Constitutional ban on nuclear weapons

(Remarks by Ambassador Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at the ‘Examples of national implementation measures’ confab on nuclear weapons, UNHQ)

IN 1987, the newly restored Philippine democracy adopted a new constitution with a startling provision that read:

“The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory.”

The world was deep in the Cold War, in which the Philippines played a geopolitical role the equal of West Germany in the containment of communism.

And this provision was dropped on our laps.

The credibility of deterrence arising from our Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States, with its implicit threat of mutually assured destruction, suddenly evaporated. Without the threat of nuclear weapons, deterrence must be conventional. But nobody believed that the United States would risk a single American life in our mutual defense. But there it was—the first constitutional ban on nuclear weapons.

On 1991, the US and the Philippines lost interest in retaining the US bases. The West had won the Cold War. And history had ended, so everyone thought. But not long after, history started again. This time with more nuclear powers in contention.

But where had the idea of a nuclear-free region come from? On November 7, 1971, 26 years earlier, the five original members of the newly formed Asean—forged in the fires of the Vietnam War—adopted the Asean Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality—with a nuclear weapons-free region clearly in mind and firmly resolved. For the Asean-5—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand—de-nuclearizing meant banning all nuclear weapons in the region. In 1997 the Bangkok Treaty went into effect committing Asean to just that.

The Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone is considered the most robust convention of its kind, not least because its coverage extends to exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. It bans the dumping or discharge of radioactive material or nuclear waste in the vast area of its coverage.

Now one might say—if the rest of the world stays “nuclear weaponed” what is the value of one nuclear-free part of it?

A lot.

To deny nuclear powers an entire region from which to fire, or into which to throw nuclear weapons, is a giant step toward a nuclear weapons free yet also a peaceful world.

It can work.

And it did. Despite the lack of a nuclear deterrence Southeast Asia has enjoyed a long peace such as mankind has rarely had. It appears that an abhorrence of war—be it nuclear or conventional—can be a deterrent as effective as the fear of a mutually destructive one between nuclear weapon powers.

It is Asean’s hope that humanity, however contentious and prone to fighting, shall not become extinct. It may suffer wars but it must in sizable numbers be able to survive them to continue the human story. This is not possible with nuclear weapons. Hence our commitment to negotiating a legally binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons in the hope of finally seeing the last of them disposed of in peace rather than detonated in mankind’s last war.

One last note to explain our commitment to a global ban of nuclear weapons. For the Philippines, with its global diaspora of migrant workers, and with Filipino immigrant families enriching their new countries—every land in the world is home and all peoples are our own.




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