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Nukes Decline, But Disarmament Still a Distant Horizon

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 7 2011 (IPS) - The world’s eight nuclear states – the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel – collectively possess more than 20,500 nuclear weapons – a decline of over 2,000 since 2009.

But more than 5,000 of these devastating weapons are deployed and ready for use, including nearly 2,000 that are kept in “a state of high operational alert”.

The updated figures were released Tuesday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its Yearbook 2011.

Currently, the two biggest nuclear arsenals are in Russia (11,000 nuclear weapons) and the United States (8,500), followed by France (300), China (240), Britain (225), Pakistan (90-110), India (80-110) and Israel (80).

The SIPRI Yearbook says that modest cuts in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces were agreed in April 2010 under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

“But both countries currently are either deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems, or have announced programmes to do so, and appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals for the indefinite future,” it says.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan, two neighbouring nuclear rivals, continue to develop new ballistic and cruise missile systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

“They are also expanding their capacities to produce fissile material for military purposes,” says SIPRI, an independent international research institute focusing on arms control and disarmament.

Still, there has been little progress towards nuclear disarmament, despite the reduction in the number of weapons.

Asked about the disparity, Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, told IPS that “quantitative reductions are of course to be praised, despite the qualitative offsets of modernisation and robust funding of the nuclear weapons enterprise.”

However, overall progress will only be achieved when the compass point of elimination is clearly set as the collective goal of nuclear haves and have-nots together, he pointed out.

Such clarity depends upon commencing the preparatory process to move unambiguously toward a universal legally enforceable non- discriminatory ban on nuclear weapons achieved by a convention or by a framework of instruments.

“With such a clear commitment, the step-by-step incremental quantitative reductions will have enhanced meaning toward downgrading the political and military significance of the weapons,” he added.

The essential element, he said, is the collective commitment to universal abolition.

“Rhetoric in this regard is credible only when backed by action,” Granoff declared.

SIPRI senior researcher Shannon Kile said it is a stretch to say that the New START cuts agreed by the United States and Russia are a genuine step towards nuclear disarmament when their planning for nuclear forces is done on a time scale that encompasses decades, and when nuclear modernisation is a major priority of their defence policies.

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), which monitors and analyses U.S. nuclear weapons programmes, told IPS the SIPRI report validates what she has been saying for years – at least since the mid-1990s in connection with the failed deal for U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – essentially that U.S. nuclear weapons planning is based on the concept of “fewer but newer; nuclear weapons forever”.

The fact that the numbers of nuclear weapons have been drastically reduced since their mind-boggling peak has been generally confused with disarmament, when in fact, more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the hands of eight or nine states continues to represent an intolerable threat to humanity and the earth, she noted.

Despite the end of the Cold War, and despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s lofty disarmament rhetoric, the threatened first use of nuclear weapons remains at the core of the national security policy of the only country that has thus far used nuclear weapons in war – the United States, she pointed out.

And this is mirrored in the national security policies of most of the other nuclear armed states.

The failed U.S. Senate CTBT ratification deal, which cemented ever- increasing funding for the Stockpile Stewardship nuclear weapons modernisation programme was replicated on steroids in the START ratification package.

This package essentially renders START as an anti-disarmament measure, projecting modernisation of nuclear warheads and their delivery system decades into the future, said Cabasso, winner of the 2008 Sean MacBride Peace Prize awarded by the International Peace Bureau.

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