on August 29 every year brings public awareness and education about the effects of global nuclear weapon tests. The day aims to end nuclear testing and to promote peace and security.
The history of nuclear testing is one of suffering, with the victims of more than 2,000 nuclear tests often from the most vulnerable communities around of the world…. The devastating consequences – which were not confined by international borders—encompassed impacts on the environment, health, food security and economic development.“The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has an essential role within the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. It fosters international peace and security by constraining the development of nuclear weapons. Our collective security demands that every effort should be made to bring this essential treaty into force,” said António Guterres, Secretary- General, United Nations, on International Day against Nuclear Tests, 2018.
Since the nuclear weapons testing began on July 16, 1945, nearly 2,000 have taken place. In the early days of nuclear testing little consideration was given to its devastating effects on human life, let alone the dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. The human and environmental tragedies that resulted due to the nuclear tests were compelling reasons for the need to bring a resolution to observe the International Day against Nuclear Tests. At the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly on December 2, 2009, the resolution 64/35 was unanimously adopted and August 29 was declared as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. The resolution in particular called for increasing awareness “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.” It was initiated by Kazakhstan along with several sponsors and cosponsors to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site on August 29, 1991.
Following the establishment of the International Day against Nuclear Tests, in May 2010 all the Member States to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons committed themselves to “achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” On September 15, 2014, the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the United States in co-sponsorship with Arms Control Association, Green Cross International, the Embassy of Canada, and the ATOM Project held a conference “Nuclear Weapons Testing: History, Progress, Challenges” commemorating the UN International Day against Nuclear Tests. The conference took place at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
The conference focused on the issue of nuclear weapons testing and the road forward for the Comprehensive Nuclear- Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The keynote presenters included the US Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz, the US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose E. Gottemoeller, the US Under Secretary of Energy and NNSA Administrator Frank J. Klotz, and the Executive Secretary of CTBTO Lassina Zerbo. The participants of the conference underlined their commitment to the nuclear weapons nonproliferation.
How is International Day against Nuclear Tests Observed?
The International Day against Nuclear Tests aims to raise people’s awareness on the need to prevent nuclear catastrophes to avert devastating effects on humankind, the environment and the planet. Many people use the day as an opportunity to share their perspective on the issue of nuclear weapons and testing. Organizations host educational and public activities to bring awareness about the use of nuclear weapons and the dangers involved with nuclear weapons testing and usage. On the day through educational events, activities and messages, the world’s attention is drawn to the need for unified efforts to prevent further nuclear weapons testing. The year 2010 marked the inaugural commemoration of the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Each year, since then, the day has been observed by coordinating various activities throughout the world, such as symposia, conferences, exhibits, competitions, publications, lectures in academic institutions, media broadcasts and other initiatives.
Since its establishment, many bilateral and multilateral governmental level developments as well as broad movements in civil society have helped to advance the cause of banning nuclear tests. Moreover, “convinced that nuclear disarmament and the total elimination of nuclear weapons are the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of nuclear weapons,” the General Assembly designated September 26 as the “International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, which is devoted to furthering the objective of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, through the mobilization of international efforts. First proposed in October 2013, the resolution (A/RES/68/32) was a followup to the high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament held on September 26, 2013, in the UN General Assembly. The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons was observed for the first time in September 2014. The International Day against Nuclear Tests, together with other events and actions, has fostered a global environment with more optimistic prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons. As the Secretary-General recognized in his new disarmament agenda “Securing our Common Future” launched on May 24, 2018, the norm against testing is an example of 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.
However, the CTBT adopted on September 10, 1996, by the UN General Assembly, is yet to come into force as five States (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and United States) have signed but not ratified the treaty and three including India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed. India is apprehensive about the possibility of countries already possessing nuclear weapons upgrade their arsenals through laboratory simulated testing. The Secretary-General has appealed to all remaining States whose ratifications are required for the CTBT to enter into force to commit to sign the treaty at an early date if they have not already done so, and to accelerate the completion of their ratification process. The UN is hopeful that one day all nuclear weapons will be eliminated. Until then, there is a need to observe International Day against Nuclear Tests. Initiatives such as the International Day against Nuclear Tests are part of the global efforts towards a nuclear-weapon-free world.