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Wednesday, December 7, 2016
- Every nation in the world has been invited to participate at the highest political level in the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament scheduled for Sep. 26. This has never happened before. We have never been at such a moment of crisis and opportunity.
The crisis arises because the rational route forward which has been identified by the vast majority of the world’s countries in support of advancing a convention banning nuclear weapons or, as the secretary general has also suggested, a framework of legal agreements achieving elimination, has not been supported by the U.S. or Russia, two states with more than 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
Thus, progress toward disarmament lacks the galvanising focus preliminary negotiations on a treaty would provide. It is also a moment of opportunity since except for India and Pakistan, no states with nuclear weapons are actually hostile to one another.
Rhetorical puffery has become expected in season after season while regularly a new crisis du jour sweeps attention away from nuclear disarmament obligations. Anyone can see cynicism as a dangerous and contagious problem looming on the horizon if nothing meaningful is done soon.
Many countries know this and that is why the 67th session of the General Assembly Resolution A/RES/67/39 moved to convene this high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament for the 68th session of the General Assembly next week.
China and India have both expressed support for negotiating a universal ban on the weapons and Pakistan has stated it would follow. France, the U.S. and UK, and Russia openly oppose progress now on even taking preliminary steps to negotiate a legal ban.
Claims are made that progress through the START process and obtaining incremental steps such as entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban and a treaty banning the further production of weapons grade fissile materials must be achieved and focused upon to the exclusion of other efforts. Diplomats from nuclear weapons states even assert that advocacy for a universal, non-discriminatory ban would divert attention and diminish effectiveness in pursuing incremental steps.
The problems with only taking this incremental approach are many. The U.S. Senate is unlikely in the near term to ratify the test ban. The case for the test ban as part of the march toward disarmament has not been made domestically and thus its advocacy appears as incoherent.
It is hard to make the case that the U.S. military should ever be constrained without demonstrating the benefits of obtaining a universal ban on the weapons. Incoherence in advocacy leads to policies going in multiple directions. An example of such incoherence was obvious in the policy for ratification for the START treaty – support the treaty and pledge hundreds of billions of dollars to “modernise” the arsenal and infrastructure.
The negotiations for the fissile materials cut off treaty are being done in the Conference on Disarmament, a body of 61 nations in Geneva that operates by consensus. Thus, one country can always stop progress. This body has not even had a working agenda in over a decade. Spoilers abound. Progress will not take place there.
Third, reliance on progress on the bilateral leadership of Russia and the U.S. is foolish. Russia has made clear that the next round on START reductions will not happen without resolution of differences on the dangers of global precision strike aspirations of the U.S. military where nuclear warheads are replaced by conventional warheads and new weapons fulfill old missions, missile defense as a possible sword and shield should technical breakthroughs arise, and weaponisation of space, a course Russia wants prohibited by treaty.
These issues will not be resolved soon since behind them all is a cadre within the U.S. military which wants to always have a dominant position for security purposes. Progress is unlikely while Russia feels threatened.
Yet: Consensus with Russia and the U.S. that through a universal treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, progress in Syria can be made thus making us all safer bodes well for progress on banning nuclear weapons. Surely no one would claim nuclear weapons are any less abhorrent and more legitimate to use than chemical weapons.
Yet: Imagine if the 114 leaders of governments in the five nuclear weapons-free zones of Latin America, Africa, South Asia, Central Asia and the South Pacific each said, “My country benefits from being in a nuclear weapons-free zone and remains threatened by those countries with nuclear weapons. It is time we made the entire world a nuclear weapons-free zone.”
The necessary upgrading of the issue to the prominent position it deserves would happen.
Imagine if the statement from the gathering said, “We will dedicate a high level day each year until the threat of nuclear weapons is gone.” Imagine if commencement of preliminary negotiations were committed to happen by a critical mass of leaders “in the Conference on Disarmament, or any other appropriate and effective venue at the earliest possible time, and we commit to full participation in this process.”
Such a call for progress would be an irresistible stimulant. But what would really ring a bell for progress would be a statement along these lines:
“There are global common public goods which must be obtained to make us all safer. Cooperation in addressing terrorism, cyber security, stable financial markets, and peaceful democratisation in countries in transition are of high value and critical importance. The very survival of civilisation depends on how well we work together in obtaining other global common goods – protecting the climate, the oceans, the rainforests, all living systems upon which humanity depends.
“There is an existential imperative that we cooperate in new dynamic ways to meet these new challenges. Nothing could compel us more strongly to resolve our differences in a spirit of peace and common purpose. Even thinking of seriously stating what is common and good for us all makes clear that possessing and threatening to use nuclear weapons is irrational, dysfunctional and must end, now.
“We breathe the same air and it is either cleansed with a spirit of cooperation or befouled by fear and threat. We are resolved to succeed in spirit of cooperation for this and future generations. That spirit calls us to denounce and renounce nuclear weapons for all now.”
Jonathan Granoff is President of the Global Security Institute, and Adjunct Professor of International Law at Widener University School of Law.