Submitted by Mohammed Iqbal Degia
Yesterday, July 7th, a majority of the world’s nations voted at the United Nations to approve a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Officially called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it aims for the ultimate destruction of all nuclear weapons and the prohibition forever of their use. The treaty will open for signature in September and once fifty countries have signed on, it will enter into force. The negotiations on the treaty had been taking place for many months, culminating this week in New York. The nine nuclear armed countries and some of their allies had boycotted the talks arguing that nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent required by international security concerns.
Disarmament issues were one of the areas under my portfolio when I represented Barbados at the United Nations and I still have former colleagues from around the world involved in disarmament matters. Some of them posted on social media today expressing their happiness at the successful conclusion of the negotiations and there were even some photos taken of the voting board. The vote had been passed with 122 countries voting in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention. Imagine my shock when I saw nothing next to the name of Barbados. Barbados had chosen not to vote! Yes Barbados had chosen not to join most of the world’s countries in an international effort to rid humanity of a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying countless people in one strike.
For the life of me, I cannot fathom why Barbados chose not to support the treaty. First, as a small island developing nation we are more vulnerable than most countries to the threats facing the world, whether environmental, economic or security. Any use of a nuclear weapon in our region would devastate us and our neighbours with our small land masses and dependence on the sea around us. Nuclear weapons are an existential threat and as a country we have always opposed them. Why would we suddenly change our stance? Second, this recognition of the severity of the threat posed by nuclear weapons led to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean establishing the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco) in the 1960s. The Treaty resulted in the establishment of the world’s first nuclear weapons free zone (NWFZ). Barbados is a party to that Treaty and I fail to grasp how we can adopt an antagonistic position on a universal treaty with similar disarmament intent. Barbados, Dominica and Nicaragua were the only three countries from the 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries party to the Treaty of Tlatelolco to not vote. I am unaware why Dominica and Nicaragua did not vote but what interests me most is ascertaining why Barbados opted to act like it did.
Five years ago in 2012, Barbados also chose to vote in a contrary manner to most of the world. On that occasion it was the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood, a course of action that lacked in principle and betrayed all the comments successive Barbadian administrations have made about self-determination. While I remain fundamentally opposed to how Barbados voted then and the justification offered by the Prime Minister for its vote was nonsensical, I understood why it was done. The Zionist pressure on his government was not something he of his Foreign Minister could resist, especially when a prominent Christian Zionist holds much sway with their party. Political and economic expediency trumps principle every time when it comes to politicians. On this instance though, I am at a loss to comprehend why Barbados would have a problem with an international treaty banning nuclear weapons.