On October 21, UPENN’s International Affairs Association convened its annual conference with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. The conference focused on the impact of nuclear weapons and climate change in the South Pacific. Ambassador Dr. Prasad of Fiji, Ambassador Teburoro Tito of Kiribati; H.E. Mr. Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia of Samoa; and Ms. Charlotte Skerten of New Zealand spoke at the event.
Ambassador Prasad of Fiji provided a moving and holistic overview on how the region suffered from the impact of nuclear testing. More than 300 nuclear weapons were detonated in the region, which caused widespread suffering amongst the citizens of the region and irradiated significant areas of the South Pacific. He also expressed profound sadness about the victims of nuclear testing. His presentation laid the foundation for the subsequent speakers, who elaborated upon his comments and specified the tragedy of nuclear testing.
Building upon Ambassador Prasad’s comments, H.E. Mr. Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia of Samoa discussed the physical and emotional scars of the victims of nuclear testing. The Ambassador also mentioned the importance of the entry-into-force of the Treaty of Rarontonga and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Moreover, he lamented about the failure amongst the Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to fulfill their obligations set forth in Article VI of the NPT.
Due to their refusal to comply with the obligations set forth in Article VI of the NPT, it is necessary for states to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). He underscored that the TPNW is an essential legal instrument in the nuclear disarmament architecture and will help establish a world free of nuclear weapons.
The Ambassador also touched upon how climate change is an existential threat to both the Pacific Islands and all citizens. He underscored the importance of the Paris Climate Conference and the agreement about 1.5C increase.
Ambassador Teburoro Tito of Kiribati discussed the devastating effects of the nuclear testing on Christmas Island by the United Kingdom. The UK tested a series of four nuclear weapons in 1957 and 1958 at Malden Island and Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in the Pacific Ocean as part of the British hydrogen bomb program. Nine nuclear explosions were initiated.
The Ambassador further mentioned that the explosions illuminated the night’s sky and it felt that the sun rose during the middle of the night. Eventually, the citizens discovered the dark-side of humanity. As a result of the legacy of nuclear tests, the Ambassador announced that he is in consultations with the President of Kiribati to establish a regional center about the TPNW on Christmas Island.
As the final speaker, Ms. Charlotte Skerten discussed the Auckland Conference, which New Zealand convened for the Pacific Islands in December of 2018. The conference examined and took stock of the treaty within the context of the Pacific and its legacy of nuclear testing. She further shared that a global youth forum on the TPNW was held in connection to the Auckland Conference. At the forum, young U.S. and Pacific students shared their views about nuclear disarmament. Mr. Christian N. Ciobanu served as a co-chair of the Forum.
Significantly, in connection to the discussion about the Auckland Conference, Ambassador Prasad proposed that Fiji should host the next conference. This option could be explored further once Fiji ratifies the TPNW.
During the discussion with the audience, the ambassadors encouraged the students to become activists and take action. Responding to the encouragement, the students expressed interest in the movement and becoming involved. Many of them thought about how they could take action. Additionally, the majority of the participants felt very overwhelmed about the tragedy of nuclear testing in the region.