Get Rid of Your Nukes
Illustration by Seiko Shahinian
“If the holders of the largest stocks of nuclear weapons embark upon real reductions, others will no longer be able to sit it out and conceal their arsenals from international control.”
ONE OF THE MOST URGENT problems of today’s world is the danger of nuclear weapons. The unexpected nuclear test by North Korea on May 25 and its test-firing of a series of short-range missiles is the latest, frightening reminder.
Nothing fundamentally new has been achieved in the area of nuclear disarmament in the past decade and a half. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, die arsenals of the nuclear powers still contain thousands of weapons, and the world is facing the very real possibility of a new arms race.
In effect, all that has been achieved in nuclear dis armament until now is the implementation of the agreements that were signed in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, which eliminated two classes of nuclear missiles, and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which launched the cutbacks of nuclear weapons. Thousands of tactical nuclear weapons were destroyed in accordance with this U.S.-Soviet agreement.
Subsequently, the pace of nuclear arms reduction has slowed and the mechanisms of control and verifica tion have weakened. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not entered into force. The quantities of nuclear weapons held by Russia and the United States still far exceed the arsenals of all other nuclear powers combined.
The nuclear nonproliferation regime is in jeopardy. While the two major nuclear powers bear the greatest responsibility for this state of affairs, it was the United States that abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, has failed to ratify the CTBT, and refused to conclude with Russia a verifiable treaty on strategic offen-/ive arms.
Only recently have we seen indications that the major nuclear powers understand the current state of affairs is untenable. The presidents of the United States and Russia have agreed to conclude before the end of this year a verifiable treaty reducing strategic offensive arms and have reaffirmed their countries’ commit ment to fulfill their obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. Their joint statement calls for a number of other steps to reduce nuclear dangers, including ratification by the United States of the CTBT.
Those are positive steps. But the problems and dangers far outnumber the achievements. We cannot accept the erroneous evaluation of the events that led to the end of the Cold War. The United States and some other countries saw these as a victory of the West, and a green light for uni lateralist policies. Accordingly, instead of creating a new architecture of international security based on real cooperation, an attempt was made to impose on the world a “monopoly leadership” by the sole remaining superpower and the institutions and organizations, like NATO, that were inherited from the Cold War and not reformed after it ended.
The use and the threat of force, which, of course, are illegal under the U.N. Charter, were reasserted as a “normal” mode of solving problems. Official documents rationalized doctrines of preemptive strike and the need for U.S. military superiority. Disregard for international law and for peaceful ways of settling disputes was proclaimed as a kind of policy.
As a result, we witnessed a war in Europe, in Yugoslavia, something that had previously seemed inconceivable; a long-term deterioration in the Mid dle East; the war in Iraq; an extreme ly severe situation in Afghanistan; and the increasingly alarming nuclear proliferation crisis.
The members ol the nuclear club need to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, as required under rhe nonprolireration treaty. Otherwise, there will be a continued danger that other countries may acquire nuclear weapons. Today, dozens of states have the technical ability to do so.
Humanity must be wary of a new arms race. Priority is still being given to financing of military programs, and “defense” budgets far exceeding reasonable security requirements keep growing, as does the weapons trade. U.S. military expenditures are almost as high as those of the rest of the world combined.
In the final analysis, the nuclear danger can only be removed by abol ishing nuclear weapons. But unless we address the need to demilitarize international relations, reduce mili tary budgets, put an end to the cre ation of new kinds of weapons, and prevent the weaponization of outer space, all talk about a nuclear-weapon-frce world will be just empty rhetoric.
I think that after President Obama’s Prague speech on April 5 [calling tor a nuclear-free world], there is a real prospect that the United States will ratify the CTBT. This would be an important step forward, particularly in combination with a new strategic arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia.
Following this, I believe that other nuclear powers, both the “official members” of the club and the rest, will have to, at the very least, declare a freeze on their nuclear arsenals and state their readiness to engage in negotiations on their reduction. It the holders of the largest stocks of nuclear weapons embark upon real reductions, orhers will no longer be able to sit it out and conceal their arsenals from international control.
This is an issue that we must raise now, if we are to have the kind of trust without which common security cannot be achieved.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. This article was distributed by the IPS Columnist Service.
The Progressive * 27
My Plan to Drop the Bomb
NEW YORK – The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 marked an end and a beginning. The close of the Second World War ushered in a Cold War, with a precarious peace based on the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Today the world is at another turning point. The assumption that nuclear weapons are indispensable to keeping the peace is crumbling. Disarmament is back on the global agenda – and not a moment too soon. A groundswell of new international initiatives will soon emerge to move this agenda forward.
The Cold War’s end, twenty years ago this autumn, was supposed to provide a peace dividend. Instead, we find ourselves still facing serious nuclear threats. Some stem from the persistence of more than 20,000 nuclear weapons and the contagious doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Others relate to nuclear tests—more than a dozen in the post-Cold War era, aggravated by the constant testing of long-range missiles. Still others arise from concerns that more countries or even terrorists might be seeking the bomb.
For decades, we believed that the terrible effects of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to prevent their use. The superpowers were likened to a pair of scorpions in a bottle, each knowing a first strike would be suicidal. Today’s expanding nest of scorpions, however, means that no one is safe. The Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States—holders of the largest nuclear arsenals—recognize this. They have endorsed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, most recently at their Moscow summit, and are seeking new reductions.
Many efforts are underway worldwide to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament—the forum that produces multilateral disarmament treaties—broke a deadlock and agreed to negotiations on a fissile material treaty. Other issues it will discuss include nuclear disarmament and security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states.
In addition, Australia and Japan have launched a major international commission on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. My own multimedia “WMD—WeMustDisarm!” campaign, which will culminate on the International Day of Peace (21 September), will reinforce growing calls for disarmament by former statesmen and grassroots campaigns, such as “Global Zero.” These calls will get a further boost in September when civil society groups gather in Mexico City for a UN-sponsored conference on disarmament and development.
Though the UN has been working on disarmament since 1946, two treaties negotiated under UN auspices are now commanding the world’s attention. Also in September, countries that have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will meet at the UN to consider ways to promote its early entry into force. North Korea’s nuclear tests, its missile launches and its threats of further provocation lend new urgency to this cause.
Next May, the UN will also host a major five-year review conference involving the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which will examine the state of the treaty’s “grand bargain” of disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. If the CTBT can enter into force, and if the NPT review conference makes progress, the world would be off to a good start on its journey to a world free of nuclear weapons.
My own five-point plan to achieve this goal begins with a call for the NPT Parties to pursue negotiations in good faith—as required by the treaty—on nuclear disarmament, either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification. Disarmament must be reliably verified.
Second, I urged the Security Council to consider other ways to strengthen security in the disarmament process, and to assure non-nuclear-weapon states against nuclear weapons threats. I proposed to the Council that it convene a summit on nuclear disarmament, and I urged non-NPT states to freeze their own weapon capabilities and make their own disarmament commitments. Disarmament must enhance security.
My third proposal relates to the rule of law. Universal membership in multilateral treaties is key, as are regional nuclear-weapon-free zones and a new treaty on fissile materials. President Barack Obama’s support for US ratification of the CTBT is welcome — the treaty only needs a few more ratifications to enter into force. Disarmament must be rooted in legal obligations.
My fourth point addresses accountability and transparency. Countries with nuclear weapons should publish more information about what they are doing to fulfill their disarmament commitments. While most of these countries have revealed some details about their weapons programs, we still do not know how many nuclear weapons exist worldwide. The UN Secretariat could serve as a repository for such data. Disarmament must be visible to the public.
Finally, I am urging progress in eliminating other weapons of mass destruction and limiting missiles, space weapons and conventional arms — all of which are needed for a nuclear-weapon-free world. Disarmament must anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons.
This, then, is my plan to drop the bomb. Global security challenges are serious enough without the risks from nuclear weapons or their acquisition by additional states or non-state actors. Of course, strategic stability, trust among nations, and the settlement of regional conflicts would all help to advance the process of disarmament. Yet disarmament has its own contributions to make in serving these goals and should not be postponed.
It will restore hope for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future. It deserves everybody’s support.
Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations.