A World Free of Nuclear Weapons
February 2008 IThe more than 25,000 nuclear weapons still around the world have a destructive capability to cause the disappearance of the civilization on Earth. From this point of view, a nuclear war would never be fought as there would not be any winner, as Reagan y Gorbachev declared in 1985.
During the Cold War’s bipolar times, the increasing development of these weapons was justified by their key role in the game of deterrence between the United Status and the Soviet Union and, therefore, in the global balance of power. The picture of “mutual assured destruction” guaranteed, in practice, that nuclear weapons would be developed to never be effectively used. In retrospect, investments carried out during the nuclear build-up could have been oriented towards aspects more related to human welfare, but to be fair, it is necessary to recognize that nuclear states were effective in designing the control scheme able to avoid a precipitate or negligent use.
Today, those rules have dramatically changed. The global environment has become more precarious and less foreseeable, and nuclear arsenals, far from enhancing the international security, have turned, more than ever, into a danger very difficult to quantify. The five original nuclear states, United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China have become, in facts nine, with the addition of India, Pakistan, Israel and, recently, North Korea. This progressive “nuclearization” is in no way, a completed process. Rather, it opens doors to other technologically advanced states –more than ten- which could think about the possibility of joining the club as a means to revert regional or global power imbalances.
Even more, if international terrorism -less permeable to deterrence and with the declared wish of obtaining any kind of weapons of mass destruction- is added to this group, it is easy of anticipate a frightening future, where the use of nuclear weapons will be an event of significant probability.Based on this perspective, together with those who still perceive nuclear weapons as a valid and applicable alternative, has gained strength among first level leaders worldwide the belief that the global community must walk in a cooperative way, without any delay, the delicate steps which lead to the total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The efforts aimed at arsenal reduction are not new. For example, through the Nunn-Lugar Program of Cooperative Threats Reduction, the United States provides since years ago technical and economic support to Russia and former Soviet Union States, with the goal of progressively destroy their WMD. This way, it was possible to get rid of more than 7,000 nuclear warheads from the global stock. Anyway, these efforts do not seem to be enough to deal with the upcoming risks, and quick multilateral definitions will be required on very relevant issues, still pending. One of a big priority is that, states possessing nuclear weapons have, in fact, shifted from the original spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) , whose Article VI includes the concept of their total disarmament. Forty years after the Treaty’s birth, there are still doubts about the commitment of the five original nuclear states to abandon their privileges about arms availability, which leads to the rest of world’s frustration and reluctance to enhance their nonproliferation actions.
In order to fix such distortion, during the 2000’ NPT Review Conference, thirteen points were agreed. If these points were put in practice, they would allow advance towards the disarmament goal. Among the more relevant: the need of urgent ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) by the United States, China, and other reluctant nations, the improvement of the scheme of verification of nuclear facilities and materials, and the increase of openness and transparency to the international control.
Something to solve is the ambiguous situation of the other four nuclear states. They are outside of the Treaty’s duties because of not having signed it, or given it up. The special treatment which those countries get should be a widely agreed and rational solution.There is another key issue, which especially involves non-nuclear states: the need of a fair international decision making about the management of nuclear materials, particularly about the nuclear fuel cycle.
It is a double challenge, on one hand to respect the unalienable right of all states to develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses, and on the other, to protect those materials to prevent them from reaching unreliable hands. In this line of thought, a group of respected former US statesmen, republicans George Schultz, Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, and Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State during Nixon and Ford administrations, and democrats William Perry, Secretary of Defense during Clinton government and former Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, who currently manage, together with the businessman and philanthropist Ted Turner, the nongovernmental organization Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), have issued, with the support of a relevant group of experts, an op-ed titled “Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, which has been published last January in the Wall Street Journal.
This document discusses all these critical issues and further ones. At the same time, it reinforces the vision already expressed by the same authors at the beginning of 2007, when they encouraged the global community to follow the necessary steps towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. In addition, it makes explicit special responsibilities of nuclear states and, mostly, of those ones which jointly have 95% of nuclear warheads: United Sates and Russia.
Authors claim for their country a strategic leadership of this proposal, and the accomplishment of pending aspects related to the NPT, which bears a call to the current generation of leaders of the nation to act with determination and energy.It is relevant to ask one selves, if it will be possible to shape global consensus, based on trust, essential to go from the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons to the actions required to make it possible.
The world faces an extremely complex process, in which each step in order to become effective, will have to be completed in harmony of interests, taking into account at any time the maintenance of a subtle global equilibrium. Such proposals, coming from these highly respected and experienced people, have earned a big political space and a significant adhesion from same level leaders and experts worldwide. The International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament which precisely will take place today in Oslo, Norway, will seek to advance in the task of building up a consensus about vision and priorities.In this sense, the increasing awareness on the issue opens an environment of opportunity to make the definitive abolition of nuclear weapons, beyond a relevant utopia, a realistic goal, feasible to be achieved.
Irma Arguello - Chair of the Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (NPSGlobal).